Camping is how my family and I spent much of our first two years in Europe, hobnobbing with the types of Europeans who had ditched minibars for camp stores, and traded pillow mints for tent poles. It was a great way to travel.
Reid's favorite Paris campground
• PARIS: Camping de Paris - Bois de Boulogne - A campground on the banks of the Seine in a vast city park. Time to downtown: 15 min. » moreWhile there are loads of campgrounds out in the sticks for the get-back-to-nature crowd, there are also plenty of places to pitch your tent in and around the major cities, usually right near a bus or Métro stop.
That said, there's actually only one in Paris proper—the Camping de Paris - Bois de Boulogne.
There are, however, more than 120 campgrounds within commuting distance in the Greater Paris Area in the Île de France region.
This includes about 20 out toward Versailles in Yvelines west of Paris (a favorite: Camping International de Maisons-Lafitte, on an island in the Seine six long blocks from a RER station; www.sandaya.fr); and nearly 70 in the greater Marne Valley east of Paris around Disneyland Paris.
From any of these, expect a healthy 30-60 minute bus or RER ride into the heart of the action.
Camping is a heck of a lot cheaper than a hotel, especially these days, and you also get to make friends with all sorts of interesting Europeans (and by "interesting," I mean that German women campers often wander around topless).
But beyond the ogling, it truly is a chance to hang out in a totally non-touristy context with some bona fide Europeans, sharing travel advice along with your pickled wieners, making plans together to take a short hike in the Black Forest next morning, and just generally trying not to stare at the exposed chest of the wife of your new friend Gunther.
Camping in France is pretty darn cheap (that's the biggest attraction, really).
In short, tent campers will pay about €13 to €25 ($17 to $32) per person per night.
There are a lot of variables, however:
Keep in mind when you're perusing rates that prices are sometimes a la carte. There are often separate charges per person, plus for the site itself, plus for the tent plus for the car... Just read the fine print to be sure.
Camping France (www.campingfrance.com) - More than 11,000 campgrounds across France.
Camping.fr (www.camping.fr) - All sorts of resources—campgrounds, directories, RV sales outlets, camping supply stores, etc.—all in France... and only in French.
EuroCampings.net (www.eurocampings.net) - Reviews of more than 8,400 campgrounds across Europe, including 2,660 in France and 29 in the Île de France region around Paris.
Fédération Française de Camping et de Caravaning (www.ffcc.fr) - An association of more than 1,200 campgrounds across France. Members get 5% to 30% discounts.
Gîtes de France (www.gites-de-france.fr) - Famous for cottages, this organization also lists more than 500 farms where you are welcome to pitch your tent or park your RV.
CamperOnline.it (www.camperonline.it) - In Italian (though you can get an English version of the menu—though not the content), but choc-a-block with info on camping and RVing all across Europe, including hundreds of country-specific links to tons of other useful Internet resources, free sites to park your RV, and on-line camping catalogues.