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Episode #174: Wheels and Wanderlust: Exploring Italy by Campervan

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Campervanning on a trip to Italy is a fun and practical way to travel that you might not have considered, but hiring a campervan, or traveling in your own, is really popular with Europeans vacationing in Italy. Taking to the open road and exploring is a great way to see Italy’s epic sights and hidden gems, engage with local life, as well as to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time.

Show notes

In this episode, we talk to Tania and Adam, podcasters, filmmakers, and photographers from Jits into the Sunset. They spent 2 and a half months exploring Italy in their van starting in the Dolomites and then heading south, including Puglia and even (bravely) taking the van to the Amalfi Coast. They share their experiences of van life in Italy, about the unique and local access it can give you and give us plenty of tips on exploring Italy in a campervan. We talk in-between towns, vineyard park ups, keeping it small, and getting Trigger happy.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • Tania and Adam had lived in their van for almost 4 years – up until a couple of months ago, when they parked up and left Europe to go backpacking further afield. They had originally planned (and saved for) to live in the van for just one year. But as they came towards the end of the first year they realized they loved it so much, they were starting to make films on YouTube and develop a community there – so decided to just carry on going. That led them to explore a lot of Europe. Italy was always at the top of our bucket list, but when they first got there in 2020, the second lockdown came in and they had to leave almost immediately. They really wanted to go back which they then managed to do in late 2022
  • They drove to Italy (first stop the Dolomites) from the UK. They got on the Euro tunnel (the train track built underneath the sea that connects the UK to France) and during that journey, you can just sit in your van and relax. They then headed down through France to Italy. They are slow travelers so like to take their time but they did not want to lose too much time in Italy so took 6 or 7 days
  • They found Italy an incredible place to do a road trip, because of the diversity. They were up in the mountains, surrounded by snow, then after a slow, leisurely drive found themselves, a couple of days later, in the sun, surrounded by green rolling hills. And then just a few weeks later, after deciding to move on, they were down on the coast enjoying the amazing crystal clear blue water. All these different landscapes and experiences with just a bit of driving
  • All over the country, they were blown away by the warmth, kindness, and generosity of the Italian people. They are so welcoming and happy to see visitors enjoying their country. As long as you have a big smile on your face, be curious about the Italians and their culture, and are willing to interact – you’re going to have the best time. Despite what they had heard that it was most hospitable down in the South – they experienced amazing Italian hospitality in the North and all down through the country on their roadtrip

The Van

  • Their van is a 1998 Peugeot Boxer. It’s a very functional but not very cool van but they lot her and have named her Jitters or Jits for short, because when they go over 60 kilometers an hour, she starts jittering and you can even hear the plates clattering around in the back and sometimes the fridge door will fly open. Jits was first bought by Adam’s mum when she retired and she did a couple of big trips around Walkes and Scotland in the van. Unfortunately, Adam’s mum passed away in 2019 and he inherited the van but also her enthusiasm for van travel and she inspired them to go out on their adventure
  • They’ve found it to be a great van.  It’s a fairly small van, especially in comparison to the RVs you get more commonly in the US/Australia. It has hot water, a fridge, an oven and hob, a shower and toilet. There’s a modular setup for the bed. In the daytime, there is two sofas and a small and large table that you can eat at or work – or even take out to use. Then every evening it gets setup into a comfortable and roomy double bed. May people who walk into the van, are surprised by the size – it’s tardis-like! They’ve got a van tour on YouTube to see the size and layout in more detail
  • The van originally came from a small company that professionally convert vans. Originally Adam wanted something ‘cooler’ like a VW but after doing lots of research and his mum assuring him, it’s the perfect van, he realized that the size and layout is actually fantastic. He’s not found any van with such a great layout
  • But… she does break down!
  • The van size also works well when it comes to the small country roads you have in Italy – especially compared to a massive RV or even a long Sprinter van. It’s a small-medium wheelbase van – so you can get it down some fairly small roads and around tight spaces and as an added bonus you can park it in a normal-sized parking space – useful for getting around Europe and Italy in particular
  • If you’re thinking about traveling to Italy and renting a campervan Tania and Adam urge you to consider a smaller vehicle. The larger vehicles can’t get you into the charming towns and villages and some of the special little spots in the same way – you can be quite limited in your exploration
  • You will not regret going smaller – especially if you’re following Sat Nav which can lead you down some tiny roads (as they accidentally found a few times). 
  • They did not have a backup paper map and managed to wing it the whole trip!
  • A van this size has got enough amenities but you can also stay in campsites if you want to have access to bigger showers, laundry services etc

