Boondocking With a Caravan

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Porto in Portugal - Boondocking

Wild camping with a caravan is not the same as with a tent or an off-road. But you can still skip campsites from you itinerary and get on stellplatz free parking & sleeping spots that have their own spirit and are not full of people.

At these spots, you typically find many individualistic or interesting personalities. Couples or families living in a house on wheels for many months a year, sometimes in one stretch — called full-timers. We are typically using these places for one night, when going form one place to another. We stay longer only if there is nice surroundings. On out travel map we are marking boondocking spots (in Europe called stellplatz) by a flower.

boondocking

Electricity — The Main Challenge

In campsites you don’t care about electricity — there is plenty of it. But, when you are boondocking, it is almost never available. Taking shower with hot water can be postponed and cooking can be replaced by a restaurant. Work can be delayed to another day as well. But refrigerator has to be working all the time. This means, that we have to think two, three steps ahead, before we leave the facilities of campsites. Or we get some extra equipment.

To our new caravan, I have installed a 130 Wp solar panel, which is recharging a leisure battery of 110 Ah. We also have 2x 10 kg gas cilinders, and these are used for more demanding appliances. In our caravan — refrigerator, heating, 10 L water heater, stove and oven are using gas. And the 12V leisure battery is powering water pump, fans, charge phones and tablets. They are supplying an inverter and external 21” monitor and our laptops easily.

Solar Stove Fun Panel

Solar stove which we are planning to try.

Fixed panel Prestigio 130 W cost 500 EUR and its installation about 80 EUR in Burimex (Czech Republic). This was our most difficult test: Rainy and cloudy conditions, where we have spent 3 days in Porto, close to city centre. Two computers and full work-load. Then, after those three days, we started to get out of power. As a backup, the caravan can be switched to a car battery and get another 2-3 hours. We have not done this and went to a campsite instead. So, let me summarise: We have a good setup and we have tried in very unpleasant conditions. The battery is 4 years old and warm water, cooking, refrigerator and heating went ok using gas anyway.

Gas Cilinder for CampingGas Consumption is Not Big

In warm conditions we use about half of the 10 kg can per month. If we need to turn the heating on for a night, we consume the full can in a month. On 80 day trip we brought back some 3 kg of gas and consumed 17 kg for almost 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 12 EUR per 10 kg can, but the trouble is that you can exchange the bottles only in Czech republic or have various connectors. Alternatively, you can have refillable LPG cans, but for the same reason, it might be better to have everything on solar power and just add more batteries.

Internet is Easy

For the many years of experience, we collected some solid equipment. We can be online anywhere in Europe. It even contributes to our better health. As the stress level used to be in the red when we were searching to get a good connection. For example when I had scheduled Skype call with a customer and I did not have reliable connection — it was tough. Now I always have plan A, and for safety reasons plan B as well. If that does not work, I have plans C and D, but to be honest, it still generates offline situations from time to time.

Hardware

Apps

Tips

  • Often you can find free WiFi In Carrefour (safe bet in Spain), Ikea (always), McDonnalds (sometimes not working) & Starbucks
  • It is fine to go through the main boulevard, where there is a lot of restaurants with WiFi

Spain Boondocking

Rules for Boondocking on a Stellplatz

Our experience with stellplatz boondocking spots is very positive. We never felt a threat, or seen suspicions persons hanging around. It can be noisy sometimes, but this is a reality for some campsites as well. What would help you, is to read reviews in Campercontact app or Park4Night or StayFree and choose wisely. In most spots and situations, no one will be pushing you away. If you arrive after 7 PM and leave before 9 AM even in places, where you are not welcomed during the day, all would work out fine. In fact you are just a tired driver, who is having a nap for safety reasons.

  • Local police is often going around known sleeping places, where tourists usually park and are checking safety. If you are tidy and your outside kitchen is not in the middle of the road, then usually there are no problems.
  • Truck stops — parking in places together with trucks is no problem. You just sleep over fine, unless it’s close to a big city or big port.
  • If the place is well-lit, and ideally, there is more RVs around, it is a sign of safety (you are distributing risk).
  • Around 30% of boondocking spots have water or a discharge for chemical toilet, as well as some chain stores such as Intermarché (like Wallmart in the USA).
  • Outside high season we have not entered a stellplatz, that would be completely full. So unless it’s a small one, you’re pretty likely to find a spot. Even better if you have a small rig.

