2010, '11, '12, '13, '14, '15 Year End Reviews 


Europe by Motorhome

Nuts & Bolts Information about touring Europe in a motorhome


In six seasons, we spent a total of forty-six months traveling over 80,000 miles (130,000 km)
through forty-one countries in and around Europe.  Here’s how we did it.


Introduction:

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From 2010 through 2014, we spent between eight and nine months each year touring Europe in our American motorhome.  In our last year, 2015, our season was shortened to just under five months.  This Journal summarizes our experiences and the knowledge we’ve gained for the benefit of other motorhome travelers.  It will try to provide information of particular interest to those who either are already touring Europe by motorhome or might be considering doing so.  While most of this information applies equally to all travelers, we will also cover visa issues that affect non-EU residents only.  Inevitably, some of our observations will be uniquely American in nature, but no more than seems necessary. 

Below you will find information of both a general and a specific nature touching on as many aspects of a touring lifestyle through multiple countries as we think may be of interest to others.  Information on the expenses we have incurred are provided for each year.  You will see what our budget has been and how we have been able to live within that budget.  As we have learned new information from our experiences we have added them to the original text (written in 2010) as needed.

In 2010, between mid-March and mid-December, we traveled 14,000 miles through a total of twelve countries.  We spent time in Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal as well as the four entities of the United Kingdom, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; plus the Republic of Ireland.  Our time was divided equally; 4 1/2 months in the UK and 4 1/2 months in western Europe.

In 2011, between late February and the end of November, we visited Morocco and then traveled across southern Europe to the Balkan states and Bulgaria.  We covered 19,000 miles, once again visiting twelve countries.  During the year we spent additional time in Portugal, Spain and France and visited nine countries for the first time: Morocco, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia i Herzigovina, Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Macedonia.

In 2012, we arrived around April 1st and departed mid-December.  We spent mid-May through mid-August in Scandinavia, the next two months primarily in the Baltics and Romania, and ended the year with a wonderful two months in Turkey.  We cut our mileage down a bit to just under 16,000 miles despite spending time in a total of eighteen countries, visiting fourteen of them for the first time.  Our new countries were: the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovak Republic, Hungary, Romania, Greece and Turkey, while the carryovers were England, Belgium, Germany and Bulgaria.  Interestingly, lest you fear that Europe is becoming too homogenized, of our eighteen countries, only seven are on the Euro; the other eleven each have their own currency.

In 2013, we had our shortest and our lowest mileage year to date.  We began in Greece, where we had left the Tiger the previous fall, and ended in Italy, where we once again left the Tiger for the winter while we returned to the US.  Between the end of March and early November we visited thirteen countries while driving a little over 13,000 miles.  We spent more time in Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Germany and Italy, while adding Georgia, Armenia, Austria and the Czech Republic.

In 2014, we once again had a slightly shorter year, actually only one day less spent in Europe than in 2013.  We arrived in Rome on March 5th and departed from Amsterdam on October 16th for a total stay of seven and one half months.  We traveled a tad over 11,000 miles through just six countries.  Our year began with a break in of the Tiger on our first day in Italy and that event resulted in a change of our plans for the first three months of our stay.  This year we spent time in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, England and Scotland. 

In 2015, our season in Europe ended up being our shortest as we only spent four and a half months covering about 8,000 miles in seven countries.  Highlight of the year was the six weeks we spent touring Iceland.  We began in Amsterdam where we picked up the Tiger from its winter storage then moved through The Netherlands, northern Germany and Denmark in order to take the ferry out to to Iceland.  Following our visit and a brief stopover in the Faroe Islands, we retraced our path back to Holland where we took the ferry to Britain and traveled for a final six weeks through England, Scotland and Wales.  Our year was shortened by two primary factors, our Schengen visa restrictions coupled with the fast developing imigration situation in Europe were the main factor, but we also began our season later than usual due to Rick’s shoulder surgery in the US over the previous winter.

General Summary:

In order to minimize repetition, many items can be covered in a summary of motorhome travel considerations generally applicable throughout european countries.  While differences between countries certainly exist, it can generally be said that motorhome travel in Europe is not difficult.  Basic considerations such as road conditions, availability of fuel and groceries, access to ATMs and ability to find places to camp are all easily dealt with.  In western Europe, with the advent of the Euro, money is easily handled and border crossing formalities are in most instances non-existent.  In Central & Eastern Europe and surrounding countries such as Morocco and Turkey, ATMs continue to be common and easily found, so even though you must deal with a variety of currencies, finding cash when needed should not be a problem.  Also in these areas, when border controls are still in place, we have found them to be friendly, efficient and painless.  Public transportation is generally excellent and information resources such as guidebooks, maps, tourism offices and online information from other travelers are plentiful.  

Road signage is generally very good, although it varies from country to country and therefore takes a little getting used to when changing countries.  Generally, the further east you go, the less useful the signage becomes although there are exceptions, notably Turkey where road signage is excellent.  We have found european drivers to be generally polite and patient and have never considered either traffic or other drivers to be problems.  The quality of roads in western Europe is consistently very good, and even small, narrow back roads are generally in excellent condition; some of our favorites were the one-lane roads of rural Scotland with their well signed turnouts every few hundred yards for passing.  Each of these driving related considerations deteriorate some as you move further east, but only in the Caucasus countries of Georgia and Armenia would we say that either the signage, the roads or the drivers ever became a problem. 

