Why did I even camp in Winter?

When you think of camping, the first pictures popping up in your mind might be sea, beach, sun, long summer nights, yummy Barbecue and cold beers. And mosquitos maybe.

When I started to plan my Route through Europe, it was clear to me that I want to spend my time mostly in warm and sunny atmospheres exactly for these reasons. So I picked Greece as my first destination.  What I wasn’t really thinking about was that leaving in March involves crossing many countries, which are still in winter wonderland on the way South. Well, I know that now!

When I started my route from Hamburg through Leipzig, Dresden and Prague on my way to Croatia, I ended up in snowstorms multiple times. In Leipzig, I even got stuck for two nights as I couldn’t move my motorhome on the slippy roads anymore.

Stuck in Leipzig…

On my way to Croatia I was very surprised by snowstorms in the inland countryside which also weren’t expected at all. Luckily my motorhome is equipped with tires which can be used in Summer and Winter. I would probably have ended up in trouble otherwise.

After a snowstorm in Croatia

I have heard of people specifically camping in winter but didn’t give it too much thought, as it was never an option for me. So you could say that I unintentionally made the experience of winter camping and I am happy to share them with you. I can tell you upfront that I wasn’t prepared at all.

Freestanding or Campsites?

There are many people which escape from Winter in the Northern hemisphere and overwinter down South in Portugal, Spain or Greece. From what I have heard, they mostly stand freely with their campers and motorhomes as campsites are simply not open at this season.

I am not a big fan of freestanding as I am travelling by myself and simply don’t feel safe not being around others. I am also a very social person and need contact to others at least from time to time. And I simply seem to use more water than others. I need to refill my water tank every three days and it makes me nervous if I don’t know where the next source of water is. So campsites it is for me personally.

I know now that the decision of staying in campsites is more expensive and makes it harder to plan as many locations start to open up in April or May, but it’s worth my security and good feel on this trip.

As you can imagine, there are positives and negatives about wintercamping on campsites, so let’s see my list of thumbs ups and downs:

Thumbs up

You are alone. I mean alone-alone. There were times in March were I was the only person for days on a huge campsite. You can picture how it could be in Summer being close to the beach and sea, but yet feels totally different. It’s an experience I don’t want to miss out on but you have to accept that there is no one or ideally just a few people around you. And you run into less traffic on the streets of course. I give these arguments a thumbs up.

Thumbs down

Overall, I am not a fan of wintercamping and I tell you why.

It is really hard effort to find campsites in the off-season which are even open. If you are lucky, you will find some campsite owners who will exceptionally open up just for you as they happen to live in the area anyway. This happened to me in Albania, Montenegro as well as in Greece, and positively surprised me which you can read in my blog post Greeks Rock. Not so in Slovenia, Croatia and Germany though. Here I would have to plan my route entirely on 365 days open campsites, which are very, very rare and makes you not very flexible on your journey.

If you find campsites which only open up for you, you still want to watch out. I got an infection with Legionella in Albania because the water pipes had not been used and maintained for a couple of months. These bacteria live and grow in water systems and can make you really sick. I ended up in a hospital for a couple of days. So my strong advice to you is to have the water run over 60 degrees Celsius for at least five minutes if you doubt the hygiene of the camp.

Besides severe health issues, all of the bathrooms and facilities on campsites which only opened for me, were either closed up or not very well maintained and dirty. No toilet covers and paper was the least problem here. In some cases I even didn’t have hot water. I can tell you this can make your trip pretty miserable.

I could tell on every campsite in Winter – even the 365 open ones – that people aren’t ready for tourist yet. It makes you feel like in a different world when you see pools, lounges and bars that could be really nice in Summer but are just ugly and trashy in Winter such as these two places for example:

Besides dirty bathrooms on trashy campsites, there is also the issue of temperatures. For a couple of days, I had below 0 degrees Celsius and my motorhome is not specifically insolated for the Winter. This meant that my fresh and waste water tank froze so I couldn’t use any water anymore. Also, as I needed to turn on the heater on high temperature, my propane and gas usage was immense using one 11kg bottle per week. This is not only expensive, but also adds some stress to your journey as you need to find places that sell propane in the area.

My Wintercamping Recommendations

As you can tell, I am not a big fan of wintercamping – even on campsites. And if I can avoid it in the future, I certainly will. If you want to try it anyway, here are some recommendations which might help you to make your trip safe, healthy and enjoyable.

  • Get winter tires or at least mixed tires, ideally snowchains in addition
  • Insolate your fresh and waste water tank
  • Carry as much propane as possible with you, ideally with adapters for different bottles and countries:
  • If you are showering on campgrounds, let hot water run for at least 5 minutes to avoid Legionella infections

And don’t forget to enjoy the loneliness in Winter – it is worth the experience!