Arguments, asia, biking, budget accommodation, Budget travel, Camping, camping equipment, couchsurfing, England, Europe, France, hiking, Homestay, hostel, Ireland, Northern Wales, self-catering, stealth camping, tent camping, Wales, walking, Zimmer Frei
SWMBO sums up in three simple words:
Don’t do it!
That’s all you need to know. But motormouth here will expand and if you’re waiting for your watched pot to boil or for your teen to come home alone in the dark or if you’re on hold with Bell/Aeroplan, then by all means read on.
It begins with full disclosure. I think camping is dumb.
“Why?” You ask SWMBO, “Why, are you so down on camping? I have wonderful childhood memories of camping. I met my spouse on an Outward Bound trip. We hauled our canoe through the wilds of Canada for two years eating only bear meat and camped every night through black flies and frozen tundra. We gave birth to our first child in a quinzee we built with our bare hands. Every weekend, we bike 100 miles each pulling a Burley with two children and all our camping gear and we sleep under the stars with no one telling us what to do. WHAT is your problem with camping?”
Okay – good question. I did not grow up with camping. My parents are both immigrants and what with holding down three jobs and all, they did not have the luxury of camping in the early years. Once they became more established in Canada, they embraced camping but I guess by then it was too late for me. Either that, or I am just allergic to it.
I love being outdoors and will haul wood and trek over hill and dale with the best of them. But after 4, 6, 8, 10, heck even 12 hours of that, I want a hot shower (where I don’t have to worry about catching a communicable disease) and a comfy bed.
So why not just let sleeping bears lie and avoid the topic? Because, after much research, I have come to the conclusion that it is not a feasible way to save money when travelling. And my tips of the day are all related to saving money. Also, these tips are PERSONAL so I just throw them out there as food for thought.
If you are the passionate camper I described at the outset, I think you should camp on your next trip to Europe (or wherever you are going – I can recommend good places in Singapore…). Camping is part of your lifestyle and something that gives you much joy. It allows you to get close to nature in a way you can’t explain. It’s better than anything else. All time stops when you look out over the heather and feel the calm and stillness. These are the reasons to camp.
Now let’s look at the reasons not to camp:
Definition: Camping in other parts of the world is not like in North America. In Asia, it is an oddity and rarely done. In Europe, “camping” usually refers to caravan camping rather than tent camping. When you are looking for a campsite, the signs will be heavily biased in favour of caravans. Many sites do not have room for tents. They will be paved with electric hook-up. Caravan holidays are very popular in Europe and you are likely to be set up in a trailer park with each caravan parked right next to the other. If you enjoy tent camping in North America, camping at a campsite in Europe will come as a shock.
Price: Camping in Europe is ridiculously expensive. Campsites in Europe are graded based on facilities. A three-star campsite is likely to have a restaurant, a waterslide, a bar and a shuttle bus to get you into the nearest town. You will pay very, very dearly for these amenities. If you want a simple tent camping experience, you will have a hard time searching for that online. You can try “tent only”, “natural camping area”, and the like. If you are already on the road without reservations, some rural pubs in England have a field next door where they will allow tent camping. You can also ask farmers if you can camp on their property. Back to price – it is normal in Europe to pay a set price for a vehicle with two people (one tent). If that sounds like your family, lucky you. If not, you will pay extra for each extra person, vehicle, and tent. And by extra, I mean easily $10/adult, $5/child. It is likely that some of your older children will be counted as adults. As an example, tent camping in a simple tent-only campsite in most of the places we have been so far would cost us $70 Cdn per night. IMnotsohumbleO – sheer insanity.
Weather: It rains A LOT in England. No surprise there. But it also rains A LOT in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, West Coast of France, northern France, Holland, Scandinavia, and so on and so forth.
Bugs: Everyone jokes about the black flies in Northern Ontario but Europe has some pretty nasty bugs too. The midges in Britain and Scandinavia are legendary.
Weight: To camp, you need to carry a tent and sleeping bags at a minimum. You could forego the tent and sleep under the stars but that is going pretty hardcore. Most people will want a tent to camp. Most people will also start adding things like Thermarests, flashlights, waterproof matches. All of these things add bulk and weight. I think I would prefer to save a few hundred dollars by getting a cheap flight where no checked luggage is allowed, than schlepping all that stuff with me.
Transport: But, for argument’s sake, let’s say we do go with all the camping equipment. How will we transport it? Carry it? Ai yai yai! Bike and panniers? Oy vey! Car? Yes, that is how it will likely be done if you are over 30 and have kids. Expensive, that’s all I’m saying. A vehicle allows you to move into the countryside to camp and gives you the peace of mind of moving on to the next campsite if the one you have arrived at is full. Many people get a van and then just sleep in that. I think that is an excellent idea but because of the size of our family, it is not an option for us.
Stealth: To my mind, this is the most appealing camping option. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, “stealth” camping refers to discretely setting up a tent at the end of the day any damn place you please, sleeping in it, and then skedaddling early in the morning. Fine print: Common symptoms include itching, embarrassment, nervousness, sweaty palms. In rare cases, may lead to jail, murder, drowning, mauling by wild animals. If you are pregnant or suffer from hyper-tension, please consult a physician before attempting to wild camp. *Firstborn/Proofreader Of Today’s Post says: Very Glass Castle-esque
Safety: You’re pretty vulnerable in a tent.
Couchsurfing. Seriously. It’s not what you think and with careful planning it can be for everyone. I mean that.
Renting an apartment. Not as expensive as it sounds.
Hostel. Many are very nice and offer private rooms. Cottage. A “cottage” in Europe is basically an apartment in the middle of nowhere. If you have a vehicle, you can get very good value cottages, but be aware that many have to be rented for a minimum of one week.
“Zimmer frei” or similar. In Asia, this is called “Homestay”. Essentially a room for rent in someone’s house. I know you anti-couchsurfers are getting the heebie jeebies on this one but hear me out. Zimmer frei is a great option. You are giving a local person an extra bit of cash (it’s time to walk the walk not just talk the talk), getting invaluable insider knowledge on the area and a chance to see how life really plays out wherever you happen to be. In all my years of “zimmer frei”, I have always had my own room, my own bathroom and privacy. I have often had a completely separate apartment, usually had a good breakfast, sometimes had a tasty supper for an extra charge, and have always enjoyed extremely good value for money. A typical zimmer frei charge for our whole, huge family would be $60-$75 Cdn. We have done this in France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Greece and Italy. I think it provides the best alternative to camping.
So, what exactly, are we doing, you ask? Well, for the first time ever, we have taken camping equipment on our vacation. This is because I obtained free camping permits for Singapore, officially the most expensive city in the world in which to live. I calculated that we would save $500 by camping there for only two nights. Since we were to have a vehicle in Europe, I thought it would be no big deal to take the camping gear and would try to stealth camp as much as possible to save money.
But we haven’t camped once since arriving in Europe. The two times we were completely set to camp, we were caught by thunder and lightening storms. The other times we’ve tried to find a campsite, the prices have been laughable. And serendipity has meant that we have had beautiful alternatives land in our lap. We are keeping our hearts open to the world and so far, we have been overwhelmed with the generosity shown to us. It has also been in keeping with our experiences over twenty-five years of travel.
As I write this, I am sitting in a little cottage in Wales where we will be for the next two weeks. We’ve been offered this jewel by a wonderful person, from whom we have already received so much. We have a view of the salt-water, slate, and daisies with the occasional hare dashing past. Firstborn and Fahbio even saw two peacocks on their way to get milk this morning.
That’s all she wrote.