The one constant that requires adjustment on your part is that european roads are generally much narrower than those in the US.  Between centuries-old towns and generations of much smaller cars, european roads and parking facilities feel as if they’ve been built to about three-quarter scale compared to the US.  Most folks will adjust to this with a little experience and it shouldn’t be a problem if you have chosen a reasonably sized RV.  Even having to switch to driving on the left while in the UK was not nearly as traumatic as we had prepared ourselves for and within a few days it felt perfectly normal.  While for a variety of reasons motorhome travel in Europe is not as simple as in the US, it should still be fairly easy for you to arrive and begin to feel comfortable in a relatively short time.  

You can go to our Europe Home Page for access to our full reports on each country we’ve visited.  Our pictures can be accessed from links on each narrative report, from the Photo Albums Menu, or directly from the Photo Album List on each of the main pages, Europe 2010, Europe 2011, Europe 2012, Europe 2013, Europe 2014, etc.  You can also choose to go directly to our new Photo Home Page at Smug Mug.

Expense Summary:

One of any traveler’s prime considerations is cost.  What are the expenses involved in this type of travel or in this location?  The answer of course is largely determined by individual tastes and preferences and revolves around the individual’s answer to these and other questions: Do you like to eat out a lot?  Is it important to you to stay in campgrounds most of the time?  How many castles, museums, or cultural events do you want to see? How much time can you spend in each country?  How much driving will you do?  Do you feel the need to see as much as possible during this visit because you don’t expect to ever return to this country?  Your own answers to questions such as these will determine what your budget will be.  

You can assume that pretty much everything is more expensive in Europe than in the U.S.; particularly fuel, but also groceries, household items like soap or toothpaste, restaurants, transportation and anything else you might think of.  However, once you are aware of this you can make your own choices and can control your budget to a large extent.  Generally speaking, aside from Italy, things seem to be less expensive in southern Europe than northern and less on the continent than in the U.K..  France and Germany are both affordable for the basics but can get pricey for restaurants and campgrounds.  Overall, Scandinavia is probably most expensive of all, but we found the difference to be less than anticipated.  Fuel is very expensive in Turkey, but other expenses there are not high.  Non EU countries such as Romania, Bulgaria the Baltic states and those in the former Yugoslavia are more affordable than countries within the EU by a fair margin.  In some countries wild camping is readily available and in others it is not and may even be prohibited.  Some museums or points of interest are free while others are quite expensive.  In Britain there are organizations - The National Trust & English Heritage specifically - that can be joined which will save a lot of money if you will be in the countries long enough to make good use of them.  All of these variables will affect your individual travel expenses.  

As full time travelers who have lived in a motorhome since 2001, our perspective can be somewhat different than someone who is planning a vacation trip to Europe, whether it be for a short or an extended time.  Our view is that for several years we will be living most of the year in Europe, traveling as we please and returning to a country or region as often as we like.  Thus we can spread some expenses out over a longer time frame than someone who only expects to visit a given country one time.  We also live and travel simply, eat out relatively little, seldom drink beer or wine and spend very little time in campgrounds.  It goes without saying that your costs will be different than ours; but using ours as a baseline should at least give you a starting point in estimating what your own costs may be.

The expenses shown below are what we consider to be our day to day costs.  They are items that reflect our own choices of what we want to do each day; do we eat out, do we take the ferry to Orkney, do we see this castle or cathedral, etc.  Of course there are other costs reflecting our choice of a vehicle, it’s registration, insurance and maintenance as well as the costs of getting ourselves to and from Europe from time to time.  And naturally we have fixed costs regarding health insurance, property or storage of items in the U.S., etc.  These costs don’t change whether we travel in the US or in Europe or anywhere else and are not included here. 

We set a budget for travel in Europe of $2,200/month and we have been able to travel comfortably within that amount during each of our six years there.  Looking back on the six years of travel accounts below, the amazing thing to us is the consistency of the year to year totals.

Here is a summary of our average monthly expenses for nine months of travel in 2010:


For 2011, our overall expenses were remarkably similar to the prior year.  The US Dollar continued in a relatively strong position so exchange rates remained largely unchanged.  Fuel costs took a considerable jump early in the year, running around $.040/gallon higher in many countries than they had last year.  However, our average price per gallon only increased around $.15/gallon overall because we spent much of the year in countries with lower costs than in Western Europe.  Average cost of diesel in Morocco was only about $3.50/gallon and in the Balkans, particularly Bosnia, we often found diesel in the relatively low range of around $6.00 to $6.25/gallon.  Costs for groceries were pretty much unchanged but we ate out even less than we had in 2010 so overall food costs were similar.  You can compare all of our daily expenses in the tables provided.

Here is a summary of our average monthly expenses for nine months of travel in 2011:


For 2012 our expenses were up a bit due to increases in fuel costs, which this year account for almost exactly 50% of our overall costs.  Not surprisingly, fuel prices in Europe continue to rise, having increased by about 35% in our three years there.  This during a period of stable exchange rates, with the Euro actually falling a bit during that time frame.  As an example, look at one low price station we’ve used located right on the France/Belgium border near the ferry terminal at Calais.  In 2010 we bought diesel fuel there for the equivalent of US $4.62, while in 2012 it was up to $6.99.  In addition to generally rising prices, there are large variations in fuel pricing in different countries, so where we travel also plays a significant role in overall fuel cost.  In 2012 we spent time in two of the highest fuel cost regions; Scandinavia, especially Norway, and Turkey, and this is reflected in our fuel cost averages.  Our other expenses continue to remain remarkably consistent as you can see by comparing the yearly expense tables.  Despite the increasing bite at the fuel pump, we continue to travel Europe for less than $2,000 per month and that’s not bad.  For others who may be considering doing what we do, I would point out once more that we save a lot of money by wild camping almost all the time, eating out very seldom, and not buying any significant quantity of alcoholic beverages.  Each of these items can be quite costly in Europe, and must be factored into your own budget planning.