The Trip

  • The great thing Adam and Tania found about van life is they only needed a rough itinerary of things that they wanted to see. Because they were living in a van and could take their time, react and go to places they fancied as they wanted. You don’t have to have a solid plan because you don’t have to book your accommodation or any transportation
  • When you meet local people, you can be reactive to their suggestions of places to go. If someone recommends a beautiful walk or special sight, you can go do that and maybe decide to stay 1 or 2 nights longer to explore
  • Van life doesn’t mean just visiting the countryside and small towns and villages. Tania and Adam visited both Venice and Florence during their trip. They were able to park out just outside both cities, a short (15 – 25 minute) bus ride away. You can then stay there for as long as you want – going in for as many days as you need till you feel you’ve explored the city, then you can just move on.
  • It’s a great way to explore the cities on a budget. They were a 25-minute bus ride from notoriously expensive Venice at a campsite that was 16 – 18 Euro per night
  • Specific to van life is that you get to see the in-between towns and cities that you wouldn’t see if you were taking a train, jumping from stop to stop, or flying where you see even less. Italy has got so much to offer – little towns that you’ve never heard of and all these amazing landscapes. When you’re traveling in a van you can make pit stops in these little towns you’ve never heard of whilst on the way to the place that you have heard of. Sometimes Tania and Adam stayed and spent time in one of these beautiful little towns. You are outside of the main touristy destinations and see another side of Italy, getting into the essence of Italian culture. People are not speaking English because it’s not a tourist place, so you’re communicating the old-fashioned way with hand gestures and smiles
  • It may think it’s something only visitors do but Italians love to road trip – many in their own camper vans. They often parked up next to Italians who were visiting from another part of Italy

It’s always difficult to choose a favorite place in Italy, partly because there is such diversity, but Tania and Adam chose some highlights and places that resonated with them while living in their van and some which were more suitable for van life than others.

The Dolomites

  • They were very taken with the Dolomites and ended up staying there for around 3 weeks
  • They describe the Dolomites as otherworldly. If you love nature, if you’re into hiking, or just being surrounded by beautiful scenery – there’s something for you in the Dolomites where it’s just absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. It’s fantastic for traveling by van because you park up and when you’re making yourself your cup of tea and look out your window – you see these epic mountains that seem to go on forever
  • It’s a very cinematic place so perfect for Adam and Tania as filmmakers who were able to indulge themselves
  • The Dolomites it very camper van friendly. One of the most impressive and most visited sites is the 3 peaks where you can stay right in the heart in your camper van. There’s a park designated for camper vans right at the top. You have to pay the 30 Euro toll to get in and you’re allowed to stay up the night there as long as you come back before 7 pm the next day – so you’ve got 24 hours up there. They stayed for 2 nights because it was so beautiful
  • Adam thought it was the best campsite they’d ever been to and the people there were really friendly and helpful. They tell you, as you arrive, that if you want to go up after 7 pm that day is free. The tolls are 7 pm – 7 pm, so at 6.59 pm there’s a line of campers waiting to go in and not have to pay for that second day

