After recently completing our own van conversion, we couldn’t think of a more fitting way to travel through Portugal than by renting a campervan! two huge advantages of vanlife that we have grown to love are being able spend the night anywhere and having the freedom to go where we want, whenever we want. being completely flexible with our itinerary allows us to avoid the crowds, chase great weather, and have the best trip possible!
Why We Chose Portugal By Van
Although there are several van companies throughout the country, we chose Portugal by Van for a few main reasons. They are located conveniently close (10-15 minute drive) to the international airport in Lisbon. The staff was quick to respond to any questions we had and were very accommodating during our pickup and drop-off. And finally, the vans are in good condition with everything we needed for an epic road trip. Check them out here!
Portugal by Van has a variety of campervans to choose from which can accommodate 3 people, 4 people, or 5 people. Each van includes a fridge, shower, portable camping stove with gas, sink with running water, solar system, 12v/220v power with power cables, chairs, and table, as well as kitchen attire. The layouts vary slightly depending on which campervan you chose to rent but they are all spacious and user-friendly. The biggest perk of upgrading to a larger van, besides the number of seats, is an indoor shower with hot water.
Portugal by Van has a variety of extra gear you can rent including surfboards, wetsuits, bodyboards, bodyboard fins, sleeping bags, bed linen, towels, GPS, Wifi, child car seats, a barbecue, a solar shower, and a chemical toilet. These all vary in price but can be very convenient when planning you’re trip! We rented the bed linen which came in handy, especially on a couple of cooler nights in the Douro Valley!
Finding a Camping Spot
Canada is heavily regulating van lifers by restricting where you’re able to spend the night. It was a pleasant surprise for us to find that Portugal has far fewer rules surrounding overnight parking, it made the trip so much easier! We used the app Park4night and the website Portugal Easy Camp to locate places to stay each night. This allowed us to rest easy at night, knowing we were staying in a safe spot.
Park4night was more convent to use but we did use Portugal Easy Camp once to spend the night at a beautiful Winery called Quinta do Monte Travesso. This winery had 6 camping spots with power hookups, potable water fill, bathrooms, and a hot shower. The best part is if you buy a bottle of wine, you don’t have to pay to spend the night! They also offer tours, tastings, and the wine is fantastic!
There are certain places you’re going to want to avoid spending the night in Portugal. Most of these parking lots are located in high-traffic tourist areas and have signs saying no overnight camping is allowed. Respect the signs and set out for a quieter place to set up shop, you’ll be glad you did.
Cooking your own meals will save you a ton of money while travelling by van but don’t forget to experience some of the local Portuguese dishes, too! Cayleigh and I found a good balance by cooking our own breakfasts and lunches in the van and going out for dinner.
Having a fridge, a portable stove, and a sink with running water made cooking meals a breeze. Our go-to breakfast was fried eggs, tomato, avocado, and goat cheese on a fresh bun topped with Piri Piri sauce. YUM! When branching out, we would make salads, sandwiches, or Ichiban for lunch and always had fresh fruit around to snack on.
Driving in Portugal
Driving in Portugal is relatively easy, especially on the toll roads and in rural areas. Lisbon can be tricky due to the complex over changes and the sheer volume of traffic, so I would suggest you have a good navigator or Google maps.
Despite the cost, toll roads are quick, large, well maintained, and easy to navigate which made commuting far distances easy and comfortable. If you want to save money and have plenty of time for your trip, you can avoid the toll roads by toggling this setting to “off” on google earth.
The non-toll roads are typically narrower, less maintained, and usually consist of a round-about every few kilometres. In general, if you have the budget, I would always recommend going for the toll roads. Some exceptions would be the coastal roads in the Algarve and the drive between Porto and the Douro Valley.
Is it Expensive?
Contrary to popular belief, van life is not the cheapest way to travel in Portugal. Using public transit and staying in hostels would be slightly less expensive, but it would cost you more time. If you want the least expensive way to travel while also having the most freedom, van life is definitely the most affordable option.
You don’t have to pay to park overnight and you also don’t have to eat at restaurants if you don’t want to. You’re only real expenses while travelling through Portugal in a Campervan are the rental fees for the van, groceries, activities, tolls, and fuel.
To give you an idea of some of these price points, we spent a total of 130 EU on toll roads. This included driving from Lisbon to Porto, to the Duoro Valley, down to the Algarve, and then back to Lisbon in 10 days. During this time we spent approximately 350 EU on diesel fuel. Although this was more than we thought it would be, it was worth it to be able to see the entire country in the limited amount of time that we had.
Another huge factor in the cost of renting a campervan is what season you’re planning on traveling to Portugal. You will find that the price per night during the summer months is at least double the winter price.
For example, the rate for the 3-seater we stayed in is 50 EU during the low season and 125 EU during the Extra High Season. Because of this, we would recommend visiting in September or October. By choosing to travel in the shoulder season, you will save money, avoid the large crowds, and still have fantastic weather!
What About Insurance?
We would always recommend being fully covered when it comes to insurance. YOU are an awesome driver, we know! Those other people on the road though? Not always so great. Nothing ruins a trip faster than dealing with an unexpected insurance claim. Portugal by Van offers premium insurance for 7.50 Euros per day which we found to be very reasonable. If you plan on driving outside of Portugal on your trip, we would recommend purchasing the extra premium insurance.
Is Vanlife Safe?
The quick answer is YES! However, unfortunate situations are always possible while travelling so it’s important to take caution. Always bring important valuables with you in your day pack (ie. cameras, passports, iPhones), close all the windows, and hide any other valuables out of sight so they can’t be seen from the outside.
We did not once feel uneasy or unsafe during our trip but have heard of campervans being broken into occasionally. Keep in mind that this happens everywhere and overall Portugal is an incredibly safe country to travel through.
Is Wild Camping Allowed?
Wild camping in Portugal is technically not legal but you will find that many people do it anyways. This is completely your choice and you need to decide whether or not you’d like to take the risk. If you do not want to wild camp, there are several campgrounds around the country.
If you are planning to wild camp, here are some of our best tips for laying low. The first rule of van life: never stay in the same spot two nights in a row unless you have permission to be there. We would also recommend pulling in late, parking and turning off the lights quickly, and then leaving early in the morning. Always respect the locals in the area and never leave trash behind.
- Leave no trace, especially garbage! This is exactly why van lifers get a bad rap and it sucks for everyone. Don’t leave toilet paper or any other garbage behind.
- Park in a public spot where people are going to be coming and going. If you park in a dark corner away from all the other vehicles, it could make you an easy target for a break in.
- Hide any valuables, close the windows, and don’t forget to lock the doors every time you leave!
- Watch the roof when pulling into parkades. Remember, you’re driving a vehicle that most likely has solar panels and a roof vent! Avoid pulling into parkades and other areas with heights restrictions. We noticed that some outdoor parking lots try to stop overnight camper vans/RV’s by putting a height restrictions arch at the entrance.
- Know how to drive a manual decently well OR make sure the van you rent is automatic. The majority of vehicles in Europe have a manual transmission. If you don’t know how to drive a standard before you go, either borrow a friends or rent one for a few days to practice.
- Learn to love traffic circles. They are everywhere in Portugal! I only say this because they aren’t very common in Canada and can be a little tricky/stressful in heavy traffic.
- Water fill and grey water disposable spots aren’t all that common. Use the app Park4night to find access to these services.