Here is a summary of our average monthly expenses for nine months of travel in 2012:


For 2013, our overall monthly average expense was down from the prior year as was our average price per gallon of fuel.  We continue to see fuel costs rising, paying as high as $8.90/gallon in Italy in October, but we spent enough time in less expensive countries to lower the average.  The other main area where our costs were less was in Ferries & Tolls.  Ferry costs really add up in Scandinavia, where we spent time in 2012, and we also purchased a highway toll sticker in Turkey in Fall 2012 that carried us over into our visit this Spring with no further cost.  Otherwise, most of the numbers are very similar.  Exchange rates continue to be fairly constant, with the Dollar/Euro figure at between $1.35 to $1.40/Euro.

Here is a summary of our average monthly expenses for eight months of travel in 2013:


For 2014, once again our overall expenses showed little change.  For a change, fuel costs fell during the year in Europe just as in the rest of the world.  After three years of increasing prices, we finally saw some relief.  Even the high of $9.43/gallon in Scotland shown in the table below is misleading.  Our average cost in Britain was closer to $8.75, while in France it was in the low $6.00 range.  This, combined with our lower mileage total for the year lowered our monthly average fuel cost to its lowest point in the five years we’ve been traveling in Europe.  We also benefited from a strong dollar this year, with the exchange rate falling from $1.40/Euro in April to $1.28 in October.  Against the Pound, the dollar also did well, falling from a high $1.72/Pound in late June to $1.64 in mid-September.  

Here is a summary of our average monthly expenses for eight months of travel in 2014:


For 2015, our total average costs remained nearly unchanged and continued in line with all six of our seasons in Europe but there were significant changes in individual line items.  This was by far our shortest season in Europe at just four and a half months, and was a costly one because of the expense of taking the ferry to Iceland.  This cost (approx $3,200) is not included in the summary below as it would render the overall comparison of travel costs meaningless by skewing the total drastically from prior years.  This could have been a much more expensive year in that we spent most of our time in either Iceland or Britain and both of these are generally higher cost destinations.  Fortunately for us, the US Dollar was very strong in relation to European currencies and particularly the Euro, which dropped as low as $1.10 and averaged around $1.12 for the season.  We were also helped immensely by the much lower fuel costs all over the world during 2015.  We consistently paid $2.00 or more per gallon less than we had in the same areas in 2014.  This made an enormous difference in our expenditures.  

Two items that you may notice were noticably higher than in prior years were internet access and activities expenses.  Due to the availability of new phone/data plans through US providers, for the first year we maintained our US service during our time in Europe.  This worked quite well as we were able to access the internet for email and other uses using our smart phones as mobile hot spots.  In Germany, Denmark, Holland and even Iceland this proved very successful.  Only in Britain did we find our ability to hook up uncertain and speeds slow.  The same is true of public wifi throughout Britain, so we did what we had done here before by picking up a new sim card for our British mifi device.  That solution worked well for us as it had in prior years.  Activities costs were up primarily because of two rather high cost events we chose to attend in England; an auto racing weekend and an Overland Travel weekend.  We also went to several auto and motorcycle museums in southern England that were a bit pricey.  Our short season allowed a few items like this to affect the monthly average more than would be the case with a longer season.

Here is a summary of our average monthly expenses for four and a half months of travel in 2015:


Money Matters:

Everywhere in Europe, an ATM is your best bet for getting cash and they are readily available everywhere we’ve been.  We have not come across any ATMs that charge a fee for usage, though of course your home bank may do so.  We have also found the exchange rate to be comparable regardless of which bank’s ATM we use; WITH ONE IMPORTANT CAVEAT!  Beware of ATMs that encourage you to see what your withdrawal will be in your home currency!  This happened to us once and has been reported to us by other travelers.  When this happens, for some reason the cost of using this ATM will be more expensive.  In our one time experience it was about $20 higher than other ATMs used before and after.  The exchange rate at ATMs is also generally quite consistent with that of Credit Cards so long as your Credit Card does not add a Foreign Transaction Fee to your purchase.

We carry two debit cards from two different banks so that we have a backup.  This is highly recommended in case you lose one, there is a problem with your account for any reason or, as happened to us one summer, you don’t notice the expiration date and have to rely on the second card while your mail is forwarded so that you can receive a new card for your primary account.  One of our banks charges a flat fee of $1 per transaction wherever we are in the world while the other has no fee in the U.S., but charges a 1% foreign transaction fee when used outside the states. 

