Looking for adventure stories, travel tips & hacks? You are in the right place!
Vanlife in France – everything you need to know
#vanlife as they call it. Living in a fully equipped camper or a small self-build campervan, driving around the world and sleep at the most beautiful spots. It’s not for everyone and it’s definitely not as glamorous as social media makes it seem to be. But, we love it! Especially vanlife in France.
Vanlife in France
The vanlife experience is different in each country. While some countries are very strict, others let you roam around in freedom. These factors can make or break your vanlife experience and it’s good to know beforehand what you’re getting into.
Vanlife in France is amazing and France a good example of the more chill and accepting countries for vanlife, as long as you don’t break the rules.
> Staying overnight
In France you are always allowed to stay overnight at any car park for at least 24 hours. It is even recommended by the French traffic law, to stop your vehicle and sleep somewhere in a carpark at night when you’re getting tired.
To know that you are officially allowed to stay anywhere overnight that says ‘parking’ is such a relief, especially for vanlifers. When you do, always be respectful and don’t pull out your whole camping equipment or take up unnecessary space.
If you don’t want the trouble of a discussion with the locals, don’t ignore the ‘Campingcar Interdit’ signs that are sometimes placed at parkings in busy areas.
> Lunch or picknick
The beauty of vanlife is having everything packed inside your own home on wheels, including your kitchen. While it’s very attractive to pull out your chairs and table on a sunny day and sit outside to have your lunch.. you might want to consider that this is not permitted everywhere.
Most of the time you can easily grab your chair and sit outside though, but in car parks along public roads or other places that are not designed for campers, it’s not allowed.
> Height restrictions
One thing that you will come across very often in Europe, are height restriction barriers. While France is not nearly as bad as Spain and Portugal for example, you will run into these things along the way (no pun intented). But what’s the deal with them..
Well, these height restriction barriers are mainly ment to keep bigger vehicles from entering roads or spaces that are too small or impassable.
Real danger or hazards might creep behind these barriers, like overhanging rocks, low viaducts or small tunnels. But, mostly these barriers are just there to keep you out of spaces they don’t want us vanlifers in. Sometimes even at supermarket carparks!
French law actually prohibits height restrictors from being placed at the entrance of car parks, but still you’ll see them along the way. Mainly at car parks in cities or popular beaches and parks.
The solution? Find another car park or park along the road where possible.
> Illegal road signs
What you also often see in France are the road signs that say ‘Camping-car interdit’ or ‘Stationnement au camping-car interdit’.
Well, let me tell you.. this is fake.
French traffic law
It is officially not allowed to put up these signs anywhere in France. According to the French traffic law, these road signs violate the principal of equality.
The best way is to always respect these signs and look for another place, because they are probably put there for a reason. Such as lack of space, private property issues or as result of disturbance caused by previous campervans.
> Speed limits
Driving a van or motorhome, big or small, it is always important to keep to the speed limits for your own safety and of course to dodge a fine.
These are the speed limits in France.
> build-up areas 50 km/h (30 mph)
> outside build-up areas 80 km/h (50 mph)
> two lane roads with no central lines 90 km/h (55 mph)
> Dual carriageway 110 km/h (70 mph)
> French motorways 130 km/h (80 mph)
If you drive a motorhome that is heavier than 3500 kg, other rules apply.
> build-up areas 50 km/h (30 mph)
> outside build-up areas 80 km/h (50 mph)
> two lane roads with no central lines 80 km/h (50 mph)
> Dual carriageway 100 km/h (60 mph)
> French motorways 110 km/h (70 mph)
Motorhomes heavier than 3500 kg are also required to put stickers on the back. Which are 80 kmh (50 mph, 100 km/h (60 mph) and 110 km/h (70 mph).
How to French vanlife
Now you know the main rules to vanlife in France, you can enjoy the ride. Vanlife in France is fantastic and really easy, especially in the French Alps.
It’s the perfect country for a roadtrip!
This must be the most popular vanlife app around, at least it is in Europe. This app marks all the spots you can park at in the region you’re searching in. With a lot of great search filters to apply and lots of reviews, they’ve build a great community platform.
For example about once a week we need a place with camper facilities, to empty our grey watertank and fill up our fresh watertank. We add this filter on the app and open the map to see where the nearest service point is and do our thing.
The same thing you can do for picknick areas, paid or free camperparkings, showers and lots more.
Park4night is amazing and mostly you can see a bit of the spot through the photos that people add to the app. But, what we almost always use next to this app is Google maps. The satellite feature on maps is ideal for getting an idea of the place, especially on how big a parking is or how small a road will be. Use it, you’re welcome!
Where to park
Depending on the time of year, you can drive up any mountain road or col (mountain pass) and find great spots to park. But, there are more ways to get secure your spot for the night. Have a look in the following spots!
