A truly magical feeling comes over you the first time you sit behind the wheel of a campervan. You buckle your seatbelt, turn the keys, and you are suddenly in command of your own fate. You can go anywhere you choose, stop (or not) whenever you want, and stay as long as you like when you do. It is a unique form of travel.
But travelling in a motor home or campervan is not without its challenges. One of the big ones that worries people before they even get into that driver's seat is the fearsome idea of parking a vehicle much larger than the cars they may be used to.
Never fear! Take our word for it (backed by copious experience), campervan parking is a lot easier than it looks!
Motor home parking is simply a matter of awareness and practice. You can equip yourself with the necessary knowledge ahead of time -- by, for instance, reading through this article -- and a few real-world parking sessions will have you manoeuvring your campervan with confidence.
As we just said, practice is a supremely important element in learning to park your campervan hire Ireland or motor home. That's why your very first stop with your vehicle should be a quiet, empty parking lot. Here you can use a few cones to mark off imaginary curbs and parking spots to practice parking and reversing.
Make sure you practice blind-side parking, as this is often a necessity when parking in most campsites. Your vehicle's "blind" side is the passenger side, so called because it can be difficult or impossible to see the entire motor home when reversing or turning this way.
One quick tip for complex blind-side manoeuvres: Take the time to adjust your side mirrors to get the best possible angle before turning. You don't want to risk hitting other vans belonging to other travellers.
If you intend to be towing anything, like a trailer or a smaller vehicle, you should also practice with it in the same fashion. When it's possible, consider unhooking your tow vehicle and positioning your main vehicle on its own, reconnecting the tow bar once you've achieved the desired orientation. This is the safest procedure and it minimises the risk of damage.
Bay parking is quite easy if you're comfortable with your vehicle, and you really should be before hitting the open road. These are the key points you need to consider:
Know the dimensions of your luxury vehicle and be aware of them whenever you consider parking in a bay. Larger vehicles (motor homes in particular) will likely be too wide for standard bays. Motor homes are also usually longer than one ordinary parking bay; you'll need to find two lined up end-to-end to accommodate your vehicle. This is very important if you enter a city centre.
Following directly from the size considerations above, you must always remember that non-free parking is allocated by the bay, not the vehicle. If your motor home takes up two or more bays, you need to pay for all of them. Don't try and chance it; you may open yourself up to nasty fines that cost far more than the regular bay fees.
Parallel parking, in contrast to bay parking, can be a challenge even in a small car. The truth is that you will not encounter many places where parallel parking in a campervan or motor home is even possible -- but when they show up, you should be ready for them!
The more you can see, the better you will park. When parallel parking an oversize vehicle, make sure you can use all of the windows available to you -- fully open all of your blinds and curtains so that you get the best possible view of the outside world.
Start by parking up at a 45-degree angle about two metres from the curb. Reverse straight into the spot, then swing your wheel hard around when your closest tyre is about 30 cm from the curb. At this point, you should be set to turn fully in the opposite direction and drive forward into your parking spot, perfectly parallel to the curb.
Don't try to parallel park unless you have the time to take it slow. In a campervan or motor home, the corners and handling of your vehicle are going to be unfamiliar (until you've accumulated a great deal of practice), so you don't want to be hasty. Rushing a parallel parking job in a new vehicle is an excellent way to damage something -- your vehicle, your surroundings, or the cars of other motorists.
Reverse parking is another technique that many drivers find difficult even without the added challenge of piloting a massive vehicle like a campervan or RV. Here's a little sound advice to simplify the process:
Whenever space allows, make your initial turn as wide as you can, leaving yourself the maximum amount of room to line up with the space behind you. With sufficient extra room, many problematic approaches can be straightened out, leading to a perfect hassle-free parking job.