We have been able to use our credit cards almost everywhere, and once again it’s advisable to carry separate cards from different accounts.  We’d been told that many fuel stations in Europe were automated and required the use of a credit card and, further, that they would only work with special credit cards with embedded chips rather than traditional U.S.-style magnetic strip cards.  Well, yes and no.  Automated stations are far more prevalent in northern Europe than in the south and pretty much unheard of in the east or in the UK.  We found that at some of those stations our card worked fine while at others it did not.  In all cases we were able to find a station nearby with an attendant or attached store where we could buy fuel, albeit usually at a somewhat higher cost, as the automated stations were generally the cheapest.  This is less easy to do on Sundays or holidays when many business are closed in some countries, making the automated stations the only available option.  Despite requesting special cards from our bank that would work in Europe, the new cards we received made no difference at all and we were assured by our bank that businesses are required to accept all cards whether they are the chip style or the magnetic strip style.  While this may be true, in actual fact, some places in Europe do require the use of a chip type card with a pin.  There are only a few places in the US that issue such cards, but they can be found.  We do not consider this to be an important issue, but others may.  Before leaving home, however, do make sure that you have a working PIN for each of your credit cards as you will sometimes be required to use it in order to use the card.  You will find that in many manned locations you will be able to rely on simply swiping the card and then signing the receipt, while in others you will indeed need to use the PIN.  It all depends on what equipment and/or system the location is using.  2014 Update: This year Chase, our credit card issuer, changed our cards from only a magnetic strip to cards with both a chip and the magnetic strip.  In either case these cards still require a signature so the change did not alter our usage of the cards in Europe.      

One major variable over which you have no control is the currency exchange rate during your visit.  For whatever reason, we have been very fortunate in this matter as the rates for both the Euro and the Pound have fallen from what they were in recent years.  During our time in Europe from 2010 to 2013, the Euro ranged between $1.30 and $1.40, while the Pound moved between $1.50 and $1.60.  In earlier years, the Euro had been at the rates we experienced for the Pound, which was itself at around $2.00.  This has been a big help to us, but we certainly cannot claim any credit.  Like the weather, the monetary exchange rate simply is what it is.  One of many websites useful for checking on rates is www.xe.com.  2014 Update: This year, during our nearly eight months in Europe the Euro fell from $1.40 in April, to $1.28 in October.  The Pound is stronger and ranged from $1.65 to $1.70.  2015 Update: This has been our best year yet for exchange rates.  Due to recent weakness, the Euro dropped to between $1.10 - $1.12 for the year, while the Pound remained strong at between $1.53 and $1.58.  Add in the global fall in fuel prices and our costs were quite dramatically lower this year.

Vehicle Choice:

Renting a motorhome in Europe is very expensive, just as it is anywhere else.  If you will be traveling for more than a couple of months, either shipping a vehicle from the U.S. or buying one in Europe probably makes more economic sense.  Naturally, there are other considerations and someone planning a summer excursion for three to four months may well accept the higher costs of a rental in order to avoid either actual or potential difficulties involved in shipping or buying and re-selling.  We chose to ship our Tiger motorhome from the states for several reasons.  We already owned it, liked the unit very much, knew it would be suitable in Europe and we liked the idea of traveling in a vehicle with which we were completely familiar and knew would be comfortable.  This also meant we didn’t have to go out and buy something else and, having already shipped our Tiger to and from South America, the issues involved in shipping were not new to us.  You can read the details of our shipping experience on our Shipping page.  

It is also possible to buy a motorhome in Europe although that is nothing like as easy to do as it once was.  Unlike years ago, it is now somewhere between difficult and impossible to register and insure a vehicle on your own anywhere in the EU without an actual european address and a european passport or residency.  As a result, european dealers that once simply sold you a unit instead now arrange to sell or lease the unit to you while keeping the title and insurance in their name.  You can make these arrangements either with or without a pre-agreed buy back price based on how long you will use the unit, number of miles covered, etc.  While this is all perfectly doable, the extra services add to the cost of the transaction and going this way may well be more expensive than shipping your own unit over.  We know of other Americans who have chosen to ship, while we also know others who have purchased something in Europe so both strategies are doable.  Many dealers who provide these services are based in Amsterdam, but you can also find them in Germany.  We’ve been told that Amsterdam may well be easier, but Germany is likely to be less expensive.  If you have friends or relatives in a European country, they can also help you by allowing you to register and insure the vehicle using their name and address.  This obviously requires a level of trust on both sides, but it is doable.  Based on information from friends who have done it this way, Germany seems a good choice.  Of seven other American couples we know who are currently traveling in Europe, four of them shipped their own vehicle, two bought a European vehicle with help from German friends, while the last was able to locate a european rig that another American couple had been using and had already managed to have registered in the U.S.  They were able to get it re-registered in the U.S., although not without some difficulty.

As to what constitutes an appropriate vehicle, the answer is always the same; whatever you feel comfortable in.  Having said that, everything involving a vehicle is Much, Much Smaller in Europe than in the U.S.  Roads, parking spaces, camp sites, and access points of all types are all a lot more confining.  So, the smallest possible vehicle you can be comfortable in is the wise choice.  Most european motorhomes are between six and seven meters long (20’ to 23’) and about 2.3 meters (7 1/2’) wide.  While some are larger, just as in the States, the larger your vehicle, the fewer places you will be able to go.  While we have been perfectly comfortable in our Tiger, we would not choose to travel in Europe in anything larger.  Our Tiger is 6.4 meters (21’) long, 2.2 meters (7 1/4’) wide and 3.0 meters (9.9’) tall to the top of the roof vents. 

