An Australian Shepher watching my tent

Planning for a
good night's sleep

The night before I started my bike trip, it dawned on me, that the days of knowing exactly where to sleep were gone. At least for the time of the trip. Every night I listen to True Crime to snooze away. That might not be a good idea on the trip. Looking back on the six months I spent on the road I can say, that I managed to find every single night a safe, though not always dry, place to get a good night's sleep. Here is how I approached one of the most important tasks on my tour.

Before starting I outlined here, what options I would consider in terms of accommodation. These were:

  • Getting hosted by friends or Warmshowers hosts
  • Camping on campgrounds or private land
  • Hostels, Bed and Breakfasts, or hotels
  • Wild camping

This list was pretty complete and reflects what I did. With one exception, wild camping. I did not wild camp a single day, even not in Scotland. The majority of nights I spent on campgrounds, followed by Bed and Breakfasts. I spent just a few nights at friends' places, and only one at a Warmshowers host.

Planning my daily stages, I made sure that I either had a place to sleep booked or at least was confident, that I would find one. Every accommodation comes with its own challenges though...

View from the Bed and Breakfast Le Spine, near Berceto
EuroVelo 1 - Beautiful bed and breakfast near Morlaix
A cat looking over Pietrasanta

Hostels, Bed and Breakfasts, or hotels

I started in February, and even in Southern Italy, it was still pretty cold. More importantly, most campgrounds were still closed, and I was certainly not willing to wild camp. It was my first bike trip and I was travelling solo. Therefore I decided that I would allow myself the luxury of booking hotels or bed and breakfast until campgrounds opened. My advantage was that it was absolutely off-season and I got really good prices, hardly ever more than 50 Euros, often including breakfast.

For booking, I used, at least most of the time. It makes it incredibly easy to find a room for the night, but came with the downside that I usually paid more than I would have when booking directly at the host. My hosts told me that every time. But my Italian is not existent and many hosts were often not speaking English. Calling in or sending mails would have meant a considerable amount that I would have needed to invest to ensure that I would have a bed. Research would have been a lot harder as well.

For the first week of the trip, I made a stupid mistake though. I booked places for the complete week, every single day, just to change my plans completely. Some BnBs were cancelable, others were kind enough to approve my request for cancellation, but some I had to pay. From this experience, I learned to not plan too much and rather live day by day. Being flexible is one of the biggest joys of a trip like that.

Another thing to keep in mind is to ensure that the accommodation allows for bikes. This is not always the case and my number one priority was always to have my bike in a safe place. Therefore I always checked the comments on the accommodation and/or left a note with the booking that I bring a bike and I would be cancelling if that was not possible. Usually, I tried as well to make a cancellable booking. Like this, I had never a problem with bike storage, often I could even keep it in my room. In one hotel they wanted to store my bike in a very publicly accessible space, but I was quite persistent that that was not good enough and we found a solution.

AirBnb I used a lot less. Mainly when I couldn't find an accommodation at a good price. Before booking I always messaged the host as well, whether it would be ok to bring a bike. Here I had it more often that people could not accommodate for that.

One note on Airbnb. It is no longer a place where private people are hosting you. In Italy I had two times the problem, that I booked a place, only to be told that there would be extra costs, that were not listed on their page. This is not ok, and not according to AirBnB guidelines, that emphasize transparency. As I booked the same day, I could not cancel. But I reached out to Airbnb and the handled the situation, I got my money back.

Always when I was booking an accommodation I looked for places that were small, had good reviews and seemed inviting, I usually avoided real hotels. And I had many wonderful stays, with very welcoming hosts!

An Australian Shepher watching my tent
Beautiful common room at Wheems Campsite on the Orkney Islands

Beautiful common room at Wheems Campsite

Beautiful view on the Scottish landscape from my tent

Camping on campgrounds or private land

Once it was April, my accommodation changed to campgrounds. I spent most nights camping in France, which is absolutely brimming with campgrounds. Just a tiny word of caution, a lot of campsites are opening in April, but not all. Some open after Easter, others in May. I would definitely send them a quick message or give them a quick call. I usually did, the one time I didn't, I was standing in front of a closed gate.

Oftentimes the French campsites use the same system to handle their bookings. It usually has an English interface as well, which makes it very comfortable if you don't speak French. It's also very quick and as the same system is used, you get used to it very quickly. Usually, you can pay for your stay as well directly on the site.

