This is a summary of all our expenses for the 103 nights that we spent in a Campervan travelling through Europe from June to October 2018. We spent a total of 124 nights in Europe, but some of that time was spent staying with family, therefore this report is only for the 103 nights that we actually spent in the Campervan. We were lucky to be able to make use of our family’s Campervan for free, so it should be noted that this budget report DOES NOT INCLUDE any overhead expenses for purchasing or renting a Campervan.
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We visited the seven countries of Italy, France, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia. We travelled fairly slowly, covering only short distances on most days. You should keep in mind that if one travels at a slower pace it's easier to make savings as transportation can eat into your budget quickly. That said, we found that if one can contain accommodation costs, prepare your own food instead of eating in restaurants and avoid driving toll roads, Europe need not be an overly expensive destination.
Travelling full-time changes the way one travels and it becomes less of a quest to tick off the 'popular' sights than it becomes a way of experiencing your surrounds in a slower, relaxed fashion. Many further cost savings are indeed possible, but one should also not completely deprive oneself of uniquely local experiences that ultimately add value to your visit to a foreign country. However, more often than not, the events, encounters and connections with people that stand out, are those that you do not foresee or could even have planned for. Like most things in life, a balance between being frugal and making use of opportunities should be sought.
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(Note that the following spending does not include flights to and from Europe, but does include all local land transportation within Europe.)
We stayed at a total of 47 different locations over the 103 nights that we spent in the camper. 16 of these 47 locations (34%) were completely free, while the others varied from as little as €1.20 (Ljubljana, Slovenia) all the way up to €33 (Au an der Donau, Austria), which we deem to be an outlier since it was not a site of our choice, we only went there to meet with friends who had already booked their accommodation. To give a little more perspective, our second most expensive campsite was €26.50 (Lac de Serre Ponçon, France), which was a stunning lakeside spot in a fully equipped camping site. We made a short video to help you figure out just How To Camp For Free In Italy and we even found a Convenient, Affordable Camper Stop in Venice, Italy.
We mostly used the “Park 4 A Night” App to look for suitable camping locations. It has better information in some countries compared to others and you do still need to read the reviews to establish if the spots are formal/acceptable camping spots or not. We found it very useful and would recommend it to others.
Campsites across Europe can be as simple as a free parking area with no services, but often a stunning view. Others can be serviced parking areas within or on the edge of a town, which are often good value for money and functional, but not usually very scenic. On the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty of wonderful camping resorts in stunning locations and with a wide variety of entertainment and services. These are usually significantly more expensive, but many are still excellent value for money. And then, of course, you will find many other options somewhere in between simple and luxurious!
For most of it, we found it easy to find suitable camper stops and camping locations throughout the seven countries that we travelled through. It should be noted that we were travelling over the European summer holiday season, and accommodation can be even cheaper at other off-season times of the year!
In summary, 29 of our 103 nights (28%) spent in the camper were free - resulting in our average cost for accommodation being €12.41 per night. If we ignore the free nights and only consider the nights that we paid for accommodation, the average works out to €17.28 per night. One could, however, easily include more free nights to further reduce your costs.
We generally try to eat like and with the locals. We also generally avoid eating in restaurants. In Europe, this is particularly necessary in order to contain your food expenses. But, having a campervan means that you can easily shop at the local grocery stores, buy excellent quality ingredients at affordable prices and prepare delicious and healthy meals for yourself.
We only found affordable restaurants in Slovenia. In most of the other countries, we prepared all our own food. In a few countries such as Italy, some restaurants serve snack food at a certain time of the day (just before sunset), so if you go for a drink, you can enjoy some free snacks too! It is generally also possible to have the same meal for cheaper at lunchtime instead of in the evening as restaurants are less busy then and run day time specials. Keep an eye out for “workers lunches” across Europe, these are generally also good value for money and will usually consist of a small set menu and drink for the day.
We found that we could eat very well and affordably by preparing our own food. If you want to get an idea of supermarket costs, see our video 2018 Italy - How Expensive Is Food In A Supermarket? We made our own breakfast of either Omelettes or Bacon, Eggs, Spinach, Ricotta or Blue Cheese most mornings. We eat plenty of Proscuitto, Buffalo Mozarella, Salami, Sundried Tomatoes, Olives, Artichokes and Melon for lunches. For dinner, we prepared simple foods like pasta or meat and salad. Let’s just say that we definitely did not go hungry!
Alcohol is not cheap, but also not overly expensive (although cocktails always carry a premium price tag). We enjoyed plenty of beer, wine and usually a nightly whiskey with chocolate. But we very seldom went out for drinks. Unfortunately, we did not track our alcohol spending separately (which we now do!), but we estimate it to be approximately €2-€3 per day.
We may have slightly overdone it with the gelato’s in Italy and thereafter the rest of Europe too, spending just over €1 per day just on ice-cream! To our surprise, we may have found the very best gelato outside of Italy…