Specially dedicated motorhome aires are parking areas for campervans which can be free, paid, in a town or perched up on a hillside. They come in just about every shape and size you can imagine from a couple of spaces in a village car park, a few large spaces on the side of a road to vast gravelled areas at a ski station. Some offer services for water, waste and electricity and some don’t. Whatever the type of motorhome aire we are in we have learned a few important lessons about ‘aire etiquette’, what is and isn’t ok and how to make the best of the options on offer.
We use a variety of methods for locating motorhome aires in the first place from books such as All The Aires, searching online apps such as Camper Contact or Park4Night, and sometimes just relying on road signs for camping cars. Having driven mostly only through France so far we have to say that the French road signs are absolutely infuriating. If they are there at all, the direction they are pointing is usually up for serious debate and if you see one, chances are you won’t see another for several miles and are left to your own devices to guess the rest of the way there!
Arrival at a motorhome aire seems to be a source of entertainment for others already nicely parked up and if you have to level yourself up on the chocks even better! It’s all very friendly though and nothing to be worried about, just people passing the time of day and if you need a hand with anything it’s always on offer. The first thing we do on approaching is to check the compass on the Sat Nav to work out which direction we are facing and how to park. This does vary on the time of day and how long we intend to stay but generally speaking we try to park with the fridge the opposite site to the sun and the screen also facing away if possible. We also have bikes on the back of the motorhome and we do prefer to tuck these in when we can so they’re not sticking out on a roadside and they feel a bit more secure. Occasionally we may not have the luxury of choice of parking spot if we’ve arrived late or it’s just very busy so have to take whatever slot is available. Other times we can be a bit more picky and will choose a space with shade (for now or later), a space near grass where we can sit out with table and chairs, or furthest away from a road for example. We also try to avoid parking right next to the services which are likely to have a lot of comings and goings and not the most picturesque of places to park!
Once settled in position it’s time to check the level. We have a mini spirit level which we place on the kitchen work top which is in the middle of the van and decide whether we need to get the levelling chocks out. Half the time we are fine and the other half we are leaning one way or the other. It can take a bit of adjustment getting the level just right but only takes a minute or two and is well worth the effort. If you’re just parking for a while there’s no need but leaning up, down or sideways just doesn’t feel right if you’re intending to stay for the night.
Next job is to turn on the gas. When on the move the fridge/freezer runs on the leisure battery which receives a charge while driving. Once parked it is more efficient to use the gas and we also use this for cooking and kettle boiling. Even when you’re hot nothing beats a good old cuppa. We’re lucky to have the Gaslow system which was fitted for us by Southdowns Motorhome Centre and we have two tanks of LPG gas which are refillable at many service stations throughout Europe and the UK. As we have two tanks we always try to fill up as soon as one is empty so we never run out and always have back up. It is actually quite cheap to fill up and lasts ages even in the heat of the European summer.
If we’re not going out and about to explore straight away all the windows are opened next to get a good bit of air flowing and help the van keep cool inside. We have roof windows, side windows and door all with insect screens so we can let the air in and keep any insects out.
As mentioned, some aires offer electric hook-up points and these can be limited and in demand. Often they are all lined up along one side of the parking area and it’s a case of first come first served. As soon as we’ve finished using it, it seems only fair to move away and let someone else plug in if it’s busy and we would hope they would do the same for us. The same goes with using the waste and water services which we try to deal with in a reasonable time frame without too much fussing and/or dithering as often people will drive their motorhome into an aire purely to use these services and not intend to park and stay at all. We have a polarity tester we use to check the electric current and even came to the rescue of the Italian police on one occasion who used it to test a machine for another motorhomer. Usually they work without incident but we did have one occasion when a machine swallowed our money without giving us any electricity but on a positive note we also got free electricity for a whole day while in Belfort so swings and roundabouts.
In the evenings we often sit outside to eat and/or enjoy a drink and many others do the same. Of an evening we often listen to music but keep it turned low so it’s just for us – not everybody wants to hear our latest playlist and neither do we want to hear theirs. However, if somebody does happen to be blasting out French TV, talking loudly on their phone or letting their dog bark all night we will happily turn it up accordingly! Mostly though the evenings are relaxed and peaceful unless in a busy town or city location but even then things settle down eventually. We do have a portable Cobb BBQ which is small, compact and virtually smokeless and we often use this to cook outside. We have seen people using gas BBQs, disposable BBQs and charcoal ones and it never seems to be a problem but if you see next door’s dog drooling at the sausages sizzling on your BBQ you know you’ve probably parked a bit too close!
All in all we’ve been quite happy with the aires that we’ve stayed at and if we arrive at one and don’t like the look of it we simply drive on and find an alternative. On one occasion we drove in and parked up in what looked like a perfect spot only to discover that we had parked between two families travelling together with 9 children between them. We had been looking for a quiet night and when we heard the non-stop chattering, shouting and swearing at the kids to ‘shut up’ we decided to move on. If you don’t feel comfortable for any reason there is no point in staying and we felt much happier once we had moved on.
We had initially set out to book a campsite once a week but have only done that once so far in Barr in Alsace as we just haven’t been organised enough to book it and have found the aires adequate enough for our needs. That said we were very happy with the campsite we chose, being quite small, shady and quiet and really nicely placed for the town. The atmosphere was positively relaxed so when we start to feel a bit jaded no doubt we will seek another one out. …..