Having spent another summer touring primarily in France, with the abundance of free or low cost aires that are generally well used and usually well maintained, the prospect of crossing into Spain for winter made us feel a little uneasy. We had the same feeling last year as well and perhaps explains why both times we have delayed crossing the border until really quite late in the season in mid-December. There is just something about motorhoming in France, we have found, that feels so natural and effortless, and we were reluctant to leave the familiar, easy routine we had gotten used to. In fact we feel so comfortable in France that in addition to using our guide to the aires we do still 'wild-camp' from time to time as well, simply staying in a convenient, quiet parking area, usually when we are up high in the mountains where, provided we're respectful and leave no trace, we feel comfortable doing so. Or late at night on a long drive. We have done the same in Switzerland as well. We have even wild-camped in tents all over Europe.
Last year our response to this uncertainty was to choose to stay only on campings in Spain (or secure, paid aires) making use of our ACSI card to get slightly cheaper rates and, in the end, enjoying a long stay bungalow deal for 2 months in Cabo de Gata which was also completely unexpected. Some of our camping experiences in secure aires further drove home our fear of wild-camping in Spain as they had curfews and enormous, locked gates that shut you in overnight.Although during our travels we did see many motorhomes parked for the night in beachside parking areas and even met and spoke to many people who said that they enjoyed doing so, we still felt uncertain. It just seemed a little too alien to us, a little too unsecure or vulnerable. For example, as we like leaving our motorhome quite often to hike or cycle sometimes all day, would we really feel happy leaving Homer in an unmonitored, remote parking area for that length of time? The answer last year was definitely not and in the end the single night we spent on a beach parking was only after checking out of a camping very late at night, prior to a long drive and so we never had to leave the motorhome at all. Plus, for all the people you meet who tell you they have stayed in beach parkings problem free, you do still hear horror story of break-ins or getting moved on by the police as well, usually from the very same people who say they enjoy staying in them but that they or someone they knew did have an issue.
At first we were definitely quite nervous, probably revealed by the fact we parked fairly close to a Belgian motorhome when all the others were spread out quite a bit. We were also quite reluctant to leave Homer, looking at each other and repeatedly asking, "do you think it will be ok?.....I don't know, what do you think?". But after a few hours sitting, relaxing and taking in the scenery we began to unwind a little and decided to try a shortish stroll on the beach. But before we left we went to speak to our Belgian neighbours to check they were staying overnight as well. It turned out to be just the right thing to do.
Not only were they incredibly friendly but they assured us that keeping on eye out for each other was a regular feature on beach parkings and they were more than happy to keep an occasional eye out for Homer as they had no plans to go out that afternoon. Their opinion was that, just as with French aires, you have to make your own mind up on whether you feel comfortable (even if just one of the couple isn't happy, move on), preferably stay somewhere with other vans and not go out for too long if no-one is around at all. They also said that although there are no 'services' asking around could almost always yield a nearby water supply and grey/black water dumping options if needed. Sensible advice. We definitely enjoyed our beach walk a lot more knowing our neighbours were in and aware we had popped out for a while.
As night fell we got a little nervous again, as darkness drew in, but in the end had one of the quietest, most peaceful nights we've ever had in Homer. Waking up to the sun rising over the sea and the peace and tranquillity of the beachside location was blissful. That second day we even went as far as to go out for a 5 hour beach walk having introduced ourselves to a German couple on the parking who had a day of motorhome based sunbathing planned, and who also assured us they always looked out for fellow campers in beach parkings. A definite sense of camaraderie seems to exist here which has done a lot to diminish our unease. We even enjoyed a free shower, albeit a chilly one by the sea after a post-run dip in the Med'.
Does this mean we will always stay on beach parking from now on in Spain. Probably not all the time, but we will definitely try some more. Although on the plus side the one parking we have tried so far is free, peaceful and offers an unparalleled, beautiful location (compared to many campsites that are closer to roads and cities), on the downside we are still very aware of the need to be much more vigilant and alert and the fact that it would feel very, very different if we woke up to find our car park compatriots all leaving at the same time. Although for some people beach parkings is about saving money, for us we have always kept a campsite budget and still see campsite life as a treat from time to time, a holiday within a holiday (LINK). Rather for us the pleasure we're getting from this beach parking is the location and the quiet and not because of the savings. Plus, without a solar panel currently fitted to Homer or having plans to do very long drives frequently, we do know we will need a charge up from time to time as well. But, this first experience has at least opened us up to the possibility of beach parking and the preparations/modifications we really ought to get round to considering having met some people recently who inspired us with their exceptional forward planning which would decrease our dependency on campsite facilities and increase our comforts.
But the main thing it has also confirmed is that beach parking in a motorhome it isn't necessarily the nerve-straining, high risk option we had always imagined it to be. For us the views, location and peace and quiet is wonderful compared to the some of the larger holiday park type campsites we have had the misfortune to come across. Plus, we've also been surprised by the massive variety in the type of motorhome and motorhomer using the beach parkings. In our naivety we had somewhat ridiculously assumed that they would frequented primarily by perhaps younger couples in older van conversion. In reality we have seen that there are literally hundreds and hundreds of motorhomes using the beach parkings, from ancient van conversions right through to hundred thousand pound jumbo motorhomes. But for all this, we are still very mindful and taking the advice of fellow motorhomers to trust our instincts and be prepared to act on them.
You can meet many, many people who will always stay on beach parking and never even consider a campsite and can't see there being any reason not to. Equally you can meet just as many who won't even contemplate the idea of not staying on a campsite. As with all motorhome life, as we always come back to and are learning ourselves, we have to do what feels right to us at the time.