So what does a European winter bring for a camper? Not as easy as we hoped…

After leaving the U.K. we quickly set into a routine in the van, but also quickly started to find problems we hadn’t necessarily expected. Western European winters are a bit wet and dreary, but snow was quite quickly evident. There had been a fair bit of localised flooding and some landslides, which meant a lot of mud in camper stops / camp sites, plus many places had turned off water supplies and drains, so our days became a boring quest for camper services.

Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany offered little other than some nice walks in the slush, but it was still good to be travelling again.

The former East German border was fascinating, with the opportunity to visit relics of the Berlin Wall and the defensive fences, complete with bunkers and watch towers in the Grabfelt area, part of the US Sector. This was something I’d wanted to see up close since being a small boy and looking across the “no man’s land” (actually in reality not a thing) with my father, who was a British soldier, based in Germany for 8 years. We were surprised to find them in unexpected places such as remote villages in the hills and to find stories of villages being removed and the locals forcibly relocated, wiping the towns off the map. Billmuthausen, is such a town and is marked only by its chapel and a border watch tower close by (now converted into a project to study bats).

The further east we travelled, the colder it became, with more snow and sub zero overnight temperatures – thank goodness for our diesel heater (watch this space….). The preparation we had done on the van was paying off and we were staying warm and rested, plus eating well with our diesel cooker – lucky because nowhere else is open!

The normal chores of vanlife were now a thing, with showering and washing starting to become something we sought after, plus draining waste water and refilling our drinking water becoming harder.

Despite what Park4Night says, few camper stops (paid or otherwise) have water and drains available in winter and they still charge you! Also all year camp sites run very reduced services, if any at all.

We found a couple with no showers or hot water and waste disposal, plus drinking water needed to be done indoors in kitchens or toilet blocks – do you have a system that allows you to do this?

By now our heater was telling us that something was up and it had refused to start a couple of times, though a reset seemed to fix it.. for now. We knew that the plummeting temperatures would be challenging without it, but it seemed happy for the time being and we pressed on into unfamiliar territory.

The Czech Republic was new ground for us (apart from a city break in Prague) and we were keen to explore. We quickly noticed an air of faded grandeur, with beautiful stylish houses, lacking render and paint, wooden window frames rotting away. But they are beautiful nonetheless. Even in remote towns and villages, houses have unique styles, not the catalogue blandness we see in many of todays new builds.

As was pointed out to us though, many of these buildings were / are owned by the State or by landlords and why would you make any effort for their upkeep. Plenty of ugly socialist era factories and rail yards remain, still in use, as are the grim looking tower blocks in the cities.

However, that is not to say the Czech Republic is not beautiful, because it is. The villages look unspoilt, with small shops servicing communities largely unchanged in years and the lack of Western commercialism is quite refreshing – no Maccy Ds here! I’ll say this many times: get off the highways and travel the road less travelled!

Every town has several grand and colourful churches, plus there’s castles and ruined palaces galore. Free camping is easy too, though snow becomes an issue with many roads unploughed or parking places buried. But for us one thing which spoilt this region and several thereafter, is the copious quantities of rubbish strewn everywhere.

Litter and fly tipping are a major issue (U.K. in the early 80’s), as is dog mess (though Belgium needs to work on this too!).

I suppose this shows a lack of pride and respect for property, born of the lack of ownership and accountability.

To prepare ourselves and have contingencies for the snow, we added a few things to our van kit list:

Snow chains (all 4 wheels), shovel, recovery boards (MaxxTraxx), crampons, gloves and warm clothing. The pop top has a thermal jacket, the windscreen has an awesome external cover (SilverScreens) and Fiona made a grill cover to keep snow and cold winds off the radiator and away from the fresh air blower intakes – to be used parked or when driving and the engine doesn’t get to temperature).

A Karcher WindowVac was a surprisingly brilliant weapon in the war against condensation (with a short blade). The one thing we forgot was a long handled brush for clearing snow off the roof and solar panel.

Next: Poland! The snow keeps coming!

5 thoughts on “So what does a European winter bring for a camper? Not as easy as we hoped…

    1. Strongly recommend Slovenia and Croatia, especially with a Syncro. But wild camping is not allowed in either country, though fuel is very cheap.. For lots of free camping, then Italy is proving to be great!


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