Tuscany

  • They found Tuscany was perfect for doing van life because they loved being able to camp literally right next to vineyards
  • They also got to stay at an agriturismo which rents rooms but also (as some of them do ) allows you to park up your van for free in exchange for help. They picked olives and even got to experience pressing their own olive oil – seeing the process right from the beginning to the end. They were surprised to find that they have the olive pressing facilities run 24 hours during the season, so they were there at midnight pressing olive oil
  • Top tip –  make sure that if you’re pressing your own olive oil, don’t forget to bring your bread so that you can taste it. They didn’t have any bread with them and realized this is what everyone was doing
  • It’s a wonderful way to integrate with the locals because the agriturismi is where people live and work all year round. They usually have beautiful views and you can get involved in whatever they need doing – whether it’s the harvest, tending livestock or helping in the kitchen. The kinds of people that you meet that are staying there as well tend to be like-minded people. You can go stay in agriturismi as a family or as a solo traveler and meet other people that have that shared values – that are looking for something different and to appreciate Italian culture. Find out more in Episode #126 What is an agriturismo and why you should stay in one

The Amalfi Coast

  • There’s no doubt about it – driving on the Amalfi Coast was slow going. It wasn’t as slow as it could have been as it was the shoulder season, so off-peak – meaning fewer big busses and confused tourists driving around. Theirs is not a massive van so they didn’t encounter too many problems – they just had to take things slowly. In terms of van life  – it was clear that the Amalfi Coast is not really geared up for it. They actually stayed with a friend there because there was no real parking available
  • They do advise those who are not very confident or comfortable drivers – it’s probably an area to avoid driving – especially in a van

Hiring a campervan in Italy

  • If you wanted to replicate a trip like this, renting a campervan, there are rental car companies offering vans. For two people with a campervan, you’re looking at paying on average around €100 to €120 per night. This of course covers both accommodation and transport (minus gas/petrol) and you get a lot of home comforts to boot
  • In cities, for average, middle-of-the-road accommodation, you’re average is about €150 – 200 per night.
  • People might think that they like the idea of renting a camper van, but think they don’t want to rough it/they love their home comforts too much.
  • Tania and Adam have met a lot of people in the last 4 years who have gone from doing the classic, all-inclusive package types of vacation to now relishing in all of the magic that van life brings. Van life does give you home comforts because you’ve got your own bed, a mini kitchen, a toilet and a shower. And you’re injecting a bit more adventure into a trip. Tania advises that if you’re on the fence to not underestimate what you might like just because you’re used to one way. This could be a wonderful new avenue of exploration for you
  • When we talk about luxury travel, it can have a different definition from what you might think. Luxury can be enjoying unique experiences and having special moments without being surrounded by crowds and being rushed through – as it can sometimes be like in some of the big cities and the major tourist areas. Luxury is having that experience where it’s exclusive and lots of other people aren’t having it – only a select few. That certainly doesn’t mean it’s always expensive as Tania and Adam can attest – parking your van at the top of the hill, overlooking the three peaks in the Dolomites experiencing a beautiful moment of awe – that is extremely exclusive and luxurious in a lot of ways
  • Adam and Tania have often parked up in places with incredible views, whether it be on a beach, next to a castle or up a mountain – that they’ve had completely to themselves
  • They will often joke about what would they would be paying to have an Airbnb or a hotel room in such a location with such amazing views – whilst they are paying 15 Euro or even camping for free and they’re in their mini home too
  • They spent more of their time in the north of Italy than they did in the south and generally found as they went further south, the infrastructure wasn’t quite as good. But they would have spent a lot longer in the South and but by the time they got there, they’d spent so long in the North, they almost had to turn around and drive home, so they can’t assess it as well as their experiences in Northern and Central Italy

