We’ve camped in a lot of places in the United States from State and National campgrounds to private campgrounds to BLM campgrounds. When we decided to full time travel, we kind of felt like experts when it came to camping and road trips. However, camping in Europe is very different and being an expert at pitching a tent, leveling an RV, or building a fire aren’t the skills I needed when it came to camping with our kids in a new continent.
Instead, it was our adaptability, flexibility, and a sense of humor that made our adventures camping in Europe a success. Here are some things that will help prepare you for camping in Europe.
While there are some generalizations that can be made about camping in Europe, like how they charge per person at campgrounds, each country’s campgrounds are slightly different.
- In France and Spain, campgrounds are the most like the US.
- In Germany, for example, they are very strict about prices and charge per person (this is a bummer for big families) but the bathrooms are always extremely clean.
- In Croatia, most campgrounds are practically resorts with restaurants, bars, and swimming pools.
- In the UK and Ireland, campgrounds are usually just people’s farms or backyards where you can pitch a tent (bathrooms aren’t as luxurious in these though).
- In Norway, campgrounds are in beautiful, raw nature and have modern campers kitchens/shelters but can be expensive in the high season.
Overall, here are some tips to help you know what to expect from tent camping in Europe:
Having my coffee right when I wake up was high on my priority list and cooking our own meals not only saved us a lot of money, it also kept us healthier by eating more local produce.
The first thing we did when we stepped off a plane (in Norway, Ireland, and again in Germany) was to find a camping/sporting good store that sells propane canisters. This wasn’t as easy as we hoped it would be, but in the end, we were able to find them. Use google maps and search “sporting good stores” or “camping equipment”.
We did get spoiled in Norway though, where most campgrounds have very nice campers kitchens (some with stoves, ovens, pots, pans, and refrigerators). If you get in a bind, most campgrounds sell very cheap bread in the morning. Here’s the essentials that we brought:
- a set of pans
- a large spoon and knife
- 4 plates/bowls/mugs
- a spork for each of us
- a jet boil coffee press
- a wine/bottle opener
- 2 coffee mugs
Related blog: What We Packed For Long Term Travel and Camping Abroad
Campground Bathrooms/Dishwashing Facilities
Almost all the campgrounds in Europe have a central toilet block where you can find toilets, showers, and a dish washing station. Overall, the facilities are much cleaner than anything you find in the States, but it’s good to be ready for the occasional surprise. For instance, in Luxembourg and the Netherlands, you have to supply your own toilet paper. Imagine our confusion as we arrive at a campground in Luxembourg late one evening after driving 4 hours through Germany and there isn’t any toilet paper (or soap) in the bathrooms.
Many campgrounds aren’t in developed areas, so running across the street to a grocery store wasn’t an option, but luckily the campground had some to buy.
Depending on the size of the campground, you may be sharing the facilities with a lot of other people and cultures that are very comfortable walking around (ahem) not dressed.
Some places, especially in Germany, include hot showers in the nightly price, but it was more common in all the other areas to have to buy shower tokens to get a hot shower.
All the campgrounds had dish washing stations with hot running water, which made cooking our own meals very easy.
Tip: If you choose to car camp, bring a soft cooler like this with you to keep your food cold as you travel. A soft cooler is better in case you don’t have room in your rental car for a hard sided one since cars tend to be smaller in Europe.
Europeans have a high standard of cleanliness. In all the shared areas there are squeegees for the shower floors, toilet brushes next to each toilet, and you are expected to always leave the dishwashing area spotless when you are done.
Unlike the U.S. where campsites often have electricity, water source, a picnic table, and sometimes a hole to dump sewer, European campsites or “pitches” are quite bare.
BTW- If you are traveling in a camper (RV) in Europe, you dump your grey and black tanks in a totally different way than how you do in the States. Your toilet has a cartridge that you have to manually take out and pour into a dump station or toilet (it’s kinda gross so be prepared). For your gray water (sink water), you drive over a large grate in the floor and open the valve to let thte water just pour into the grate. This part is easy.
The campgrounds are more communal and rely on using and sharing the dishwashing area, water filling hoses, and canister dumping stations. If you pay for an individual site with electricity, it is usually a shared electrical block. There are also no generators on motorhomes (good to reduce noise if you”re tenting it), but electricity is cheap and widely available.
On a side note, a lot of campgrounds also are caravan parks with mobile homes or trailers with permanent residents. At first, this felt a little too much like being in a trailer park back home, but everyone is very nice and typically we are just looking for comfortable facilities for the night, so a little flexibility can carry you a long way towards making it an enjoyable experience. A lot of the campgrounds cater to long term residents, so check their website if you would prefer staying in campgrounds geared for over-nighters or passer-byers.
Europeans love to camp, which means you are always surrounded by like-minded individuals. Most campers, regardless of whether you are in Europe or the States, are also flexible, adaptable, and have a good sense of humor and they tend to go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and help in any way they can. You’d also be surprised that many Europeans have very little interaction with Americans, so smile, be polite, and say hi. You’d be amazed how similar we all are! And who knows, you may just meet your next best friend!
Is This Your First Road Trip?
Check out these blogs on Road Trip Planning:
- Tips For Your First Camping or RVing Trip
- How To Road Trip On A Budget
- How To Plan A Successful Road Trip
- 14 Tips For Planning Your First Road Trip
Itineraries and tips from our 6 month road trip through Europe
- UK road trip
- Ireland off-the-beaten-bath
- Norway campgrounds
- Switzerland road trip
- Cinque Terre: One place you can’t miss in Italy
- Croatia: 5 destinations you can’t miss
- France road trip
- Northern Spain: Adventures in Hiking, Climbing, + Surfing
- Guide to the best surfing in Europe
- 6 Must See Castles in Europe