If your idea of camping is bug bites, sleeping bags and baked beans, think again.
How about roughing it in a three-bedroom “caravan” with a fully equipped kitchen, bathroom (with tub or power shower) and air conditioning throughout? It also has private garden area, barbecue and dining furniture on the deck…and a bakery just down a wooded path for fresh croissants in the morning.
Or perhaps you’d prefer a large furnished tent, yurt, tree house, wooden chalet or “camping pod”?
When planning a European vacation, many travelers believe that hotels and home rentals are their only lodging options. Camping and caravanning, however, can be a wonderful and often more-affordable way to travel in Europe. It’s a trend that’s on the upswing and I’m not surprised.
The terms “camping,” “caravanning” and “self catering,” I recently found out, refer to a wide range of venues called campsites, holiday parks, caravan parks, vacation villages, mobile home parks and more. Depending on the size of your group and your idea of fun, you can choose from rustic to five-star. Most facilities have, at the least, a pool or beach, laundry, a restaurant, a bar and some form of organized activities for kids. Other amenities might include horseback riding, rock-climbing, snorkeling and other water sports, full-on water parks, mini golf, football, tennis courts, kids clubs, day trips and evening entertainment.
But how to find the right place?
ISpyCamping.com is a price-comparison website featuring camping and caraving vacations in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Croatia. Whether you’re an experienced camper or first-timer, it can be an extremely useful tool. It’s also just fun to browse.
Not only does I Spy Camping help you choose the ideal vacation spot, it shows you which tour operator (Siblu, Eurocamp, Keycamp, etc.), offers it at the very-best price.
I Spy Camping was co-founded and is now run by Will Goodridge, a travel industry vet who has won numerous industry awards. The former Head of eCommerce for Siblu Holiday Villages, he left last year when he saw a niche and decided he could fill it. He partnered with the French-language site Toocamp.com and launched ISpyCamping.com in November 2010.
“Camping is becoming more and more popular,” Will explains. “But families looking for camping holidays were visiting five or six websites to compare prices. In August, two weeks camping can cost more than £2,000. If we save you 10% or more by finding the cheapest price, that’s substantial. Now you do all that research quickly on one convenient site.”
Born in Valladolid, Spain (his mum is Spanish, his dad English), Will moved to England aged seven. His passion for camping blossomed early, when his family traveled back and forth by car between Spain and the U.K., sleeping at French campsites. Today Will is based in Northhamptonshire and he loves nothing more than camping with his own kids, Isabella and Thomas.(An avid outdoorsman and athlete, he also loves “challenges” such as triathlons, running, hiking and long-distance biking, often with the kids in tow.)
All the campsites Will promotes are privately run, mainly by a family business or by a company like Siblu or Europarcs. “There are a good number of municipal campsites in France,” he says, "but these are generally regarded as stopovers rather than somewhere to actually have a holiday. You can’t really compare them to a five-star campsite with indoor and outdoor pools, slides and spas, tennis courts, kids clubs and evening entertainment.” Most facilities on his site have a three-night minimum, Will says, and the typical stay is 10 days.
“No matter what your dream destination is, we want to save you time and money,” he adds. “From a family holiday in the South of France to an adventure around the Italian Lakes to a forest retreat in the Charente-Maritime for under £300…we provide the widest choice available. We help you narrow the selection and choose the holiday with the best facilities, location and accommodations for your needs.”
Photos: Will and his kids, Isabella (7) and Thomas (4), atop Snowdon in Wales, the second highest mountain in the U.K. Plus, three examples of the hundreds of camping options on ISpyCamping.com.