RVing in Europe can be expensive. Campsites, groceries, fuel, the RV itself, and entertainment stuff; it all adds up. And campsites charge a very higher fee during high season. There are also major differences in price levels between, for instance, Scandinavian countries and the Balkans. But that doesn’t mean you’ll skip the costly areas.
You just have to know some budget tips so you can save money!
High season vs. low season
If you have small children or are already into worldschooling, you can benefit from traveling during low season. Fees during low season are so much cheaper!
For example, our favorite campsite in Portugal is a luxurious and beautiful one near Lagos called Turiscampo. During low season you will pay on average of €25 per night for a car, two adults, and a pitch. If you stay longer or have the ACSI CampingCard (see more about this below), the fee per night decreases rapidly.
If you visit this campsite during high season (in July and August), you pay around €40 per night for a car, two adults, and a pitch. And depending on how many children you have and their age, you have to pay for them as well. During low season children up to the age of 7 are free, but in high season you will pay €4 per night for each of them.
Let’s do some math
Say you are a family of 4 with two children of 5 and 7 and you visit Turiscampo for three weeks during July. This will cost you €40 (for the car, two adults, and pitch) + €8 (two children between 3 and 7 years old) per night. For 21 night this is in total: €48 * 21 = €1.008. Auch.
During low season you pay approximately €15 per night if you stay more than 14 nights, so for 21 nights, you will pay around €315 (€15 * 21 nights).
That’s a difference of €693 😮
And to be honest, campsite Turiscampo is even during high season relatively affordable. Campsites at the Costa Brava in Spain, ask fees of €80 per night. But this might be like comparing apples and oranges, because the campsites at the Costa Brava are almost resorts, with several swimming pools, entertainment during the day and evening, for every age. And although Camping Turiscampo offers entertainment, a kids club and has a swimming pool, it is nothing like a resort.
Note: Keep in mind that during the low season most campsites don’t offer any children’s entertainment.
ACSI CampingCard for low season
As the above example explains, during low season the prices for campsites in Europe are way lower than during high season. But there are more reasons to travel during low season:
- most campgrounds offer extended stay discounts. For example, pay for 10 nights while staying 12 nights.
- the ACSI CampingCard offers even more discount.
For a small price (around €14), you can order the ACSI CampingCard. You get a discount at more than 3000 campsites in Europe. For finding these participating campsites, you can download the ACSI CampingCard app, view their website or buy their camping books (only available in Dutch though).
For English, it’s best to visit their website CampingCard ACSI. There you can search for a campsite by ticking a box of your preferred price. It ranges between €11 and €19 per night. To our surprise, the more expensive ones were not necessarily the better ones. So picking a 15 euro-campsite may be the best option if you are on a tight budget.
And keep in mind that these are guide prices and may vary when you use an extra tent or travel with a dog. At most ACSI-campsites, children up to the age of 5 are free during low season. But this can vary as well.
Read more about our expenses while RVing with a baby through Europe, and how we used the ACSI CampingCard to its full potential.
Check the reviews!
I advise you to look for the reviews on the website as well. These will give you important information and after reading it, you can choose for yourself if you let the subjective (!) information influence your decision. Some people can give a campsite a low rank because of the receptionist being rude. But well, everybody has a bad day once in a while, so if you don’t mind a cranky receptionist, then don’t give this review much weight. But if a family recently mentioned a poorly maintained toddler pool, then you might want to leave this campsite out of your wish list.
Check my reviews of our favorite campsites with brilliant internet, beautiful sceneries, and amazing facilities.
Budget RVing during high season
If you’re full-timers, there is no escaping the high season. Thankfully, I found some ways to save on campsite fees during July and August and I’m happy to share them with you!
- Go to smaller campsites without special amenities
I use the website Great Little Campsites a lot. These are small campgrounds often without pools, entertainment, and big playgrounds. I search for a certain area and then sort by suggested price (low to high). These prices give you an idea of the actual fee, but you still need to check it on their website. In this way, I found campsites that charge only €14 to 20 per night during high season.
In my experience, it’s a 50/50 chance that these smaller campsites have a spot available in July and August, even on a short notice. But don’t put all your money (figuratively) on one campsite. Especially in popular areas such as the Spanish Costas and the French Mediterranean coast, campsites are top full. For getting a spot there, you’ll need a reservation. I sent about 5 requests to campsites per area.
- Make a reservation up front
Making an early reservation can save you money. Some campsites or travel agents like Suncamp Holidays give a discount if you make reservations a long time in advance, say a half year before your arrival (also called an early bird discount).
This is a good option if you prefer the bigger campsites with pools and entertainment. Those charge higher fees and with an early bird discount, you can save some money.
Want to avoid costs for campsites all together? Then you should go freestyle. There are a million places in Europe where you can stay for free. But, it’s not for every family.
More about this in my beginners guide to free camping in Europe.
Buy your RV second hand
Your very first investment is buying an RV. You should definitely check out the second-hand opportunities!
Convert a van
We converted a van previously used for post delivery. It takes a lot of time, but it can save so much money. You can even convert a van with a tiny budget!
Rent your RV
Although renting is relatively expensive, it can be an excellent option if you’re traveling a limited time through Europe.
Make a detailed cost calculation so you get the cheapest option (buying vs. renting).
Average expenses in Europe
The prices in Europe differ per country, but on our first half year RV trip, we traveled through moderately priced countries. I wrote a detailed post about our average expenses. You can use this information for making a budget. In general, visiting the more expensive areas will cost you more and the cheaper countries less.
That seems obvious right 😉
This breakdown will give you an idea of where you need to stretch your budget:
|all other Balkans
One last tip: the slower you travel, the cheaper your travels will be. You pay less for:
- campsites, as they offer almost always long stay discounts.
- fuel and toll, because (no brainer!) you are less on the road.
- groceries, because you can do the shopping for multiple days.
Also, when stay longer put in one place, it’s easier to cook in your RV instead of eating out.
Moreover, when longer in one place, you probably don’t feel the urge to check all the highlights in a short period. You choose more often for free activities like hiking or going to the park. This will save money as well!
Are you already familiar with the term slow travel?
We embraced slow travel because it is essential for living location independent with kids in a relaxed way. If you have to work while traveling, you cannot have a high pace.
Want to know more about how to live location independent with your family? Read about it here.
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