Travelling in the off-peak season and staying flexible on a low cost budget
Travelling around in Europe can be expensive.
Especially, when you want to dine out in fancy restaurants, accommodate in a 5 star Hotel and you’re travelling in the highest peak season: Summer or Christmas holidays.
You have heard many times. To save on travelling expenses its best to travel in the off-peak season. And camping is the cheapest means of an official accommodation. In this season everything’s cheaper, people are friendlier, you get better services, and you have the whole place to yourself.
Go even cheaper!
But how is it like to travel in the super off off-peak season? I call it the dead season. Dead, coz everything is practically a ghost town. Nobody seems to holiday travel, busy on year-end businesses and saving up for the Christmas holidays. Nobody is paying attention to the tourist. Life seems to be so busy and normal.
But there’s a disadvantage. You stand before closed doors. It reads: “ferme” “geschlossen” “closed” in red, instead of the usual “abierto” or “ouvert”/”libre” in green. Most campsites are closed by middle of October, some even already as early as September. Charter planes stop flying. Restaurants and grocery shops barred up for the winter. November or March is a dead season. But it’s also our favourite time to travel. Why?
It’s the best time to climb.
Without an accommodation, you are either going to risk spending the night under the skies, or if that scares you, stay home.
So, yayyy to those who are independent of such situations, those who have a camper or lives the van-life. I look often with a little envy, each time I park next to them and try to feel as big and as warm when I hear the slurring of the camping heater in terrible weather. Such comfort!
We have been the car-camper for the last 20 years. It works for us. We can use the car if there’s nothing or find accommodations along the way if conditions aren’t perfect. It keeps us flexible and spontaneous, to do it as we like, to be able to move on if the weather turns sour. And of course, it saves us lots of money especially on longer the road trips. Car-camping makes it not so obvious that you are a camper, until you bring out your chairs and table, stove and all the other stuff. (I should be seriously thinking of getting a van, because you can do all that inside)
It used to take a huge amount of homework before the trip. Its good to have a few bookmarks up your sleeve before leaving your wi-fi home-zone.
How does it work?
It’s not magic, it’s also not a secret. It took some time to get things right. And it’s almost routine now. Campsites enlighten our way on a road trip. You shower, fill up your water tanks, wash your laundry, enjoy a pool or beach in the premises, feel human again. You can also do it wild, but Europe is no dessert. Civilization is everywhere.
Year round campsites in central Europe
Camping in the off-season is not always fun. It’s often cold, wet, windy. And after a few days, you would be so keen on just a few luxury moments of warm water, electricity, rooms with a heater. BUT it can be very different too. 90% of the campsites that are available in Europe are closed between October and March.
Unless you find one opened all year round. And this is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Each website that lists campsites are nothing else but just another registry. Which means, if these campsites do not list themselves, they wont be there. So to obtain this information, you’ll have to have several web links handy to find out where you are and do a search for “open all year round”. Unfortunately, the listings aren’t always correct or up-to-date. Some list themselves as all year round, but actually, they are just opened till September. What a bummer, when you drive up all the way to stand before closed doors!
So, I made my own list. It covers only campsites we have visited, opened all year round in Italy, France, Spain.
ACSI club for campers
A registered paying ACSI member pays only a fixed price on selected campsites around europe in the off-peak season. For as little as 10,95 € for a subscription fee, you are entitled to use listed campsites at a reduced rate. Sometimes for as little as 12€/night 2 Pax, no matter if you’re driving the super 19m truck or pitching the tent. (But of course, those driving a 19m truck have already other resources to hit) Campsite prices ranges between 10 -60 €/night. Terrifying! So even if you’re going to be camping just a few nights, ACSI does make things a bit cheaper.
Say goodbye to charging your electrical devices in the sanitary rooms, enjoy a little comfort in your luxury pitch. ACSI operates europe wide, and is well spreaded out especially in France and Spain. Their new App makes it easy to filter and find campgrounds.
The last years has seen a boom in this segment. In almost every campsite, there’re bungalows, chalets or mobile homes to rent. They are individual plastic or wooden homes with a shower and kitchen and gives you comfort in a sometimes wonderful setting. Theres even a guide-book for those specializing in this category.
In the off-peak season, prices goes down in certain regions to 23€-35€/ night, depending on the length of your stay.
Unfortunately, the cheap prices are found in campsites that are not year round campsites. Nevertheless, for 147 € a week, I don’t pitch any tent for comforts of a heater, shower, kitchen, lights and windless nights. Yeah, call me a “Weichei”. (literally translated: a soft egg. Meaning: someone who’s not hard enough to live it out in harsh conditions)
Rent a room or why not, take the whole hacienda instead?
All is not lost. Campers do sometimes end up in rooms too. Nothing to be ashamed of. If you are deprived of having an internet connection, having bad weather and are getting desperate, you find usually hints at the next bar (especially in the smaller towns, e.g. in Spain) Get a beer, loosen up and your language barrier will be forgotten. Of course, the local tourist information office will be happy to help too, provided they are not closed in November, or March ;)
Otherwise, find other resources here:
- FeWo direkt also known as HomeAway (http://www.homeaway.co.uk/)
- Airbnb (rentals worldwide from private to private)
- Toprural (similar to those gites in France, but in Spain) They have often a community room where you can share a kitchen with the others.