Tips & Resources

  • park4night is an app to use across Europe with a user-generated map of places where you can park up – either paid camps, free camps or wild camping. People leave reviews and you are able to then find places to stay. You can also see the places where you can hook up your electricity or empty out your toilet. If you’re self-sufficient, there are many more spots where you can stay
  • They didn’t find themselves getting decision fatigue or having to plan ahead because it could be 3 pm and you still don’t know where you’re sleeping that night, but you just open up the app, see where you are on the map and where there are places that are safe and with good reviews
  • You can select whether you want to look for a paid campsite or somewhere for free and look for the facilities that you need. It’s a great app that makes an Italian road trip a breeze
  • agricamper-italia.com is an Italy-specific resource where you pay a set fee and have access to a variety of vineyards to stay for the night for free. It’s around £35 to unlock access to 280 different hosts around the country that will host you on their vineyards. 
    You can stay there for 24 hours for free. They sometimes have shops where you can pick up their wine and other produce. 
  • Wild camping is technically not legal in Italy, but it’s somewhat of a grey area. Tania and Adam only did it a few times when they felt it was appropriate – a nice spot that was miles away from anyone
  • Aires are approved motorhome and campervan overnight parking places around Italy. There are a lot more of them in North Italy than in Southern Italy. They are specifically designed for campervans. They’re always free and they will have some facilities, like fresh water, ways to empty your toilet etc. And yeah, it’s just the perfect place to sleep for free, which is just amazing

It’s not just van life, it’s a dog’s life

Their traveling companion on their trip to Italy was Trigger, Tania’s family dog. Trigger is a one-eyed Yorkie who’s now somewhere between 12 and 14 years old. Trigger usually lives with Tania’s mum in Dublin, but as she has been doing a lot of traveling, she’s missed him so thought she’d take him along on their Italian trip. He has certainly helped them make friends along the way. Italians love dogs and everywhere they went people fussed over him. They were allowed to take him into museums, supermarkets, cafes, restaurants and even churches. When they were in Positano, and Tania was out for a walk with Trigger, they met a couple from the US that had brought their small little dog with them too. So it is definitely possible for you to travel to Italy with your dog if coming from the US.

Future Italian adventures for Tania and Adam

They are currently backpacking further afield so have no set plans for a return to Italy but with it being one of their favorite places, they know they’ll be back. They are even considering buying a renovation project there to create a little home base and even viewed a couple of properties when they were in the Abruzzo region, to start getting their head around what’s on offer and what would be involved. They have found, as so many of us do, that once you’ve spent time in Italy you then can’t get it out of your head and your heart.

You can watch Tania & Adam’s Italian Roadtrip Series on their YouTube Italy Playlist. Their videos offer a deep exploration of the culture and the destinations they visit, as well as practical tips for van travel in Italy and Europe. 

About our guests – Tania & Adam

Tania & Adam are travel filmmakers, photographers & fellow podcasters from Ireland and the UK. For the last 3.5 years, they have lived and travelled all over Europe in their compact campervan lovingly named ‘Jitters’ or ‘Jits’ for short. Jits, a 1998 Peugeot Boxer, has taken them to over 16 countries, where they have found themselves parked next to castles in Ireland Scotland, to the impressive mountain passes of France, and of course the rolling hills of Italy!
After spending two months meandering from the Northern Dolomites, down to the Southern Almafi Coast, Tania & Adam insist that there is no better way to experience and immerse oneself in the Italian culture than in a tiny home on wheels. In this episode, they share their travel stories from their Italian road trip, alongside practical tips & advice on how you can do the same.

You can find Tania & Adam on these channels:

Places mentioned in the show

  • The Dolomite – a mountain range in north eastern Italy find out more in our introduction to Dolomites podcast
  • 3 Peaks – the 3 peaks in the Dolomites of Cima Grande in the middle, Cima Piccola and Cima Ovest
  • Abruzzo – region east of Rome

Resources

  • park4night – app to use across Europe with a user-generated map of places that you can park up – either paid camps, free camps or  wild camping
  • agricamper-italia.com – an Italy-specific service where you can pay a set fee and have access to a variety of vineyards to stay for the night for free

Resources from Untold Italy

  • How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning so you can avoid our mistakes
  • Italy Travel Planning – our FREE online community where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
  • Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show

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Transcript

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