Boondocking on a caravan isn't the same as wild camping in a tent or a 4×4. But you can still avoid campsites and go to Stellplatz free car parks and charming sleeping spots that aren't crowded.
In these spots, you typically find many quirky or interesting personalities. Couples or families living on a house on wheels for many months a year, sometimes all in one stretch, are called full-timers. We typically use these places for one night, traveling form one place to another. We stay longer only if the surroundings are nice. On our travel map, we mark boondocking spots (in Europe they're called Stellplatz) using a flower symbol.
Electricity — The Main Challenge
In campsites you don’t need to care about electricity — there's plenty of it and it's easily accessible. When you're boondocking, it's almost never available. Having a hot shower needs to be delayed and instead of cooking you may need to go to a restaurant. Work may have to be postponed to another day, too. But the refrigerator needs to work all the time. This means that we have to think ahead before we leave the cushy facilities of a campsite. Or we have to get some extra equipment.
On our new caravan I have installed a 130W solar panel, which charges a 110AH leisure battery. We also have two 10kg gas cylinders – we use these to run more power-thirsty appliances. On our caravan the refrigerator, heating, 10L water heater, stove and oven are gas-fuelled. And the 12V leisure battery powers the water pump, fans, as well as charging up our phones and tablets. We use them to run an inverter, our laptops and an external 21” monitor. We cope very well with this system.
Solar stove which we are planning to try.
The 130W rigid solar panel Prestigio cost 500EUR and the installation was about 80EUR in Burimex (Czech Republic). Our most difficult test: we spent three days in Porto, close to the city centre, in rainy and cloudy conditions. We had to run two computers all day. After three days, we started to run out of power. As a backup, we can use the caravan battery to get another 2-3 hours of power. We just went to a campsite, though. So, let me summarize: we have a good setup that we have tested in very difficult conditions. The battery is four years old and warm water, cooking, refrigerator and heating are all fuelled by gas, so nothing essential depends on the solar panel.
Gas Consumption is Not Big
In the spring and summer we use about half a 10kg bottle per month. If we need to turn the heating on at night, we consume the full can in one month. On an 80-day trip we brought back about 3kg of gas and consumed around 17kg in three months. We we turning the heating on in April, from time to time in May and not at all in June. Gas is cheap, around 12EUR per 10kg cylinder, but the trouble is that you can exchange bottles only in the same country you buy them from, or you need to have various adapters. Alternatively, you can buy refillable LPG cans, but, for the same reason, it might be better to run everything off solar and just buy more batteries.
Internet is Easy
After many years of experience, we collected some solid gear. We can use the internet anywhere in Europe. This has improved our mental health, because our stress levels were high when we needed to work and had to look for a good wi-fi for ages. For example, it was tough when I had scheduled a Skype call with a client and I couldn't find reliable internet connection. Now I always have plan A and, just in case, plan B. If that doesn't work, I also have plans C and D. But to be honest, I still can't get online from time to time.
- Alfa WiFi Camp Pro antenna
- XYFi 3G modem
- Ordinary 200W inverter
- Spanish Mundo SIM — €1 for 100MB in the EU
- You can often find free WiFi in Carrefour (supermarkets located everywhere in Spain), Ikea (always), McDonnald's (sometimes it doesn't work) and Starbucks
- It's also good to walk on the main street of a town or village, where there's lots of restaurants and bars with WiFi
Rules for Boondocking on a Stellplatz
Our experience with Stellplatz boondocking spots is very positive. We never felt threatened, or seen suspicious people hanging around the sites. It can be noisy sometimes, but this is a reality for some campsites as well. It helps to read reviews on the Campercontact app, Park4Night or StayFree and choose wisely. In most spots and situations, no one will turn you away. If you arrive in places, where you are not welcome during the day after 7pm and leave before 9am, it all works out fine. In fact, at that point you're just a tired driver who's having a nap for safety reasons.
- The local Police is often checks on known boondocking spots, where tourists usually park up for the night. If you're tidy and your outside kitchen is not in the middle of the road, there's usually no problem.
- Truck stops — parking next to trucks is no problem either. You can sleep for a night, unless it's close to a big city or harbour.
- If the place is well-lit and, ideally, there's other RVs around, it's a sign of safety (you're distributing risk).
- Around 30% of boondocking spots offer water or a discharge for the chemical toilet, as well as some chain supermarkets, such as Intermarché (the equivalent of Wallmart in the US).
- Outside of high season we haven't used a Stellplatz that was completely full. So unless it's a small one, you're pretty likely to find a spot. It's even better if you have a small rig.
Tips that May Come Handy
- Drinking water can be often found on Stellplatz boondocking spots, as well as at gas stations and it's free in Spain and France. Italy doesn't have it.
- We usually need around 20-30L a day. Showers take around 5-10 litres if you are not careful.
- Make sure you look poor, like you can barely pay for gas. In places where there are big expensive RVs, you are always less of an interesting target for a possible burglary. Even better if you show stylish sea decorations (like ropes and bamboo sticks) or unkempt clothes.
- Change places often. Staying longer in one place increases that probability that someone will keep an eye on you.
- Search and respect restrictions – in Spain and France they're more strict with campers in touristy places.
