Some people have a travelling vein in their body. They simply can’t stay in one place for too long. Some people take advantage of their early twenties to tour foreign countries whilst others prefer to wait until they retire. Some, make it a life choice earlier.
The campervan is a popular way of combining a little more comfort with the opportunity to move around and live in different places either for all or part of the year. They do not come cheap. A campervan or motorhome can set you back anything up to €150,000. But at this price, and below, a motorhome comes with condensed luxury. It’s not wild camping, but combines the freedom of movement whilst carrying your home on your back.
Hooked on the lifestyle
Eric Artingstall’s love of campervan travel began in 1968 when he hired a motorhome and went to Italy. After that it was his ambition to take up the travelling lifestyle again. Eric largely confines his travels to France, Germany, the UK and Spain. He has elected to also buy a small property in Torrevieja which allows him to spend the cooler winter months in a relatively warmer area.
As such, Eric pays taxes on his property and water and electricity charges. He is not a ’freeloader’ as some would imply that those choosing this kind of lifestyle are. He is also happy to stay at official sites but notes the differences there are in the availability and price of these across Europe.
‘Most sites need a basic fee of €10 or more and some provide electricity whilst others don’t,’ explains Eric. ‘Although there are thousands of this kind of site in France and Germany, Spain does not have the same kind of provision. There are fewer sites available and they do tend to be more expensive.’
Travelling in this way is not restricted to the British and is very popular too with Scandinavians, Germans and an increasing number of Spanish people. However, there continues to be controversy where motorhome users appear to park up for long periods of time on unofficial sites. Eric argues that better and cheaper provision, like you find in most other countries in Europe, would improve the situation here in Spain.
One problem that Eric does have is that the campervan is also his main source of transport when he is based in Torrevieja. He does not want to buy another car just for the few months whilst he is here. He’s noticed the disapproving looks they can receive when parking up the van. ‘People often look at us with suspicion but we’re just there on a temporary basis and won’t outstay our welcome.’
Eric is an expert in the good places to stop around Europe. He’s been travelling with his wife over the past 18 years so he has had plenty of opportunity to amass a wealth of recommendations and stories about the best and the worst in campervan experiences. He particularly enjoys travelling in France; ‘We have stayed in wine villages in the Loire where you can have free electricity and wifi. We have also stayed on river marinas with electricity and water for five euros a night.’
Germany has also proved to be a really good destination. ‘You can travel using aires along the Moselle river and stop in small wine villages where you can sample the wines during the first week in September,’ says Eric. ‘You can take part in the fests with fireworks and oompah bands and can take a trip on the various river boats.’
When you are touring you will have to decide how to organise your stay. Will you stay a few days or use the aire de service camping parks? Aire de service in France and Stellplatz in Germany are stopping places designed for motor homes or camping cars. They can be anything from 30 to 80 van sites with everything on offer to much more modest affairs for one or two vans at a time or 10 to 20 in small villages.
People will use the sites to service their vehicle and then move on rather than staying at a campsite where you will have a larger plot to park on and access to showers and other facilities. The aire de service is a purely practical stop but is also a good way of meeting up with others.
On site you will usually find:
- A fresh water fill point
- Waste water emptying point
- Chemical toilet emptying point
- And in some cases an electrical hook up
‘With modern vans,’ says Eric. ‘There are three way fridges which work on gas, electric or you can use the van battery whilst driving. If you are touring the leisure batteries will give light and TV for two to three days but after that you need to hookup to electricity for a few hours so you’ll need a camp site with an aire with electricity.’
Purchasing your van
If you are considering taking up the travelling life style then you must ask yourself some searching questions to begin with before you purchase anything. If you are only going to use it for weekends or perhaps a two-week holiday then a small van is probably ideal. For anyone planning a longer trip, then the bigger the van you can afford the better, as a rule of thumb. The bigger vans have lots of items that make a longer period of travelling more comfortable such as showers, toilet, satellite TV or even central heating.
Be aware that the type of van you purchase may comes under a different licence category. For vans up to 3.5 tonnes a car licence is OK. Over that figure you move into a light heavy goods licence and after the age of 70 will need a medical every three years. However, the larger vehicle brings many benefits such as greater load capacity for carrying bicycles, folding, chairs, gas bottles and water etc.
For Eric, touring Europe is a passion and doing it by campervan makes it particularly versatile and varied. He now has his route carefully planned out and every year combines travelling to previous, well-loved destinations with the adventure of trying out new ones.
France Passion includes a guide to winegrowers in France who are happy for motorhomes to stop there free overnight. You have to become a member but you get a Stopover Guide, a window sticker and guest card:
For a guide to aires: