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Beginners' Tips for Motorhome Touring in Europe

These tips are for beginners to European touring in a motorhome and hopefully should answer some of the questions newcomers have asked us and other experienced motorcaravanners - or have been too shy to ask! Foreign language terms you may come across are shown in Italics


There are all types of campsites abroad ranging from luxury spa resorts to basic fields and a range of site fees to match.

We have found that overnight site fees are rarely charged at an inclusive rate (Forfait, Pauschalpreis) unless you are using a low season discount scheme such as ACSI Camping Card or Camping Cheques, and often you are charged for the pitch (emplacement), for the vehicle (motorhome or car plus caravan) and per person. In some areas a daily tourist tax (Tax de Sejour) of a few cents to maybe €1 per person is added to the bill.

At the larger sites it is usual to pay the bill when you leave which is ideal if you are not sure how long you are going to stay and we often book in initially for one night but stay for a few more

In France there are many campsites that are municipal i.e. run by the local council. These can be top rate four star sites down to a basic one star site. The ratings are based on the number and types of amenities available not the quality of them! Often in small towns they are part of the local stadium and may not have permanent staff with the Reception office (Bureau, Accuiel) only open for a couple of hours in the evening and morning or the warden (Guardienne) may call round to campers in the evening to collect the fee so it is useful to have plenty of small change. Usually receipts are given and there may be a considerable amount of form filling either by hand or on a computer screen (we have been asked for make and colour of our motorhome as well as registration number) This especially applies to one and two star sites. 

We have found in Germany, Austria and Italy many campsites to be mainly static caravans - often old tourers with lots of wooden and canvas extensions, with just a few touring pitches sometimes among the statics so not so attractive for lounging around.

Camping Card International CCI (previously called a camping carnet) is an essential item to have as it provides third party insurance whilst on a campsite and sometimes a small discount on the fee. It can be obtained from the Caravan Club or Camping & Caravanning Club in the UK before you set off for about £4.75 and is valid for one year. As it contains your place of birth and passport number it is usually shown when booking in and may be retained at the campsite office instead of your passport (Don't forget to collect it before you leave the site!) We have never handed over our passports at a campsite having seen the casual way they are sometimes stored. 

This card is not to be confused with the ACSI Camping Card which is an excellent value discount card for reduced prices low season camping throughout Europe. Similar schemes are available such as Camping Cheques. 
                                Camping Card International and ACSI discount card 
                                   Camping Card International         ACSI Camping Card

Pitches may be marked out with hedges and can vary in size to very large with individual water taps and electricity connection points to extremely cramped with no 20 foot rule as found in the UK. Sometimes tents and caravans are in different areas but we have woken up to find a tent being pitched a metre away from us. A disadvantage with marked pitches is that the grass can be worn out or muddy and gravel or stone hard standings are not so common abroad.

Electric hookups
(EDF, Branchement, Stromm) may be charged for separately and is often offered at various prices depending on the current rating (amps) available and can be quite expensive for 10A or above. 3 Amps is enough for our fridge ( 120W) and Truma water heater (450W). You may find that the site owner comes along and connects your hookup point sometimes in a locked cabinet. Also meters are becoming more common so be aware if you want an early get-away in the morning as there may be some delay in getting disconnected and paying your bill.

Hookup points are becoming more standardised on the EEC blue three pin connector but on older sites the European two pin connector is used with a third earth pin in the socket. 

Adaptor for old style European two pin plug   Reverse polarity convertor
   Adaptor for old style European two pin plug                                  Reverse polarity convertor

Due to differences in the electrical wiring systems between Europe and the UK the polarity of the connection i.e. Live - brown  and Neutral - blue wires may be reversed. It is advisable to check this using a polarity/earth checking device which is plugged in once the connection is made to indicate by various combinations of three neon lamps if there is reversed polarity or an earth fault. It is easily corrected by using a short change-over lead to fit in the cable. These can be obtained from Caravan dealers if you are not confident with making up your own lead.          


WARNING staying at aires and rest places on motorways in Europe is not advised due to high incidence of break-ins and thefts from vehicles especially as an overnight stop but even leaving your vehicle unattended at any time is not recommended. Suitable parking can usually be found in a small town or village near the motorway.

Aires are specifically signposted places which provide an official parking place for motorhomes, usually (but not always) allowing overnight stays and mostly providing a service point known in France as a borne and Sani-station in Germany, where you can obtain fresh drinking water, dispose of grey water and empty the toilet cassette. 
                                        Typical Aire de Service sign
There is usually a sign indicating the charges and the arrangements for paying. Sometimes everything is free. At others there is an overnight charge payable at a ticket machine or collected by a local guardien who will call around in the evening and should issue an official receipt. We have even had to find the town hall (Mairie) to go and pay in the low season.

Payment for the services for a set amount of water or for a short time eg ten minutes may be by coins, a token or jeton obtained from a dispenser, a local nearby shop or bar and even by credit or debit card. Some bornes provide electric hookup points for maybe one hour. We have never bothered to use them although on rare occasions a free electricity supply is provided or is included in the overnight charge. 

There are thousands of aires in France and stellplatz in Germany and hundreds of Aree di Sosta in Italy but only in few in other European countries. Guidebooks are available for each country and their locations as satnav POI files can be downloaded from various websites (see the links page)

We have found these overnight stopping places to be ideal although there are a few where we haven't been happy with either due to their location eg an dubious part of a town or very remote places where there are no other motorhomes parked On the other hand some are very popular and it may be necessary to arrive mid afternoon to get a pitch. As you can see from the pages listing aires we have visited they can vary a great deal from a bit of rough ground to a cramped parking place with marked bays or a pleasant laid out area with grass and room to sit outside. Some aires listed are inside or just outside campsites and we have found that it is occasionally almost the same price or cheaaper to use the campsite where you will have more space.

Most aires are intended as overnight stops so you cannot reserve your pitch and the length of stay may be limited to 24, 48 or 72 hours although we have come across motorhomes that have obviously been installed on an aire for a long time or some where pitches have been taken over by travellers. You will often see the sign "Nomads interdit" (travellers forbidden) in France especially near large towns and cities.


Calor Gas is NOT available outside the UK (although possibly in Ireland) and empty cylinders cannot be exchanged or refilled.

Camping Gaz bottles are available for exchange in most European countries but are now very expensive to buy initially and the cost of the gas (which is Butane which will not work at low temperatures below about 4degrees Celsius) is high, a 907 bottle, the largest available only holds 2.7 Kg of gas and cost about €15 to €18 to exchange in a local supermarket in 2006. and around €30 in 2010

One option is to buy a gas bottle locally and in France most supermarkets have a profusion of brands available including Butagas, Primagas  and various shapes and sizes of cylinders such as Le Cube, Twiny, similar to the Calor Patio-gas bottles, and more recently plastic see through types similar to BP Gas light. Also the larger 13Kg bottles used for domestic supplies and are good value if you have room to fit them in your gas locker. They all have their own connectors and regulators or suitable pigtail pipes are needed if you have a fixed regulator installed as in newer motorhomes.  

We have found the best way if you are touring for a long time is to have refillable cylinders eg Gaslow bottles or a special bulk tank fitted. These can be refilled in most countries with LPG (or GPL) Autogas either at roadside Petrol filling stations or at Gas depots. This is not so readily available in Spain at present.
Three different filling hose connection adaptors are used in Europe
: Bayonet, Clawgun and ACME threaded and there is a knack for connecting them to the pump as the hose has to lock on firmly to the adaptor. Usually the green button on the pump has to be held in all the time until the bottle is 80% full when the volume meter will stop. Also due to the high pressure of the liquid gas, there is a sudden release of gas vapour when the dispenser hose is disconnected which can be a bit disconcerting! 

We have one Gaslow refillable 6Kg bottle as our motorhome has only a small gas locker. We take either a full Calor 3.9Kg propane bottle or a Camping Gaz 907 bottle as a reserve. Generally during the spring and with occasional stays at campsites with electric hookup the refillable bottle lasts about two and a half to three weeks. Refilling is easy although sometimes a bit of searching is needed to find a gas refilling station. There is a website that lists all the stations in each European country. Cost in 2007 was about 49cents/litre and our bottle takes 11 litres to fill. It has an automatic 80% cut off valve to prevent overfilling. This is an essential safety feature to allow for expansion of the liquid gas in high temperatures. In European countries the gas is a mix of butane and propane the proportions varying between summer and winter (compared to in the UK where autogas is mostly propane). 
Update 2010
In our new Adria Twin which has a larger gas locker we have installed an 11Kg Gaslow bottle with a 6Kg Calor bottle as a backup.

FRESH WATER  Eau Potable, Trinkwasser, Frischwasser

We use the onboard water tank for all our water for drinking and washing unless it acquires an unpleasant taste when we will fill a small container directly from a drinking water tap (eau potable) or very occasionally purchase bottled water which is a lot cheaper abroad then in the UK.

Some people use a hosepipe to fill their onboard water tanks. I carry a short 5 metre length of 13mm bore food quality plastic tubing that I obtained from an Aquatics shop but more often than not refill the tank using two water containers a 10 litre rigid one that fits in the passenger door footwell and a collapsible 15 litre container. I usually replace this at the start of each year and use last years as a waste grey water container. It is easier to carry two smaller containers from the water tap than struggle with an unbalanced larger one!  For the two of us I usually top up our 45 litre on-board tank in the evening and just before we set off the next morning and get a bit of exercise!  (link to our water filling )

Obviously if you have large capacity tank it will be easier to fill it at the service point but we have sometimes queued for a very long time while other motorhomers fill their tanks and drain their grey waste.


This is the water collected in a tank from the kitchen sink, bathroom basin and shower tray. If left for a while it can become rather smelly so empty the tank frequently especially in hot weather and avoid letting food particles down the plughole when washing up. Many motorhomes don't have a U-bend trap in the drain hoses allowing odours to get back into the van. Also due to the low level of  the shower waste points, if the underslung waste tank is nearly full the grey water can flow back into the shower tray when driving around (the plugs never seem to stay in place)! 

Sometimes there is a suitable drain or grille at the service point hopefully well designed with a long trough sunken below the ground level but often careful positioning of the van to align the drain hose is required. It would help if site owners painted a white line on the road to indicate the fore and aft position of the drain! 


If moving on from day to day we generally empty the cassette and top up with fresh water whenever there is an opportunity and the service point is to an acceptable standard. From experience it can be an avoidable problem if the waste tank is full to brimming and  . . . .!)

There are various options for fluids to use in your cassette toilet.

Thetford Aqua-Kem fluids are available throughout Europe. The blue fluid for the holding tank is not allowed to be disposed of at some waste points which can be a problem if you've been travelling and need to empty a cassette that's been charged with blue fluid! 

Originally the normal toilet fluids contained formaldehyde which can cause damage to the processes in septic tanks and natural sewage systems. Genuine Thetford Aqua-Kem has not contained formaldehyde for several years but several other brands of blue fluids still contain this chemical. The green versions of toilet fluids are considered safe for all waste drainage systems however we have found that they are not so effective and mask the contents of the waste tank rather than break it down. 

There are new fluids now available that use an aerobic (needing oxygen) biological reaction to break down the waste into a product that can be safely disposed into any sewage system drains. The most well known one in the UK is Biomagic which is available at motorhome shows and by mail order. A small amount of the concentrate needs to be added to the waste holding tank regularly We have tried this and found that in hotter weather it needs to be dosed each day and the cassette emptied more frequently. Also it is essential that the cassette is thoroughly cleaned and any residues of blue fluid removed before changing over to this fluid otherwise the biological reaction is "killed". Other brands of biological toilet fluids are now becoming more available. This fluid can also be used in the flush water tank (where fitted as a separate tank).

Another alternative favoured by some users is the SOG system which does not require the addition of any fluids. The waste holding tank is modified to provide an extraction fan which draws air into the tank increasing the aerobic breakdown of the waste materials. However some users and others standing nearby! have found that emptying the untreated waste is a smelly and unpleasant experience. Also the fan is meant to have a carbon odour removal filter in its outlet which has been to be replaced (similar to cooker hood filter materials) otherwise aromas can waft to nearby caravanners or even into your own awning if on the same side as the cassette service door!

The flush fluid tank which is separate from the fresh water tank on most toilet installations can have a (usually) pink fluid added which is perfumed and contains detergents to "lubricate" the bowl surfaces when the toilet is in use. 

The toilet waste disposal point on campsites is sometimes labelled with the words Chemi WC  or Kemi --- and may be a properly constructed drain with water tap for flushing out the cassette.

We have occasionally had to empty the cassette discretely into the toilet (WC) - Always take some paper towel and some water in a container to clean up any splashes or spillages.

NEVER GO ANYWHERE NEAR A FRESH OR DRINKING WATER TAP with any part of your cassette. Unfortunately you may see other motorcaravanners not exercising the same level of hygiene standards. At some basic aires there may be only one tap. Some people use disinfectant wipes to clean the tap and handle before using it.

Once the cassette is emptied you should add a couple of litres of clean water into it with the new charge of toilet fluid.
Enjoy your travels!   

See also
illustrated articles on our Adria Twin   Autosleepers Symbol  and Awnings and Backboxes

Motorhome Basics

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