Once upon a Golden Age, before the dawn of GPS, iGadgets and Google, ordinary folk gleaned travel information from maps, guidebooks and simply chatting to other travellers. So far gone are these halcyon days that now most travel is undertaken with an umbilical cord to the internet. On our road trip through Europe it seemed that everyone we encountered planned their route via Google Earth and a host of websites. Admittedly this can save time and fuel, but doesn’t it somewhat extinguish the intrepid nature of travel? What about beating your own path by following an old-fashioned map, veering down every rutted seaward track and taking tips from other travelling folk? From our experience, when it comes down to finding the perfect free camping spots, the latter is far more likely to find you in beautiful places far from the maddening crowds.
Forget the tinterweb and GPS. With a little patience and persistence you can even ditch the map and follow your nose to next amazing free camping location. But one of the most valuable tools to uncover the best places to stay is simply word of mouth. Which is why I started writing this from a beachside eucalyptus forest we found thanks to advice from a couple we met in Galicia. After a long, steaming-hot day on the road it was a particularly fortuitous find after a string of frustrating, fruitless searches for our next stopover. After hours on the road we’d resigned ourselves to losing a glorious sunny day to ‘the search’, when we stumbled across a sign pointing to the very spot the friendly couple told us about. And they were right: it is perfect for a surf seeking, sun loving, wild camping family like us.
In an other instance – having taken a bumpy track alongside a farm in the dark – we found our next stunning park-up thanks to the alarmed Spanish couple who came running out to witness the mad folk trying to squeeze a campervan down a footpath in the middle of the night. Despite being tired, tetchy and ready to flake out in any non-descript roadside stopover, we pressed on to the bay the Spanish couple mentioned, and woke up to a view over a dramatic, remote cove, where we spent a blissful day collecting mussels, surfing and swimming. The next memorable beach we visited – carved into the steep cliffs of a nature reserve – was one that a lifeguard advised us to go to after ushering us from a busy, neighbouring beach where dogs were banned.
Despite travelling through mid-summer, we not only avoided campsite fees, we also shunned the crowds and fleets of other campervans parked up at more popular beaches. Admittedly there were a few moments (arguing over the map, fed up of wasting a sunny day behind the wheel, or desperate to stop somewhere on a late-night drive) that I considered joining the new race of genned-up techno-travellers, installing GPS and paying whopping charges for hooking up to the internet on my phone abroad. But – as well as losing some of our sense of adventure – we would have bypassed some of the finest free-camping gems we found. So for now it’s word of mouth, old-fashioned maps and sheer good luck leading our way.
PS If you’re free camping and insist researching your way online, checkout www.furgovw.org/mapa_furgoperfecto.php for wild camping spots throughout France, Spain and Portugal.