The Ultimate Guide to Travelling Europe in a Campervan
May 11, 2020
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning that if you click through & make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Has it been a dream of yours to travel Europe in a Campervan? Then look no further – this comprehensive blog post is FILLED with tips and advice on how to have the best van adventure ever.
We spent 8 months living in our beautiful Ford Transit campervan conversion exploring Europe, and now you can too with the help of this guide. We get asked a lot about how we did it and what it costs so we are sharing our experiences, the good and bad with you!
So if you are curious about what it takes, already have a camper van or want to add a road trip through Europe to your bucket list – dive right in. We are not leaving any details out- it’s stuff like this we wish we had known before we left on our trip.
Freedom! Whether you buy a used motorhome or decide to build your own, we think the freedom that this gives you when travelling is the best feeling in the world!
Being able to sleep wherever you want- next to amazing beaches, mountain views and lakes. You name it – having a van allows you to park and sleep in places that you never could do on a normal trip.
Choose how long you want to stay and where, while having your own home to sleep and cook in also saves money.
You can take everything you need with you for your favourite activities – we took surfboards, bikes, skateboards and snorkelling kits. Always be prepared for an adventure!
Outdoor living and camping life with all the home comforts! We loved how homey and comfortable our van was.
Travel for longer , spending less money.
How Much Does it Cost?
Our daily budget was approximately £25 per day. This meant for 8 months we had a budget of £6000 for food, gas, petrol, tolls, parking/camping and sightseeing between the two of us. This budget for us, was super easy to stick to. We were in it for the long haul and once you are on the road you realise how little you actually need to spend in order to have an incredible time.
Our camper van cost us about £6500 to purchase and convert. This might seem like a big investment including the daily budget, but once you sell your van you get that money back. Think how much money you would be spending on transport and hotels, the hours wasted on public transport and not being able to stay in some of the most insanely beautiful locations in Europe.
What to Consider Before Buying a Campervan
Can you stand up in it?
Phil is 6ft 6 so this was a tricky one but most High Top/Roof vans have exactly that amount of head room. This will make your time in your van much more comfortable. Medium Roof vans also work for some people. If you plan on spending a long time travelling in your van you will 100% want to be able to stand up.
We spent hours researching the pros and cons of various types of vans and which models might suit our needs. Try and get something with a good service history and ask a garage to give it a once over. Is it easy to get replacement parts abroad, how many miles on the clock etc.
A good nights rest
A comfy nights sleep was high on our list as we were planning to be in the van everyday for 8 months. Luckily building our own van allowed us to plan our bed layout and what mattress we wanted. We loved our double memory foam bed so it was worth the effort researching!
How self sufficient do you need to be?
We wanted to be able to go fully off grid for a few days at a time without having to fill up on water, empty our toilet and get supplies. So we had a fridge, large water storage, solar energy and running tap to keep us sustained.
Do you want to live off grid?
How much electricity will you use or need – will you go solar and be a true off grid explorer? Getting a leisure battery that runs separately to your vans battery will give you so much extra power, you get even more time to be off grid by having solar panels.
Converting Your Van
It took us about 2 months working 6 days a week to do our Ford Transit campervan conversion! There are so many resources out there about how to plan and do the conversion. We loved using Pinterest for inspiration on designs, watching YouTube videos for how to guides and reading blog posts. Anyone who can use a few tools can get started from home once you have your van or motorhome. I had never used many of the tools before and built an entire kitchen from scratch.
Our Route Through Europe
We started off catching a ferry from Poole in the UK to Cherbourg in France and decided on a clock wise route of Western Europe. Our plan was to drive a maximum of 1-3 hours a day between locations. This worked out pretty perfectly for the length of our trip. We stayed in some places for just one night and the ones we liked we stayed more. For example we stayed in Paris for 3 nights and Rome for 5 nights but stops in between may only be for one night. To determine our route we would get out our resources ( Camperstop book, Park4Night app and Google) and see where looked good, had good camping spots and was within driving distance.
Where to Camp in Europe?
