With the advent of GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) co-ordinates there are tens of thousands of locations available throughout the world given on many websites. In Europe provision is given for motorhome parking, often with service points to take on fresh water and dump waste. They are called Aires in French, Sostas in Italian and Stellplatz in German. There are more springing up in Spain and Portugal, where many motorhomes head during winter.
We joined France Passion during our first year and this enabled us to stay free at vineyards and farms in France. We did find some idyllic locations but there were drawbacks. Many farms were very rural, and isolated. Most only have places for two or three campers and on one occasion we found ourselves blocked in by two other vehicles on a drive. Fortunately we didn't have to be off early in the morning. It often takes considerable navigating skills to find these farms as they are usually off the beaten track. When you do arrive at one, only to discover that there isn't a slot, it can be disheartening. During the time that we were members the regulations clearly stated that we were under no obligation to buy produce. However on one occasion we were asked to leave a Château because we didn't want to buy any wine. France Passion did take my subsequent complaint seriously but it tainted the experience for us and we haven't renewed our membership. With so many aires and municipal sites to choose from in France, we don't feel as though we've missed out.
The term wild-camping is used describe staying in a motorhome, off a camp site, perhaps a car park or at the beach. Some people become upset about this being called wild-camping, as they regard it to be an inaccurate description because there's nothing wild about it. Other names for it are free camping or tolerated camping. Many won't consider the idea because it appears dangerous and foolhardy, without the security of a camp site. Whatever your view, or what you choose to call it, if you do give it a go you should try and remain discreet and not look as though you are camping. Many people who take up motorhoming on a long term basis do wild-camp.
There are locations in Spain and Portugal where free camping is tolerated. These are mainly on large tracts of rough scrub land near the coast. The winter down south is a lot kinder than ours and if you do decide to head for one of these areas you will meet many like minded folk from all over northern Europe. The local economy in some of these out of season resorts would collapse without motorhomes as the occupants buy their supplies from shops and markets. It also means that if you are on a restricted budget, you're avoiding camp site fees and saving a considerable amount of money through the course of a season. However, places do change, perhaps a new mayor is appointed who doesn't have the same penchant for motorhomes as their predecessor.
During the winter of 2013/14 we stayed in Portugal and Spain. There were so many motorhomes in some areas it seemed like an infestation for the host country to deal with. This was because the facilities for dumping waste, obtaining fresh water and so on, weren't always readily available.
Remember to respect those in authority, and when visiting another country you are a guest and subject to their rules and regulations, whether you agree with them or not. Also, spare a thought for the locals. How would you feel if you couldn't get parked in your home town on market day because your regular car park was full of motorhomes? Not just for a day or week, but a complete season. Try and support the local community by using the shops, restaurants, cafés and bars.
In Spain and Portugal you will find local people call in at motorhome areas to sell goods and provide services, such as laundry, bakery, fruit, home-made wine and honey. I gorge myself on oranges in the winter, they taste so delicious compared with the long suffering fruits we get in British supermarkets, that have travelled many miles, and not been allowed to ripen on the tree.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter there are many websites detailing aires, stellplatzes, sostas and wild-camping with GPS co-ordinates. Some aren't in English, but because symbols are used with a few words in that language, you should be able to work out what they mean. For example, the availability of drinking water is usually represented with a simple outline of a tap. Many aires are free all year round but some charge in high season.
Furgow VW, has locations mainly in Spain and Portugal, it's in written in Spanish and designed for VW campers, so some access roads may be narrow. Aires in Portugal; Promobil in German; Camping-Car Infos in French and Wildcamping in the UK. Search For Sites is a non commercial venture that makes lists of campsites and motorhome parking places in Western Europe readily available. I have found it easy to use and you can search close to your actual location. There are over 22,000 stop-overs listed and there is also a mobile friendly version.
We often stop over if we find a place that looks nice, but are always discreet as we don't want to intrude on the local people. Before we order food at a pub or restaurant we ask the landlord, or owner's permission to spend the night in the car park, and have never been refused anywhere in the world.
Most of all, with a motorhome, if you can - take time, remember to relax and enjoy the view. There's no need to rush and this type of travel is as much about the journey as where to stop and stay. Just potter along and only do a few miles at a time. By slowing the pace down you're more likely to see the ideal spot to settle for a few hours, or even the night.
In 2012 we drove to Antalya province in Turkey and parked on a deserted beach. Unfortunately the sand was deeper than we realised and we got stuck. Luckily for us, the man who drove along the lane behind the beach in his tractor noticed. He stopped, took a closer look, and was happy to haul us out.