Camping in Europe for beginners: how to
The story. How it all began.
I’ve always had this bohemian dream of spending my summer in a tent on a beach. Despite all the people telling me how more of a nightmare than a dream it is, I didn’t care. The simple thought of waking up in a heating tent and stepping right outside on the sandy beach with the wind gently bringing the salty smell of the sea into my nostrils seemed like pure bliss in my imagination.
However, it’s a dream that has yet to become a reality. Actually, I’m not even the camper type. I like comfort. My back loves it when I treat it with a comfy bed. Having a clean bathroom is also a must for me. Plus, tent implies all sorts of bugs that might even kill you (I might be exaggerating a bit here, but I hate bugs). Don’t get me wrong: it’s not all about 5 stars hotels at all. A hostel can sometimes do just fine, as long as it’s bed bug free, has a good bed and a clean bathroom.
Anyway, my only fantasy with tents was that one with a few summer days on the beach. But life has its fun ways of dealing with your dreams. Probably, the Universe was a bit drunk when it heard just the word “tent” from my thoughts and decided to make my “dream” come true. I think it was back in 2011, in a summer workshop with my Uni colleagues. We went camping on.. the top of a mountain. Secluded. One hour of tough climbing away from the road that would take you back to anything that meant today’s comfort. It was just us, the mountains, the sheep, the snakes, the clouds and the heavy thunderstorms at night. Let me make this clear: I’m not a mountain girl. I love trekking in the summer and some snowboarding in winter and that’s all. At the end of the day all I want is to chill out in a warm hut, with a big mug of mulled wine warming my hands and my spirits. Or head back to the beach. So no tents on mountains tops please, thank you.
The experience up on the mountain was memorable and interesting. Can’t believe I even ended up liking it! We were working all day long on building a wooden & stone hut with only local materials, showering with the help of a sun-heated portable reservoir, enjoying the purest air I’ve ever filled my lungs with and some of the most breathtaking sceneries surrounding us. We were on one of the highest peaks in the area. The nights were spectacular (when it wasn’t striking thunders around the tents), some of the most fantastic sky shows I’ve got to witness. If during the day we were sweating in bathing suits, at night the temperatures were dropping dramatically. I vividly remember one extremely cold night, shivering in my tent, deafening thunders announcing the end of the world, and the rain forming rivers under the tent, washing everything in their way. I was scared that night; can you imagine the joy of waking up the next morning in the sunlight, birds chirping and butterflies dancing?
Fast forward to 2012, when road trippin’ through Slovenia and arrived late at night in Piran, without any reservation, all hostels closed and the only hotels open were way too expensive for what we could afford at that time. We slept in the car. It was terrible. There wasn’t enough space to stretch our legs and our backs hurt terribly.
Another fast forward to 2014, I’m in Sevilla, Spain, it’s my birthday and Decathlon makes some offers you just can’t refuse. I buy the cheapest tent – a green little tent for two persons (without luggage), to always have it just in case in the car (that night sleeping in a car in Piran still vivid in my mind). While on our way from Sevilla to Romania, we decide to give camping a try somewhere in France, before reaching Montpellier. We love it. We decide on a whim that this is our new thing and start chasing campings all along the way.
We slept in campings in France, Switzerland & Austria that summer. We had a really nice experience overall, but we’ve also been through heavy thunder storms, cold nights, hard grounds. Sometimes, the weather was so bad we actually had to sleep in the car, again. And everyone else in the campings was traveling with their huge campers & coffee makers. Once, we had to stay for hours in the bathroom utility because it was striking lightnings everywhere around us and we were too scared to get to the tent out. We got to the point that we swore we were not going to do it again, unless it was an absolute MUST.
Fast forward again to a few months ago. Low budgets and sneaky brains that kept telling us: “it wasn’t that bad last year, wasn’t it? It was actually fun! Plus, think about the freedom of picking the places where we want to spend the night at and how many days we stay in one area! To hell with aching backs, insects and thunder storms, we’re young and restless! We can do this again!”.
We dived in again head first. It started great in Ljubljana, at a small cute and very welcoming camping, but in Firenze it went nuts with the storms. The ground was literally shaking from the thunders. You probably heard about the storm that tore trees apart and destroyed cars in its way this summer – well, this was it. I was scared, again. I hate thunderstorms from the bottom of my heart, especially when I’m outside, protected solely by a tiny sheet of material.
By the time we arrived in Tuscany I was feeling a bit desperate. It was getting dark, the weather apps were announcing more rain and storms and we were driving on an awful country road among vineyards, lost on some hills, in the search of the camping we found earlier on the internet. Eventually, we found it. It was dark outside already and the camping was in a forest. We couldn’t see much. We parked and ended up sleeping in the car, because we were still shaken by the Firenze tent experience.
It ended up as a beautiful clear night. What was perfect was the next morning: sunny, pleasant. Because we could barely sleep and our backs and legs were hurting, we managed to wake up before everyone else and had the restaurant terrace just for ourselves. And then, the pool. Oh, my! What a welcome treat! Enjoying a refreshing pool in a beautiful setting in the middle of a forest, lost in the hills of Tuscany. Pure bliss!
Afterwards, the camping experiences along the way were pretty much decent.
So, what I learnt during these camping trips:
• if you’re in a road trip and don’t have enough space to decently sleep in the car, a tent is a great asset to carry with you, at least just in case;
• however, sleeping on the hard ground can make you even more tired and cause you back pain, so at least carry with you some blankets and a sleeping pad;
• buy a tent that has decent ventilation; mine was the cheapest and the air seems to stagnate inside even with the outer lid open;
• always close the inside lid to avoid insects getting inside; we found ticks once – good luck we found them before going to sleep!
• don’t place your tent in high grass and avoid random lands where animals (especially sheep) usually eat (plenty of ticks there usually);
• the sleeping pads, blankets, sleeping bag – bright colored makes the insects easier to spot; check for insects before going to sleep;
• don’t leave valuable things inside the tent when you’re away (this should be just common sense);
• a flashlight could sometimes prove invaluable;
• also, a spare blouse in case the night gets colder – better to take it off than lack what to put on;
• usually, there’s always place for a tent in a camping resort; however, check in advance and even make a reservation, because even campings get overbooked in tourist high season (happened to us in Levanto);
• if you go without reservation (like we did every single time), research your options in advance and pin them on your map; always have more than one option (in Austria we arrived too late and they just simply didn’t want to receive us, even though they were wide awake, had free spots and it was clear that we came a very long way, were tired and hungry and in badly need of a place to sleep);
• beware of randomly camping by the road, as in most of the places it’s not permitted and you can risk a fine if they get you; plus you won’t benefit of the shower facilities and such;
• campings are some of the cheapest ways of accommodation I personally experienced in Western Europe; sometimes the price can be comparable with that of a hostel, but in these cases it usually provides a handful of other facilities as well (like pools, great shower utilities, kitchen, restaurant, kids’ playground, sport facilities etc); depending on the place and availability, I would sometimes consider a camping over a hostel;
• it seems that campings are more fun if you’re with friends; and if you have a comfy camper van; and a coffee maker;
• I’ll definitely do it again if I have to 😉
Do you go camping when you travel? I want to hear all about your experiences, so share them below! ♥