- Gite et Logis de Vacanze (Gites in France)
- B&B in Italy is found often everywhere. Prices range from 45€ and above. Check out sites from the tourist office for accommodations.
Alternatively, if you like high and lonesome views, you might want to look up for lodgings in diverse alpine mountain huts. Taking a longer walk from the last parking lot to your room can sometimes be so inspiring.
It’s always cheaper, the longer you stay. 1-4 day stays are e.g. most expensive. 7 days gives you often a discount of 10€/day. Check this out with your host right from the start.
No pain, no gain, No risk, no fun.
Unfortunately, wild camping is widely illegal in Europe (except for certain countries) There’s too much civilization around to be able to feel you’re in the desert. Yet you will still find hoards of vans and what’s getting more – huge luxury camper mobiles lined up on the coast. Be prepared to be shooed away from the local police/ranger / farmer, or in worse cases collect tickets for breaking the law.
On the other hand, a bivouac is “acceptable” for a night, it’s mindful to stay on low profile (no tents, no tables and chairs, no big van groups, pack up any signs of camping and disappear early, etc) Chances are, you won’t be noticed.
It’s generally easier to find open spaces in countries like France or Spain without stepping too hard on anyone’s toes. AIREs and parking lots are usually comfortably set up with toilets and sometimes showers. Drinking water can be filled up. AIRES are actually the rest spots by the motorway, Together with all other motorists and the gush of passing cars will lull you to sleep. We usually avoid spending the night in any of them near a big city. Horror stories of robberies and bandits who spray gas into the van while you sleep make it an ugly experience. Wanting to spend the night there means locking up, probably staying up awake half the night. Coastal parking lots are not one of the quieter options either.
Parking lots in the mountains are not anymore a secret to spend a night out in and is a much better choice than those Aires. Many picnic areas or “area recreativa” gives you a chance to BBQ and enjoy the view. A haven not only for children. (but you will also often find a sign “no camping”) Oh, and speaking of open spaces – Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Scotland are countries where it’s pretty much legal to wild camp.
I found some interesting resources on this topic:
And while wild camping is most appealing to you, please avoid areas near any National Parks, Nature Reserves, Hunting ban areas, Water Reserves or making fires. Needless to say, leave the place as clean as you found it and leave no trace.
Apps to go, help to come
Park4night was my newest discovery in my last road trip. The App locates your whereabouts per GPS, and shows you in the next step spots where you can spend the night. There’s information on available loos, water and ratings. The information, generated by the community, did not always suit our taste. However, this is a SOS life saver, when you are out of clues. My personal rating: 3 stars from 5. Another link worth mentioning is http://www.furgovw.org/mapa_furgoperfecto/ This works really well without needing to have an app at all. With no GPS on board, it will mean searching for your location at all times and having a good spanish knowledge.
I rediscovered Outdooractive on my last trip when I was looking up for a hike trip in the Pyrenees. I loved the fact that it saves the map (you can adjust the scale, 5 map types to choose from) to be used offline without having to first download. Great for discovering new terrains. There is a large community sharing tours (hikes, mtb, ski) It’s a HUGE App. Make sure you’re on WiFi premises BEFORE you start, otherwise your mobile data plan will be emptied in no time. Also, it drains the battery like nobody’s business.
That’s why motionX-GPS is still my favourite app (costs 1,99€) that goes everywhere with me. It tracks, download terrain maps, records my POIs, and is very gentle on battery usage. On areas and regions where my paper street maps stop, this starts off showing me the best corners of the world. All it needs a little preparation to download the map to the scale how you want it. You can set up different POIs and Waypoints and save them up as a favourite. I use this app to track my trials too. However, ever since I’ve gotten my Suunto Ambit GPS Watch, I left him instead to do all the tracking.
Campingplätze App from Ramunas Jurgilas. Actually, This App doesn’t seem to bring much. But so far it is the only app I have discovered to list ALL (well, feels like 98%) campsites in Europe (without those campsites having to be registered or listed here and there – it lists simply those who have listed themselves in Google) and gives a link to the homepage. In most cases, it was sufficient for me to dig out other campsites, without going amok with looking up for a place to stay. My greatest challenge was our trip to Asturias and Cantabria in Autumn recently. This place lays away from the coast, and has rarely any campsites. The second challenge was – it was in the off-peak season where everything was pretty much closed, including the tourist offices too.
I don’t leave the house without my weather App. Weather Pro (2,99€) has so far been loyal to me. Except in Asturias, it was getting hiccups – when it said it would be dry and sunny, it rained and it was changeable. The weather did not make it an easy task for these forecasters either. Otherwise, it predicts pretty well. I usually use this App together with a local weather App, like e.g. Search.ch (Switzerland), MeteoFrance (France), Eltiempo.es (Spain), ilMeteo (Italy) to go with the Weather App. If you stop trusting the news you get from your App, you can always double-check up with the live Wetterradar from Wetteronline.de The Precipitation radar shows where rain falls right at that moment. So it’s actually our Bible to planning our trips.
So maybe this is just the first few steps into living your dreams and still feel like an everyday millionaire – so lets go where the sun shines. Are you all set?