Naturally, we were curious if there were places for to “boondocking” in Europe, like there are in the USA. In the United States, particularly out west, there are public lands where RVers can camp for free and sometimes for extended periods of time. There are also retail establishments, like Wal-Mart, which permit a quick overnight stop in their parking lot unless otherwise prohibited by town ordinances and such. “Boondocking” or “dry camping” typically means no services, really just a simple place to overnight, sometimes with a dump station nearby.
In Europe, the term “wild camping” is commonly used to describe free camping, as well as camping (including in a tent) in wild, rural or isolated locations. Campers in an autocaravan or trailer should see the section below on Aires and Stellplatz as places to overnight for free or a nominal charge. And as a general rule we found we could spend a quick overnight in places that seemed safe, had no signs posted prohibiting overnight stays and where we would be unobtrusive.
We had read about the Aires in France and the Stellplatz in Germany, which are places to stop overnight. Many of the Aires and Stellplatz are free; some charge a small fee. We hoped we could make good use of the free overnight stopping places interspersed with stays in campgrounds with facilities.
Aires and Stellplatz are typically in locations convenient to major sightseeing destinations. Some have sanitary stations to dump cassette toilets or other amenities.
In France, some of the Aires are located on major motorways and others are located in small towns and villages. Some people are wary of staying at motorway Aires for reasons of noisiness or crime potential, so it is advisable to use common sense and discretion. If something doesn’t “feel right”, it is probably a good idea to move on.
You can look for books and listings of the Aires ahead of time, or you should be able to buy them at bookstores, large supermarkets or hypercenters once in Europe. We did a bit of research ahead of time, but found it difficult to purchase a decent guide in English in advance. So we decided to wait until we got to Europe.
Bottom line: Once we got to Europe, we never bought these guides. Upon arrival, we knew we would only be in Germany for a couple nights before heading to the Netherlands. And we happened to come across a convenient Stellplatz just driving around, where we stayed one of our first nights. By the time we returned to Germany toward the end of our motorhome travels, we had sufficient resources on places to camp.
Similarly in France, we found our France Passion, ACSI and other campground listings were sufficient. We also noticed that Aires were easily found while driving. And since France is camper-friendly, it was easy to find a municipal park or church parking lot where boondocking by autocaravans was allowed for a quick overnight.
If you want to research Aires and Stellplatz in advance, here are some resources:
CampingCar-Infos.com Site is in French, they also sell a listing of Aires in French on USB/CD.
Vicarious Books Publishes guides in English, but did not ship to USA at time of our trip.
FrenchAires.com A site in English with descriptions of some Aires