A final consideration is whether or not a U.S.-built vehicle is suitable in Europe and we can say with no hesitation that it is.  Despite differences in electrical and plumbing systems, we have had no difficulties.  Naturally, a european motorhome will deliver better fuel economy than most U.S. units, so that is another consideration.  Our Tiger averages 14 1/2 mpg overall; up to 16 on a straight highway run.  It is diesel; a gasoline motorhome will get poorer fuel economy.  You’ll find some discussion of specific vehicle needs and learn more about our Tiger on our Our Vehicle pages.

Road Tolls and Access Limitations:  Regardless of the type of vehicle you are driving, you will need to learn about road tolls and use fees as well as, in some countries and cities, Emissions Zones and other access limiting regulations that may apply to you.  This can seem a daunting task, but really it is not.  It is simply something you need to become aware of as you travel, generally from other travelers and their Blogs or websites, but also from visitor’s information centers and travel information websites.  As a place to begin, go to the Urban Access Regulations page on this site, which was contributed by our friend and fellow Overland Traveler, Clive Barker.  As with the other topics on this page, this information is intended to help you become aware of things you should add to your list of topics for additional research.  It cannot be a complete and all encompassing explanation of everything you need to know on the subject.

Vehicle Insurance:

American vehicle insurance will not cover you anywhere in Europe.  You must buy insurance from a european broker.  If you are buying a unit in Europe, be sure you can get it registered and insured before agreeing to purchase terms.  If you bring a vehicle from the U.S., you simply  need to maintain your registration in your home state and purchase insurance in Europe.  There are only a limited number of european companies willing to issue insurance on a U.S.-registered vehicle.  You will find that insurance is more expensive in Europe than in the U.S.  A full coverage policy for our vehicle with a value of $50,000 would cost around $3,600/year.  We opted for a liability only policy, referred to as Green Card Insurance, for $800/year.  The broker we and other travelers have used for our insurance is Karl-Heinz Nowag.  Sadly, we have learned that he has passed away and thus Nowag is no longer able to provide insurance.  2015 Update: Early this year AIG once again dropped out of this market and thus created problems for travelers.  We were fortunate in that either because we had been continuously insured for six years or simply that our renewal date of April 1 was early enough to not be affected, our insurance was renewed at the same rate we had been paying.  Others have managed to find coverage, albeit at higher cost, through either knopftours.com or tourinsure.de.  We remain in touch with a number of Americans traveling in Europe; if you send us an email we will be happy to share the most recent insurance information we have. 

Camping Options:

Where will I park at night?  Will I be safe?  These are essential questions.  One of the many benefits of travel by motorhome is that you have your home with you at all times, but at the end of the day you still have to be able to find a place to park where you will feel happy and secure.  Such a place can range from a full-service campground that typically costs between $30 and $50 per night to an open patch of ground somewhere that costs you nothing; the choice is yours

Fortunately motorhome camping is very popular in Europe and camping options are usually not hard to find, particularly if you are flexible in your needs.  Camping solutions can be broken down into three categories as follows:

  • Full-Service Camp Sites:  Regular campgrounds, either privately owned, run by a municipality, or operated by a camping organization will typically provide water and electric hookups and on-site dumping facilities.  They will often also provide laundry, shower and toilet facilities.

  • Recognized Sites with Some Services:  Many countries in western Europe have networks of motorhome service points called Aires.  These are motorhome specific parking and service areas operated by municipalities or regional agencies.  Some of them are points for service only, meaning that they are places to dump and to fill with water.  Others are places for overnight stays but do not provide any services.  Most of them however provide both service facilities, sometimes including electric hookups, and space for overnight stays.  Aires can be found in several countries and are especially common in France and Germany (where they are called Stellplatzë) and also in Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Netherlands and Italy (where they are called Sostas).  Books are available online from several sources, including Amazon, that provide information on their locations and facilities.  We have had good success ordering books from Vicarious Books and The Book Depository.  Many Aires are free, while some charge a small fee or will charge for use of electricity if available.  We rely extensively on staying at Aires locations when available.

  • In France there is also a program called France Passion which provides a network of locations for single night stays at rural locations, particularly farms and vineyards, typically with no services.  In Britain, both the Caravan Club and the Camping and Caravanning Club have, in addition to their full service camping sites, networks of rural locations for less expensive overnight stays, typically in farmers’ fields, which provide water and dump facilities and often electricity as well.  The Caravan Club, which we joined, calls these CL sites. 

  • Wild Camping:   With one exception, every country that we have visited permits wild camping, which is simply finding a spot where you feel comfortable and parking overnight.  The only exception we’ve seen yet is Luxembourg, although we have been told of a few others.  This category also includes overnight stays in parking lots, either municipal or privately operated, sometimes with a fee involved.  Typically, this form of camping is easier in rural locations and more difficult near cities.  In the south of England, it is very difficult to find any open spot other than highway laybys or rest areas, which tend to be quite noisy.  For this reason, we found the Caravan Club’s CL network to be very helpful.  Go to our Camping Logs page to see all of the spots where we have camped.

Update 2013:  The following information was recently sent out by the folks at Vicarious Books.  We include it here with permission to share an updated perspective on Aires use.

