Our worst camping experience so far, a free 4-star hotel and my top camping tips

First a bit of background. I’m currently on my annual summer European road trip with my partner. This is the second year that we’ve done the same kind of summer trip – jumping in the car, and driving all the way across Europe throughout June, then staying in Ukraine for July-August.

This time, the route started from our sort-of home in Northern Italy and will finish up in Odessa in a few days from now.

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As usual, being the cheapskates we by necessity are, most of the stops along the way are spent camping. So far this time, we camped two nights in Venice, two in Ljubljana, one in Zagreb, two in Belgrade, and we’re now in Transylvania. To put it simply, we do quite a bit of camping.

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And so we’ve had a lot of experiences of good and bad campsites, good and bad conditions. We’ve even camped up in the Swiss Alps. But overall, last year we had pretty good weather conditions. This year, not so much.

From Venice onwards there has been a LOT of rain and fairly frequent thunderstorms. We generally pitch our tent properly and so it *should* be waterproof, but when the thunder, lightning and torrential downpours start, you never can be sure. Still, for most of our trip our trusty tent has held up pretty well.

Until we got to Belgrade. Now, this campsite in itself was quite an eye-opening experience. We arrived in Belgrade in 35 degree heat after a long drive, having realised that TomTom has no idea whatsoever about whether or not there are any roads in Serbia (there are…), and we don’t have 3G coverage there, so we were on our own finding a place to stay. After a lot of driving in circles in Belgradian traffic, we were directed to a place called Belgrade Camping Center, and thought we were mostly likely in the right place. Until we finally found it and it turned out that it sells camper vans. After searching for a place with free Wifi, we eventually located pretty much the ONLY campsite in the city – Camp Dunav.

Now, I can’t say I don’t recommend this campsite. I can just say, it’s not easy to find. And it’s also pretty basic compared to what you find in most places. We followed Google Maps through to a building site, an industrial estate, a horrible backroad with a dead dog lying in it, and finally found ourselves at a swampy lake full of mosquitoes, which is where the campsite is located. Needless to say our hopes were not high. Anyway, we didn’t have much choice left, so we went on in. And it wasn’t actually as bad as we expected. It’s a pretty basic site though. No pitches, no manicured grass and flowers, very few facilities. Just a grassy field with a simple, insect-infested toilet block and a guy who says ‘stick your tent anywhere’. But aside from the stray dogs who wander in and out (they seemed friendly), and an epic mosquito population, it turned out to be pretty normal.

By the time we’d eaten something we were super tired and ready for sleep. So we pitched up the tent as usual, stuck on eye masks and got into bed. Until about an hour later when the thunder and lightning started. Again. Except this time instead of being somewhere in the distance it was right on top of us, with booming thunder and cracks of lightning hitting only a few meters away (probably). So I was a little scared, considering this site was in the middle of nowhere and not very well sheltered. But the lightning was nothing to the torrential downpour of rain and the simultaneous gale-force wind that was shaking our tent like a paper bag. Like I said, we pitched up quite well, but the wind and soaking ground meant that the pegs were being literally ripped up and there was soon water raining from the canopy and drenching our possessions. So my poor boyfriend had to go running to the car to ‘save’ our devices, and to stick some pegs back in, and we just huddled in there until eventually it calmed down. In the morning we found out that the few other guests had taken refuge in their cars.

Anyway, the moral of this story is – pitch up properly, guys. If we hadn’t, our tent would have been blown away or flooded completely.

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Belgrade Centre
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One of the bombed buildings in Belgrade

So after this debacle we thought we’d treat ourselves to a few days in an Airbnb in Timisoara, Romania. So we hopped on the site and booked one on ‘instant book’, to be sure of a place to stay. Or as sure as you can be with that site, as we later found out when we arrived in Timisoara a day later to find out that the woman had cancelled the reservation and said ‘you have to book at least a week in advance’ (which she’d conveniently failed to mention on her page). So we phoned Airbnb (again) and I politely explained the situation. The customer support guy was nice, but basically told us to look for a new one and they’d help us rebook. Anyone who has used Airbnb knows you can’t ‘re-book’ for the same evening. So my boyfriend phoned back and much less politely explained the situation again. Long story short, they kindly offered us a free night in a hotel ‘up to 150 usd’. In Romania. So of course we spent nowhere near 150 usd (we spent about 60), but ended up with a free night in a four-star hotel in the centre with great wifi and a free breakfast, which was a nice compensation for our stressful experiences up to then. (Thanks guys!)

Which leads me on to a few helpful tips in case you’re a camping fan like us, or you want to save some £££ on your next trip by camping for part of it.

1 – Pitch your tent properly! I can’t stress this enough. Even if the weather looks ok, or it isn’t forecast to rain, crazy conditions can come out of nowhere and blow the whole shebang away, or drench you and your stuff. Make sure the outer layer is not touching the inner layer at any point, put ALL your pegs in properly and don’t neglect the guy ropes. You’ll thank yourself later. Also, don’t keep valuable stuff like phones or computers in the tent, in case it does leak.

2 – Make your tent into a cosy home-from-home. A lot of people don’t like camping because they think it’s uncomfortable, smelly or hard work. Well, it does take a bit of work, but it doesn’t need to be smelly or uncomfy. Bring an air mattress, pillows and a real duvet, and you can almost re-create your real bed in a tent. We even have a little bulb that clips on at the top like a ‘real’ light bulb, to create a cosy mini room.

3 – Pick the best spot. The most important thing is to pitch under a tree or in some shade. This keeps you sheltered from the worst of wind and rain, but also keeps the tent darker so you can sleep and stops it from becoming an oven by 7am if it’s sunny. Also consider distance from the toilets, proximity to light sources, possibly noisy neighbours or a nearby restaurant/bar etc, and the quality of the ground (avoid muddy or very stony ground).

4 – Dry and clean your tent (as much as possible) before packing it away, or it’ll become gross and smelly in no time. If it does become a bit wet, try to hang it out for a bit in some dry/sunny weather to air out at a later point, and if it’s smelly, you can use a shoe spray to kill bacteria and reduce the smell.

5 – Keep the mosquito net shut at all times. Just open it for a brief second when you need to go in and out. Otherwise you will be sharing it with many other friends of the biting variety.

That’s all for now. Let me know your top camping tips in the comments!

 

 

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