Tips that May Come Handy

  • Fresh drinking water can be often found on stellplatz boondocking spots, as well as on gas stations and is for free in Spain and France. Italy does not have them, so there it’s a complete oposite.
  • We usually need around 20-30L a day, shower takes around 5-10 litres if you are not careful much.
  • Make sure you look as a desperado, who can barely pay for gas. In places where there are more expensive RVs, you are always less interesting target for a possible burglar. Stylish sea decorations (rope, bamboo sticks) or unkept clothes are good as well.
  • Change places often. Staying longer at one place increases probability that someone will wait for you.
  • Search and respect restrictions, in Spain and in France they are more cautious with campers in touristy places.
  • If there is someone to ask if you can sleep there, do your homwork and ask.
  • Never make fires outside. And 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 figures on boondocking spots. Old RV rust to the bone. Bus rebuilt to family house. Or family, who rebuilt a MAN truck and is learning there their kids at home instead of going to school. Old van with roof full of surfs. Or freaks who live in an old truck. Don’t be afraid. Thanks for some tips from Michal, who is traveling with a RV and says: If you behave well (minimalistic camping, few chairs outside, no spilling of dirty water outside, etc.) then we got away with virtually everything. Including two RVs at a time.

Camping Signs
Buy my Camping Signs as a vector Illustration

Country Specifics

  • France – boondocking spot is called ”Aire de camping” and overnight camping is allowed. Somewhere it is OK, if you leave by 9 AM, or you look stealth (not like us, easy to recognise turists with 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 7.20 m of length and 3.5 m of height. Otherwise no chance. Outside the city a good trick is to park/sleep near coastal train station (up to 30 km from Monaco). You can use it easily, and for a few EUR you are in the city of Monaco (train goes two times an hour).
  • Spain – totally easy going country. Example: We slept in a herd of RVs on beach in La Mata, where entrance was prohibited and police officer have thrown us away in the morning. No penalty happened, and they just said: ‘Finish your coffee, but do not come back in the evening.’ Otherwise no troubles.
  • Portugal – there is a lot of places on the coast and no one cares if you do not disturb. It is said that only Algarve region prohibits overnight sleeping outside designated places.
  • Croatia – the same as in Czech, sleeping outside campsites is prohibited, but I have seen campers near shopping center at Makarska and we slept on a nice place in Valtice and no one cared.
  • Switzerland – based on my interview with one local, in Switzerland it is tolerated in villages, where there is no campsite. In general there is very few places, that are suitable for overnight stay. Everything is either road, English lawn, somebody’s entrance or private road. And some roads in the mountains are closed for caravan trailers completely.
  • Bulgaria, Romania – supposedly tolerated, but I would not sleep in these countries outside campsites see more in Livin4wheel map.
  • Germany, Austria— in these two countries I would recommend using designated stellplatzes or parking for trucks. Law is regulating this in German way. Michal adds that parking places near shops are OK, on Sundays (they are closed) the parking place is totally quiet. The same is valid for lakes, if there is no restriction.

Other Countries Where We Have Not Been To

  • Scotland – up to 100 m from road it is allowed.
  • England – up to 100 m from road it is allowed. The land has to have no fence or be private. If you stay long or there is group of you, you are 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 consent of land owner.
  • Poland – tolerated, but do not sleep in national parks.
  • Italy – Michal’s experience: Most tank station have a garage, often shopping centres are OK as well as small shops (at least those to the north of Rome). You can easily sleep at parking places near shops. Things get complicated on the seaside  see more at Livin4wheel map.
  • Netherlands – officially prohibited, but Michael repeatedly had slept just behind small village, on a grass, near a road with his RV and had no problem. Parking near Amsterdam and no problem as well.
  • Denmark – not allowed and Danes are strict. Alternative in Denmark are ports, where it is not for free, but still about one third of price for a campsite.
  • Ireland – not allowed.

Update in 2019 — As the time goes, many more people travel in vans and RVs and so there might be new restrictions in place. In USA local authorities already started to forbid campers in city centres and regulate parking. So I bet Europe will follow with the growth of camping and digital nomad movement growing.

Known Robbery Cases

  • Lago di GardaIrena — We are camping mostly wild, with caravan, equipped with solar panel. It happened to us in June 2016 for the first time. We lost cash and computer. We take it as our mistake, we have not used security lock.
  • FranceFranta — I sleep only wild (boondock). It can be I, NL, F, D and also other places without problems. Only in France on a stellplatz someone was trying to break into our car. It was a second class road. We rather leave the main road and search for a place behind some small village. Burglars don’t go to nature.
  • FranceVeronika — We were sleeping at a very frequented tank station, directly in front of the entrance. Tank station on a highway, around 200 km from Marseille. We were robbed during our sleep, lost some 1,500 EUR and Swiss francs. They managed to sort all the coins for Euros and Francs. They took only Euros. They left expensive things and supposedly they used gas, but we have not realised that.
La Mata Boondocking
Boondocking in La Mata (Spain) where we were politely kicked out

General Rules for Boondocking

  • Don’t break laws and check signs
  • Cleanup your trash, or even clean trash of others
  • Take care of your security and watch out
  • Be careful to your neighbours and people around
  • Use natural cosmetics
  • Don’t block entries or streets
  • With fires, act carefully
  • Don’t sleep more than one night in one spot

More sources you can find on Facebook Wild Campings Tips, so don’t wait and start exploring freedom (wilderness) the same way as a Slovakian couple who have chosen Ford Bronco instead of a hotel and were driving across Siberia in 2016.

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