I started researching this topic when I first got the idea to travel in a vehicle. Where would I be able to park? How much would it cost? How would I empty the toilet? I had lots of questions like this but thankfully they were all answered very quickly.
Service points for motorhomes
Most motorhomes are self-contained units which means that they have everything they need on board without requiring external facilities. Namely, a sleeping area, a cooking area, and a bathroom.
This means that once you find a place to park, you can manage in your vehicle for a while without having to go and find a toilet for example.
However, there are still a few vital services that motorhomes need, usually every few days. These are:
- Fresh water
- A dump point for grey waste (sink water)
- A dump point for black waste (your toilet)
An electric hookup point is also very useful if you don’t have solar power, a generator or some other means of generating power.
So what all this means is that technically you can park anywhere that is legal, most motorhomers would want to find regular places that have these service points available. In the rest of this post I’ll explain what kind of resources I have found, and what services they provide.
In France, these are known as ‘Aire de Service’ and just about every other country in Europe has the equivalent, though sadly not the UK!
They should all provide the 3 basic services – access to fresh water and somewhere to dump your tanks. So for many motorhomers they can get by on Aires alone.
The cost? Usually free! Some come with a fee, but they are usually low and rarely more than 10 euros per night.
They are intended as overnight stops, and most of the free ones are restricted to 24 or 48 hour stays. The ones with a fee will vary more but in general think of them as fairly temporary stops. Also you can’t pre-book a spot; it’s a case of turning up and hoping for the best!
The facilities vary greatly. Some come with electric hookups, many of which are coin or token operated. Expect to pay around a couple of euros for an hour of electricity. Some have toilet and shower blocks, laundry facilities, shops and more.
Location wise they can also vary a lot. Expect Aires on motorways to be noisy and full of trucks and lorries coming and going; perhaps not the most pleasant experience. However, get off the highways a little and you may find yourself in a charming, rural pocket of the world.
Some can be very cramped and you may be parked just a few feet from your neighbour but of course that will depend on the popularity of the location and the time of year.
In France it is the law that every town in the country provides one and so there are over 3,500 of them! So I know I will be making good use of them in the time I spend in France!
How to find them? You can visit the Aire Camping-Car website that has a very useful interactive map allowing you to zoom into any area to find them. You can then click in and get more detail as shown in the example below:
If you want a hard copy Vicarious Media publish a series of books every year that list all the Aires for various different countries.
Slighter more up-market aires (France)
The basic Aires in France are there to provide a service but they are not generally built for comfort. Don’t think of them as freebie campsites. However, there is something that is somewhat in-between, and that is the network of Camping Car-Parks. This is a little confusing as a ‘camping car’ is what the French call motorhomes, and so a camping car park is basically an Aire.
So is this not the same thing as above? Not quite. This is a network of sites that have all been built to a higher standard than the regular Aires and they all have a fee to stay in which averages around 10 euros per night.
Most have electric hookup included in the price (though the supply may be as low as 4 amps so do check!) and many are protected by a gate for some extra security. They are open all year round and you are not restricted in the duration of your stay.
Unlike regular Aires, these can be booked much like a campsite. The website is extremely comprehensive showing a full description of each site, photos, videos, a map and it also tells you how many pitches are available at each site live so you’ll know in advance how full it is.
Here’s an example of a video of a site in a beautiful location of the west coast near Nantes. This one includes 4A electric hookup, free wifi and video surveillance for 10 euros a night.
Now we move away from Aires to something that has been born out of the local community. France Passion started over two decades ago as a way of creating a win-win situation for motorhomers and local producers.
Local businesses that have the space provide a free place for motorhomes to park for up to 24 hours for free and all they ask in return is that you have a look at what they have to sell. There is no obligation to buy.
France were the country to start the idea but it has now spread to the UK (Britstops), Spain, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. The French scheme has over 2,200 participants and the UK one has over 900. I’ve not checked the others.