OPERATION EVASION, taken from All the Aires France, fourth edition

“Over the past 10 years there has been a rapid increase in the number of motorhomes on European roads. We have observed that motorhomers like birds of a feather flock together. For example French motorhomers rarely venture off the main trunking routes. Consequently overcrowding can occur at any Aire that is a short distance from a main road and likely when located in a quiet or pleasant location. Motorhomers from all nations appear compelled to drive to the coast and the sheer number of motorhomes has forced coastal authorities to manage parking. Motorhome parking is often controlled at well-known tourist attractions, lakes, rivers and canals. With control comes cost so expect to pay if you want to stopover at popular areas. Freedom seekers should plan to end their day off the beaten trail.”

Camping Summary:

For us, our preferred choice has always been to wild camp.  We prefer the variety and solitude that this choice provides and, quite frankly, we’d rather not have to pay the cost of frequent campground stays; typically we stay at one only when we need to use a washing machine, need an address where we can receive packages or are visiting a major city.  

During our time in Europe in 2010 we wild camped 65% of the time, spent 33% of our time in either Aires or CL sites, and spent just six nights (2%) in campgrounds.  Due to fewer opportunities for wild camping in many areas of England, our camping costs were higher there, although even including the cost of joining the Caravan Club our average monthly expenditure was just $100 per month in Britain.  During our time on the continent we’ve spent much less, averaging only about $20 per month with zero cost in many months.

In 2011, we spent more nights in campgrounds, but only in two countries and for different reasons in each.  In Morocco, campgrounds are plentiful and inexpensive.  They are also an excellent place to meet up with other travelers and exchange information.  We spent approximately two thirds of our nights in Morocco in an established campground.  In Bulgaria we had no trouble wild camping and did so about two thirds of the time; we elected to spend time in campgrounds twice, once because we were receiving some shipments using the campground address and another time because we wanted to get some service work done on the Tiger.  Despite numerous differences in the areas we traveled during 2010 and 2011, during 2011 we again spent 65% of our nights wild camping.  We spent 58 nights (21%) in actual campgrounds and just 36 nights (13%) in aires as they do not exist in many of the countries we were in.  

In 2012, our wild camp percentage increased to 72% (189 nights all told), with 10% (26 nights) spent in actual campgrounds and the remaining 18% spent either at aires, primarily in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, or visiting friends.  The nights in campgrounds were all in England or Bulgaria, in both cases while we were either getting work done to the Tiger or just needed time to catch up on projects of our own.  Also, in Greece at the end of the year we spent three nights preparing to leave the Tiger in storage while we flew back to the US.

In 2013, our wild camp percentage was again 65% (148 nights), while campgrounds once again claimed 10% (24 nights), a few in Greece at the start of the year, with the rest in Bulgaria at Camping Veliko Tarnovo; we spent 43 nights in aires, which accounted for 19% and the remaining 6% were spent with friends.

In 2014, our wild camping percentage dropped to 45% because we spent a lot of time in France and stayed a total of 79 nights (35%) in Aires.  We also spent a large number of nights (15%) staying at homes of friends and relatives.  The only nights we spent in a campground were our ten days in London (4%).

In our shortened 2015, wild camping was at 59% with Aires at 14%.  We stayed with friends a lot, spent several nights parked at organized events and a few more aboard the Iceland ferry; the resulting total for our Other category was 23%.  Finishing up, we spent only three nights in campgrounds, two while attending a gathering where we could find no other convenient option and once in Iceland when we ended up late in the day in a National park where wild camping was not permitted.

Storing the vehicle:  

At the end of each season we put our Tiger in storage for the winter while we travel back to the US for a few months.  Usually we store the vehicle at a campground and this has worked out very well.  We’ve always been able to locate a spot that has already been used by others for storage so it has been very easy.  We just asked around and come up with suggestions and then contacted the campground by email to check on availability.  In 2013 we were given a good suggestion by another traveler and arranged to leave the Tiger in long term parking at the Rome airport.  This turned out to be about the same cost as the campground we had planned to use but with the decided advantage of being located right at the airport and providing a free shuttle service to and from the terminal.  This saved us not only the charge of transportation to and fro, but also the cost of an airport hotel for the night before our flight.  We will definitely be looking at airport parking in the future.  In 2014 we decided to leave the Tiger in northern Europe and so took advantage of the excellent storage opportunities near the Amsterdam airport.  See our new page, Storing the Vehicle, for much more information on this topic.  Overall, the storage in Amsterdam is the best solution of the ones we used, but storing in northern Europe comes at the price of a much shorter season weather wise, so consider all your options.

Communications:

Note that this is a rapidly changing area.  Fortunately it is improving from year to year and affordable european roaming plans are now available from providers in several countries.  Also, some US providers are finally offering useful worldwide plans.  We are unable to keep current on these changes so we offer the information below as a starting point only.

Phone: Unfortunately, the many areas of standardization that have swept Europe over the past twenty years do not yet include either phone or internet systems.  Both cell phone and wireless internet (wifi) are controlled by competing companies in each country with little or no cooperation between them.  Add in very high roaming charges and the result is that there is no inexpensive way to have a phone or a wifi device that will operate throughout Europe.  Far more experienced travelers than ourselves still have no easy answer to this thorny issue.  Certainly you can arrange to carry a cell phone with you, it just won’t be either easy or inexpensive to use.  We elect to do without a phone, relying on Skype to make internet phone calls when needed, even though this is often a very marginal proposition due to slow internet connection speeds.  Many internet sites will provide further explanation of these issues for you.  Two that we’ve found helpful are http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/mobilephones.htm, and http://goeurope.about.com/cs/stayingconnected/a/cell_phone_buy.htm.

