Living out of your camper or campervan and finding a free camping spot in France is great! There are many great spots and some have good facilities and amazing views. But recently, I arrived at a spot that didn’t feel quite right. It was a large parkinglot of a supermarket that closed early (7pm), the facilities advertised were not there, there were no other camping cars and the personnel of the supermarket didn’t seem to know anything about this being a spot to stay overnight. In addition, there were many people in town just hanging around.
Eventually, I made the decision to go find a camping close by and play it safe. Especially as a woman travelling alone, I try to be a bit careful and not take too many chances with this. This whole thing made me think of creating a quick checklist to help myself (and others) pick sleeping spots that are safe and comfortable.
I have written this piece after a month of travelling in my campervan, mainly in France and a bit in Belgium. I’m not a hardcore vanlifer yet just parking anywhere I want. But of course I always keep an eye for a free camping spot in France 🙂 Because I’m travelling by myself, working online and cycle once every few days, I use both free spots and campings. Someone to talk to, Wifi, showers after a 45km bike ride and electricity are welcome changes sometimes 🙂 . So these are my lessons after one month on the road!
1. Arriving in time
France has its high season for camping cars in July and August. And obviously I made the classic rookie mistake 🙂 It has happened a couple of times already that something caught my eye on the way, I made a stop and did some sightseeing and I would arrive at the camping car spot only at 5pm or later. This means full house in high season! Because my camping car is relatively small I can still squeeze in, but it’s not great to stand so close to each other.
Now I’m becoming more of a professional 😉 I try to drive in the morning and arrive at my parking spot somewhere between 14h00 and 15h00. Then most people are still on the way and you get to pick the finest spots!
Of course if you spend time in more remote areas or in nature, you don’t have these issues. Yet, it’s still nice to arrive before dark to properly set up the place.
2. Large City vs Small Village
I find free camping spots in France better in small villages and rural or mountain areas. In bigger towns or cities you often just find a large concrete fields to put your camper on and that’s it. Often you will find busy roads or areas nearby which don’t really add to the atmosphere of your stay and can even feel unsafe.
In the smaller villages, the camping spots are usually better taken care of, are close to the Boulangerie or a restaurant and have better maintained facilities. Not even to mention the views 🙂 There is nothing better than to open your doors in the morning and enjoy the fresh air and views.
If I visit a larger city, I try to park slightly outside of the centre and take my bike or public transport into the city. I did this for example in Besancon and it was really nice not to take my car into the busy centre.
With the many resources to find a free camping spot, you can usually you can check in advance whether a place has light at night or not. For me, when I’m staying somewhere overnight it makes it feel safer when the terrain is well lit. This (hopefully) avoids dodgy people from coming by 🙂
Just a note: light is only good when you have curtains 😉
Below spot in Cuges les Pins was pitchdark at night! But it was in a super quiet area and the stars were bright, so no big deal!
4. Sanitary Facilities
Because I only have a small portable toilet in my van and no shower, I keep an eye out for free camping spots with sanitary facilities and water. Sometimes you get lucky, such as the time near Lac Du Vouglans. The facilities in the free camping spot in Orgelet were great! The bathrooms were cleaned every day, had toilet paper and getting water was easy and free! Jackpot!
Other times you just get a hole in the ground in a little wooden shack without doors or even nothing at all! Depending on how you travel or if you have a toilet/shower, it’s worth checking out the facilities beforehand in an app or book so you won’t be surprised 🙂
5. Supermarkets & Food
Finding a free camping spot in France that is in walking distance of at least a Boulangerie is not too difficult :-). But it makes the mornings a whole lot easier! Getting a fresh baguette, crispy croissants or a delicious pain au chocolat really brightens up my day ;-).
Larger commercial areas usually have Intermarches or Carrefours which often have little cafes attached where you can have a cup of coffee or use the restrooms.
Below free parking spot right next to the sea was close to the town of La Ciotat, a medium sized city. An Aldi was in walking distance and one night I got pizza in the place around the corner. Easy life 🙂
Ready for a Free Camping Spot in France & Europe?
Finding free parking spots is becoming more and more of a hobby 🙂 In France, the app Camper Contact has a lot of places, Park 4 Night has great off the beaten track free camping spots and also France Passion is an amazing network of farmes that let you stay with the for free!