When you travel Europe you can park in places called Aires, also known as Motorhome stops. These are dedicated campervan parking spaces with varying facilities. Run by the town municipalities or privately owned they are often free or cost a couple of Euros per night. Some of the privately owned ones can have more facilities and will charge more (Up to £20 depending on where they are located.)
If you are looking at camping somewhere that has a lot of facilities then a Campsite will suit you. Things like showers, toilets, washing machines, swimming pools, scenic camping spots etc.
Europe is very well suited to free camping. This is where you park somewhere that is not a designated Aire or campsite. You are parking your van in a space that allows overnight parking and have to be self sufficient. These could be side roads, beach car parks etc. You will have no facilities and can generally park for free for a night or two. The rules change from country to country and you must respect the local authorities. Most importantly, in order for free camping to remain allowed in Europe you must always leave no trace, never leave rubbish behind and be respectful of noise.
The Best Campervan Resources
Camperstop Europe Motorhome Guide
This was such a great resource for us for when we were on the road. Camperstop is a book you can purchase that has over 9000 of the Aires in Europe listed with GPS coordinates. You will find that certain countries have more aires than others so you may have to mix up the types of places that you stop.
If you are going to buy one resource- let it be this one.
When we were in Germany, about 3-4 weeks into our trip we met someone at an Aire who happened to mention the app Park4Night. From this moment on it became one of the best resources we had for our trip in finding free camping. The information on the app is user generated, with people stating GPS coordinates of where they managed to stay for free! People can then rate these locations for future users. These locations range from side roads with free parking to cliff sides overlooking incredible beaches. It saved us an incredible amount of money and allowed us to stay in some of the most insanely beautiful locations that you would not normally be able to stay.
Ensure that you get a good GPS device with up to date maps for all of the countries that you are going to visit. As most of the information for where to stay is given in GPS coordinates this makes it a lot easier navigating. You will also be able to see where there are toll roads (and there are a lot) and how to avoid them. It will also inform you of the local speed limits for each country.
Big Road Atlas – Europe
We also found it incredibly useful having a paper map. As our route was not set in stone, we would only plan where we wanted to visit a few days to a week in advance. You can plot your route on the paper map, which is also a lot of fun. It also becomes handy if for some reason your GPS device stops working and you need to go old school.
A great place to start to get your design ideas is Pinterest – there are thousand upon thousands of boards where you can get ideas. We had a particular style in mind as we needed space for our bikes and surfboards inside the van. It served as a great resource for us and helped in the planning process greatly. Every van design is so unique to each owner and it’s incredibly inspiring to see everyones camper van hacks.
Ask other people who have done this before for their advice. If you don’t know anyone personally there are plenty of blogs, forums, instagram pages all dedicated to #vanlife. Like this one for example. Don’t forget to pin this to Pinterest for reading later.
Where to shop for food
Without a doubt the best place to shop for food in Europe is Lidl. This supermarket is in practically every country, has large carparks and cheap and delicious food.
Our Van Essentials – Must Have Items
Portable Toilet for Campervan
We debated this essential a fair bit before we decided to get one. Phil didn’t think we needed one and I did. In the end we realised it was a must have and enabled us to have a lot of off grid camping experiences. It is easy to build in to the framework of the van so it stays hidden. It is super easy to empty and clean. We would never do this trip again without one.
There are many different ways that you can have a shower in a van these days, no matter the size. Our shower was an outdoor one we plugged into to the back of our van using the power generated from our leisure battery. When the back doors to our van opened we simply placed a curtain rod with a shower curtain between the doors for privacy.
Get the Portable Electric Camping Shower we used here.
Something we also debated whether to get because they cost quite a bit of money, was a fridge. Deciding whether to get one depends on how long you are going to be travelling for. As we were going for 8 months we deemed it necessary, we especially appreciated it in the summer heat wave enjoying our cold beers. There are several things that you have to take into account when getting a fridge. Does it need a flat surface, will its temperature remain low enough for the country you are visiting, so we recommend doing a lot of research.
We absolutely loved ours – this is the model that we got here.
Solar Panels for Campervan
We fitted 2 of these to the roof of our van and it kept our leisure battery charged long enough for us to be able to camp off grid for quite a few days. If you want to reach some off the beaten locations and not rely on plugging your van into electricity at campsites then we highly recommend fitting these. We did not need to plug in our van to external electricity sources our entire trip.
Your Vans Security
Van theft in Europe is quite common in certain areas and something you should definitely be aware of. Especially if you are keeping all your worldly belongings inside.
We fitted a sliding bolt lock to the inside of our back doors as an extra precaution. You will also want to consider where you park your van and always carry your important belongings with you (passport etc).
We unfortunately had our van broken in to when we were in Portugal. They broke open our side door window and climbed in taking the closest belongings they could find. This unfortunately happened to be my empty leather bag I treasured which had my wedding ring inside, my backpack with our DSLR camera, our hard drive with 6+ years of travel photos and our wash bags. These just happened to be left inside on this day when we visited the beach for just 1 hour. When we visited the local police station they were not surprised this had happened as it was very common in that area.
All we could have done was park somewhere more populated and not have left our belongings inside. We parked in a beach car park but right at the back because we wanted to camp there in the evening. Luckily for us there was a campervan shop close by so we could fix our window easily. But always be sensible, park in busy places when leaving your van and look after anything important.
A Good Mattress
One of the best purchases we made was getting a proper memory foam mattress. As Phil is quite tall we wanted to sleep lengthways and you can purchase shortened memory foam mattresses designed for boats which fit perfectly in a camper. When you don’t have a huge amount of living room this makes your time in the van so much more comfortable.
Having a mosquito net is definitely worth investing in. If you plan to travel when it is warm outside then you will more than likely want to have your windows open or even your doors. We had a mosquito net built into our window but would have loved one for our doors.
At dusk the mosquitos love to invade your van if you have the doors open – imagine your van being 40-50 degrees inside and you want to cool it down. Once you settle down to sleep, that is when you will spend all night irritated by buzzing noises flying past your ears every few minutes. Take heed of this advice, many nights were ruined by mosquitos invading our van.
Temperatures during summer in your van can get particularly high. The hottest our van reached was over 50 degrees inside during the peak of summer. We had a roof window installed which helped but what made a huge difference was having a fan that we attached to the wall. We didn’t manage to get the fan until half way through the trip, a huge mistake not having it before we started.
Grab a couple of collapsible camping chairs and a table to complete your alfresco dining situation. The chairs can be used for multiple purposes and just extend your living space. A collapsible table also means you don’t need a permanent fixture inside and creates more space.
Get the table and chairs like we used here. For the table click here and for the chairs click here.
So you can go down two routes when designing your van. The simple DIY route where you just use battery powered lights and will charge your devices when you are driving using the cigarette lighter socket. The more advanced route is to have a leisure battery that supplies electricity to your lights, fridge, shower and electrical sockets so that you can charge devices when the engine isn’t on. Combine this with solar panels and you won’t need to charge the battery by driving much.
Gas for Cooking
We debated about what type of gas supply to get for our cooker for quite some time. For you it will depend on how long you are travelling for.
If you are planning on going on a short road trip, anywhere up to 1-2 months then i would say that you can buy a normal camping gas cooker and canisters.
If however you are planning on a longer journey as we did then you might want to consider purchasing a refillable LPG canister. Many of the European petrol stations have LPG pumps designed for filling up cars and you can buy the appropriate canister heads for each country. It is a lot cheaper and lasts a long time, we only had to fill up twice in 8 months. Be warned though, if you convert a camper van, filling these LPG canisters can be tricky if they are located inside your van. This is because some petrol stations deem it dangerous to do so.
Ensure that you have comprehensive campervan insurance before you depart. If you plan to travel for an extended period of time outside of your home country then you will most likely need to purchase a specialised insurance policy.
It gets quite tricky determining if you need a campervan insurance policy or a normal van insurance policy if you have converted your camper. The way that this is determined is dependant on what permanent fixtures that your van has in place and then the DVLA classify your vehicle. If you have an accident and your van is not insured correctly this can cause problems when it comes to claiming. So you have to ensure that your policy covers you.