2015 Update:  Finally, things are improving in the European phone situation.  Various Euro providers are advertising plans that allow for free or inexpensive roaming within Europe and T-Mobile in the US has introduced a plan that offers free low speed data, unlimited texting and inexpensive phone calls ($0.20/minute) in over a hundred countries worldwide.  So, do current research before deciding what to do about phone communications.  We switched to T-Mobile before leaving the states and were quite pleased with the service we were able to get in the seven countries we visited.  2015 was thus the first year we traveled with a phone in Europe.

Internet:  For us and many other travelers, internet access is a far more important issue and again the current situation is very spotty.  In 2010, when in the UK, we purchased a wonderful device called a Mifi from 3, one of the major British telecom companies.  It worked like a charm all over the UK, and in Ireland as well with the purchase of a different SIM card from 3 Ireland.  For an initial cost of about $120, which included three months worth of usage, and then around $15 per month on a no-contract, pay as you go basis it allowed us to access the internet with both our laptops at the same time almost anywhere.  Well almost; like any cell phone-based system there were areas of no coverage, but not that many.

In an ideal world this device, with the purchase of a new SIM for each country, would be The Answer.  Unfortunately, our world is far from ideal in this as in many other ways.  In France, Orange sells the exact same device at a similar cost; but their SIM will not operate in our UK unit.  Also in France, pay as you go rates are extremely high, as in €50 for two weeks!  If we were going to be in France for three months at a stretch, buying the unit, which, I believe, also came with three months service included, might have been a good idea; as we were just passing through this time we couldn’t justify the cost.  When we tried in Spain, we learned that pay as you go plans were only available for telephone use, not for data, which required a contract and a Spanish address; stymied again.  So, yes, you can probably buy an internet access device that will work in any given country, but traveling from country to country will result either in the device not working at all, or in you incurring very high roaming charges.

In 2011, we were able to buy reasonably priced mifi devices for Morocco and Italy, but made do without for the rest of the countries. 

In 2012, we enjoyed excellent libraries throughout the Scandinavian countries, got good service from an internet dongle in Turkey at very reasonable cost, and made do with occasional free wifi in the other countries.

In 2013, we were able to reuse our USB dongles in Turkey and Italy, although in Italy we had to get a new SIM card as the old one was two years old.  We also purchased a dongle for Germany that is supposed to work in other countries with the addition of a country specific SIM.  We’ll see.  In other countries we relied on free wifi services where we could find them.

In 2014, we again bought a MiFi device from 3 for use in Britain and a dongle in France.  Since we spent so much time in these two countries we relied less than ever on McDonald’s, which we have found to be increasingly slow in their internet service.

In general, for internet access on the continent we rely on basically three resources: 1) McDonalds all over Europe provides wifi access; in most but not all countries it is free.  This makes an easy resource as McD locations are included with GPS software, or can be easily downloaded if your unit doesn’t already have them.  The connection quality varies considerably, but is generally adequate.  2) Just as in the U.S., public libraries throughout Europe have internet connections, either with their computers or with a wireless connection so you can use your own laptop.  3) Particularly in tourist areas, many restaurants or cafes as well as tourist information offices will offer wireless internet.  4) We have had good success asking to use wifi at hotels.  Occasionally there will be a small charge and sometimes we will buy a coffee.  Separate stores offering internet and telephone services can also be found in some countries, although they are no longer as common as they once were.

2014 Update:  Finally there seems to be some movement toward improving the phone and internet access system in Europe.  When leaving Britain this year we were told that our MiFi device would work in France as well as in the US, Spain and several other countries.  We found that it did work, but that the speeds and signal strength were not terrific.  At least there is some improvement, though there is still a long way to go.  See the 2015 Update in the phone section above for more on this.

Mail:  Mail is not difficult, whether you are mailing something home or having your mail forwarded to you in Europe.  Post offices are plentiful and are easily found.  We have our mail forwarded to us every three months and have had it sent both to friends’ houses and to General Delivery (Post Restante).  We’ve had it sent to us in at least six countries and in each case it was sent via Priority Mail from our mail service in the U.S. and arrived in about seven days.  Our only bad experience was in Italy.  Based on our own and others’ experience we do not recommend having mail forwarded to you in Italy.  Cost is not exorbitant for a light-weight package, but be careful what you have sent.  A 9”x12” envelope with a couple of prescription bottles and a small collection of business-size envelopes costs about $10.  The first time we had our mail sent it included half a dozen magazines and the cost was over $40.  Only one time, in Italy, have we had difficulty receiving our mail; of four items coming to us, one arrived in good time, while the others were all returned as undeliverable; go figure.  Customs charges can also be incurred in some countries, depending on what is being sent, so it is best to check with someone in the country before ordering something.

When to Come:

Europe is pretty far north.  Paris is further north than either New York City or Seattle; London and Berlin are north of that and Scandinavia extends as far north as anywhere in Alaska.  If that doesn’t get your attention, try this: the beaches along the French Riviera are at almost the same latitude as Minneapolis.  The warm gulf stream is basically all that keeps northern Europe habitable.  So, you need to plan on weather.  There is really nowhere in Europe where you can just settle down for the winter and count on clear skies and warm temperatures, though obviously further south is better than the north.  Also, whatever you may believe about climate change, recent winters have been particularly cold in Europe and summer 2012 was very cold and cloudy all over Europe.  Summer 2014, in contrast was warm and clear with very little rain, while 2015 was wet and cold across northern Europe while the south experienced record heat.  Who can say what you will find when you come.

