When going on a road trip in a motorhome for the first time, one of the most important tasks is finding somewhere to stay. It’s the one thing that can cause an enormous amount of angst. For experienced road trippers like us, finding somewhere to stay is less fraught and isn’t always something that is always planned in advance. But we remember what it was like to be doing a road trip in Europe for the first time, and for those who do find it necessary to plan ahead, having all the tools at your fingertips early is essential.
Road trips in France, in motorhomes, caravans and campers, have always been popular, but recent years have seen exponential growth in this travel space. In turn, this has placed additional pressure on the existing motorhome stopovers. But it’s also brought forth a number of new players in the market.
Historically, the places to stay overnight have been divided into two categories: paid (caravan parks and official campgrounds) and unpaid (free) aires de services or France passion locations. These days, these places still exist, but the lines are becoming a little more blurred, and the language used to describe them has made it confusing.
We’ve stayed at every type of stopover possible and had some good and not-so-good experiences at all of them. When Camping-Car Park came into the market, we knew we had to check them out as well. We still prefer France Passion stopovers, but these parks are also good options.
This Camping-Car Park guide for beginners gives you all the information you need about this relatively new entrant to the overnight stopover for the motorhome market. The feedback overall is good, but there are some traps to avoid.
- Who is Camping-Car Park?
- What does a Camping-Car Park site offer?
- Benefits of Camping-Car Park locations
- Possible issues
- How do I join?
- How do I use the card at a site?
- How much does it cost to stay?
- How do I access the services?
- How are the rates calculated?
- Can I book a site in advance?
- What happens if I have a problem?
- Tips for success
- More motorhome guides for beginners
- Travelling to France? Our road trip itineraries can help you plan.
- Other French guides to help you plan
Who is Camping-Car Park?
With a name that’s hardly original, Camping-Car Park makes everything a little confusing right from the start. The term camping car is used generically throughout Europe when talking about vehicles, specifically motorhomes and campervans, and a camping carpark is where you can park a camping car. The word car park is also not something usually associated with a place where you can park that vehicle overnight.
So when Camping-Car Park is mentioned, often travellers aren’t sure if they are talking about a vehicle or a carpark. In this context, it’s all-encompassing, as Camping-Car Park is the brand name for a new type of ‘aire’, where you can indeed park your camping car, motorhome or caravan overnight.
Camping-Car Park sites operate in approximately 500 locations around Europe, many of which were existing aires or municipal-owned and operated aires or campgrounds. New sites are being added all the time.
Unlike most aires de service – or aires – in France, all of the Camping-Car Parks attract a daily rate. Let’s explore all that this type of overnight motorhome stopover has to offer.
What does a Camping-Car Park site offer?
While official campgrounds are known for having full services – obviously because this is something you pay for – aires de services are mostly just a place to stay overnight. While some might have some services, perhaps for an additional payment, it is not common or guaranteed. Often the ability to use electricity and water is very limited, if it is available. I still remember sitting in the motorhome attached to the borne (machine) via an electrical hookup, willing it to put electricity into our vehicle faster as we could only sit there for 20 minutes or so.
Camping-Car Parks aim to fill the gap between the two types, offering a low-cost overnight stay with basic services, including potable and non-potable water, electricity and wifi. There are also dedicated service areas for emptying grey and black wastewater. There are general rubbish bins as well.
Some sites have facilities like showers and toilets, but given one of the main requirements to enter these sites is to be self-contained, the expectation for finding such services should be low.
The sites are open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and are protected by a barrier that can only be operated with a Camping-Car Park pass’etapes card and have CCTV in operation.
Like aires in general, some of the sites are in great locations, close to towns, and have grassy, shady places to park. Others might be less aesthetically pleasing with gravel or hardstand parks but are functional nonetheless.
Some municipal towns have partnered with Camping-Car Park and offer discounts to subscribers for such things as local attractions and restaurants.
All Camping-Car Park sites are unmanned, but customer service hotlines, with English-speaking staff, are available should you need to speak to a human.
Benefits of Camping-Car Park locations
- open all year
- services similar to a paid campground
- may be used at any of the Camping-Car Park locations
- secure parking
- can check availability online and book ahead
- often close to towns
- can stay more nights than planned if there is availability
- Operates without requiring cash or locating tokens. All you need is the pass’etapes card.
- Access to the site is completely independent. With access via the swipe card at the barrier, motorhomes can come and go as often as they like without losing their spot.
- Camping-Car Park has admitted that their online availability software is not fool-proof. If a traveller only books one night but then decides to stay another, it is likely that the second day will show as available at that location on the app. If this was extrapolated over many different individual parking spots, then you could imagine that the app might show much more availability than is actually possible. Unless you are prepared to keep driving or have a backup, our advice would be to avoid a location where only one or two spots are showing.
- Don’t rely on their wifi. There aren’t enough extenders and routers to cover large areas, so the wifi can be slow, intermittent or even nonexistent. We are used to fast internet, so we would never rely on this anyway. When travelling in France, we use and recommend Maya Mobile.
- One of the biggest issues confronting users of Camping-Car Park seems to be around storing amounts on the cards. There have been examples and instances of travellers being unable to get funds back and pre-loads not working. Most users of this system now prefer just to pay what they owe when they leave via credit card at the machine or to load only small amounts at a time. Load and use.
How do I join?
It’s simple. A plastic card the size of a credit card called pass’etapes is your ticket to ride. Cards can be applied for and purchased online via the website or on the app before arrival in Europe, or they may be purchased directly from a machine onsite.
