Your campervan is your home on wheels. So you can park up for the night anywhere, right? Wrong!
There are several regulations concerning where you can spend the night in your van, not least at motorway service stations. If you assume you can just stop where you choose, you could be in for a rude awakening in the middle of the night or even a hefty fine.
Read on for our overview of the topic, including the various risks involved and how to protect your vehicle through campervan insurance.
Stopping at motorway service stations
All motorway services in the UK are obliged to offer free parking for at least two hours, and many allow you to stay three without paying.
The aim is to improve road safety by offering drivers the chance for a rest, toilet break, and refreshments.
However, most charge for longer stays. This is, in part, to deter car sharers from using service stations as a meeting point and leaving their vehicles parked there all day.
You’ll see clear signs at the entrances stating how long you can park for free, how much a longer stay costs, and how or where to pay.
If you just want a nap, you don’t need to pay. Just park in the quietest corner you can find, set your alarm, and doze off. It could be just the pick-me-up you need to continue your journey safely.
Which motorway services allow overnight parking?
If you’ve driven in France, you’ll have come across the country’s superb and extensive network of ‘aires’ – no-frills areas, often by service stations, where car campers and campervans can spend the night for free or for a low cost.
Many offer picnic benches, a water supply, waste disposal and even electric hook-up. Some are actually rather scenic, despite their roadside locations, making for a pleasant night’s stay.
Sadly, there’s no equivalent network in the UK. However, many motorway services are happy to allow overnight stays in their car park for a small fee, usually around £10-20.
That sum often includes vouchers for breakfast in one of the service station cafés. Ask at the service station information desk for more details.
You may be directed to a dedicated area, which you might share with long-distance lorry drivers. However, bear in mind that there’s known to be a national shortage of space for HGV drivers to park up overnight, particularly in south-east England.
Take a look at this list of service stations that allow night halts – but double check before you set off.
Along the M4 between London and west Wales, for example, there are 11 night halts listed. The M5, heading between the Midlands and the West Country, boasts 10.
In fact, you could in theory travel the length and breadth of the UK staying in motorway service station car parks. Whether you’d really want to in practice, though, is another matter.
What are the advantages to staying in a motorway service station car park?
Obviously, very few campervan owners relish the thought of a night in a car park surrounded by the noise of refrigerated lorries and motorway traffic. So why would you do it?
The main reason is clearly convenience. If you’re on a lengthy journey, staying at a services can be a great alternative to seeking out a B&B, which might take you miles off your route.
It’s no fun getting lost in the dark after several hours on the road, or trying to get mobile reception to call a nearby hotel.
At a service station, you’ll have toilets, shops, and places to eat close by, with some facilities open all night.
You’ll stay in your own familiar vehicle with all your belongings on hand, and you might even feel that’s more secure than leaving it unattended while you stay in a motel.
Another reason is spontaneity. If your travels are last-minute, then spending the night in a service station car park and hitting the road first thing in the morning is a hassle-free option.
If you thought you could do your journey in a day but then you start to feel tired en route, a night parked up could work wonders.
Making sure you’re wide awake is essential for safe driving, along with ensuring your vehicle is roadworthy and choosing suitable campervan insurance.
Cost is another factor. If there are several of you in your van, you’ll make a considerable saving over the cost of a service station motel.
What are the downsides?
As mentioned above, service station car parks are not the most restful environments for a good night’s sleep.
Unless you’re a heavy sleeper, you will be disturbed by the comings and goings of the car park. Lorries revving up, car doors slamming, and bright car park lights are just a few of the distractions you’ll encounter.
And, while CCTV cameras abound at service stations, there may well be thieves prowling the site. Insurance for your campervan will cover the cost if your vehicle is broken into or otherwise damaged during your stay.
You’re not allowed to use gas appliances in your van while parked at a service station due to the fire risk. So by the time you’ve added in the cost of a meal for the family in a service station café, you might well wish you’d made the detour to a proper campsite!
Each service station may well have additional restrictions, so make sure you check before you settle in for the night.
All in all, you might prefer to spend the night in a service station motel, unless you’re really strapped for cash or all the rooms are booked. However, for the occasional night, who’s complaining?
Get a quote from Motorhome Protect today
One of the great beauties of owning a campervan is that you can travel more spontaneously. But there are a few things to think about before you set off – not least, choosing suitable campervan insurance.
Motorhome Protect arranges cover from a panel of leading insurers for vehicles up to £150,000, with unlimited cover available around the EU. Policies can also include cover for camping personal effects of up to £3,500.
Get a quote for campervan insurance today and start your adventures.
Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.