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Myself and my girlfriend are hoping to start off in the Netherlands and hitchhike our way down to the south of Spain through various French towns / cities.

We are planning on just bringing sleeping bags and a tent. I have a couple of questions for somebody who might have knowledge in this area.

Does anybody have any tips on where / how to find a suitable location to set up a discrete camp for the night? This one has been bugging me since I know virtually all the land is owned by somebody.

Is there any general hitchhiking etiquette found in Europe? I have been doing a lot of reading on hitchwiki but would like to hear from somebody with first hand experience (also safety / difficulties).

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I would consider dropping one of the tags here, and replacing it with the europe tag ... it will probably be more relevant, attract more attention. But I'm not sure which one to drop. –  Eyal Apr 11 '13 at 7:55
    
Good idea, nobody seems to be following etiquette so I'll replace that ! –  Tom celic Apr 11 '13 at 12:21

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I can not give a lot of information about hitchhiking but have spend a lot of time wildcamping in Europe. Sure most land is privatly owned, and most countries have regulations against it, but in most cases you will be fine and undisturbed if you take some things into account:

  • Try to hide your tent, only set it up right before you want to go sleep.
  • Find a location you don't expect people to show up, little pass by traffic, remote as possible. The closer to a city/village the harder this gets.
  • Don't use more light (when dark) than required, don't make a fire.

I've done this 200+ nights on roadtrips, travelling with a car makes you more mobile to reach rural places, but limits you to roads. When hitchhiking you can be asked to be dropped off and get away from the road on foot. Try to have a good map so you know in what direction to find rural terrain. Start looking for a place to spend the night a few hours before sunset, so you know you have enough time and do not need to find something in the dark. Mountain terrain is often a bit harder because there isn't a lot of horizontal ground, unless you want to visit the Pyrenees I would suggest you try to hitchhike across them in a single day.

Parking lots of nature parks or walking trails are usually an easy target, but may also attract other people, pitch up your tent where it is safe (you don't want to have a camper park on top of you in the middle of the night).

Try to not sleep near a big road, there will be traffic the entire night and you won't get a lot of sleep. In the south there are many semi-dry rivers which are attractive and fun to sleep at. I've done so a few times but in retrospect one should really take into account that there may be flash floods, and that is definitely not something you want to happen.

If you want to spend a lot of time in cities, still finding a suitable camping spot may be hard, couch-surfing may be a good alternative for the nights you want to spend in a city.

Some other information about wild camping can be found in these questions and answers:

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Depends on how well you sleep. I've spent plenty of nights in the woods inside a loop ramp or even under a motorway bridge in a city. But I sleep very soundly; I once slept through an earthquake. I've also hitchhiked at night, which is a separate and distinct adventure... –  Michael Hampton Oct 26 '13 at 3:53

I feel only qualified to answer the first portion of your question: When you are in a rural area, just ask if someone lets you set up camp on their property. Farmers often don't mind. Whenever I had the chance to do it this way I did. I sleep a lot sounder not thinking about police officers waking me up at 6AM and you are interacting with the local population. In large cities I often just stayed at camp grounds once I realized, that I was wasting a lot of time searching for and getting to campsites. You also don't have to lugg all you stuff with you. There are many places that won't let you in with a backpack. You either have to spend money to store your pack (witch you could have spend on a campsite), or they won't let you in at all (happened in Monaco, there are absolutely NO storage facilities for luggage in the whole country.) Make sure you know when the camp grounds close. Many camp ground hosts (especially in popular areas) will turn you away when you come past their hours of operation. Another benefit of staying at camp-grounds in large cities is you can plan ahead where you are going to stay, making that part of your day much more efficient and you end up with more time to explore and site-see. This I also learned the hard way.

In sleepy towns I have slept in many municipal parks (including in the Netherlands,) tucked away behind some trees. Just make sure you get an early start on those days!

One word of caution with the south of france: In the summer half of Europe will gather in the Côte d'Azur, many of them come with tents. We spend half a day trying to find a place to crash with our tent in the Nice/Antibes/Cannes area, ultimately without success. The camp-grounds and hostels were full and the area is densely populated. Without reservations and a car prepare yourself to sleep in an overpriced, tiny hotel room or just bailing on the area altogether.

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