Your Rough Guide or Lonely Planet will give you guidance on what time of year you should visit specific countries or regions.  Depending on your interests, you can use your motorhome as a base for skiing, surfing, birding or anything else you like.  Sooner or later however, you’ll probably find yourself cold, wet and ready to go somewhere warmer.  So most travelers will plan to be in Europe anywhere from three to nine months each year and then to go elsewhere in winter, leaving their vehicle in storage while they are gone.  In 2010, we had planned on arriving in mid-March and staying until the following February or so, going to Morocco for the coldest months.  As we learned more, we scaled that back and flew back to the U.S. in mid-December, leaving Morocco for the following spring when we returned.  In the end, staying in France, Spain and Portugal, we definitely felt we’d stayed too long at the fair and should have left a month or so sooner.

In 2011, we had planned to be in Turkey and Greece through December or January and we think that would have been all right.  As it happened, we had to alter our plans and return to England for vehicle reasons.  It gets very cold and wet that far north in November and we elected to fly back to the States early as a result.  

In 2012 we ended the year in Turkey before moving the Tiger into Greece where we could store it while we were away.  Turkey, along with some other countries, stamps your passport on entering the country to show that you arrived with a vehicle.  You are not allowed to leave the country without the vehicle unless you have the vehicle impounded in a customs facility.  This can be costly and is certainly time consuming, so we elected to move into Greece where leaving the vehicle was not a problem.  At any rate, even on the southern coast of Turkey, by December first it was pretty cold.  We didn’t fly out until December 18th, but in future years we won’t plan to remain in Europe past the end of November.

In 2013, we spent our last six weeks in northern Italy and left the Tiger in long term parking at the Rome airport.  We flew out from Rome on November 8th and felt this was a reasonable time to depart.  We returned the following spring in early March and once again felt this was a reasonable time to return to this southern location.

In 2014, we flew home in mid-October, our earliest departure to date.  As we were leaving the Tiger in Amsterdam we felt this was wise and indeed we had nice weather up to about a week before we left; at that point it turned somewhat colder and wetter.  

In 2015, we did not come to Europe until late May due to the time needed for rehab from shoulder surgery.  This worked out OK because we were bound for Iceland and would not have wanted to go there much earlier.  However, in part due to our late arrival, but also due to other factors, we ended up with the shortest European travel season of our six years.  We dropped our Tiger off for shipping on October 9th and flew home a few days later.  

Visa Issues for non EU Residents:

Non-E.U. residents have a problem when it comes to long term travel in Europe.  It is known as The Schengen Agreement.  Most, but not all, members of the European Union are also signers of Schengen.

Along with the creation of the European Union with its open borders and the elimination of individual country visa control, limitations were put in place through this agreement that regulate how long we may legally stay in a large group of countries rather than just one country at a time.  Greatly simplified, what this all means is that as travelers who are not residents of an EU country, we can only stay in most of the EU for ninety days at a time before going outside the EU for at least the next ninety days.  Fortunately, the UK and Ireland, while a part of the EU, are not a part of this separate agreement so that makes one easy choice for us.  

Other than that, we must head east or south periodically in order to remain in compliance with the agreement.  Our options include countries in eastern Europe such as Romania and Bulgaria, Balkan states such as Croatia, Bosnia or Serbia, or others such as Russia, Turkey or Morocco.  We would want to visit all of these countries anyway, but Schengen complicates our lives by imposing significant time constraints on our planning.  Frankly, Schengen has turned out to be a major stumbling block to our ability to plan long term stays in Europe.  It has resulted in our spending much more time in Non-Schengen countries than we otherwise would have chosen and correspondingly less in Schengen areas.  The easiest way to avoid these problems is to plan your stays in Europe to be ninety days or less.  Other ways involve qualifying for one year resident visas in an EU country; this can be done for two to three years but is not easy. 

Finally, actual enforcement of the Schengen rules is up to each member country and can vary greatly from one country or region to the next.  Some travelers do not regard the rules as likely to be enforced at all, while others take them more seriously.  We know of some folks who have been stopped and have had some difficulty, while we know others who’ve never been questioned in years of travel in Europe.  The one thing that seems plain from everything we hear and experience is that Schengen enforcement is becoming more stringent; not less.  With Imigration issues reaching near crisis stage all over Europe in 2015, there is no question that visa issues are being taken very seriously by all European nations.  Ultimately of course, it is up to each traveler to determine how they will regard these rules and to plan accordingly.  

For a much more complete explanation of all of this, Google Schengen Agreement and go to Wikipedia or other online sources.  Also, here is a link to a recent article with an excellent exploration of the ins and outs of Schengen.

Safety and Security Issues:  Please be sure to read our new article discussing these issues.

Conclusion:

Travel in Europe is a wonderful thing however you do it.  

Travel in a motorhome is also a wonderful thing, wherever you do it.  

Put the two together and we believe that you’re really onto something good.  It’s relatively easy to do, relatively affordable and certainly a lot of fun.  If we’ve piqued your interest and you have questions you’d like to ask us, just send us an email.  We’d love to hear from you and will do everything we can to help you find answers to your questions.  

For another take on this topic, from a British perspective, go to magbaztravels to see their excellent article “A to Z of Long Term Motorhoming”.


© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2017