A guide to camping abroad
The good news is that camping rules are pretty much the same the world over. Keep the noise down at night, don't let the kids or the dog run wild and be careful with your campfire – these apply almost everywhere you go. But there are some rules, whether legal or etiquette, that are specific to different countries, as well as some things to be generally aware of when camping abroad. Here are five tips that might help.
- If you're planning on wild camping, keep in mind that the laws in Europe and elsewhere can be different than the UK, where wild camping is generally tolerated. You can normally wild camp in France, but not build a fire. Wild camping is illegal in Greece, but no problem in Norway or Sweden as long as you stick to the basic rules of cleaning up after yourself and being careful with your campfire. And you can be fined up to $10,000 in New Zealand for illegally dumping campsite waste or litter.
- Camperstops are free or very cheap places to park a campervan or motorhome for the night, and are all over Europe, mainly so that anyone stopping there will contribute to the local economy by using the local shops and services. They're called Aires de Service in France and Belgium, Stellplatze in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Area di Sosta in Italy, Bobils in Norway, and Area de Servico para Autocaravanas in Spain and Portugal. Wherever you are, you have to be able to both cook and sleep in your vehicle for it to be eligible, caravans generally aren't allowed, and your vehicle has to be 'self-contained', i.e., have a toilet and onboard water containers for both fresh and waste water.
- Ask about rules and advice on dealing with local wildlife wherever you are. It's probably not going to be much of an issue in Europe, where 'dealing with the local wildlife' normally means 'buying insect repellent', but you need to be a lot more careful when camping somewhere like North America. Many US or Canadian campsites have very strict rules about food storage – food having to be stored in a metal locker or hung from a tree – in order to keep bears away.
- Check rules on showering and bathing for different countries you visit. If you're planning on a dip in a natural hot spring at a campsite in Sweden, for example, you might be asked to shower naked and rinse out your swimwear in front of the lifeguard before being allowed in the pool, to avoid contamination of the natural waters. In France, men are only allowed to wear Speedo-style swimming trunks in the pool, not shorts, and everyone going for a dip has to wear a bathing cap.
- Research the driving laws of any country you go to if you're planning on hiring a car. France, for example, requires a minimum distance of 50 metres between your car and the one in front. And, as of 2012, all drivers in France legally have to carry a portable breathalyser test. (They cost about two euros for a single use test and will be available in most French garages and supermarkets.) France also requires at least one high visibility vest to be carried in every vehicle – in Spain, it's one vest per passenger as a minimum.
As always, rules can vary from campsite to campsite as well as from country to country – so if in doubt, ask before you go.