10 Budget-Friendly Travel Tips for Van Life in Europe

Craving van life in Europe? Here are ways to cut down on expenses and live van life on a budget overseas.

Van life in Europe is an unforgettable adventure, but it can be costly if you’re not prepared. But don’t worry – I’ve got a list of van life tips to help you enjoy your campervan travel without breaking the bank.

Here, you’ll find advice on locating free places to park your van, accessing free facilities, and getting other useful tips to ensure your trip goes well. Plus, I’ll share some proven tricks for staying connected online while you travel and avoiding fines.

Whether you’re new to van life or a seasoned pro, these tips will help you explore Europe without sacrificing comfort or overspending. Let’s dive in!

1. Find Free Campsites for Van Life in Europe

Photo Credit: Anna Flik

To make the most of your van life in Europe without spending a fortune, seek out free camping spots. Europe offers plenty of options for budget-conscious van lifers.

You’ll find cozy campsites in charming towns, peaceful spots near vineyards, or parking lots with stunning sea views. Some farms even offer free stays if you buy their products. If you’re headed to Germany, France, or Italy, look for free motorhome parking spots at Stellplatz, Aires, and Sosta.

Before hitting the road, carefully plan your route and identify free campsites along the way. I personally love using the Park4Night app to discover numerous free spots for campervans.

2. Access Free Amenities

dealing with a cassette toilet in Europe
Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

Van life in Europe has its perks, such as easy access to free amenities like water and dump stations. You can find these facilities easily in countries like Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, usually at gas stations along freeways.

Plus, there are tons of free campsites across Europe that offer these conveniences. Having these resources around means you can save money and make your trip more comfortable.

However, unlike in the US, toilets and showers are less common and often come with fees. To avoid paying, it’s best to use the bathroom in your campervan. Or, if you’re in places like Spain, Italy, or Portugal, you can use public beach showers instead.

3. Avoid Toll Highways

Man paying toll fees on the expressway MSN
Image Credit: phranai2006@gmail.com/DepositPhotos.

If you want to save money while traveling, it’s best to avoid toll roads. Taking alternative routes not only saves you cash but also lets you discover hidden gems that freeways often miss.

In countries like Bulgaria, Austria, Romania, Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, you need vignettes (road toll stickers) for freeway travel. So, either get one or change your route to skip toll sections.

Just remember to check the vignette rules for each country and buy them online before your trip. This way, you won’t have to hunt for sales points along the way and you’ll lower the risk of fines for not having the right paperwork.

4. Get a Local SIM Card

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In the European Union, you can buy a SIM card in one country and use it across the entire Union. To save on phone and data bills, purchase a SIM card in cheaper countries like Italy, France, or Poland, instead of pricier ones like Germany or Switzerland.

Consider canceling your Starlink subscription, as cell connections in Europe are reliable almost everywhere. Unless you need to stream or upload videos frequently, a SIM card offers the best value.

You can find free WiFi in cafes and public places, but there aren’t as many spots as in the US since many people have fast internet on their phones.

5. Cook in Your Van

Photo Credit: The Wayward Home

For a wallet-friendly approach to van life in Europe, try cooking your own meals in your campervan. While eating out is generally cheaper than in the US, it can still add up compared to making your own food.

If you choose to cook for yourself, you’ve got two options. Firstly, you can grab groceries from budget-friendly stores like Lidl or Carrefour, which are easy to find all over Europe.

Alternatively, I suggest checking out local farmers’ markets. This not only ensures fresher and tastier ingredients but also helps you save money. Plus, you’ll get to experience the local flavors and support small vendors.

6. Refuel Wisely

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

In Europe, fuel is often more expensive, especially on toll roads (around +10%). To save money, try refueling outside of these areas, such as in cities or along smaller roads.

However, be prepared for much higher fuel costs compared to the US. Throughout Europe, fuel prices usually exceed €1.5 per liter (over $6 per gallon), and in countries like Germany, Italy, or France, they can even reach €2 per liter ($8.5 per gallon).

Therefore, it’s important to plan your route carefully and refuel before entering a more expensive country. Some European countries are small enough that one tank is sufficient for driving through entirely.

7. Mind Your Van’s Weight

Photo Credit: Anna Flik

In Europe, campervans usually have a weight limit of around 3.5 tons (7,000 pounds). If you go over this limit, you might get fined or have insurance troubles, especially in strict places like Austria, where fines could be thousands of euros.

To avoid problems, ensure your campervan stays within the 3.5-ton limit. Check its weight at truck scales available at some petrol stations.

A helpful tip: fill water tanks only as needed to avoid unnecessary weight. Plan routes to regularly refill water supplies instead of carrying large amounts for long distances. Remember, every item adds weight, so bring only essentials to avoid overloading.

8. Know Wild Camping Rules

Photo Credit: Anna Flik

Many countries in Europe are friendly to van lifers, often allowing wild camping (boondocking). However, it’s important to know that this varies by country, so it’s a good idea to check before you go.

One of the best places for van life in Europe is Norway, where you can freely camp in wilderness areas for up to two nights. Spain is another country where sleeping in your campervan is accepted, but make sure not to display your camping gear outside the van.

However, some European countries, like Austria, Croatia, or the Netherlands, have strict bans on wild camping. If you’re heading there, it’s better to stick to official campgrounds.

9. Travel Off-Peak

Photo Credit: Anna Flik

To make your van life in Europe even more budget-friendly, consider traveling during the off-season and avoiding summer months from July to August.

In my opinion, the best times to travel Europe are during the spring (April-May) and autumn (September-October). Traveling outside the tourist season helps you avoid high prices at campsites, attractions, and restaurants. It also makes it easier to score a free camping spot.

If you must travel during peak season, opt for hidden gems in Europe such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, or Slovenia. These countries are not only budget-friendly but also offer equally beautiful attractions, minus the crowds.

10. Enjoy Free Attractions

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In Europe, there are plenty of free attractions to enjoy. Whether you prefer exploring historic towns or hiking in the mountains, there’s something for everyone. Personally, I love visiting Tuscan towns and hiking in the Italian Dolomites.

Many museums, like the Louvre, offer free entry on certain days. And in cities like Berlin, you can join guided tours for free. Plus, having free parking near city centers makes it easier to explore.

In addition, Europe hosts numerous free outdoor events in the summer. And if you’re into wine, don’t miss the fall harvest festivals in regions like Alsace and Moravia.

Author: Anna Flik


Anna Flik

Anna Flik, creator of Runaway Ann, shares tips on van life and budget travel through her blog. After backpacking across Asia, she built her dream camper van and traveled across Europe. Now in the USA, she explores the Pacific Northwest with her two cats. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @runaway_ann.

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