Sometime, a half dozen or so years ago, I decided that staying in youth hostels while traveling was no longer for me. It probably had something to do with the fact that I no longer fit in the “youth” demographic, and more specifically, with that one night in a Montreal hostel when I was forced to suffer my bunkmate’s nocturnal decision to unpack and repack everything in her backpack, each item of which had to be mysteriously wrapped in the loudest, crackliest tissue paper and/or bubble wrap known to man… I realized I no longer had the tolerance for dorm-style accommodations. But regardless of what my paycheck is, or ever will be, I also have a difficult time justifying spending money on expensive hotels. Well, usually. The occasional splurge is rather nice.
So where does that leave me? Well, I am and always will be a fan of camping (it’s in my DNA), but I also discovered a while back that “camping” in Europe is a rather flexible term. Tent camping is perhaps not as popular as in the U.S. - maybe because campgrounds often don’t have the rustic appeal and charm of American campgrounds - but what Europe does have in spades is camping “bungalows”. This means that campgrounds have built permanent, basic structures that can be rented by the day or week. Bungalows come in a whole range of styles, depending on the campground. Some are like mini apartments, with their own bathrooms and kitchenettes. Others are just the bare-bones cabin structures, with a pair of bunk beds for sleeping, and perhaps a tiny front porch with a table and a couple of rickety chairs. The benefits of bungalow camping are that you have good shelter in case of rain and cold, for a good price, without having to share a room with strangers, and with access to all the amenities of the campground (often a restaurant, bar, laundry and cooking facilities, a grocery store, and sometimes a bike rental service, or even a swimming pool). Plus, because population centers in Europe are so dense, campgrounds are usually just outside of all major cities.
Some campgrounds have even picked up on the growing trend of “glamping”(i.e. glamorous camping). Glamping has gotten big in the UK, France, and Spain, and is spreading to other parts of Europe and the world. It’s not always a cheap alternative, like the aforementioned bungalows, but instead often offers a luxury hotel-like experience in a beautiful, rural environment. Taking this even one step further, a friend of mine recently reported on “pop-up” glamping in Europe, where such accommodations are constructed temporarily in particularly strategic locations.
But I’m not really a glamper (Yet. Maybe it’s coming). In my travels around Europe, I have stayed in a variety of bungalows in Scandinavia, the Alps, Greece, and the Balkans. In general, I really enjoyed the ambience and affordability of the bungalows in Scandinavia. Plus, it’s a very popular way to travel in Scandinavia, so there are huge networks of campgrounds across the region, in attractive settings (for example, seaside island towns off the coast of Sweden, Norwegian fjords, and Danish farmlands just a short train ride from Copenhagen).
The best way to find campgrounds with bungalows, in my experience, is just to google “camping bungalow” plus the name of the country to which you plan to travel. Most countries do have national camping associations, however, so a shortcut to finding this information could be through the ever-handy European Federation of Campingsite Organizations and Holiday Park Associations: http://www.campingeurope.com/
Oh, and one additional note: bungalow camping is particularly recommended when travelling with kids, because bungalows are usually the perfect size to accommodate a family (4 – 6 people).