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!
How to Wild Camp in a Motorhome
Lots of people ask us how to wild camp in a motorhome. 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. If you’re an experienced wild camper, you may want to ignore the tips and advice and head for our favourite locations for the best camping in Europe!
Wild Camping in Europe in a Motorhome - The Important Stuff
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 European Essential Country Guides for country specific information about wild camping.
Follow these tips for a great wild camping experience;
- 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.
- Have a plan should the worst happen….we carry ‘not quite’ pepper spray from Germany 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!
- Don’t go out and flaunt your stuff; your nice 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, particularly 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.
- 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, by the sea in Portugal and Spain for example, 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. In season, ignore the signs at your peril!
- We should all try and leave no trace where at all possible. Never, ever leave rubbish behind or empty your black (WC) waste at a campervan wild camping spot. Respect the local environment and 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 waste;
- 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.
- Remember that the non-motorhoming general public have no idea about motorhome waste. If you are 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.
- We have spent over 300 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.
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. Remember that you are a representative of the motorhoming community and as such, we are all judged by your actions (no pressure!).
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 key here 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 (usually) 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 in the UK.
The wild camping Scotland law is no different, but Scotland appears to be much more tolerated, perhaps because there is so much wilderness. 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! These wild camping Scotland tips were written with tents in mind, but the spirit applies to motorhomes too; follow these and you won’t go far wrong.
In the motorhome and camper community, we often hear tales about wild camping; the practice of finding somewhere to park and stay in your motorhome that is not a campsite or Aire and is free. For us, wild camping also means an awesome view and not many other vans around. A lot of stuff we hear about wild camping and its’ risks is just not accurate; here are eight motorhome wild camping myths…busted!
Planning to Wild Camp in a Motorhome
We use Park4Night and Campercontact to find places to park for the night. There are other overnight parking apps but we think Park4Night is the best wild camping database because it always gives the most options and includes motorhome service points in the UK and Europe and car parks suitable for motorhomes but check out these other free camping in Europe apps, which you may prefer.
You could also try Brit Stops (pubs that allow motorhomes) for free overnight motorhome parking in the UK, a great alternative to wild camping. The basic premise is to provide free overnight stops for motorhomes at no charge although may 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!
- 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 turn up and park within a metre of another van, even though it may improve your view….this is not neighbourly behaviour!
- 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.
- Don’t get caught in a remote spot with nothing to eat, or worse no wine!
- 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! Campervan hire vehicles may not be set up for wild camping, check before you leave the rental office.
- 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.
Six Motorhome Wild Camping Essentials
Motorhome Equipment for Wild Camping
The very nature of wild camping in a motorhome means you need to be self-sufficient. Ensure your motorhome or van is set up for wild camping, check this post about equipment and options for more information. 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, consider the following;
- if you don’t use chemicals in your loo, 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.
- take a fold-up shovel, dig and hole and do it the old-fashioned way, but don’t leave soiled loo paper. Use a nappy sack or doggie bag until you can dispose of it properly.
- carry a spare cassette, this will give you twice as long out in the wilds!
USEFUL WILD CAMPING RESOURCES
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