Our Best and Worst Bits of Staying on a Campsite

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Saturday 10 January 2015

Our Best and Worst Bits of Staying on a Campsite

Apart from the past few weeks, where we have settled in to our winter base, most of our campsite stays have been really quite short. Over the past 8 months of our adventure we've spent most of our nights on motorhome aires with occasional visits to campsites (in the off-season) to recharge, rest and relax.  The motorhome aires allowed us to visit some incredible places very cheaply but these last few weeks we have really appreciated a slightly different way of campsite life, drawing us to reflect on what we like the best and the least about living on campsites.

During the past 8 months most of our overnight stops have been on motorhome aires with just the occasional campsite stop (less than a dozen campsites so far).  Sometimes it's been necessity that's made the decision to stay on a campsite for us, if for instance there just hasn't been a suitable aire nearby. Other times, it's been a conscious decision to stay on a campsite for all the benefits and pleasures they bring when we needed a quick 'recharge'.  For whatever reason, our campsite stops have only been in the off-season (generally September to mid-June) avoiding the highest rates and the busiest times.  At the moment we have more time in the evenings to reflect on our journey so here are our best bits of staying on campsites.

Our Best Bits

1) Space:
Living in a box roughly 5 x 2 m has many advantages and during the hot summer days when we spend most of our time outside anyway any small inconvenience of having a small sink and limited storage etc. is actually fun and we don't notice the inconveniences.  As we have said before, one of our favourite thing about motorhome life is having less stuff. However, we are also now enjoying the pleasure of being able to spread out our small collection of possessions as we settle into campsite life. Whether its being able to leave our trainers on the step or our chairs out under the awning, having a bit of space to spread into is a fun luxury we hadn't been able to enjoy on aires.

Compared to our life back in the UK we have very low energy demands. We have no kettle, iron, washing machine, dishwasher etc. But we do still have a small computer, tablet and a phone that needs charging from time to time. We also have a small hoover to keep the place tidy as Esther has allergies (usually we use a dustpan and brush but a hoover now and then really gets the dust up) plus a juicer and blender we like to use for cooking when we can. Although we have an inverter that allows us to use any appliance up to 300 watts when we are touring, it drains our leisure battery fast and sometimes means we have to run the engine at the same time. Simply being able to pop a plug in a mains socket and hit the on switch is blissfully easy and a simple pleasure we used to take for granted.

3) Water and Emptying Facilities:
Most motorhome aires have these facilities but not all. In many of our more remote and mountainous destinations we were never quite sure when we would next be able to refill our freshwater tank and empty our waste. In some places the motorhome service points seemed few and far between and there were occasions when we ran out of fresh water completely. Knowing we are only a stroll away from a fresh supply and emptying facilities removes a small but niggling worry we often had whilst touring in the mountains.

4) Washing up and Laundry sinks:
Doing our dishes in the small motorhome sink is really not too much of a problem.  We have also become very good at using the bare minimum of water for washing and rinsing.  But one area where we do struggle is the splashing and drying. Our motorhome draining board is about 10 cm square! Living on a campsite and using their spacious sinks with powerful running hot water is a nice treat, being able wash everything thoroughly and all at once.  The same is true for hand washing our clothes.

5) Showers and toilet blocks:
We do have a shower and a toilet in our motorhome and quite a big one compared to some of the motorhomes we have seen. But even if we do use our gas to heat our 10 litre water tank (which actually hasn't been that often), the resulting shower is necessarily short! Being able to take a short stroll to a spacious, warm and powerful shower that can last more than 2 minutes (and have the water on that entire time!) is a creature comfort that we have come to appreciate in a new light.

6) Space for a washing line:
When the laundry starts piling up and we're touring, even if we do find a launderette or place to handwash it can be awkward to find a place to hang it all out to dry inside the motorhome. Being on a campsite gives us lots of space to put up a line and leave our clean socks hanging in the sunshine while we get on with our day. Getting back home after a long hike to find your pyjamas clean and dry, instead of still hanging damply inside the motorhome is a minor, but significant, change that we enjoy.

7) Security - (Particularly A Good Night Sleep):
Living on motorhome aires, whether in cities or remote locations, always carries an element of uncertainty. Whether it is feeling slightly vulnerable at night while we are home, or being concerned about thefts and break ins while we are out during the day, the truth is that we are parked in an unmonitored car park, often in a secluded location. Campsites, by comparison, generally have a gate, receptionist and a level of security that gives us much more peace of mind. We still make sure we lock up, hide our valuables and take no risks, but we don't have to sleep with one ear open and can really relax and enjoy much more the time when we are away from the motorhome.

