The Challenges of Life on the Road in a Motorhome

the motoroamers

The Challenges of Life on the Road in a Motorhome

As more Spanish towns close their doors and shut up shop to vanlifers, it creates one of many challenges of life on the road in a motorhome. Today we share a solution that gives us all a win-win.

Life on the road in a motorhome, whether for a holiday, long-term trip or full-time, can be a real challenge for so many reasons. Whilst it is a fabulous way of life there’s no denying it, in a world where people are crying out for acceptance and diversity, those choosing van life are being marginalised and judged.

Scoobie, van life Morocco

After the heady heights of Morocco, we moved back to Spain for a couple of weeks of touring. A southern European country that has, until recently, welcomed motorhomes with the warmth of a trusted friend. Yet over the few years, Spain has seen an exponential increase in van-lifers, flocking to their sun-drenched coastline. Vans of all shapes and sizes cramming into every single little space; campsites, quiet urban streets, car parks and beaches. For us it has certainly changed how we feel about the south coast, and instead has us running to the hills to get away from the hoards.

Guadalhorce Reservoir, Spain

For sure this is not a new problem, although today’s post has been prompted by a visit to one of our highlight destinations, Conil de la Frontera on the Costa de la Luz. A beautiful ‘White Village’ with history of tuna fishing and an abundance of wildlife and natural beauty; Conil is a gem. A spot that is pretty much off the beaten track for many of motorhome snow-birds – just one of the reasons we love it so much. Our first visit in the spring of 2023 introduced us to Conil and we fell in love with its charm and Spanish culture that seems untouched by Costa tourism; unlike its south coast neighbours as you head east.

With our Conil ‘homes’ being both in the independent campsite, La Rosaleda, just north of the town and off-grid down on the East Beach car park towards the river, we enjoyed the town to its fullest. We spent our money in the local stores, walked the beaches and I went in search for the rare Black Ibis that nests at the tower. We vowed to return and explore some more; and return we did….

Conil off grid parking

We were excited about our return to this cutesy town and with the sun shining after a weekend of storms, a perfect day ahead was set. And yet, one of the challenges of life on the road in a motorhome was about to hit us. No where to park. Motorhomes forbidden. Conil has shut up shop to the off-grid vanlifers.

The parking area along the beach is now completely closed to everything except ‘Small Cars’. There’s not a motorhome in sight. Our hearts sank as the realisation hit us that yet another European town has become tired of the relentless stream of motorhomes. For this local council and locals alike, their patience has, understandably started to wane, when, I suspect some less responsible van owners are choosing to behave disrespectfully. Is it any wonder so many coastal towns in Spain are tightening up on where and for how long campers can stay? And yet, what a lost opportunity for Conil’s community. An empty car park, an unfriendly welcome and little business for locals hoping to boost their winter earning potential. Just imagine if they could seize the opportunity in seeing and managing this camping conundrum differently.

When I put myself in their shoes, I do understand the predicament and we’ve seen it happen across the UK coastline too. Wall to wall motorhomes, emptying grey waste and worse on the streets and beaches and overstaying their welcome. Really, are we surprised? And yet, it seems that the minority are spoiling for the majority, as communities push campers to the expensive campsites. And yet the powers that be are missing a trick surely?

There are three factors here, that those choosing to spend time in their motorhomes are seemingly being judged by;

  1. All van-lifer’s behaviour is the same
  2. All van-lifers should go to campsites, that’s what they’re there for
  3. All van-lifers are cheap skates looking for a free ride

Firstly, not all van-lifer’s behaviour is the same. There are the unscrupulous few who are indeed free-loaders, lazy and damn-right irresponsible. And they are the ones that give the rest of us a bad name. Most of us have utter integrity and are happy to abide the rules; spoken and unspoken that govern travelling this beautiful continent.

Secondly and thirdly, where we choose to stay is a lifestyle choice and not about money. The term ‘free camping’ or even ‘wild camping’ has not helped the general cause of the motorhome community. We much prefer to use the term ‘off-grid camping’. However, irrespective of the term, choosing not to stay on campsites is not about budget, it’s a lifestyle choice. Of course we are always grateful for a night that is free, although this is not our primary driver. We choose to off-grid because we love the freedom, the choice of where we park and the view we have. We can choose our neighbours, search for peace and tranquility and are free from endless rules, structured living and for outrageous fees. Some of the very reasons we left the System in the first place. Campsites play their role in a community for sure, and in our lives too, we must add. Except the argument that all van-lifers must go to campsites is crazy. It’s a bit like saying holiday makers must go to hotels and take a tent or book up Air BnBs or guest houses.

We each have our own road-trip style and not everyone likes nor needs a campsite. When we go off-grid, we actually put far more money into the community than if we stay on a campsite, which is most often, a profit driven organisation as opposed to independent shops and market stalls. We go into town to spend our money; eat out, buy a beer or three, or groceries or perhaps indulge in a gelato.

In a world where so many people are screaming out for equality, acceptance and inclusion for all, it seems unreasonable that the motorhome and van-life community should be marginalised and excluded so obviously.