The most campsites I found on Komoot when I was planning the daily stage. If nothing was found, or when there was no link to a website, I used Google Maps. Komoot was great because it usually had campsites that were a bit smaller, often Camping Municipal.

Camping Municipal basically means that they're run by the local commune. They're usually quite cheap but do not necessarily have amenities like a pool or so. I prefer that, I didn't need a pool, just a plot where I could pitch my tent. There are obviously campgrounds that are a lot bigger and almost like resorts, I tried to avoid these.

Camping in the UK was a lot more tricky. Campgrounds were a lot harder to find, and Camping Municipal is not a thing. I found similar concepts only in the Orkney and Shetland Islands.

The tool I used most was Pitchup. It's listing all sorts of campgrounds, private pop-up ones or ones on farm campsites. Booking is very easy, but I recommend to check amenities. Oftentimes campsites would not provide showers, and still take quite some money. Campgrounds in the UK are usually a lot more expensive than in France, but often you find sites that are absolutely beautiful and a lot more wild than the French ones.

In the UK you have as well the Caravan Club. Here you can find as well campsites. And you don't need to be a member, at least when you are a foreigner. The campgrounds are often heavily trafficked by RVs, and you might want to check whether they allow for tents.

I tried as well Campanyon or Welcome to my garden. In the areas I was in, and when I needed alternatives, Welcome to my Garden, did not work for me, as there were no listings. Campanyon I used only once, but the host was unaware that she was still on it. They nevertheless welcomed me warmly and I stayed for two nights.

Warmshowers host offering me his old caravan

Getting hosted by friends or Warmshowers hosts

Which brings me to being hosted. Friends are easy, at least the ones that are real friends. Rather uncomplicated and a great joy to meet them. Usually, I stayed some more days.

But Warmshowers is a slightly different beast. Last summer I wanted to do a first test tour, from Berlin to Fulda. I found Warmshowers hosts along the way, wrote them, and got quick feedback that I could stay at their place. All seemed very friendly, and I looked forward to meeting people. Due to work reasons, I had to cancel the trip. But when I was looking for hosts on my long trip, the story was quite different. Many people did not respond, and some were responding in a way that I did not want to stay there. I simply had no intent to share a bed with an 18-year-old and cuddle, even though his mother was in the same apartment...

When the hosts responded and seemed trustworthy, it was usually a LOT of communication. Which is absolutely understandable from their point of view, but for me, who had to secure a place to sleep every night, it would have been a full-time job to do that.

I definitely want to give it another try, but probably on a shorter tour.

Wild camping

In a way, I do regret, that I did not wild camp. There are so many great images, showing small tents in the middle of nature. And it seems amazing. But I didn't. Here are my reasons why not:

I love a good night's sleep, I need eight hours of that. Especially when being very physically active during the day. Camping somewhere in the wilderness would have certainly given me that as well. But I was not in the wilderness, so I would have needed to hide myself, at least a bit. Maybe setting the tent up once it's dark, and leaving before it gets light again. This would have meant a lot of additional stress for me. I loved to bike until the afternoon, set up my tent, find some food, and then fall asleep, usually around 9 pm.

The other reason was that I didn't know where. That might sound stupid, but as said, I was not in the wilderness. In Italy, many roads were marked as private, and even in Scotland, there were many fences. I believe I could have crossed these and could have wild camp legally, but it felt odd.

I was on my own. I hoped to find maybe somebody to spend some days biking and camping together. Somebody who wild camped before and had experience. Somebody with whom I could handle any upcoming situation together. But I didn't.

I'm still a bit conflicted, about whether it's actually cool to wild camp. In terms of disrupting nature even more than we usually do. I would have left no trace, but still, I'm there. I might disturb animals. Many people leave traces, as well bike touring people. You see so many white paper towels in nature, not even talking about other trash. I find this incredibly annoying. There are so many official campgrounds around, at least in Europe, that I find it hard to justify that I set up my tent somewhere, specially when it's as cheap as in France

And last but not least, I was a tad scared...

That being said, it's not my last trip. I will wild camp. One day.

To sum it up, it was easy to find accommodation. No bigger problems! There are plenty of beautiful and affordable campsites out there, at least in Summer. I would always recommend, if possible, to plan in a bit of budget to get a roof over your head every now and then. You might be soaked from the rain, your battery packs might be empty, or you might crave a real bed.

You can find the places I stayed at on every single day entry and the route descriptions, e.g. for the EuroVelo 5 or the North Coast 500.

Last update: 14. February 2024
Mood: happy :)