8) Local Recommendations and Suggestions from Friendly Guardians / Receptionists:
Esther and the very friendly Patrick -
 Guardian of Camping Le Sedour
Some of the smallest, quietest campsites we have stayed at have been looked after by some very kind and friendly 'guardians' or receptionists who have gone out of their way to help us and make us feel right at home. The attention and care they offer to their guests and looking after their campsite makes the whole experience of a campsite stay feel much more special and can more than compensate for any slight problem with the facilities. In addition they are best placed to recommend local activities, excursions, shops and markets etc without having to find a tourist office or go online. We've often been provided with an information pack on arrival with these details and on more than one occasion discounts for local attractions and services as well.  When we've told the guardians we like to do they have even gone out of their way to suggest hikes and bike rides as well.  

9) Treats:
Swimming pools, gyms, on-site WiFi, jacuzzis..... Although we can't count on a campsite having any of these special treats, some of the places we have stayed have had them and they are a lot of fun. Certainly, although we will keep our eyes open, we are yet to discover a car park or motorhome aire that has a sauna and swimming pool!

Worst Bits
Although it was easy to think of our 'best bits' listed above, staying on campsites is not without it's downsides as well and there are a few obvious ones that spring to mind:

1) Cost:
Staying on campsites does cost more money than motorhome aires (although some Aires can be very expensive as well most are only a couple of euros a night or completely free) and the main reason many motorhome tourers we've met won't stay on them. Many people also wild camp for free overnight stays, but on our trip we have preferred to at least stay in authorised motorhome locations. However, despite the cost of campsites, we have found that using our ACSI discount card and looking for the sites that offer multi-night discounts we are still staying within our monthly budget.  We're not talking about the holiday parks where a night of camping can set you back as much as a hotel room, the most we ever pay for a campsite is 16 euros with our ASCI card.  With the deals available on average it has been closer to 12.50 euros a night.  We budget for a few campsite nights every month for our 'recharge' and we feel this is a good use of money in return for the services we use, especially if there are free 'treats' included as well i.e. a free swim or free internet to use skype which saves us money on calls.  When, like now we make a choice to stay on a campsite for longer, we can offset some of the overnight cost from our diesel, gas (as we aren't using gas to power our fridge), phone and 'fun' budget.  Plus some of the discounted long term rates are just as good as what we've paid for some aires and although we aren't moving the motorhome we're still out and about getting to really know the area on our bikes or feet.

2) Large Campsites and Rude receptionists:
Just as a friendly 'guardian' can be one of the best bits about campsite life, a rude receptionist can have the completely opposite effect. Our experience has been that rude receptionists tend to work on the very large, holiday complex like campsites that are set up to cater for (up to) thousands of guests during the summer months. When we have arrived in the low season with our discount card and asked to stay for just a few days, we have occasionally found that we have been treated with complete disdain. On one occasion (Vilanova Park near Barcellona), having confirmed what facilities were available in advance, we arrived to find that various things we had been told were not true and there were many additional charges. When we questioned it we were told we were "rude and trying to get something for nothing" and should just be happy with our discounted price.  Even if the campsite has excellent facilities, rude and unhelpful reception staff can leave a bad taste in the mouth that outweighs a nice shower room or even a swimming pool.

3) Variable Standards (The site and other guests):
Campsites vary massively in terms of cleanliness and quality of facilities. A lot of our best bits listed above really refer to the sites we have found with decent showers, clean facilities and nice locations. We have also found places with lukewarm, time limited showers and dirty sinks, toilets etc. Sometimes this has been due to lack of cleaning, other times due to disrespectful guests who just don't seem to care how much mess they make after themselves (although that is true on some aires as well). Of course, we don't often stay more than a night or two before moving on once our 'chores' are done, so we often just put up with this but until you arrive at a campsite we just don't know how nice it will be.

Our Campsite Conclusions
Overall our experiences of campsites during our adventure have been generally very positive and something we have looked forward to as a treat. Staying even one night at a campsite to 'recharge' can be like a holiday within a holiday for us.  After living on aires for a long time we have rediscovered many joys in simple conveniences that we used to take for granted.  Although we have met people on the road who never stay on campsites, seeing it as some sort of game to avoid them and stay every night for free, and we have also met people who always stay on campsites for peace of mind at a small cost, we think there is a middle ground and have come to feel that staying on campsites during a long adventure is both a necessary and fun part of our trip.

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