Now back from our two month trip in the campervan, the final tally for our accommodation costs this summer racked up to a grand €19. When the average cost for a family of four (plus a dog) is €25 per night in a campsite in Europe, that makes a whopping saving of around €1500 – as long as you’re prepared to wee in the wild and use beach showers. These are a few more of our favourite free camping spots for a budget family campervanning trip.
Odeceixe, Southwest Portugal
A picture postcard (and popular for it) location where the river meets the sea, Odeceixe is made for a plethora of sunny watersports, from surfing and paddleboarding, to kayaking, river swims and simply floating downstream on a lilo. Cross the road bridge to the northern side of the river (the opposite side of the whitewashed town) and follow the track down to the rivermouth, where a row of waterside park-ups face the beach. There’s stone-skimming potential and a small, sheltered beach on the camping side, and it’s a short wade (swim, at high tide) across the river to the wide, sandy beach populated by families and surfers.
Melides, Southwest Portugal
As a final stop before you get to the busier coastline around Lisbon, you can’t do better than a night or two beside the peaceful Praia Melides. Here, mile upon mile of coarse sands backed by pine forests stretch along the bay of Setúbal. Follow the signs to Melides Praia, and if you follow the dirt track past the huddle of cafés, you’ll find pockets of secluded, sheltered camping spots hidden along a forest track that wends parallel to the beach. We found few better places for campfires and total seclusion, just be careful you don’t get the van stuck down any narrow, sandy tracks.
São Julio, nr Ericeira, Portugal
Ericeira is littered with world-class waves, and, ten minutes’ drive to the south, São Julio is about as close as you can get to the hub of this surfing Mecca, whilst also enjoying free camping. Here you can enjoy the perfect blend of beachside parking, wild coastal scenery (towering red cliffs and rocky spits jutting seaward from golden sands) and decent waves, plus there’s a couple of beachside cafés for beer and supplies. Often rammed with summer crowds by day, the dusty car park isn’t the finest camping spot, but at low tide there’s miles of sand to seek peace and quiet. However, when the sun goes down there’s only a few campervans left once the day-trippers head back to nearby Ericeira.
Playa de Traba, Galicia
Once you hit the wild north coast of Galicia, free camping options have no limits. Boulder-strewn peaks and dense forests tumble to the edge of white-sand bays, and crisp, clear seas lick rugged coves. Follow any sign to a playa (beach) and you’ll often find a handful of campervans parked up surf-side, or be intrepid and follow a rutted track sea-bound and you’re likely bag a spot all to yourself. Playa Traba is somewhere in between, where you get all the crowd-free (even in the middle of summer), white-sand, wave-lashed beauty, yet it comes with the blessing of excellent facilities too: level, grassy park-ups, loos and showers, a water tap and picnic benches. The locals are a friendly bunch too.
When the local baker serves fresh bread to your forest camp every morning, it’s a sign you’ve struck free-camping gold. And set amongst pine forests that back a sandy beach break and lagoon, Esteiro is a wonderful van camping spot indeed. With a beach bar and restaurant, showers and loos, and even a park for the kids, it’s no wonder that the crowds descend here in mid-summer. But most of the daytime visitors depart with the heat of the sun, leaving plenty of room for campervans and tents to pitch up in secluded bays under the trees, light a barbecue (pits are provided) and serve dinner on one of the picnic benches. Lifeguarded beach. No dogs on the beach.
Despite Frexulfre’s eucalyptus forest being the most mosquito-ridden location we camped in, you can’t argue that the view down over the surf is a cracking one to fling the van doors open to. After the white sands of Galicia the darker sands seem a little dull in comparison, but lush vegetation, rugged cliffs and colourful rock strata make the scene a striking one none-the-less. As well as the waves and rockpooling, there’s a shack beach bar and showers at the busier eastern stretch of the beach. No dogs on the beach.
Playa de Vega, Asturias
With a €5 per night price tag, this beachside camping field isn’t quite free camping. But if you’re prepared to part with a small amount of cash, it’s got a lot going for it. After a pretty drive alongside a burbling stream and past a huddle of traditional red-roofed houses, you can pull up footsteps from the sand and enjoy an awesome sea view. Then there’s the surf, a long beach where you can get the sand between your toes (and get away from the crowds at the eastern end of the beach), and a row of seafront cafes and bars if you want a break from van life in the evening. No dogs are allowed on the beach.