I have always wondered why US hikers are desperately trying to find “paid” camping areas to setup their tents in Europe and critising those. So, maybe I have to explain the rules here based on my experience being “homeless traveller” now over a decade mostly in Southern Europe.
Sure, there are some camping grounds that some farmer thinks to make extra money to allow hikers to camp on their lands. Usually they provide services like toilets and water for your money and expect hikers to be kind of community that likes to setup tents close to each other, share experiences and promote their gear.
So, basically they charge you to be part of “community”. Such kind if service I found in Chamonix (French Alps), where tents where setup around 10 cm each other and charged over 10 EUR per night + 6 EUR per person?
I went other side of the road, which was outside the town with free caravan and motorhome parking and setup my tent one of those parking slots!
In France, the camping area usually means to park your motorhome or caravan and connect it to the water and electricity. That’s what they ask money, but some municipalities has made those free as well.
Near Toulouse are lot of such kind of “homeless communities” for example, where people “steal” electricity and water for their caravans and motorhomes by connecting their long cable to some fuse box and hose to firefighting stations. And they live their with their families. And they are not even Gipsies.
Toulouse seems to be very tolerant city to be homeless.
I have been hiking thru national parks lot in France. And hiking does not always mean to take “hiking tracks” or old “pilgrimage roads”. Usually it just means to walk some national road and when you see a car coming, finger up. Maybe you are lucky to get few kilometers ride to start to walk again. There are very beautiful roads with small villages and not much traffic on those.
So, when evening comes I usually either find a perfect spot near some stream or just take some “forest maintenance” tractor trail to find some deforested place to setup my tent.
Yep, French people has been warned me about “wild pigs” but so far only mosquitoes has been bothered me.
But the best places has been “shopping areas” near some city. In France, real-estate developers has been keen to purchase farm land near outgoing roads to build “commerce centers” there. And usually there are some undeveloped land areas. So, basically you buy your wine and dinner from supermarket, walk little bit to find such kind of area and setup your tent there. Drink the wine in that evening and next morning you have a toilet to brush your teeth and supermarket to get your breakfast and daily food to your back bag.
There maybe a sign that the area is for sale, but when there is no fence or construction going on, nobody ever had bothered me there.
And France isn’t US, when you are not allowed for camping in private land. OK, if there is a sign “private property”, obviously somebody doesn’t like you to camp there but otherwise it’s OK to setup your tent. Most likely farmer comes in morning with coffee and sandwich rather than with the gun.
And when you are in some town, there is usually public parkas well. If there is no sign “camping forbidden”, then you are allowed to setup your tent. But this could be annoying as:
Youth comes to drink in night and play loud music there;
Dog owners usually walk their dogs, so be prepared that some barking dog will wake you up early morning.
Anyway, paying for camping in Southern Europe is some kind of luxury which most travelers can’t afford. In Northern Europe things may be different as people there doest’t like hitchhikers and hikers. Especially in Sweden, Finland and Nederland. Germany has been OK so far. Especially eastern Germany for a homeless traveller.
In Poland, I have just followed some track near some city and usually find a place where there has been some tent before. Sometimes you find some “homeless person home” on those tracks, so at least I hike little bit forward not to bother them.
And Luxembourg was most my pleasant experience. Luxembourg City is planned to have bicycling roads and forest parks, so when you just follow some hiking-bicycling road you will soon find forested area outside city traffic. I just went up to the hill, find a perfect place to setup my tent and this was around 20-30 minutes walk from a place where you could have free showers, morning coffee with sandwichand when early, then you have possibility to do your laundry as well free of charge.
BTW. Even there is some “ticket price” in Luxembourg City transport, it’s actually free as it’s very difficult to get even ticket and nobody bothers to ask it.
As I’m usually walking or hitchhiking most of the locals where surprised and recommended “free bus”.
Same was in Chamonix, where I tried to hitchhike and locals recommended their “free bus”. Usually in France those local regional lines will cost only 1 EUR while City transport is much more expensive. So, low-budget traveling is OK in Europe and don’t spend your money in paid camping sites or hostels.