Ski resorts in winter
France is a popular ski destination and a lot of people come here with their campers. Most ski ‘villages’ in France therefore have large parkings with designated areas for campervans and mobile homes, next to a couple of appartement complexes.
In winter this is a great place to stay, because you are almost always meters away from the piste so you can ski in and ski out! The costs to stay overnight in winter are mostly between €10 and €30 a night, depending on the amenities you need.
Ski resorts in summer
These ski villages are a whole different ball game in spring and summer, in a good way! Around the eind of april the last snow disappears from the mountains and everything starts turning green.
The best thing is, the ski villages are like ghost towns now. Everything is closed and people have moved out, so it’s totally empty and free for you to roam around. Pick a parking and stay for a few days!
Some amazing spots that you’ll find on the park4night app as well, are hiking trail parkings. There is almost always room to park you car at the start of a hiking trail and because it’s mostly in nature, you can easily stay here for a night if you like.
Just make sure you don’t take up the parking space from people that really want to hike if you’re not going to! We almost always do a hike as well though!
Along the river
The french alps are home to a lot of beautiful strong flowing beautiful rivers and almost always there’s a road running parallel alongside these rivers through the mountains. Try to see on google maps if you can find a clearing or secondary road along the river to park for the night. You’ll find the most incredible places this way.
Keep in mind that these are not legal parking spots and that you always have to check the weather forecast. If it’s going to rain, the rivers can rise really quickly and you might get yourself in trouble.
Also check, mostly through signs along the river, if there isn’t a dam in the area that regulates the water.
Mountain pass or col
Because France is a mountain rich country, there are a lot of mountain passes around. These passes allow you to drive from one side of the mountain to the other, by going over the highest drivable point. On this point, called the pass or ‘col’ in France, there’s almost always parking spaces and mostly some facilities like a restaurant.
Big plus? The incredible views!
France has a lot of options to do your grocery shopping, from big stores where you can get everything you need in everyday life to smaller local supermarkets. We’ve listed the most common ones below.
Huge stores where you can get everything! Even clothes and camping chairs.
Tips for vanlife in France
Some things that might be handy dandy to know about living on the road in France.
> Avoid Saturdays at supermarkets
Like in most countries, don’t go shopping on Saturday afternoon. It will be difficult to park you camper somewhere and parkinglots are not always big enough to manoeuvre your way through the crowds. Just go on a weekday and you’ll be set.
> Know the store hours
The bigger stores in France are usually open from 8 am and close at 8 pm, but that’s not always the case. The French also love their lunchtime and take a lot of time off to go out for a bite or have a picknick, while the shops are closed.
Supermarkets have your usual bread and even nice croissants and pastries. But, the best bread, quiches and pastries are at a Boulangerie (bakery) in France. Try the little round Brioche pastries with pink sugar on it, they’re just delicious!
> Intermarchés with camper facilities
Some Intermarchés in France offer various camper facilities, like emptying and filling for €1 or €2. Mostly you can also fill up your gas and do your laundry on the same parking lot. Easy does it!
> Internet and vanlife in France
Do you have to work in your van? Well, while Roaming in Europe might be very easy now and to no extra costs, you still have to deal with the European ‘Fair use Policy’.
But, we have another solution for you! It’s called Free Mobile. Buy a local sim card with lots of data, like up to 210 GB for €29,99 and put it in your MIFI Router or phone. Most Tobacco stores in France have a Free Mobile Box, which works just like a vending machine. Easy does it!
Read all about ‘Internet in France’ right here
> Gas bottles in France
Every van or camper has its own gas supply and way of dealing with changing or refilling gas. Gas bottles are easy to find in France, they’re lined up outside at every gas station, intermarché or hardware store. You buy it on deposit and you can return it anywhere in the country.
We are from the Netherlands and our gas bottle is different than the French ones. You should bring a set of European connectors for gas bottles, so you can connect the French bottle to your system.
> Laverie (Revolution)
In most parkings around the bigger supermarkets or shoppingmalls, there’s a Revolution Laverie around. This is a laundry station whit mostly 2 washing machines (8 kg and 10 kg) and 1 big dryer. For the 8 kg you usually pay €5, the 10 kg €10 and for the dryer usually €3 for 20 minutes.
> Garbage disposal
Leaving the places clean and respectful is the way to go! Always clean up after yourself and throw away your garbage. France makes this really easy for you, because they’ve put separated waste bins on almost every corner of the street.
So do your end and be respectful to nature!
> Showers and swimming pools
Vanlifers are often used to have a different shower routine than normal. Mostly you will shower a lot less in a van or camper, because you either don’t even have a shower or you are cutting down on water usage.
A great thing to plan into your routine on the road is visiting local swimming pools. For €4 to €10 you can enjoy the pool as long as you want and have a shower (as long as you want!).
You can also ask to pay for only the shower facilities at a campsite without spending the night there.
Hi! We’re Tim & Ilse
Together with our fluffy cat Snowy we travel around the world searching for adventures.