The kinds of places you can stay at will largely depend on the country. For example, in France, over half of the properties are wine growers! In the UK, it is nearly all pubs! So as long as you’re not a teetotaller you’ll be fine 🙂
Unlike Aires, there are no requirements for the members of the scheme to provide service points though many of them do. When you buy the book (about 30 Euros) you get details on every stopover and can see exactly what facilities they offer as well as what kind of place it is.
Some offer nothing but a place to park for the night but many offer water, disposal points, free wifi and some of them have even have electricity though this is rare.
What I like about this scheme is that it gets me to the kinds of places that I would like to visit even if I wasn’t getting something out of it! Almost half of the entries in the France Passion book for 2018 are farms of some sort, selling everything from cheese to pate to chocolate!
So the idea of turning up at a lovely local shop to buy some of their specialist produce is very appealing, and something I would want to do as part of my travels anyway. The fact that I get a night’s free parking thrown in just feels like a bonus to me!
Check out this video from one of the stops that I saw mentioned in the book:
The one problem with most Aires and France Passion sites is that they do not provide electric hookup (EHU), or if they do, it is charged per hour which would not be suitable for extended use.
If you happen to be a digital nomad like myself, and need to run your computer equipment for several hours of an evening then being able to stay in places that provide electricity would be useful.
In the next section I’ll list some websites and apps that are useful in allow you to find stopovers that are not necessarily covered by the above resources.
Websites and Apps for finding stopovers
With the three resources listed above, there’s a choice of almost 6,000 places to stay just in France alone! That’s pretty mind-boggling, especially when you consider that the vast majority of them are free!
But of course you also have regular campsites to stay at, which may be very useful if you want to make use of their facilities such as nice showers, washing machines etc.
And then there are just all the other random places that you can park. It might be some little hideaway down a dirt track or a lovely spot with a beautiful view to wake up to. These kinds of places you may never find without a little help, and that is where online databases come in handy…
Park4Night (Website & App)
Park4Night has over 56,000 locations in its database worldwide, 25k of which are in France! You can search for an address or browse the map. It has a free mobile app to accompany the website and this allows you to just click “search around me” and it will use the GPS on your device to find places to stay around you; useful if you get lost!
The map has a set of filters that allow you to choose the kind of place you want to stay at. You could turn off motorway for example.
Clicking on a location gives you more detail plus any photos or comments that have been left by other users.
Search for Sites (Website)
Search for Sites has over 30,000 locations which is not as many as Park4Night but the website is very nice with some useful features. The advanced search allows you to use checkboxes to filter your search to just the facilities you want. So for example, you could look for sites that provided a shower or electricity for example.
The map is intuitive to use and shows you how many stopovers there are in an area and it dynamically updates as you zoom in and out. The detail view on each location is very comprehensive.
It shows a map of the area, prices, facilities, weather, directions, plus any photos and comments that have been left by others.
Camper Contact (Website & App)
Camper Contact is purely for motorhome stopovers unlike the previous two which also list spots for camping in tents and other kinds of vehicles. Also, it’s database is smaller than the others at a total of 25k, but the information provided is very good.
You can narrow down by selecting a country and a region or you can use the map. One thing that is nice about Camper Contact is that when you first click a location from the map it shows you the essential information in a popup – the price, the opening dates, and how many spaces there are. You can then click again to get the detail view.
I find that on this particular site there seems to be lots of photos and comments which really helps. The map filter is not quite as good as Search For Sites as you can select multiple filters but can instead just click on a filter to narrow down the search, so you might need to click multiple times to find what you want.
The website is free but the full version of the mobile app costs £4.99 per year.
Hopefully with a combination of these resources you’d never again be stuck for a place to park your motorhome for the night!
I have recorded a video to accompany this post where I go through all the websites mentioned in detail and show you exactly how they work. It’s quite long but hopefully it’s useful for those who prefer a more visual delivery.