I’m not an efficient holiday researcher. I lose days, weeks even, trying to find the cheapest flights at times that won’t render us all cranks. I indulge my compulsion to visit the website of every campsite within 100km of an airport. I read all of the Trip Advisor reviews and I scrutinize multitudinous traveller photos of chipped counter tops and mystery insects. No stone left unturned. No accommodation provider left behind. A corner of my kitchen table will be strewn with frenzied notes and woe betide the child (or spouse) who interferes with my ‘system’. European Campsite Holiday.
That being said, there’s nothing quite like the satisfying feeling of knowing you’ve explored all of the options and snagged yourself a reasonably-priced holiday for the family.
We’re going on our fourth European campsite holiday this summer. We’re campsite people. We love the laid-back nature of campsite holidays and we love the range of amenities and kid-friendly activities that European campsites offer.
CHOOSING A CAMPSITE
There are so many campsites. So very many. It’s often almost impossible to choose one over another.
Think about what your prerequisites are. Would you prefer to holiday in a specific country? Do you need the campsite to be within close reach of an airport, a specific ferry port or a train station? Near a beach? On a lake? Inland? Would you prefer a large campsite or a small one? (Bear in mind that some get very busy at peak travel times.) Would you like to be within walking distance of a town or village? Would you like go on a day trip to a city? Do you have older kids who’d like to visit nearby theme park or water park? Do you need a playground? A toddler pool? Water slides? A bar?
Make a list of your non-negotiables. There’s a campsite that’s perfect for you. It’s just a matter of finding it! Read the reviews. Ask questions on travel forums and hit friends up for recommendations.
CHOOSING YOUR ACCOMMODATION TYPE
If you’d like to enjoy the facilities that a campsite holiday offers but you’d prefer bricks-and-mortar accommodation, there are often more traditional options available. Most of the bigger campsites have bungalows or apartments but they tend to fill up fast. Alternatively, if you’d prefer to go a bit more Bear Grylls, tents and lodges are widely available too.
Obviously, not all mobile homes are created equal.
If opting for a mobile home, check out the square footage, be clear on the appliances available and investigate the quality of the indoor furnishings, outdoor furniture and decking space. Decent, comfortable deck furniture with sufficient shade can make a huge difference to your holiday. You’ll spend a lot of time on the deck.
Bear in mind that mobile homes, while perfectly comfortable, look a bit like a like a prefab and feel a bit like a prefab, because they’re just that – prefabricated structures that shake every time your kids slam a door and retain heat like wood-burning saunas.
Usually, you get what you pay for. If the price seems too good to be true, then it’s possible that you’ll spend a portion of your holiday looking longingly into to the fancier mobile homes of your neighbours.
‘Premium’ or ‘luxury’ options come with a heftier price tag. Don’t rule them out if things like TVs, dishwashers and design aesthetics are important to you. They may only be 30% – 40% more expensive.
CHOOSING YOUR ACCOMMODATION PROVIDER
Booking accommodation directly with the campsite itself is often the cheapest option and sometimes your only option if you’re after an apartment or a bungalow. Campsites will usually have their own mobile homes and other types of accommodation. A number of independent operators will also have rental units on site, operators like Eurocamp, Canvas, Human Travel (formerly Elle Vacanze), Al Fresco, Siesta, Suncamp, Roan Camping, Happy Camp, KelAir Camphotel and Select Camp to name a few. Best to price as many as possible for the dates in mind. Keep an eye out for early-booking discounts and check out aggregators like AllCamps and LuxCamp.
‘EXTRAS’ EUROPEAN CAMPSITE HOLIDAY
In the world of European camping, bed linen and towels are considered ‘extras’ and often not included in the price. You’ll order them while booking but it’s likely that your beds won’t be made up when you arrive. Not a huge deal but arriving late and having to then make up six beds can be the straw that breaks a weary parent’s back. Forewarned is forearmed.
In some cases you may be required to clean your accommodation before you leave. This can sting. Often there’s an option to throw a little bit of extra cash at the problem to avoid this.
It’s always worth opting for air conditioning, especially with younger kids. Sometimes it’s included in the price, sometimes it’s payable locally and sometimes not available at all. We’ve never not used it. We even had to use the heating function on the air con unit in Spain. But that’s another story.
YOUR LOCATION ON SITE
Campsites vary in size and some can cover up to a kilometre squared, so there can be a lot of walking involved – again something to consider with young kids. Most of the bigger sites will have bike hire available. Some will even have buggy hire. I’ve noticed an increasing amount kids being ferried around in those little pull along wagons in recent years too.
Some will have multiple pool complexes with water slides. Some will have heated pools (often essential if you’re travelling very early in the season) and some won’t. Some will have private beach areas with loungers. Most will have playgrounds and some even have bouncy castle parks, trampolining and go karts for young kids and soccer pitches, tennis courts and discos for older kids and teenagers.
If you’re travelling off season (before June or after August), it’s worth checking what’s available with the campsite. There may not be a full schedule of activities and entertainment until high season and certain pools and restaurants may not open.
CARS ON SITE
Some camping resorts allow cars on site and some don’t. Not a massive issue because they usually stay below 10mph but if cars are absent entirely, it’s one less headache for parents of young children.
WHAT TO BRING?
HOW I WENT ABOUT BOOKING OUR HOLIDAY THIS YEAR:
1. I set a budget with a little wiggle room.
2. I decided roughly on dates (July/August)
3. I created a ‘campsite brief’ with a list of our preferences. While we weren’t fussy on location, but we had specific requirements when it came to the campsite itself.
4. I started with flights. I made a list of about 8 airports in France, Spain and Italy and searched for flights out of our nearest Irish airports. I disregarded destinations that required us to fly too early or late because of the age of our kids. I made a note of the cheapest dates for flying to a range of destinations.
5. Then, using the enormous Eurocamp brochure (a very handy resource whether or not you actually book with Eurocamp) and Google maps (the satellite view is super), I investigated any campsites in close proximity to those airports. I visited the campsite websites and a range of other accommodation providers for availability and prices. This took bloody ages.
Eventually, we settled on 10 days in a mobile home with Eurocamp, in a campsite on the Adriatic coast near Venice, Camping Ca’Savio, flying into Venice with Aer Lingus and out of Treviso with Ryanair. Both airports are 40kms away and the campsite appears to tick all the boxes.
I’ll report back! You can read our review of Bella Italia on Lake Garda here.
If you found this helpful our you’d like to add some tips of your own, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Have you been on a campsite holiday? Would you recommend it? What kind of holiday maker are you?