How to Wild Camp in a Motorhome
Do you want to wild camp in your motorhome? Already wild camping in your motorhome? Then read on for top tips and advice about how to wild camp in a motorhome and get off the beaten track like an expert!
Lots of people ask us how to wild camp in a motorhome – in fact it’s one of our most popular motorhoming questions. Do you just pull in off the open road and well…park overnight and carry on as usual?
Well, pretty much, yes! It helps to be prepared of course but there is no reception to check into, no electric to plug in, no site rules to read and best of all, no bill to pay!
Read our guide for the basic rules and tips about how to wild camp in a motorhome, to help you stay safe and enjoy the amazing views in the best way possible.
Wild Camping in Europe in a Motorhome
Most countries have laws regarding wild motorhome camping. Just to confuse matters, some areas of some countries have different laws. As a responsible motorhome wild camper you must understand these or you risk being moved on or getting a fine.
Check out our motorhome touring guides for country specific information about wild camping.
Update January 2021 – Both Portugal and the Valencia region in Spain have brought in new laws regarding wild camping motorhomes. For more detailed information about Portugal’s new law, check this post. For information about the change of wild camping in Spain (Valencia), click here.
All our motorhome touring guides
- The Complete Guide to Motorhome Touring in France
- The Complete Guide to Touring Italy by Motorhome
- How to Tour Spain in a Motorhome
- Top Tips for Touring Portugal in a Campervan or Motorhome
- How to Tour Norway by Campervan
- Motorhome Germany – A Complete Touring Guide
- Motorhome Stopovers and Travel in Belgium
- How to Tour Europe in a Motorhome in 2021
- Planning Your Moroccan Motorhome Adventure
Motorhome Wild Camping in the United Kingdom
What are the rules on wild camping in the UK in a motorhome? Technically, it is not legal to practice free camping in the UK in motorhomes without explicit permission from the landowner.
In reality, locating and asking the landholder (potentially a national park or government body) would be impossible and you can’t just pitch up on private land and hope for the best.
If you stick to remote places, use your common sense and follow the guidance in this post then the chances are you’ll be fine. You may be asked to move on, if this is the case, you should do so immediately and without fuss.
We have motorhome wild camped in Dartmoor, the Lake District, Snowdonia, the Norfolk Broads and Coast, the Breacon Beacons, the Peak District and lots of other out of the way and remote places. We’ve never been asked to move on but we always stick to the unwritten rules on camping in the UK.
England, Wales and Northern Ireland are generally less tolerant than Europe of motorhomes, particularly in more built up areas or scenic spots. Every week I read of new height restrictions being implemented in previously welcoming places.
The issue is that motorhome wild camping has increased exponentially across Europe and the UK in the last five years and some communities are fed-up of having motorhomes literally parked nose-to-tail on their doorstep and their landscapes and infra-structure damaged by inconsiderate and uneducated motorhomers.
In France, the response to this is to create aires (areas specifically for motorhomes) which give motorhomers a pleasant place to stay with services for (sometimes) a small fee.
They also help to bring income to the town or village and provide a great alternative to wild camping in France. Sadly there are few such free campsites or aire type facilities in the UK.
The wild camping Scotland law is no different, but Scotland appears to be more tolerant (although there are signs that this is changing as a result of the pandemic), perhaps because there is so much wilderness and of course, the epic North Coast 500 road trip which attracts plenty of motorhomers.
You may have heard of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, but this does not apply to motorhomes, only wild campers who are ‘lightweight camping’, which is definitely not in a motorhome! Check out our wild camping in Scotland guide for more tips and info.
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Planning to Wild Camp in a Motorhome
Park4Night, Campercontact, Searchforsites and Camperstop are all popular free motorhome overnight parking apps. There are lots of other wild camping for motorhomes, Facebook and Instagram groups, but we think Park4Night is the best wild camping database because it always gives the most options, includes motorhome service points in the UK and Europe, and car parks suitable for motorhomes.
Check out our pick of the top sixteen free motorhome camping apps to help you get off grid in your motorhome or campervan.
You could also try Brit Stops (pubs that allow motorhomes) for free overnight motorhome parking in the UK, a great alternative to UK wild camping. The basic premise is to provide free overnight stops for motorhomes at no charge although many people take advantage and have a drink or meal. It’s unlikely you will find services at many Brit Stops but you will find a warm welcome.
When planning your stops, remember the following;
- You may be restricted due to the size and weight of your van, check your route prior to setting off; it’s pretty devastating to get 100m from the idyllic lakeside spot you picked for the night, only to find you can’t actually get there….it’s happened to us more than once!
- Always have a second option in mind so that if you arrive and it’s not right you can move on.
- Don’t expect every spot to be idyllic! For every perfect wild camping for motorhomes spot, there are ten so-so places which do the job but are not Insta worthy!
- It is much, much easier to find good, quiet and wild motorhome camping sites in the mountains or inland than by the sea or a lake; if you want to be by the water be prepared for it to be a bit more like a car park.
- Use a compass to work out sunrise and sunset and park accordingly….we have woken to some amazing sunrises viewed from bed (with a cup of tea, of course!) because we parked the right way! A 360º panoramic view means you have hit the wild camping jackpot and can see both sunrise and sunset.
- Don’t get caught in a remote spot with nothing to eat, or worse no wine!
- We cook out a lot, but always carry stuff we can cook easily inside; eggs or filled pasta for example. Cooking out in the rain in a wild camping spot where you don’t want to get your awning out is really no fun!
- The one thing you don’t need is a mobile signal, which is great as you probably won’t get one anyway! Instead, take time to step out and enjoy the zero light pollution and amazing night sky.
