These last few weeks we’ve had just about the most amazing weather you could expect in Northern England and Scotland in June. It’s been glorious. Having the windows wide open and wearing Birkenstocks all day is a far cry from how we started this trip. Experiencing winter vanlife in Europe really challenged any expectations we had and we learnt a lot along the way. Overall we loved it, and those weeks spent in the mountains made us totally reconsider our vanlife plans. We were considering avoiding winter completely next year but are now planning to head back to Austria for a full ski season!
After 6 weeks of winter camping in Germany, Austria and Italy, we are itching for more winter camping, skiing and snow hiking!
Here’s what we’ve learnt about winter vanlife so far…
Winter vanlife is expensive
There is no doubt that vanlife in winter is more expensive than enjoying vanlife in the summer months and for a number of reasons.
Firstly, there’s the heating issue. We got through our gas twice as fast in winter than now in spring. Our boiler for heating runs on gas and we probably made three times as many cups of tea, not to mention nightly hot water bottles to keep us extra toasty.
Unless you are super hardcore and don’t need any heating, or if you are lucky to heat your van with a woodburner (jealous!), then you will spend more money on gas in the winter months.
Even if you don’t feel the need to have heating for your own warmth, it massively helps with not freezing up your water pipes!
We also spent a hell of a lot more money on campsites in winter. Now, when we first started our trip we didn’t have our solar panel fixed. Therefore, we relied on campsites for electricity – at least every few days that is. But, even if you have a solar panel for all your needs, you may not always have sun in winter and therefore might need to plug in more often than in summer.
On the plus side, another reason we use campsites is for their washing facilities and we need these far less in winter when it’s not so sweaty. Unless we are skiing frequently…
Which brings us to our next point about expense… winter vanlife activities are often more expensive! Especially, if you are a vanlife skier or snowboarder.
We spent almost as much on a few days of skiing as we did for petrol in the last few months! We’ve now bought our own gear, which certainly helps keep costs down. But, if you want to hit the slopes you will have to pay for the luxury! We are hoping to try ski touring next season which negates the need for a ski pass, but we know we’ll always love the manicured slopes and lifts too.
Staying warm in a van in winter is easier than you think
If you have a decent heating system – either a gas boiler like us or a woodturner like our friend Zimon – you can be more than happy spending a winter in a campervan.
And there are so many ways to stay warm without heating the van all day. We found that an outside windscreen cover worked absolute wonders for keeping the cold out. They must be at least twice as effective as inside reflective covers.
We were also very strict about the window shades, making sure to always pull them down as soon as the sun went down (or even before) and to open them if the sun was shining on the windows. You’d be amazed at how warm your campervan gets with a little winter sun shining directly on it.
The previously mentioned plus of not having to wash your clothes as often in winter is also true of yourself! In winter you are far less likely to want to get naked for a shower and therefore you save on water. After electricity and emptying the toilet, filling up with water is the biggest issue for people looking to camp in a van for a long period of time.
A good duvet, blankets and plenty of warm clothes is also the easiest way to stay warm and cosy.
You don’t necessarily need those snow chains
We have winter tires on our camper but we don’t own any chains for driving on ice and snow. We drove across Germany, Austria and northern Italy, through plenty of ski areas and deep snow. But, we didn’t need chains for most roads. In Europe (unlike England!) they are used to dealing with the winter and snow and the roads are cleared daily.
Now, this was in March and April, which is obviously late in the season. It will be different between December and February. The times when the roads were covered in snow – due to avalanches – the roads were simply closed and therefore we couldn’t enter that area, chains or not.
You’ll have to be flexible to enjoy vanlife in winter
The previous point was a big issue for us during our time in the camper in winter: road closures. The best-laid plans in winter will often be foiled by the weather.
Having no fixed plan and being able to change location (or activity) at a moment’s notice is key. Roads will be closed and trails you wanted to hike will be impassable, but it’s okay because there is always another route to an equally more beautiful place.
In a similar vein:
You need a good place to chill for winter vanlife
Because of the cold and the extreme weather, you’ll have to be comfortable staying inside during winter. This may be in cafes and other public places (see spending more money above) or it will be in your camper.
Having lots of space in our large motorhome helped us keep cabin fever at bay during those inside hours. We have a big comfortable bed, a large seating and dining area and a spacious kitchen which helps us to feel super comfortable while stuck in the van.
Even if you have a small space, making it cosy with fairy lights and cushions will help you feel at home. Plus, you’ll want a good inside activity like reading, drawing, music or knitting to keep you occupied!
One final plus: if you have a dog, daily walks in snow is the cleanest kind of dog walk!
I think it’s clear that we’ve been won over by living in a campervan during the winter months. The winter months can be tough in Europe with short, dark days and unpredictable weather. But, if you love the outdoors and don’t want to wait until summer to enjoy it, then winter vanlife may just be for you.