The European camping experience

The European camping experience

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

If you grew up in the states, you might have fond memories of family camping trips. Campgrounds in the USA are often destinations unto themselves, with each spacious, shaded pitch fitted out with a fire pit and picnic table at a minimum. Evenings spent toasting marshmallows over an open fire are the stuff of which fond family memories are made.

Your first experience with camping the European way is bound to look and feel far different. But there’s no need for disappointment, once you realize the local way of doing things comes with its own set of advantages. Here are 10 differences you are likely to encounter while tooling around the continent with a tent or camper van.

Location: Whereas many campgrounds stateside are located deep in the forest or in the heart of our stunning natural parks, many European campgrounds enjoy an urban setting, making it an easy matter to walk into town for the evening’s fun. Even big cities such as Paris and Amsterdam have campgrounds connected to their beating hearts by local transportation networks.

Pitches: Wooden picnic table and rustic stone campfire place under a stand of majestic pines? Banish such thoughts and picture instead a flat patch of dusty sand or exposed grassy meadow. You might not even be assigned to a specific pitch but told to set up your tent wherever you please.

Fees: As in the states, costs vary wildly according to amenities and location. Instead of paying a flat rate, you will likely be charged per person and per vehicle. Sometimes even the size of your tent will factor in. You can even incur a fee for your bike, and you’ll certainly have to pay a few euros extra if you’ve brought your dog along.

Campfires: Fire regulations, generally speaking, prohibit open flames, although use of a camp stove may be allowed. Some places do offer dedicated, permanent spots for grilling.

Parking: It is not uncommon for there to be a single large parking lot for cars and to have to hump your gear to the place you’ll be pitching your tent.

Amenities: Here’s where things get good. Your camping area may have a pool, poolside bar, restaurant, bakery, mini-market, billiards, table tennis and/or an area where you can tap into the WiFi. Toilets and coin-operated shower facilities are usually cleaned several times throughout the day. Bring along packs of tissues just in case you wind up at the odd place that doesn’t provide toilet paper.

Entertainment: Should your campground cater to families, there may be a nightly program of shows, games or concerts. Often referred to as “animation,” the campground generates an opportunity to sell drinks and snacks to guests who would otherwise spend their money elsewhere.

Rent the tent: Cyclists, hikers or those getting around on public transportation can sometimes avail themselves of campsites at which the accommodation is already set up. This can take the form of a tent, camper or wooden chalet. The linens may or may not be provided, so be sure to clarify at the time of booking.

Tents: In Europe, it is possible to stumble upon campgrounds servicing only those with RVs, caravans or camper cans. Wild camping is prohibited in most European countries.

Camping club memberships: Many campgrounds are part of networks that offer discounts to their members. Annual membership fees, which are generally not too expensive, promised savings that pay for themselves from just two overnight stays. Examples of such clubs include the ACSI CampingCard, ADAC Campcard, Camping Card International and Camping Key Europe.

Keep an open mind, embrace the differences and enjoy those marshmallows on the drive to your not-so-private piece of paradise.

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