Monday, April 11, 2011

Travel Tips: Sleep Cheap in Europe (Part III)

Welcome to the third, final, and slightly belated segment of my Sleep Cheap in Europe series!  Perhaps this installment should be called 'Sleep Super Cheap in Europe' since it's dedicated to those of you who are keen to save as many pennies as possible on the road (while not depriving yourself of unique, fun and diverse local experiences, of course).  In Part I, I discussed youth hostels - how to find them, how to book them, and what to expect when you arrive.  Part II took us slightly higher up the accommodation spectrum with a look at pensions and bed-and-breakfasts, and today I present our most budget-friendly option - camping!

A view from our campsite in Bled, Slovenia

In Part I, I mentioned that I often stayed in youth hostels as a child growing up in Europe.  Since marrying Matt, campsites have become a more common fixture in my trips, both at home and abroad.  I didn't camp much as a child - probably because camping with five children of various interests and ages would have been quite an undertaking for my parents - but I had discovered it by the time I reached high school and, by the time I went to university, had spent many weekends 'camping out' with friends in Wales, the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales.

Fast forward a few years and Matt and I have put up our tent in Germany, Poland, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, to name only a few (we actually camped out at Death Valley, CA, this weekend - an amazing place that you should definitely make an effort to see!).  I guess now would be the time to confess that I had to defer to Matt in the sourcing of this post since he usually handles all of our camping arrangements. But by his admission, it's incredibly easy and we've never had a truly bad experience yet (touch wood!).

According to Matt, the easiest way to find campsites overseas is to do a Google search on "camping" in the country, city or region of interest.  As with searching for pensions in Part II, some countries have websites with a country-wide database of available campsites and hyperlinks which direct you to individual pages.  In many cases, it is possible to book a site in advance, either online or over the phone.  We've done this on occasion, but we have also had reasonably good luck with reserving upon arrival.  It's important to consider the season or time of year because campsites fill up quickly during the summer and also during local school holidays.  Other major events (such as festivals or sporting events - most of Europe is 'football-,' or soccer-crazy!) will also affect availability and the ambiance of the campsite (in case sharing a site with hundreds of inebriated soccer fans isn't your style).

When looking for a site, be sure to note the proximity to public transportation, shops, restaurants and points of interest.  Often campsites are located on the outskirts of major cities or tourist areas, but most will be happy to help you find or arrange transportation into town and some even offer a limited bus or shuttle service at little or no extra charge.  In these cases, it's definitely worth making friends with the campsite attendant since they will be able to give you tips that even the locals use.  In my experience, nothing is beyond them, be it restaurant recommendations,  photo opportunity advice or a handy piece of tape to repair broken sunglasses!

Most sites in Europe have a base price for your car, with an additional supplement for tent or trailer camping.  Some sites charge per person, but this is less common.  It's also not unusual for campsites to have an on-site pension or small, private cabins that you can rent at a slightly higher rate.  Whichever you choose, payment is usually made upon departure and the attendant will likely ask for some form of documentation (a passport or ID) to keep as security.

Car camping in Croatia

Once you've decided on your site, Matt recommends that you enter the address into your GPS or similar device since these places can be tricky to find (especially in countries where you can't read the signs!).  Then it's as easy as plugging it in and hitting the road. Almost.

A few pointers for a smooth camping experience:  As someone who's a fairly light sleeper, I'd recommend packing ear plugs and maybe an eye mask.  Most campers will be respectful but it's better to be prepared.  So far, Matt and I have been lucky to have washroom facilities at every site we've visited, but I always pack some emergency baby wipes (unscented, just in case the normal ones really do attract mosquitos, as I was once told).  Speaking of mosquitos, it's useful to bring some form of bug repellent and to practice proper tent etiquette and always keep your door zipped!  Plan to eat out or bring foods that require minimal preparation since most campsites won't have kitchen facilities available beyond a campfire or small grill or two.

Of the three options I've discussed, camping will usually be the cheapest, but not always so make sure you do your homework.  In any case, camping certainly allows you to get much closer to nature and to experience the area in a very different way.  It's a bit less personal and much less private than staying in a pension or bed-and-breakfast, but the opportunity to interact with other travelers will be on par with that provided by a hostel stay.

To read my write-up on hostels, visit Sleep Cheap in Europe (Part I)
For a look at pensions and B&Bs, visit Sleep Cheap in Europe (Part II)

Check out the public version of this content at Yahoo!


  1. I am a light sleeper so I always bring natural sleep aids wherever I go. I want to experience car camping there in Croatia because it looks fun and exciting.

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