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How to Wild Camp in a Motorhome & Campervan
Do you want to wild camp in your motorhome? Are you feeling a bit nervous about wild camping for the first time? Then read on for all our top tips and practical 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 – it’s one of our most van life 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 for your wild camping trip 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 have an amazing wild camping experience.
What is Motorhome Wild Camping?
Motorhome wild camping means setting up camp and sleeping in your motorhome outside of a campsite or caravan park, or anywhere which doesn’t have facilities like electric hook up or water. Sometimes called free camping or wilding, in America, it is called boondocking, dry camping or freedom camping.
Wild camping is not really much different from finding a free overnight parking place for your van, which might be in a parking lot, supermarket car park or patch of waste ground somewhere – but for many, us included, wild camping is about sleeping in your motorhome or camper van in the wilderness, or in a rural area free of traffic, light pollution, noise and other people!
Is Wild Camping in a Motorhome Safe?
So, this question is at the top of the post because it’s the single most asked question about wild camping. I get it …the first time we wild camped I was super-nervous and convinced it would all go horribly wrong. It didn’t and actually, I slept like a baby!
Since that first time, we’ve travelled all over Europe for over three years, living in our motorhome and wild camping for at least 75% of that time. Only once have I had a nervous moment, when a white van slowly drove around our motorhome at our wild camping spot late at night. They left and we moved on to our second choice, just in case.
In this post we’ll share with you all the tricks you need in your wild camping toolbox to keep you safe, well equipped and prepared. Follow our guide and we can promise that you’ll become a confident wild camper in no time.
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Motorhome & Campervan Wild Camping in the United Kingdom
What are the rules on wild camping trips in the UK in a motorhome?
Technically, it is not legal to practice wild camping in the UK on private land without explicit permission from the landowner.
In reality, locating and asking the landholder (potentially a national park or government body) is just not possible. If the land is obviously private i.e. fenced in or signed as such then you should not camp there.
Where it is less clear whether the land is private or not, follow our motorhome wild camping tips to stay safe and ensure you don’t cause any damage to the environment.
So where can you wild camp in a motorhome in the UK?
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 Brecon 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.
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.
I’ve heard it’s easy to wild camp in Scotland?
The wild camping Scotland law is no different to the rest of the United Kingdom. Pre-pandemic Scotland was more tolerant, but that has changed in the past few years and it is becoming harder to wild camp there, especially along popular motorhoming routes routes like the North Coast 500.
You may have heard of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, but this does not apply to motorhomes, only wild campers who are ‘lightweight camping’ with a tent. Check out our wild camping in Scotland guide for more tips and info.
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Wild Camping in Europe in a Motorhome
Most European 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.
Having said that, motorhome travel in general, as well as free camping in Europe is way easier than in the UK. Countries are generally less populated than the UK and many have vast swathes of unpopulated land where you can find a peaceful and free camping spot.
You can find travel tips and country specific information regarding wild camping laws and rules in our motorhome touring guides, alongside lots of other information about driving, camping and top destinations.
If you’re RVing in Europe, our guides will help to ease you into a totally different type of road trip, where RV’s are motorhomes, freedom camping and boondocking is called wild camping and every country you visit brings a new cultural experience.
Motorhome Touring Guides
Update January 2021 – Both Portugal and the Valencia region in Spain have brought in new motorhome and campervan parking laws which also affect where vehicles are allowed to wild camp.
For more detailed information about Portugal’s new law, read about motorhoming and campervanning in Portugal. For information about the new restrictions on wild camping locations in Spain (Valencia), read about motorhome travel in Spain.
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Planning to Wild Camp in a Motorhome
How do I find free wild camping spots?
Park4Night, Campercontact, Searchforsites and Camperstop are all popular free UK and Europe 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.
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What should I consider when planning my overnight stop?
- 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 overnight parking 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 free overnight parking spot to be idyllic! For every perfect wild camping for motorhomes spot, there are ten so-so parking lots which do the job but are definitely 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.
How to Wild Camp in a Motorhome or Campervan
- 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.
- Check the terrain. Can you park there and get level, or level enough for a good nights sleep? Is the ground firm enough to drive on and able to support the weight of your vehicle? Are there any dangerous obstacles to avoid – don’t forget about low hanging trees.
- 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!
- There are some places where you will be remote enough to be able to enjoy a campfire. But, make absolutely sure you’re not in an area where lighting a fire is prohibited. These rules are in place to prevent wild fires staring, which can burn out of control due to dry conditions. Make sure to douse your fire before you go to bed with plenty of water.
- 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. But, if you are ‘parking’ and there are no visible signs of camping, then you are unlikely to be disturbed. 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.
- Wild camping does not mean 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. 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!
- One night, possibly two in any spot is usually enough. Longer stays can draw attention and get the locals worried about permanent encampments.
Leave No Trace
- Leave no trace. Don’t leave rubbish behind in wild camping places 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 at 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.
Do you want access to our free resource library packed with road trip & motorhome checklists?
Motorhome Equipment for Wild Camping
The very nature of wild camping in a motorhome means you need to be self-sufficient. Before embarking on wild camping, understand how your motorhome works.
On our very first wild camping expedition in a used motorhome, we spent ages fretting that our fridge was not working on 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.
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The right solar panels will trickle feed your leisure batteries and generate enough free electricity from the sun for most peoples needs. If you’re wild camping in southern Europe, you should be able to manage indefinitely without electric hook up.
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Full gas bottles for your heating, hot water and cooking. Get to know your van and how much gas your heating and hot water system uses. We were surprised to run through nearly 20kg of gas in a weekend wild camping in the mountains of northern Spain one winter!
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Fill your fresh water tank to the brim before heading out for a few nights, and consider taking bottles drinking water if you can. Fresh water is the one thing that brings us back to civilisation!
An Empty Toilet Cassette!
It definitely helps to have emptied your loo fairly recently! If you find yourself with a full toilet cassette 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 dry camping toilets they offer even folds up when not in use!
Or, 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. If you can’t dig a hole, bag your water to take away with you.
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.
If you have the space, we recommend carrying a spare cassette, this will give you twice as long out in the wilds!
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Six Motorhome Wild Camping Essentials
Alternatives to Wild Camping
In France, the response to wild camping is to create motorhome aires (areas specifically designated for motorhomes and campervans but not caravans) which give motorhomers a pleasant place to stay with services for (sometimes) a small fee.
These camper stops 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.
Many other European countries have adopted this idea, leading to a network of thousands of convenient places for motorhomes and campervans to stop overnight. In Italy they’re called area di sosta, in Germany it’s stellplatz, in Portugal and Spain they are area de servicio para autocaravanas, and in Norway, look out for bobils.
It’s not quite wild camping but if you’re looking for a cheap or free place to spend the night, it’s a great option.
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There are a number of schemes across Europe which enable you to stay on vineyards, wineries and farms for the night. Many don’t offer services so you need to be self-sufficient, just like wild camping. Each scheme differs in how it operates, and all offer a great way to get back to nature, meet the locals and stay in amazing off the beaten path places.
- France – France Passion
- Spain – Espana Discovery
- Portugal – Portugal Easy Camp
- Italy – In Camper Con Gusto
- Germany – Landvergnügen
- Germany – WinzerAtlas
You could also try Brit Stops (UK 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.
Now you know how to wild camp in a motorhome, pack up, get out there and do it! But, if you’re still not sure, check out our top campsites in the UK and Europe!