- If there is someone around to ask if you can sleep there, do your homework and ask.
- Never start fires outdoors. Use your chairs and other equipment carefully. Behave more like you are parking a car, rather than camping in a campsite.
Sometimes you meet really special people on boondocking spots. Old RVs rusted to the bone. Buses rebuilt as a family house, families who rebuilt a MAN truck and are homeschooling their kids at home, old vans with roofs full of surf boards, or freaks who live in an old truck. Don't be afraid. Here's some tips from our friend Michal, who travels full-time on an a RV: “If you behave well (minimalistic camping, few chairs outside, no discharge of grey water, etc.) then you can get away with virtually anything, including parking two RVs at a time.”
- France – boondocking spots are called ”Aire de camping” and overnight camping is allowed. Somewhere it's OK if you leave by 9am, or you look stealth (not like us, it's easy to tell we're tourists, as we have a caravan trailer). Both in France and in Corsica restrictions are very common.
- Monaco – Michal states: “In Monaco there is only one underground parking place for RVs (not caravans) up to 7.20m of length and 3.5 m of height. Otherwise, no chance of parking. Outside the city, a good trick is to park/sleep near a coastal train station (up to 30km from Monaco). You can park there easily, and for a few EUR you are in the city of Monaco (trains leave twice an hour).”
- Spain – totally easy-going country. Example: we slept in a herd of RVs on the beach in La Mata, where entrance was prohibited. The Police officers threw us out in the morning. No penalty, they just said: ‘Finish your coffee, but don't come back in the evening.' Otherwise, no trouble.
- Portugal – there's a lot of places on the coast and no one cares if you don't disturb. It is said that only the Algarve region prohibits overnight sleeping outside designated areas.
- Croatia – the same as in the Czech Republic – sleeping outside campsites is prohibited, but I have seen campervas near the shopping center in Makarska and we slept in a nice place in Valtice and no one cared.
- Switzerland – based on my interview with a local, in Switzerland wild camping is tolerated in villages where there is no campsite. In general there are very few places that are suitable for an overnight stay. Everything is either road, English lawn, somebody's entrance, or a private road. Some roads in the mountains are closed to caravan trailers completely.
- Bulgaria, Romania – supposedly tolerated, but I would not sleep in these countries outside campsites. See more on Livin4wheel map.
- Germany, Austria— in these two countries I would recommend using designated Stellplatzes or parking for trucks. Law is regulating this the German way. Michal adds that parking spots near shops are OK. On Sundays (they are closed) the parking lots are totally quiet. The same goes for lakeside parking lots, if there is no restriction.
Other Countries Where We Have Not Been To
- Scotland – up to 100m from the road it is allowed.
- England – up to 100m from the road it is allowed. The land has to have no fence or be private. If you stay long or there is a group of you, you're an easy target for the Police.
- Greece – not allowed, but totally ignored – see more at Livin4wheel map.
- Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland– nobody cares.
- Estonia – tolerated. It is good to have the consent of land owner.
- Poland – tolerated, but don't sleep in national parks.
- Italy – Michal's experience: Most gas stations have a car park, often shopping centres are OK as well as small shops (at least those to the north of Rome). You can easily sleep in parking lots near shops. Things get complicated on the seaside — see more at Livin4wheel map.
- Netherlands – officially prohibited, but Michael repeatedly slept just behind a small village, on grass, near a road, with his RV and had no problems. Parking near Amsterdam was no problem either.
- Denmark – it's not allowed and the Danes are strict. The alternative in are harbours, where it's not for free, but it's still about a third of the price of a campsite.
- Ireland – not allowed.
Update in 2019 — As time goes on, many more people travel in vans and RVs and so new restrictions might be put into place. In the USA the local authorities already started to forbid campers from entering city centres and to regulate parking. So I bet Europe will follow suit due to the growth of the popularity of camping and the digital nomad movement.
Known Robbery Cases
- Lago di Garda, Irena — We wild camp mostly, on a caravan equipped with a solar panel. It happened to us in June 2016 for the first time. They stole cash and a computer. It was our mistake – we didn't use a security lock.
- France, Franta — We only sleep wild (boondock). I slept in I, NL, F, D and also in other places without problems. Only in France, in a Stellplatz, someone tried to break into our car. It was a second class road. We prefer to leave the main road and search for a place behind a small village. Burglars don't venture into nature.
- France, Veronika — We were sleeping at a very popular gas station, directly in front of the entrance. It was a gas station on a highway, around 200km from Marseille. We were robbed while we slept. We lost 1,500 EUR and some Swiss francs. They managed to sort all the Euros from the Francs. They took only Euros. They left expensive things behind and they supposedly used gas to poison us, but we didn't realise.
General Rules for Boondocking
- Don't break laws and check the road signs
- Clean up your trash, or even the trash left by other people
- Lock your car, camper or trailer and watch out
- Pay attention to your neighbours and any people around you
- Use natural toiletries
- Don't block entries or streets
- With fires, act carefully
- Don't sleep for more than one night in one spot
More information you can be found on Facebook, on Wild Campings Tips. Don't wait – start exploring your freedom (in the wilderness) in the same way a Slovakian couple chose a Ford Bronco instead of a hotel and have driven across Siberia in 2016.