Posted by: Shannon | December 8, 2010

The Joy of Camping

Many neighbours in Vienna

When we set off on this adventure, we knew that accommodations would be very expensive in Europe, so we decided to take along our tent, sleeping bags, and basic camping gear so that we could camp whenever possible.  As we were dragging the very large heavy duffle bag of camping equipment through the Charles de Gaulle airport, I was not so sure it was the correct decision.  But now, after four months of travelling in Europe (about 2 ½ of those on the road every other day or so), I am quite sure that it was worth the inconvenience.  We have camped in northern France (Arras), Amsterdam, Goslar Germany, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Florence, Rome, and Cinque Terre Italy and we plan on using our trusty gear again in Spain, Portugal, western France and England and Scotland. There are several great aspects to camping in Europe: there are campsites in EVERY city and most towns over 5000 people; the campsites are usually very central, often within walking distance to the city centre; campsites always include parking so no need to drive and park in the crazy city centres; the campsites are generally very clean and have hot showers, washers and dryers, often a fresh bread service in the mornings, and sometimes even classical music playing in their washrooms (Rome).  “Caravaning” is very common and so anywhere there is a site for caravans, they usually have a small section for tents also.

Our campsite in Rome

Camping in Europe is not at all like the camping we have done in Canada, however.  There is rarely any privacy to the site, often only trees around the perimeter, and they do not designate the actual tent site…they just tell you to pitch your tent somewhere in the field.  In a few recent cases, we have been almost the only tent in the entire field. Other times, like Amsterdam, it was challenging to find a section of the field where we would not be within a few feet of another tent (and unfortunately within a few feet of some funky smoke and hacking teenagers!). Every time we enter a new campground, Anique and Owen are keen to explore the facilities. They check out the bathrooms (rate them on the “Turd Scale”), find out how much the washing machine costs, find the sinks for washing dishes, and check out the hours of the store (if there is one).  Then we go about setting up the tent and the tarp (if it is raining). Unfortunately, none of the sites have picnic tables, so we have to eat out of the back of the car, or if we are lucky, on a nearby stump!  I figure this is because the sites are really set up for caravanning and they don’t need picnic tables!

The campsites have averaged about 30 Euros a night, which is really unbeatable for a family of 4.  The cheapest hostel we stayed in was 60 Euros per night and several were close to 100.  I have looked at hotel prices in some travel books and on-line, and have not seen anything less than 100 Euros even for a “one star”, so we have stayed clear of hotels.  Our budget is 50 Euros per night so the cheap campsites have cancelled out some of the more expensive nights.  We have managed to stay within this budget so far, which is great because otherwise we might have to come home early 🙂

Drying Thermarests

Camping in November was definitely the most challenging so far.  It was not cold by Canadian standards, but we had several days where it did not go above 7 or 8 degrees Celsius, and was near freezing at night. This meant very quick meals because our hands were freezing, and sleeping in our woolly socks, sweaters and toques!  We also had a few very rainy days…in Florence we awoke to Owen’s side of the tent basically submerged in water and all of our Thermarests and sleeping bags soaked. Fortunately, they had a North American style dryer so we spent most of the next day drying out! Our final spot was in Deiva Marina (just outside of Cinque Terre). We arrived at 5:50 pm in the dark and rain, to a campsite that was supposed to be open but it was closed…yikes. We were told to try another one down the road and so we pulled up to it just before 6. The gate said it was closed, but there was a lady in the office, so we asked her if we could camp there for two nights. She was a bit hesitant at first, but once we said it was only two nights and we just had a small tent, she found us a spot near the washroom complex and showed us where there was warm water.  We had the whole campground to ourselves. That was fortunate because when it was raining we used the washroom complex for cooking and eating and packing up. After hiking through Cinque Terre the next day and walking through Deiva Marina, we realized how lucky we were to have somewhere to camp.  All the other campsites and hotels were closed for the season!  We did not pay a cent for those two nights.  It was not the most comfortable camping we have had, due to the rain and temperatures just above zero, but it made our arrival at the Winter Palace (where we are staying now) in Menton that much more wonderful.

Camping has brought us closer in many ways and definitely given us challenges at times, but overall I think it is one of the reasons why we have been able to travel to so many locations and stay within our budget.  It has been a great way to really appreciate the times when we get to sleep in a “real” bed!  I am convinced that many years from now we’ll still be re-telling Europe camping stories that will have us collapsing with laughter.

Happy Camping,



  1. This sounds like a lot of fun. It sounds like you have a very good balance that makes you appreciate it all! Very fun to read about this.


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