Winter Camping: Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Germany

We loved our first full season of winter camping… Christmas and New Year on the Costa Brava, northern Spain – winter sun, medieval villages, catching up with our pals Tom and Zoe, paddleboarding on boxing day, midnight grapes in Girona, the Dali museum in Figueres…

After that, we trundled across the south of France, through the Camargue region, where they speak Catalan, and have bull fights, and flamingos, more gorgeous medieval hill towns – like St Paul de Vence, all snickleways and art galleries.

We sped through Italy, through some areas that had really suffered in recent floods, stopping to admire some new places like Mantua, Valvasone, Palmanova. We had a fantastic and hilarious weekend in Trieste with our friends from Newcastle, Aston and Edy, who relocated there last summer with their kids, Daisy and Lily. Great place to park the van, 100 yds from Piazza Unita!

Then, with some serious weather threatening, we made a dash up to Austria – Bev driving us through the Dolomites and over the Brenner Pass. We made it to our campsite in Leutasch one night earlier than planned. Fortunately, they had space and we were all set up before a huge dump of snow on the day we would have been traveling. An amazing week cross country skiing, beautiful ‘winter wonderland’ scenery and great exercise.

Then into Germany, more lovely medieval towns (a bit of a theme!), a little detour to catch a gig by jazz guitar maestro Martin Taylor, even sneaking in an extra cross country ski trip at Bodenmais. Heading inexorably back to the UK, but no rush!

Wild camping vs. campsites

Feels like we’re really starting to get the hang of this. The only nights we’ve been on a proper campsite since we left the UK in December were our ‘holidays’ – 3 days at Christmas in Spain and for my birthday, a week in Austria, Cross Country Skiing. Mostly, we’re finding places using park4night, usually free, occasionally 1 euro for water or electric. That’s helping keep our costs down, which we’re having to think about a little more carefully now. I’m starting to pick up some freelance work – using my day job skills in data, programming, analysis and analytics – remote projects that I can deliver on the move.

How much does it cost to run a campervan?

Mixed feelings as I dropped off ‘Voyager’, our trusty VW campervan, a few weekends ago, in part-ex for the new motorhome. On the train home, I got to pondering. We’d had the van a touch under 3 years, say 35 months, and the difference between what we paid and what we got in part-ex was £4,000 – Does that make the depreciation cost about £115 a month? Not bad, I thought, well worth it! For the freedom of Friday night escapes to the countryside, so many long weekends around England and Scotland, 2 amazing trips to Europe, not to mention using the van as a regular runabout.

Of course, that figure doesn’t include diesel, or insurance, or this and that… Turns out the total cost averaged out over the months is quite a lot! Well it sounds a lot, but this figure should be compared to the cost of running a ‘normal’ car, regular weekends away (caravan/B&B?) and 5 weeks holiday around Europe. Still well worth it! And the feeling of escaping the 9-5, the freedom to follow the sunny weather or to take on new gigs and festivals up and down the country – that is absolutely priceless.     

Priceless in one sense, but certainly measurable in other senses – and the inner analyst/geek’s curiosity was piqued. So, here’s the facts and figures. May be useful for someone considering taking the plunge – but don’t be put off until you’ve made that full and fair comparison. And bear in mind it could probably be done cheaper for example, we had agreed value insurance, breakdown cover, worldwide multi-trip travel insurance and so on.  

Averaged monthly cost over 3 years of owning a VW campervan: £410

  • 82 trips (day trips, camping, touring, gigs and festivals) plus regular short journeys/commuting.
  • Total miles 19,379: 17,887 on trips and 1,492 miles commuting.
  • 2,454 litres of diesel, averaging 36 mpg (min 33 mpg, max 42 mpg).
  • 9 countries: UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Spain
  • Longest journey: 3,228 miles through France and Northern Spain.
  • Most visited: Kielder Forest, Alwinton (Clennell Hall), Workington, Druridge Bay, Tynemouth

Breaking it down:

Averaged monthly van costs: £234

Including depreciation, insurance (up to 6,000 miles per year), road tax, servicing and repairs, diesel for occasional commuting.

Additional averaged monthly costs for our camping/holidays: £176

Including diesel, site fees, camping accessories, new leisure battery, gas tanks, camping club memberships, travel insurance, extra cost for insurance up to 10,000 miles in 2018, tolls and vignettes, 2 pet passports, 1 insurance claim excess.

Let’s see how much the newer, bigger motorhome ends up costing…

UPDATE January 2020: See https://howaskew.com/update-on-van-life-costs/

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