How do we find our overnight stops?
Some questions that we get asked the most are:
“Do you plan or book ahead?”
“Do you stay on campsites?”
“How do you find your stops?”
So we thought we’d share a little bit about how we travel, and answer these questions at the same time.
Planning isn’t really a thing in our travels. We make some very high-level plans, like ‘This winter we’ll travel through Spain & Portugal mostly.” But we know that even the best laid plans are likely to change (well, I was a project manager after all…) so we don’t spend too much time thinking about our plans. To illustrate, even this very high-level plan has changed to ‘This winter we’ll travel through Spain, we’ll do Portugal next year…’ as we didn’t want to rush our Spanish experience or miss out on a big part of Spain.
We plan day-by-day. Sometimes we try to plan a few days ahead, but whatever we plan, it always changes. For example, today we’re in Montilla, having arrived yesterday afternoon. It’s the kind of stop we’d normally only spend one night, but we’ve decided to have a rest day so we thought we’d move on tomorrow. Since then we found out about a Flamenco event on Saturday, so now we will stay even longer. It’s part of the freedom we have that we can make decisions like this on a whim; we can go where the mood takes us, whenever and wherever we want.
When we did the Alpujarra road trip through the Sierra Nevada and its foothills, we had a bit of a plan to take 2 or 3 days. That was all. We hadn’t even decided on where to stay. That’s how we ended up doing a big chunk of the route to Juviles on day 1, followed by a day of covering all of 9KM to Trevélez where we decided to spend the night as we liked it there. We had ‘planned’ to end our Alpujarra road trip at the Beznar Dam but as it was cold, and one of us had a cold (poor me…) we decided to go to the coast where it was warmer.
You get the idea… Planning isn’t really a useful activity in our travels. That’s not to say that we don’t do research. We have a travel guide for Spain to help inform us where there are things we might find interesting. We also follow lots of other blogs like our own for travel tips and ideas of places to go. Then there’s the forums on Facebook, where a quick question for tips will get many replies almost instantly. Finally, Google, the all-knowing oracle, gives us all the information we need about places we want to go, opening times, prices, events etc.
One of the things we research most are our overnight stops. We don’t stay on campsites very often for a number of reasons; we don’t have to as we’re self-sufficient in our motorhome; we prefer places with nice views or more central to places we want to visit; most importantly they can be a bit too expensive for our budget and we can spend that money on other things like a nice meal or a museum. So we mostly stop in Camperstops, often known as ‘Aires’ which is the French term as France is probably the country with the best facilities and ‘Aires’ for motorhomes. Aires can be free, or there can be a charge. They really vary widely in terms of quality, services and location but there are some brilliant places out there.
We’re very lucky that these days, there are a number of very good apps, websites and books that list overnight stops and lots of information about them. Here’s a bit more information about them which you might find useful.
Our favourite app is CamperContact by NKC. A light version is available for free in the App Store, and the full function version costs £5.99 per year. We use the paid version and find that it’s worth every penny. You could use the website for free which also gives a lot of information. CamperContact is our preferred app as it seems to be the one that is most diligent in what stops it lists, meaning that you’re most likely to find a fully legal, safe camperstop to spend the night. It lets users add stops but they are properly vetted before they are published.
Our second favourite app is Park4Night. We use the free version (alternatively a monthly fee of €1.99 or yearly fee of €9.99) and find that works absolutely fine for us. Park4Night has more stops than CamperContact so we use this when we can’t find a good stop in a place we want to visit on CamperContact. Park4Night stops are not vetted as much so it’s even more important to read the reviews and check the photos in the app, as sometimes the places have a ‘no overnight parking’ sign which means you could be risking a fine if caught, or you could get moved on late at night (yes, this definitely happens!). It’s also worth checking if there’s a size-restriction as some of the stops are more suited to smaller camper vans.
Thirdly, there is Search for Sites. This app lists the most sites in the UK, it being a British-based app, but it also lists very many sites in Europe and beyond, with nearly 10000 listings in France alone. We use the website mostly, rather than the app, probably because we got used to doing so before the app came out. The free app is almost no use but an annual subscription costs only £5.99. This app has got some great listings as well, and is worth checking.
Of course, even in today’s modern world with all its technology, there is still place for a book! Apart from our trusty travel guide, we also carry some very useful books for stops with a difference, such as BritStops, France Passion and España Discovery which list stops at businesses who welcome motorhomes, such as farms, vineyards, pubs, restaurants, olive oil producers etc. These stops offer an experience as well as a place to stay for the night. Some of these have services such as water or a toilet, and there is no obligation to buy any of their products, just an obligation to say Hi and Bye and be friendly and polite.
Lastly, we have the ACSI books. Every year, an organisation called ACSI, produces a new set of books that comes with a little membership card. These books list campsites all over Europe which have signed up to a scheme that allows campers to stay with a discount in the low season. As we don’t often use campsites, we often question if we really need these books, but they are handy to have. In France we use it a lot less as there are so many ‘Aires’, but in Spain we’ve found it very useful indeed. If you’re travelling in the summer, then it doesn’t really help you although some campsites offer a discount in June.
A lot of camper stop information is still published in book format every year, and in the UK you can buy these books through Vicarious Media.
For information about our specific stops in Spain, find all the details here on our facebook page.
So now you know… This is how we ‘plan’ and travel. We hope it was useful! Or have we missed something out? Let us know. Happy travels!