If you're trying to reverse your vehicle into a very narrow berth, it's a good idea to get out and inspect the situation up close before attempting to park. You don't want to expend all the effort of reverse parking only to find yourself stopped in a place where you can't open your doors without damaging the neighbouring vehicle. If one of your travelling companions is a knowledgeable driver, it can help a great deal to have him or her monitor your parking progress from outside and let you know how much space you have on either side.
Once again, you'll want to make full use of all of your vehicle's windows when reverse parking. Open and secure all your curtains and blinds and check each window for potential obstructions as you park.
Beyond the technical skills involved in manoeuvring a campervan or motorhome, another essential asset is basic common sense. Charging at a potential parking slot without considering its challenges is a recipe for disaster. Stay out of tight spaces where hazards may lurk beyond your line of sight. It's not always possible to do this -- when a questionable path is your only choice, it's more important than ever to have a driving buddy who can dismount and give you outside information. Near big national attractions in Ireland there is usually parking late in the evening for you to stay like near the Hill of Tara or the Rock of Cashel.
Avoid dead-end streets and parking lots with only one exit. It often adds time to your journey to find more accessible parking, but in our experience, this extra time is well worth spending. You want to park in a place that you know will be easy to get out of whenever possible.
Spare a moment to think about what it will be like to extricate your vehicle before you commit to a parking space. Are there potential obstructions (e.g. bins, picnic tables, foliage, curbs, etc) that will be hard to see when you leave? If so, consider a more wide-open spot.
You must know exactly how tall your vehicle is. Many campervans and virtually all motor homes are tall enough to make it impossible to park in multi-level garages or underground facilities. Vertical clearances are always prominently posted at the entrances of such parking facilities; don't take a chance on a tight fit.
You also need to know the length of your vehicle. This comes up less often, but if you have a particularly long motor home, you may find it exceeds the allowed space at some campsites. Facebook groups are a handy resource if you have a question. Look at some of our favourite campsites listed here!
Get in the habit of locking your vehicle whenever you leave it unattended. No matter how brief your errand, you must make sure that your belongings are safe.
Before putting your van or motor home in motion, take the time to check the security of everything in the living areas. Make sure you're not leaving anything loose to rattle or break -- it may not be possible to secure an errant item once you're on the road.
Of course, the sensible thing to do on a campervan journey is to plan out parking for each stop in advance. But it's impossible to understand every parking situation from a distance, and there may be spontaneous stops along the way. You can plan out backup parking options for specific destinations, but we have some general advice when you need to find parking at short notice after a long day on the road:
Truck stops welcome motor homes, almost without fail. Just be aware of the basics of truck stop courtesy: use the long-term bays for overnight parking, park straight, and be courteous with other drivers and motorhome owners. Ireland has aire de service zones that will let you stop in your motorhome or campervan.
Your vehicle may be welcome in any large parking lot (e.g. megastores, supermarkets, casinos). Make sure you find a spot that is not in the way and always check with the facility's operators to confirm that you're welcome before you turn in for the evening. These are handy as you are within walking distance of a lot of services.
Local pubs are another option. If you ask the owner can you park, it is private land, in there at night you may be fine as long as you go into the pub and spend a little bit of money and leave no trace. Be sure you leave early also.
A few brief final tips:
Don't try wild camping without familiarizing yourself with the local rules on the subject. If you're hiring a campervan or motor home, talk to your supplier about a wild camp as well. The company may have its own rules on the subject about only using legal stopovers.
Don't assume that you can park camper vans on the side of the road. Even if you leave enough space for other vehicles to pass, you may be creating hazardous conditions. Whether you're stopping for the night or just a brief pause, take the extra time to find a place where you can pull into a proper clearing or lay-by.
More and more camping vehicles (including for-hire vehicles) are now fitted with parking sensors. Such technology is invaluable for the novice camper van driver; you should consider hiring a sensor-fitted vehicle even if it costs a little extra.
Get out there and enjoy wherever you are going. Whether its the Wild Atlantic Way, getting involved with the local community, visiting Ireland and Northern Ireland and seeing farm shops.