Our Top Motorhome Wild Camping Tips
- Assess your free motorhome spot and the general area. If it feels safe, it probably is. If you’re unsure, move on – always trust your gut instinct on this.
- We have spent over 500 nights in wild campervan sites and have never felt unsafe or concerned about having roof-lights and windows open as we sleep. However, it is important to understand the risks and assess for each particular spot on arrival.
- If your spot ends up being a lorry stop, or surrounded by kennels (yep, that’s happened!), will you be able to sleep? Move on if you think it will be too noisy.
- Don’t go out and flaunt your stuff; your watch and camera may feel like everyday items to you but to thieves looking for an opportunity they are advertising your lifestyle. People living in poorer parts of Europe and the UK will see living in a motorhome as a luxurious existence, even though we know it’s not.
- There are some areas in Europe (particularly around cities) where gangs of motorhome thieves operate, where overnight parking is popular. They park up in their own clapped out motorhome and watch for people like us to park up and head out…boom, your pride and joy is being nicked whilst you’re enjoying an ice-cream somewhere. Check on-line and in forums for the latest info, or with the local police/tourist office. If in doubt, park on a site.
- Have a plan should the worst happen….we carry self defence spray and a large Mag-lite torch, a legitimate item for a camper to have. Another such legitimate item might be a baseball bat for example, but make sure you also carry a ball!
- Using levelling devices, having your step out or windows open and your satellite dish being up can all be viewed as signs of ‘camping’, which may be against the law….be aware and pack up before you go to bed.
- For us, motorhome wild camping means wild. It doesn’t mean motorhome parking on a residential street outside someone’s house to save money; we think that’s just rude and inconsiderate to the people who live in the neighbourhood and is not how to wild camp in a motorhome.
- Wild camping does not meaning arriving and pitching like you’re in a campsite. Don’t outstay your welcome; we reckon three days in any one spot is about enough.
- Some popular motorhome wild camping spots will often will have signs warning of ‘no camping’, this is also often the case within national parks. Our experience is that out of season, you can stay in camper vans if you are discreet (unless you’re in Portugal or Valencia) In season, ignore the signs at your peril.
- Don’t turn up and park within a metre of another van, even though it may improve your view….this is not neighbourly behaviour and large congregations of vans are definitely not discreet!
Leave No Trace
- We should all try and leave no trace where at all possible. Don’t leave rubbish behind and respect the local environment, the people and animals who live there as well as fellow motorhomes who will come behind you.
- It’s ok to drop grey waste down a public drain or a wild camping spot, but don’t drop grey water;
- on a tarmac or other non-porous surface, it needs a place to drain away.
- if you put waste food stuffs down your kitchen sink, this will attract pests to the spot.
- if you use lots of harsh chemicals such as bleach – a bit of washing up-liquid or shower gel is fine.
- driving along a road with your grey waste tap open, chemical residues can cause slip hazards for other road users.
- Never, ever dispose of black waste (toilet waste) anywhere other than a designated place. If you use chemicals in your loo, then you must only use a chemical disposal point.
- Remember that the non-motorhoming general public have no idea about motorhome waste. If you are overnight camping in a beauty spot with your waste tap open dropping 100l dirty water, they will assume the worst. Be discreet and respectful at all times; if you think dropping your waste may be inappropriate or cause offence, then do it elsewhere or at a motorhome dump-station.
Motorhome Equipment for Wild Camping
The very nature of wild camping in a motorhome means you need to be self-sufficient. Understand how your motorhome works. It may sound obvious but if you’re wondering why your solar panel has stopped charging your leisure batteries at 11pm, then you’re not really understanding the fundamentals!
On our very first wild camping expedition in a used motorhome, we spent ages fretting that our fridge was not working of 12v, as the book said it was second in the hierarchy of power options. Doh…eventually we worked out that 12v only works when the engine is running; the fridge runs on gas if you’re not hooked up!
Ensure your motorhome or van is set up for wild camping, check this post about equipment and options for more information. Campervan hire vehicles may not be set up for wild camping, check before you leave the rental office.
We suggest you need the following wild camping essentials;
- solar panels, 1 x 120w at least, find out more in our easy guide to motorhome electrics.
- good gel leisure batteries; we carry 3 x 90ah, two would probably be sufficient but the extra one gives us a bit of fudge if we want to stay put for a few days and the weather is dull.
- full gas bottles for your heating, hot water and cooking; it gets bloody cold overnight in the mountains! A note on this; mixed propane/butane gas (as supplied in Europe) does not always perform well over 2,000ft and can cause your boiler to sound like a freight train! It’s nothing to worry about but a bit alarming the first time it happens. Some motorhomes with Alde heating have an altitude setting which resolves this problem, but most don’t.
- enough fresh water for your needs.
- It also helps to have emptied your loo fairly recently! If you find yourself with a full loo too often, consider the following;
- If you don’t use chemicals in your loo (like a SOG toilet for example), you can empty your waste into any toilet, but you should make sure that you can keep the area properly clean after you have emptied which can be difficult, as public WC’s are not designed for toilet cassette disposal. This can also also be awkward as non-motorhomers won’t understand what you’re doing.
- Get a Kildwick dry composting toilet that separates solids and liquids. You won’t need water or chemicals as no flushing is required. It’s a completely natural system, which gives you plenty of time to relax out in the wild. One of the portable toilets they offer even folds up when not in use!
- Take a fold-up shovel, dig and hole and do it the old-fashioned way. Make sure you’re as far away from buildings, watercourses and wildlife as possible. Remember not to leave soiled loo paper for others to find or animals to dig up. Use a nappy sack or dog waste bag until you can dispose of it properly. Avoid long grass and make sure you know how to stay safe from tick bites. If in doubt, always check afterwards.
- Carry a spare cassette, this will give you twice as long out in the wilds!