There are a few ways to spend the night in your camper van while traveling, it all depends on what your looking for, you can go from full on facilities to totally self sufficiant it all comes down to how you want to spend your night.
As for Jess and I we love to wild camp (free camping) our Meryl (our van) has a toilet and shower and can live off it’s leisure battery for up to 5 days. We can run a heater, watch TV and cook dinners with no worries of running out of power. We love wild camping for the freedom it gives you.
Now, having said all that, once we have been out wild camping for 5 day it’s always nice to plug in, fill up the tanks and empty the black water. This is where the amazing Aires come in! Aires are a great way to do all this. You can expect to pay anywhere from free to 10 euro a night (and up) per van. There are more expensive sites but we have found we generally don’t not need to use them. We have had great experiences in northern Spain on Aires with swimming pools, fresh water and internet all for 10 euros a night.
Anyone who is looking for the upmarket experience, you can always go to a campsite that has full amenities, but you will definitely pay for this!
A few things to keep in mind while free camping:
It is definitely something you have to get used to. I think the first few times we did it I didn’t sleep a wink. There are things you will learn very quickly when you decide you want to try wild camping.
You have to be smart about where you decide to pull over. Make sure you are not too remote and if your gut is telling you it’s a bit sketchy, than just move on. Especially for us, being two women, we are always scoping out where we are to make sure we feel comfortable.
Don’t set up every piece of equipment you own. Leave the awning rolled up and don’t pull out the bbq. Tables and chairs are usually fine. When we wild camp we try to blend in as much as possible without drawing too much attention to the van…although it is hard because she’s huge…and yellow.
If you can ask permission then do so. We had a great experience in France at Les Gorges de Galamus. At the top of the gorge there is a fantastic car park with views that will blow your mind. In the car park there is a small cafe, so we pulled over and got 2 beers and asked the guy as he was packing up for the day if we could stay parked in the car park over night, he said of course! It was amazing! Once all the tourists left for the night we had the whole place to ourselves! We went ripping around on skateboards on one of Europe’s most dangerous roads…pretty epic.
With that said, try to be as low key as possible. When we wild camp we truly live by the mantra, “take nothing but memories. Leave nothing but footprints.” So make sure you take all your rubbish with you and leave no trace of yourselves ever being there. You don’t want to spoil the opportunity for the next person. Always respect your surroundings.
Like I said before these are great places to stay at and you can find anything to fit your budget. You can pay as little as a few euros or as much as 30 euros/night. There are Aires books you can buy, but you don’t have to keep buying the updated version as we found Aires come and go a lot, and if you’re only relying on whatever version of book you have then you may find yourself at a location that once was, but is no longer an Aires. If you don’t want to go by the book, here a three sites that we always use when looking for a stop.
I have to be honest, we have only used a proper campsite a few times, this usually comes down to being super tired and we’ve just needed to pull over while we are in the middle of town. If you love having the use of a pool, internet, restaurants/bars, hot shower, flushing toilets, washing machines; then these are the places for you. They are like small villages where travellers coming from all over the world to live for a few months so they are very community driven. You can talk “camper van talk” with “Ken and Eilen” alllll day long if you wanted to haha. Don’t be shocked if your temporary neighbours ask to come in and take a “looksy” around your van.