Laws on Sleeping in Your Campervan: Everything You Need To Know

Living in a camper van, for many people, has become a popular choice in recent years. As these likes of Wi-Fi and internet connectivity has become available across the UK, as well as the ability to work remotely, this has meant that travellers can create livelihoods for themselves and work while on the road.

Exploring even the wildest and remote places in the UK has enabled people who live in campervans to escape their busy lives and create new, meaningful experiences. Campervans have become especially popular as alternative accommodation capable of more flexible living.
There are regulations and laws around living and sleeping in a campervan, which will impact how you use it.

In our breakdown, we explore everything from the laws on roadside parking, finding overnight stop-over points, the laws on sleeping in your campervan, and some tips and tricks to help you along the way.

Key Laws You Should Know

Under current UK law, a motorhome, campervan or a similar vehicle is often defined the same as a caravan.
Section 29 (1) of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 defines a caravan as:

‘Any structure designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another (whether being towed, or by being transported on a motor vehicle or trailer)’.

This means many of the laws for caravans apply to these other vehicles, including campervans. It's worth making sure that you are aware of this law when reading car park signs or similar.

For example, if you were on a campsite and you have permission to stay in your campervan overnight, then this is legal. However, this becomes trickier if you're parked on the side of a road, or in a layby for a night and considering sleeping in your campervan.

Parking Laws for Campervan Owners

When it comes to motorhome and campervan travellers, the law is understood to mean that you cannot camp on land in England and Wales, because land is largely private. To ‘camp’ in these situations means to park overnight, or for a period of no more than 21-28 days consecutively. This is slightly different in Scotland and Northern Ireland, however, where you cannot camp without the permission of the landowner.

Typically, when it comes to roads and lay-bys, the landowner is normally the local authority. There is a lot of confusion on parking laws and when it’s appropriate to stay overnight in your campervan.

The difference between being parked legally and illegally often depends on how (and where) you are parked. For example, it errs on the side of caution to not park in areas that are either busy or experience high volumes of traffic. Similarly, if there is no specific local bylaw or traffic regulation order stopping you from overnight parking or sleeping in your campervan, it’s still advisable to be cautious.

It’s also worth considering if you're parked sensibly and safely. Consider the following examples:

  • Is your caravan blocking key access to a field, property or other site used by other vehicles?
  • Are you parked in a way that doesn't obstruct the passage of other vehicles using the road?
  • And are you creating pollution or waste on someone else's property, such as by lighting a barbeque?

As far as most motorhome and campervan experts can say, there is currently no specific legislation or law to prevent you from sleeping in a vehicle at the roadside.

However, these laws vary when it comes to looking at camping versus sleeping in your campervan. For example, if a landowner has granted you the authority to park in their layby, then it is legal for you to sleep overnight in your campervan. It is when you haven't received permission from a landowner that the laws around sleeping in your campervan can get confusing.

Parking Your Campervan in a Car Park

Publicly owned car parks, such as those owned by local councils or private companies, such as NCP (National Car Parks), often have strict regulations about overnight parking and overnight camping. For example, some may allow overnight parking but will not allow overnight camping as this changes the interpretation of how a car park is used.

  • Some local authorities may allow overnight camping in their car parks, but this is only often for one night, rather than a consecutive number of days.
  • Local car parks also have restrictions regarding the maximum vehicle weight, height and class of vehicle permitted on site. Where these restrictions are in place, car parks with height limits, or even length restrictions, prohibit larger vehicles based on the limited space available.

It is always worth researching and checking before you try and find a place to stay overnight.

What is a ‘Stopover’?

Some pubs, where signposted clearly, will allow you to park in their car parks overnight. But this strictly for one day, and this is referred to as a ‘stopover’, which is unlike staying overnight on an official campsite.

There is also legislation surrounding the number of caravans allowed on a single stop or site overnight. Under these laws, you are only allowed one caravan on a stopover site, according to the 1960 Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act.

Can You Sleep in a Campervan on the Road?

Given the common confusion over laws on sleeping in your campervan, it’s often hard to know where you can legally stay overnight. This is further complicated based on where you are, as Scotland has different rules on camping to the rest of the UK.

Therefore, it's advisable to research official sites and remain legal and safe with where you park your campervan. If you choose to sleep roadside in your campervan, you may unknowingly cause an obstruction and you’re more likely to run into issues, especially with the local authority. Even if you intend to park considerately, there may be problems with staying in your campervan whilst it’s parked roadside, or close to the road.

You must also be aware of the potential restrictions that might apply to that area, and be considerate of the safety risks of sleeping on the side of the road.
Unlike safer alternatives, like pitching on an official site, there’s the added risk of being fined. Consider a stopover where it’s legal for quick stays, but use campsites for long ones.

Countries in Europe have different restrictions, so it's worth researching your destination and route before travelling. Make sure you are aware of any restrictions in your area and where you're driving before you travel.

Laws on Wild Camping in Scotland

Scotland is popular amongst campers for being a place where you can wild camp freely on any public land.
However, according to the Scottish Access Code, this is specifically lightweight camps, small numbers, only for two or three nights, but it is a non-motorised recreation and does not extend to activities that are based on the use of the vehicles such as sleeping in cars, campers, vans or caravans.
It’s helpful to be aware of the Land Reform Act of 2003. This means that you can publicly access unenclosed land in Scotland. It’s worth remembering that:

  • You should not cause any damage or cause an obstruction by blocking access to fields, building and similar
  • You should be considerate to fellow users or wildlife
  • You should not damage the verge, which is important if you are considering pulling over to park overnight
  • You must use a car park if there is one nearby

However, these rules don’t specifically cover the sleeping aspect of staying overnight in a campervan. Where you have no legal right to park at the side of the road, however in some places there may be no objection to you doing so.