Conil de la Frontera square

So what’s the solution? Is there one that satisfies the needs of the local community first and foremost, delivering value to the economy and gives van-lifers the choice of somewhere beautiful to stay and easy access to the local amenities and activities at the same time?

We believe there is. We’ll use Conil as an example.

If they took their eastern car park, (that is away from any residential area by the way), and opened up the area for a discrete number of vans for out of season parking, charging say €5-10 per night, then they limit the number of vans staying overnight whilst also earning up to €100 per night. They would soon recoup any costs of creating the set up. They could paint the industry standard blue lines for up to 10 motorhomes and use the payment machine that already exists for card or cash payments. We are happy to pay for such a privileged parking area and those who are not, will move on. And finally if they got in touch with Flot Blu, they could easily install a disposal unit that encourages responsible behaviours. Make it easy, make it accessible and create options for those choosing not to go to campsites and they will reap the rewards, as will we.

There we have it – a solution that creates inclusion, economic advantage during quiet winter months and a reputation for a progressive attitude that educates vanlifers in the ways of respecting a place. Don’t ban us, create managed space for us. Then there is a win-win for us all. We would love to hear your constructive thoughts.

Published: March 12, 2024


  1. Anna i Portugal

    Well shouted! So sorry to hear about Conil. I understand that it can be too many motorhomes/vans on one spot/one beach/one cliff. I am glad Portugal has opened up for off-the-grid parking for 48hours as long as you don´t stay within the natural parks, as you told me. This way there is a lot of places to stay – without costs. There is also a lot of towns that have a free parking for motorhomes in the center. What I think is one of the biggest problems is that “everyone” want a sea view and think that it is their right. See you soon <3

    • Karen

      Hi Anna, it is a real shame and I think Spain can learn a lot from Portugal and their approach. They started off with bans and now they have, as you say accommodated the needs of visiting motorhomes with a much more pragmatic view. A timescale is appropriate, permission with boundaries is appropriate, demanding respectful behaviour is appropriate. With these in place I really hope that it brings out the best in motorhomers and that we are no longer marginalised by the minority who spoil what is a privilege to see. Kx

  2. Julie Wright

    Great article and spot on.

    Sadly the minority have spoilt it for the majority of motorhomers .

    We see it here in Portugal where some motorhomers feel they have a right to park where they want with no consideration for local people or the places they park.

    We have witnessed people taking water from peoples garden taps in villas and cemeteries- who do they think pays for this?

    Emptying their toilet cassettes down drains and even worse in the bushes near the beaches they park on when there are proper facilities nearby…. they don’t want to pay the €4 charge or move their motorhoms from the place they have set up camp!

    The authorities here are tolerant and have the 48 hour rule but still people ignore the signs and park in prohibited places and act irresponsible many staying longer than 48 hours.

    They are beginning to open more official places which is good as it has got so much busier.

    Let’s all be responsible and respect the places we park in and local people.

    • Karen

      Hi Julie, thank you. Yes Portugal is another country that has had to take evasive action. Although interestingly they have at least reversed their ban attitude. I think they realise what there is to lose. Sadly the few who have attitude issues on their rights and even worse behaviours create a problem for us all. Minorities, yet again create a huge problem for those of us who are respectful citizens of the world. Kx


    I agree with everything you’ve said. We haven’t been able to get to Europe much recently, for a variety of reasons, but have been doing short trips in the UK. In Scarborough they welcome motorhomes in North Bay, which is away from the area of shops and restaurants, etc, giving free parking g in the winter months and sensible prices through the rest of the year. They have installed a chemical waste point and motorhomers flock there all year round, spending money in the town.
    Canterbury has a dedicated section in their park and ride, with services, but York’s policy is that you must use a campsite.
    Giving motorhomers a place to stay on the edge of town, with waste facilities so they don’t need to dump illegally, seems a no brainer to me. They could stipulate how many nights you can stay for and how long before you can return, which would stop people moving in for weeks at a time.
    Covid massively increased the number of motorhomers on the road, and the market is not flooded with second hand vans, suggesting that those people who tried it as a safe way of holidaying, like it and are continuing. Councils everywhere should think how to tap into that revenue stream, rather than pushing it away.

    • Karen

      Anita, I totally agree. It does seem so short sighted. And as you say, with the increase in leisure vehicles on the road since Covid, a more progressive attitude is needed. We are here to stay and a change in mindset has to happen otherwise it just pushes people to behave on the edge of responsible. Kx

  4. Sheila ross

    I suppose if you lived along the seafront and all you can see is an endless motorhomes and some who think it’s their right to put chairs out etc as in a campsite. The residents are going to complain. But as you said if there was an area that was earmarked for MH and you paid a fee for a stated time, the town has an income and MH have somewhere to stay. Maybe you should propose that to the local council? Safe travels everyone.

    • Karen

      I absolutely agree Sheila and I’m sure if it were my house on the coast with views blocked by motorhomes, I might feel the same. Although there has to be a win win with management rather than an outright ban. I have tagged my post, so I hope that someone at the Conil council might read and take note. For them, it is very, very easy to manage. Kx


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