Essential tips for camping and caravanning in France

After a six week sojourn that covered most of France and a large number of campsites, we thought we would pass on a few of the things that we observed first hand. We travelled to France with certain preconceptions, so hopefully this article will help to sort the fact from fiction.

Reverse polarity on electric posts
This is not a myth! Several of the sites we visited had the live and neutral wires crossed in their plug sockets. If you haven’t heard of this then it is really quite simple in concept. Old Euro plugs had two pins and could be turned upside down, so switches in Europe are normally double-pole (i.e. they cut the connectivity on both the live and neutral wires when you switch off). This extra protection has made European electricians a bit lazy when it comes to wiring plug sockets. They often don’t seem to care whether the live and neutral wires are switched over.

Now, as a UK traveller, your equipment will probably work fine when you plug it into a reverse polarity socket. The risk is that it will still be ‘live’ even if you turn the wall switch off and it appears to turn off. This is because in the UK we normally use single-pole switches, only cutting the live wire feed (but remember the neutral wire is ‘live’ on a reversed socket).

For example, if you were changing a bulb it would still be sitting in a live lamp fitting – potentially dangerous stuff.

Fortunately the solution is simple. Get a polarity tester and a crossover cable and you are ready for anything. Your local caravan supplier could provide expert advice on this, but the parts are easily bought and self-explanatory in use.

If you are equipped with the necessary skills, then the ultimate solution for a caravan is to get a polarity checker and changeover unit that is simply wired between the inlet socket and your transformer. Amazon have one of these available.

Click here to see a Mains Polarity Changeover Switch

Plug types on campsite electricity towers
You will still find a mix of the older French-style plug (2 pins plus a socket for earth) plus the new-standard 3 pin cable connection as used on most UK sites. Get a 2 pin (plus earth socket) adapter to fit on the end of your standard electricity cable and you will be fine. This was a 50/50 socket split on our travels, so don’t gamble on this!

Click here to see a Continental 2 Pin Conversion Lead that you will need

Pitches are sometimes a long way from the electricity posts
So click here to get a long Mains Connection Lead

Campsite crime
We had put these reports down to urban myth, but sadly our experiences proved that this is very much something to consider. Campers are extremely vulnerable as they have to carry their papers, documents and cash with them. Criminals know this! We stayed at terrific campsites in beautiful rural areas of France and yet during our stay we were around the following incidents at two different sites in two different regions:

  • car window being smashed and handbag stolen from outside reception in broad daylight mid-afternoon while the campers checked in yards away (great start to holiday)
  • bag stolen from unlocked car during night
  • trailer tent slashed during night by thieves rummaging for valuables
  • four tents slashed open during one night with loss of bags, etc

These thieves are unbelievably bold. They wander into campsites and slice open occupied tents in several places and reach in for bags, car keys, wallets etc. Our advice is keep this stuff inside your sleeping bag or locked in your car! Look out for any spots offering easy intruder access (such as near fences or rivers) and pitch somewhere else.
Click this link for tips of camping and caravanning security

Pitch space
This varied widely across sites, with no direct relationship between pitch cost and size. Research carefully and if you value your space then perhaps pack a windbreak to avoid getting hemmed in (people have different ideas on personal space as you travel around Europe – protect yours!)
Click here to see a great selection of windbreaks

WIFI availability
Most large sites now offer WIFI, but the cost varies hugely. We found independent sites tended to offer it for free or for perhaps a couple of Euros. Our experience with one of the larger chains (Castels) was that they wanted €5 for a WIFI session – outrageous in this day and age. Don’t forget you can get unlimited free WIFI at McDonald’s (and their coffee isn’t bad).

Click here to see amazing deals on notebooks and netbooks

and finally…

Toilet paper
Take your own into the shower block…it is often not provided!
Happy camping

4 Responses to “Essential tips for camping and caravanning in France”

  1. This is excellent advice.

    I’m sorry to hear about the problems with theft. I am sure this also happens in camping sites and caravan parks in Australia (where I live) but it is quite infrequent.

    I wish you safe and happy travels.

  2. Thanks John. Crime always seems such a surprise when in a lovely, rural environment. I have travelled all over the UK and never seen a theft (touch wood). Still, with a few precautions we can all reduce the risks. Happy travels to you too!

  3. Some good advice, but should also be tempered with caution and a dose of reality. I read this article from the perspective of both living in France and being the owner of a small campsite here. We’ve never had any crime reported to us here. We’ve never had any guests tell us of any crimes committed on sites they’ve been on elsewhere in France either. So, remember that while articles like this do carry a warning, there’s really no need to panic and potentially spoil your holiday before you even start it. Also be aware that the days of the reverse polarity plugs and dodgy site leccy are long behind us. Most campsites now have the standard blue ‘euro’ plug that’s compatible with what you’d use in the UK. Most campsite owners that we know of (and we know a few) do NOT have the old style french 2-pin plugs as standard.

    Above all, enjoy your holidays by using a common-sense approach. Always hide any valuables. Do not leave passports/money/cradit cards etc on view in vehicles. Do not use roadside aires for overnight stays. There are so many campsites in France, it’s easy to spend a few euros for the added peace of mind – find a campsite!

    Have fun!

  4. Quite right – France is a wonderful country to camp in and we shall certainly be returning soon. Crime can happen anywhere and campers should always be aware of the risk.

    Note we saw reverse polarity at 3 out of 9 sites so its definitely something to consider. We even saw a 3 pin blue ‘euro’ plug wired the wrong way. All easily solved with a simple adapter. We applaud Le Chant d’Oiseau for being up to scratch on their electrics!