Before being able to buy the card, you need to register your details to open an account. It’s a quick and simple process that only took me a few minutes on my mobile.
The card costs €5 – a once-off fee – to purchase and can be recharged online or at the machines onsite. The minimum recharge amount is €10, as this is generally the average cost of a night here.
If you choose to get the card mailed, there will be a postage fee in addition to the €5. The postage cost will depend on whether you are in the UK or Europe. If you do like being organised before your trip, you can also buy it online and elect to pick it up at your first location (machine).
Note it is not possible to get the card mailed outside of Europe and the UK. If you try and it’s not possible, you’ll see a message like the one below. I tested it to see if it would mail to Australia.
Our tip: Relying on the delivery of letters these days is not as efficient as it once was. If you order it online before your trip, do so with plenty of lead time.
How do I use the card at a site?
If registering and purchasing a card was easy, then this part is even easier. Whether you have pre-booked or not, simply swipe your card at the machine, and the barrier will open.
The card should be wiped over the top of what looks like a numeric keypad. You’ll find this on the green machine. There is no requirement to enter any kind of PIN. Simply swipe over the top of this, and it should raise the barrier.
If you don’t have enough credit on your card when you leave, you can recharge directly at the machine prior to leaving. To do this, you’ll need to use the other side of the machine, where you can find the credit card tap and pay mechanism and screen. Note that the barrier won’t let you out if you don’t have enough funds on the card.
Our tip: If you don’t have enough funds on the card, don’t park in the driveway at the barrier. While recharging is simple, sometimes technical issues arise with the machines, and you don’t want to be that person holding up another traveller when something goes wrong.
How much does it cost to stay?
The cost per site varies but is usually in the range of €10 – €14 per 24 hours. This includes all associated on-site services. Always make sure you have enough on your card to exit the park. Balances can be checked online or via the app. You should also be able to do this at the machine when you exit.
How do I access the services?
Water and electricity are included as part of your overnight fee. The dedicated sites have electrical hookup stands nearby, so vehicles can hook up to them permanently while staying there. For water, there will be a dedicated water and dumping area. Your card is needed to access them however. This is a mechanism to stop other travellers who are not Carmping-Car Park members from using the services.
Similar to the process for coming in the entry gate, all you need to do is swipe the card over the keypad. Once the card has been swiped/tapped, the display screen will indicate which water point to use. You can then push the green button to start and red to stop the flow. The volume of water can be slow sometimes, so allow time for this if you have a large tank. You may need a connector if you want to attach a hose to the water point.
Our tip: Many travellers seem to leave all at the same time in the morning, usually around 10am-midday. When this happens, the pressure can really be on for access to the service points for water and dumping. We hate queuing for anything, so we usually try and find another time to fill up, even if it means we leave with a less-than-full tank. We’ll always find water somewhere else.
How are the rates calculated?
Unlike official campgrounds with check-in and check-out times, the Camping-Car Park model charges from the time of entry, irrespective of the time of day. It will charge in one of two ways; under five hours and over five hours but under 24 hours.
The rate is currently €5 if you stay under five hours. Once it goes above this and up to 24 hours, the rate is the daily rate that is advertised, usually €10 – €14. You can come and go as often as you like within these periods. The system will work out that you have left for good and will charge the final amount to the card. This can take a while, especially if you have been coming in and out often. The system needs enough time to work out you have finally gone.
Once you stay over 24 hours, then the next 24-hour rate is charged.
Our tip: When you are travelling a lot and moving from location to location, it’s easy to forget the day of the week. It’s even easier to forget when you arrive at a specific Camping-Car Park. It’s a good idea to have a notebook handy in the front cabin or use the notes function on your phone to record your time of entry and your departure. This will help you validate the amount charged to your card and help with any issues should they arise.
Can I book a site in advance?
Camping-Car Park has a premium service called ‘PackPrivileges’. With this additional service, costing €29 per year, you have the ability to book and pay ahead, provided there are available spaces at the respective site. We haven’t used this service, as we’ve never had the need to book well in advance.
You can look at the app on any given day and see the availability at the various locations. Some sites also have signboards at the front showing the number of free pitches available.
Note that there are some lower limits built into the system as well to try and eliminate issues of over-booking caused by travellers staying longer or travellers arriving and taking a spot just as you are checking out availability on the app.
The forums are full of anecdotes from travellers saying that it’s not worth the money for the additional premium service. But, if you love to plan and it’s a necessary part of your travels, then it might be worth considering. It’s a relatively small amount to pay.
What happens if I have a problem?
Fortunately, real people are available at the end of a phone or email. If you are dealing with an issue at a site, it’s best to phone their English-speaking customer service team in the first instance. It’s open from 8 am until 11 pm daily on +33 183 646 921.
If you need to cancel or amend a booking, you’ll need to phone them also.
Tips for success
1. If you really want or need to be at a specific location, watch the availability in the days leading up to when you want it. As long as there is availability, aim to get there around midday, which is when most travellers who are not planning on staying would have left and when the most spaces should be available.
2. Have a backup plan. Whether it’s another Camping-Car Park location or another aire, France Passion stopover etc, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
3. Check there isn’t a requirement for a minimum number of nights to stay. We haven’t seen this ourselves, but we have friends who have on the west coast of France.
4. Check for reviews on popular sites Search4Sites and Park4Nite, and don’t forget to leave one yourself after you’ve been.