We used Adrian Flux as they were the only company that would cover us for the length of time that we needed in Europe. They were also the only company that offered us a policy for a campervan IN conversion (I.e not completed).
This may be different if you are from the UK now due to Brexit so it is worth shopping around and getting quotes on who will cover you. People often will get a camper van insurance policy over a normal one because it is a little cheaper. Obviously if you have a standard RV then it will be a much simpler process than insuring a self built camper.
You can find details for classifying your vehicle type with the DVLA here:-
We cannot rate this product highly enough. For a couple of hundred pounds for an 8 month journey this cover paid for itself. Let me tell you why…
Unfortunately for us, just 3 weeks before we were due to return to the UK our van broke down in Northern Spain. Yes, we managed to travel for over 7 months across the whole of Western Europe without a problem and then on the home stretch it goes kaput!
Luckily we had European Breakdown Cover and it honestly saved the rest of our trip. They provided a weeks worth of accommodation for free, a hire car for the entire duration that our van was at the mechanics, which was several weeks! They also provided flights home AND picked our van up from the mechanics and shipped it back to our home address.
Unfortunately the van could not be fixed in Spain, not only were they quoting an insanely overpriced bill, they didn’t get around to inspecting the van for 2 weeks. It was on the advice of our breakdown cover rep that we get it fixed in the UK to save money. Needless to say we think this is worth investing in. You just never know what is going to happen and it can cost thousands to either fix your van and/or ship it home.
As with any trip it’s super important to get a travel insurance policy for the duration of your trip. As someone who has had to claim on travel insurance policies in the past I can attest their worth and importance.
European Driving Kit
Most countries in Europe will require that you have a driving kit in your car at all times. These will include things like First Aid Kits, Visibility Vests, Warning Triangles. You may also need to apply headlamp stickers when driving in certain countries. Check what you need for each country you are planning on visiting and then buy the kit that has everything you need.
This will be one of your biggest out goings on your budget. Since you will most likely be travelling long distances, the cost of petrol does add up and takes a huge chunk out of your daily spends. Prices vary from country to country with the cheapest we found to be in the tiny country of Andorra (it is tax free there).
These are temporary tax discs that you need to purchase before you enter certain countries. You can purchase them from lots of petrol stations before you cross the border and they are valid for varying amounts of time dependant on how long you plan on being in each country. We had to purchase Vignettes for Slovenia and Austria on our route (see below for full list of countries we visited)
Toll Roads and How to Avoid Them
Lots of the roads in Europe have tolls to pay and it is worth doing a bit of research before you embark on your route to see if you can avoid them. They can often make a journey far quicker but it is worth weighing up the prices versus time spent saved. Prices can be anywhere up to 50 euros depending on how long the route is.
For example if you plan on using the Mont Blanc tunnel to Chamonix it costs almost 50 euros, just to travel through the tunnel! The alternative route over the mountains is not even worth considering.
However if you take these tolls into account on your route it can help with your budget before you depart. Your GPS device will be able to tell which routes have toll roads and you can find out the costs online. You can then use your map to check if the alternative non toll roads are much slower. Often they can be much more scenic and only a little slower.
Currently you can use a UK sim card in Europe for up to 90 days as if you were at home. If you plan on travelling for longer than 90 days then you will need to think about alternative options.
We purchased local sim cards in some countries as they are pretty cheap. If you encounter problems with your SIM cards it can be difficult to rectify if you cannot speak the local language. Local sim cards are the simplest and cheapest route to take.
There are portable wifi devices that you can purchase that allow multiple devices to access the wifi. You pay a monthly fee but these are very expensive. It ultimately depends on how much time will be spent on the internet – will it be light use researching your destination or heavy use working on the road.
Our Favourite Free Camping Spots
Italy: Bellagio, Lake Como lat.45.976601 long.9.25433, 51 Via Alessandro Volta
A car park located on a hill overlooking Lake Como in Bellagio. A short walk to town where you can catch the passenger ferry to Menaggio and Varenna. Free fresh water available with little passing traffic. We stayed 2 nights.
