There are plenty of ways to save money when you're touring Europe in your motorhome. My Hymer Camp has all I need on board, so once I've got across the Channel I can be pretty self-sufficient.
Canny ways to get cheap ferries
P&O Dover-Calais and the Channel Tunnel are the cheapest routes across to mainland Europe as they are the shortest. The best deals are online directly from their websites. Booking online gives the added advantage that you can tweak the times to get a cheaper fare. You are unlikely to get a good deal if you turn up at the port on the day of travel and buy your ticket.
Also, even with their standard tickets, both P&O and Eurotunnel may allow you to travel earlier than your stated departure time at little or no extra cost. What this means is that you could book a scheduled departure time when you know they are a little cheaper and then arrive earlier at the port with a chance of getting on an earlier, more expensive crossing. It's not guaranteed, but it's worth a try.
Save money on campsite fees
During motorhome holidays in France, I always look out for campsites labelled either 'camping a la ferme' or 'aire naturelle de camping', which are both similar in style to UK CS and CL sites. They are fairly small, basic sites, but all have a minimum level of facilities and offer very good value for money.
In the Netherlands look out for sites labelled 'minicamping', which is the Dutch equivalent. Many subscribe to a scheme called VAKEBO which produces a sites guide in Dutch, but understandable by using the symbols. The standards on some of these sites rival the bigger sites as the Dutch tend to be very 'house-proud'.
In Scandinavia, there is something called 'allemansrätten', which roughly translates as the "right to roam". This is a similar idea to wild camping in Scotland. It means that you can, in theory, park your ’van anywhere, as long as it is not too close to a dwelling. Many locals find themselves a quiet spot and wild camp under the auspices of this law. This is common practice, but obviously you need to park responsibly.
Also in Scandinavia, many harbours have created overnight parking for motorhomes, similar to the aires system in France. Some are free and others charge up to £10 for a night. There are usually basic facilities, with some allowing you to use the showers and toilets provided for the boaters.
Many motorcaravanners are familiar with the All the Aires books from Vicarious books. In Germany there is a publication called Reise Mobil Bord Atlas, which covers aires (known as stellplätze) in Germany and other European countries. You can buy it online or pick up a copy in a German book shop when you get there. It costs around €25, so it pays for itself on the first night.
Save money on food and drink
One of the real advantages of motorhome holidays is the amount of money you can save by eating in the ’van. Continental supermarkets are on a par with those in the UK. Most countries also have the discount stores such as Aldi and Lidl in addition to national stores.
Lidl is great on the Continent for two main reasons. The first is that they almost all have large car parks with no height restrictions. The second reason is that they buy in produce from local suppliers – for example, the wine selection will be mainly local wines – which means you get great local produce at low prices.
Food and drink costs vary dramatically from country to country. Even though prices are relatively low in the UK, the strength of the pound at the time of writing means that buying food (and particularly alcohol) is much cheaper abroad. So the 'booze cruise' is no longer a thing of the past!
Save money on fuel
When driving abroad, all countries have slightly different fuel duties, which means that the price of fuel can vary massively even within a small geographical distance. The UK has almost the highest fuel costs in Europe so if you are travelling abroad, fill up when you get on the other side of the Channel and also make sure you fill up again just before you leave.
In the UK and on the Continent, fuel stations on motorways and main roads are always significantly more expensive. In mainland Europe, self-service and supermarket fuel is always cheaper by as much as 20 cents per litre – on a standard motorhome this could save you €10 on a fill-up. So if you are racking up the motorway miles, it really is worth pulling off and going into a local town to find cheaper fuel. This way you see a bit more of the country, too.
The cheapest fuel in Europe, in my experience, comes from Luxembourg and Andorra, two countries with very low fuel duty rates. So if you are passing close by, go and fill up. You will find two or three fuel stations right next to each other as soon as you cross the border. At the time of writing, Luxembourg's diesel costs just 70p per litre and in Andorra diesel costs just 60p per litre.
Avoid road tolls
Road tolls, vignettes and low emission zones are becoming more and more common on the Continent. Even countries that have traditionally not been big on tolls such as Belgium and Germany are starting to introduce them.
Tolls are normally charged on motorways and main through-routes, so in most countries you can avoid paying tolls. Simply set your sat-nav to avoid tolls and off you go.
The advantages of using toll-free roads are that they tend to be quieter, with fewer trucks and that you get to see much more of the country. Be aware though that you can easily double your drive-time by avoiding tolls, so it is worth comparing the toll and non-toll route before you make your decision each day.
Drivers of larger ’vans are being penalised more heavily now, with a combination of height, weight, length and emissions being used to calculate charges. It varies from country to country but if you do a lot of Continental driving, the cheapest combination is under 6m long, under 3m high, and weighing less than 3500kg, with a Euro 6 engine. The more of these you have, the cheaper your Continental touring will be.
Choose cheaper destinations
Spain has relatively cheap fuel, cheap campsites – sometimes you can get a deal whereby the nightly rate goes down the longer you stay – and very few toll roads. Even if you travel in school holidays there are parts of Spain where you can still find a quiet bay to yourselves, particularly right down on the south coast. As a bonus, you usually get favourable weather in Spain, whatever the time of year.
France is probably Europe's most motorhome-friendly country, with its massive network of free or cheap aires. For a real, value-for-money tour in France you can take a ferry from Dover to Calais for around £100 and then drive down the Opal Coast (Bray-Dues near the Belgian border to Berck-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais) to keep your mileage low. You can then choose from dozens of aires along this stretch, costing from €5 to €11 per night. With such cheap camping fees you could have a week-long holiday in France for £150!
Germany is perhaps an underrated touring destination. Like France it has a massive network of free or cheap stellplätze, plus wild camping is also acceptable. Unlike France, Germany does not yet have too many toll roads. In addition, food and drink are very cheap in Germany compared to the UK and portion sizes are massive! You can enjoy an amazing variety of landscapes, from the mountains of Bavaria, up through the Rhine and Moselle, to the coastal resorts in the north.