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Can I use the French aires to camp overnight? I have a VW Transporter van with a bed, 2 dogs, a camping stove and bottled water and loo bottle. I want to be safe but I don't need the constraints of a true camper van.

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This answer may be helpful. – Nate Eldredge Jun 2 '14 at 17:15
Where I'm from you have just described a true camper van. – hippietrail Nov 23 '14 at 3:50

The link provided in the comment is a good one.

In France you are allowed to do "free" camping, provided that you respect a few things:

  • You can't do free camping in regional or national parks (as stated in the comment from Nate Eldredge)

  • You have to take any rubbish with you and dispose of them in appropriate places

  • DO NOT stay the night in highway stops! It is forbidden, but much more important, it is dangerous to do so. You are at a clear risk of being stolen / mugged. It does not happen often because people almost never do it (sleeping there). If you want to make a stop during a longer trip, quit the highway and find a spot in the countryside, near a small village.

  • In some places (towns/villages), it is required to go to a specific area for camper vans (should be easy to see this at the information office of the said town). At no charge. But honestly you can probably 99% of the time find a quiet place somewhere where you will be able to spend the night, and where you will not be disturbed. You can ask the local people for advice. Despite being French, they might be of help ;-)

  • It is very common to find old combis VW on car parks near beaches. in the north of France (north from Bordeaux), it is most of the time very well accepted and safe. South of it, I don't know.

  • You need to take car of your dogs' poo... in urban areas. In the woods, no need :-) !

Have fun!

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+1 for the phrase "despite being French, they might be of help" :) – CGCampbell Jul 3 '14 at 16:02
Why do you think that sleeping on motorways is so dangerous? – Relaxed Jul 8 '14 at 10:33
It is dangerous to camp during the night on motorways because there are some people trying to steal from trucks that have to stop for the night. If they find easier targets, they tend to jump on the occasion. These people are not "nice" and they are used to try to be in front of a few truck drivers sometimes... So a couple of travellers... Some small stops are also sex meeting points... Not always the friendliest and safest areas. – Martigan Jul 8 '14 at 13:28
@Martigan Any evidence for that? How common is that really? I took a rest in my car on several occasions and drove through the night on many others and never witnessed anything that would worry me. I guess you can be robbed anywhere but the notion that French motorway stops are especially dangerous is news to me. As you note yourself, many thousands of lorry drivers do it everyday… – Relaxed Oct 28 '14 at 13:59
Driving during the night is never dangerous in France. There is no specific criminal activities targeting people in cars at night. Regarding motorways stops, the large majority is clearly very safe, but a few of them may be slightly dangerous. Since there is no "map" of those, I would recommend to avoid sleeping here and would encourage to go to stops outside the motorway. Of course, stops linked to a service station are always safe. – Martigan Oct 30 '14 at 16:07

It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to using the Aire de Service sites. There have been a variety of stories in the press in recent times where people have had some form of gas used in the air vents of motorhomes so that thieves can gain access and steal items from them. Please take care not to use the motorway stations overnight and use either a non motorway Aire de Service or to use a proper campsite. There is a book available from places such as amazon for the Aire de Service or look at the local tourist information website. Failing that for proper campsites take a look at Go Camp France

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Is that your website? – JoErNanO Feb 12 at 14:32

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