Italy: Rome – Villa Borghese, Viale dl Giardino Zoologico
Imagine staying in the centre of Rome for 5 days for free! We found this spot on a blog post and it was perfect. Down a quiet street, next to the Zoo. Walking distance to Villa Borghese Park and central Rome. A diamond find for free camping.
France: Chamonix, Mont Blanc lat. 45.93312 long.6.884868
Great shaded wooded area, suited to smaller and larger vans than motorhomes. Nice picnic area and close to main road into Chamonix with biking trails accessible.
France: Les Gets, lat.46.149799 long.6.6582, 310-328 Route des Pesses
We stayed here for 4 nights for free. It’s a car park at the base of the town with access to toilets and water. Easy walk to town and quiet at night.
Northeast Spain: Montserrat GPS Unknown
On our way to Barcelona we stopped for a night here. There are plenty of places to stop along the way with the most incredible views of the mountains. I recommend using the Park4Night app to find a space to park.
The Most Scenic Viewpoints
SouthernFrance: Views of Monaco, lat. 43.734501 long. 7.40159, 1094 – 1158 Route de la Tete de Chien
If you want insane views of Monaco/ Monte Carlo park here for the night. Hike up the Tete de Chien at night and morning for incredible city views. Picnic benches available.
SouthernFrance: Valensole lat. 43.822179 long. 6.017428
Quite rural spot not far from the road, shaded under trees with great views of the lavender fields. Waking up to the smell of lavender and possible farmer. Accessed via private road, very private and beautiful.
NorthernSpain: Llastres lat 43.51675 long. -5.269843
Great spot with ocean views. Good BBQ area and easy walk down hill into beautiful fishing village of Llastres.
The Best Beach Camping Spots
NorthernSpain: Ferrol lat 43.556571 long. -8.298003
Absolutely stunning beach car park location. Literally overlooking the ocean with direct beach access. Bins and toilets available in season.
Belgium – Belgian Beers in Rochefort and Waffles in Brugge.
Netherlands – Lisse for Tulip Season and Amsterdam during Kings Day.
Germany – Heidelberg for history and castles. Triberg for the original Black Forest Gateaux and home of the Cuckoo Clock. Lindau in Lake Constance – just wow!
Austria – Salzburg – pretend you are in the Sound of Music!
Slovenia – Lake Bled, such a beautiful town and stunning lake. We would love to come back to Slovenia and explore more.
Croatia – Rovinj, a cute and colourful fishing village with incredible sunsets and seafood. Kamenjak National Park for endless nature and ocean vistas. Plitvice Lakes– the most insane set of lakes and waterfalls we have ever seen.
Italy – Alberobello, home of the unique Trulli houses. Matera – a cave town situated on a gorge, Wonder Woman was filmed here! Positano, an iconic place to visit in Italy. Pompei – visit this ancient towns ruins for free on the first Sunday of every month. Rome and Florence for the history and architecture, Tuscany for the rolling hills and Venice for the winding lanes and Burano. A dream come true visiting Lake Como and Lake Garda. Basically we loved all of Italy!
Southern France – Valensole for the lavender, Verdon Gorge for the most insane turquoise blue water and Tete de Chien for views overlooking Monaco. Cascade du Sautadet and Vallon Pont D’arc for water sports heaven in the Ardeche.
Southern Spain – Barcelona for Gaudi art and Tapas, Valencia for the Art Science Park and Nerja for dreamy town beach vibes. Puerto Banus for high fashion and luxury, Tarifa for kite surfing heaven and Seville for flamenco!
Portugal – Benagil caves, a huge cave with a hole in the roof and a beach inside and Ponta da Piedade for incredible coastal views. Lisbon for city chic and Pastel de Natas (Portuguese egg custard tarts) and Sintra to visit Pena Palace. Porto is a coastal city, you must see the Livraria Lello, marvel at the stunning tiles and cross the Dom Luis bridge.
Northern Spain – We adored Northern Spain for the Pico de Europas, San Juan Gaztelugatxe and San Sebastian. Incredible hiking and Pintxo’s – like tapas.
Our Whole Route in Detail
France: Cherbourg – Cambremer – Paris – Epernay (Known for Champagne)