Scottish law and the Road Traffic Act of 1988 explains how you can drive a vehicle off-road away from public roads for purposes of parking if you stay no more than 15 yards from a public road. You do still need the landowner's permission to park.

For example, if you are pulling over on the side of a public road into a verge, you will need to check that that verge or layby isn't owned by private owners and is owned by a local authority, or somewhere where you could apply for permission for off-road parking.

There are different regulations in nearly every devolved administration, and because much of the land in the UK is privately owned. Whether that's land owned by a company or person, a local authority or the Royal Estate, there are very few places that aren’t private, including common land. This means that parking on the side of the road is largely a grey area across the entirety of the UK and even Scotland.

Helpful links:

Inside Your Campervan: Comfort Tips For Better Sleeping

Once you’ve found a legal place to park that you are satisfied with, it’s worth considering your comfort. As many seasoned campers know, space is often tight inside a campervan, so having space-saving tips to make your sleep more comfortable is incredibly important. As well, the UK weather is famously unpredictable, so having a variety of temperature control devices is also important.

Creating Space for Sleep

In VW campers it's common to have what's known as a rock and roll bed, simply because you rock it and then roll it out flat, and you have a bed. However, for some people, this may not provide enough available bed space for the number of people on holiday.

Choosing a Type of Bed

On your rock and roll frame, you can either get specific sofa cushion style items that fit perfectly on top to cover the frame and make it more comfortable. You can then add on top of the foam cushions, an additional mattress or you can just simply sleep on that with some pillows and a sleeping bag, duvet or blankets.

For those with an awning or wanting a bit more extra comfort, there are a few options you can explore.
You can either have an air mattress, which requires electricity to be inflated and can take some time. It also isn't necessarily the most comfortable option you have, but it is good. Air mattresses inflate to rise inches off the ground. So, if you're sleeping on the floor or outside in a tent, you have a lot of space between you and the cold ground. They do require regular pumping up and aren’t necessarily the most comfortable.

From our experience, one of the most comfortable options is a self-inflating air mattress, which absorbs the air itself. Therefore, they don't require electricity to be inflated, but can be blown up more with your mouth.

These are very slim, often no more than an inch thick and made of non-slip fabrics and are incredibly comfortable to sleep on, providing a thick layer of air between you and the floor. They also roll rather than needing to be folded so can fit into smaller spaces. Whether you want either an extra layer on your rock and roll bed or want the flexibility of being able to have a spare bed for guests staying, a self-inflating air mattress is probably one of your best options in terms of storage, space and comfort.

Sleeping Securely

Regardless of who you are, you want to be sure that while you're asleep, your prize possession is kept safe. From installing a windbreak around the perimeter of your pitch, to putting a tow hitch lock on your tow bar - all these options can help to increase the security of your campervan.

While campsites are often managed on a basis of trust, if you're pulling over on the side of the road to sleep it can be a more risky situation for you. So, it's best to make sure that you've got something in place to keep you safe at all times.

Similarly, security doesn't always need to come from someone accessing your camper. Installing a carbon monoxide detector or smoke alarm in your camper van will help you to make sure that while you're asleep, no harmful gases are spilling or the potential for a fire is minimised. Due to the nature of a campervan where you're cooking with gas or perhaps electricity in close quarters, there is a greater risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and other fire risks.

Keeping Warm

If you've ever gone camping in the UK, you will know that the temperature at night can either be quite warm or freezing cold.
As well as choosing blankets, sleeping bags, duvets or anything that will allow you to layer up correctly, you can also fit additional products to your VW Camper van that will make sure that you stay warm or ventilated, depending on what you need.

In some camper models, you can fit cab window air vents that allow some fresh air in, while keeping your camper secure.
You can also include thermal panels for your windows. As well as adding an extra layer of privacy, these keep heat in your camper van. Some vans also have the ability to fit a thermo mat to your roof. As everybody knows, heat rises, so when you're cooking you can trap some of that heat in to keep you warm during the night.

Choosing a Good Sleeping Bag

For someone who likes to keep the heat in when they sleep or needs a last-minute solution for a friend or child staying in the camper, a sleeping bag is an excellent option. Whether you just want that extra layer of warmth if it's a chilly night, a sleeping bag is a promising investment, as well as being space-saving.

They keep the heat in and can be incredibly comfortable. Sleeping bags, when you buy them, can seem complicated. For example, you may see bags for different seasons or temperatures. However, the key is to look out for the different temperature ranges and understanding what a ‘season’ actually means. You may also want to look at how the filling is dispersed throughout the sleeping bag and making sure you're choosing one that is designed well.
A good sleeping bag can be the difference between keeping it for five years and keeping it for 20 years. If you look after them well, keep them clean and treat them with respect, they'll keep you warm and comfortable every single night.

Our Top Tips for Choosing a Sleeping Bag

‘Seasons’: what do they mean?

A season in a sleeping bag shows how much of the year you can use it with full comfort.
- One season is not worth buying
- Two seasons is good for already warm or protected indoor sleeping, and hot summer days
- Three seasons is a good all rounder for the ever-changing UK weather.
- Four seasons is for those who are hiking up mountains or sleeping outside in winter!

Dispersion method

Sleeping bags have their stuffing stitched in. However, the different methods of stitching will mean that the product either stays or moves around. A traditional circumference stich, where the filling is fixed in rings, won’t stay stuck. Therefore, choosing a sleeping bag with either multi-layer construction or a pocket-based construction will ensure even distribution of the stuffing, without compromise on temperature.

Choosing a well-fitting sleeping bag

This may seem a foreign suggestion but a sleeping bag that is a snug fit will actually improve the quality of your sleep. For those with slimmer shoulders and a more feminine build, a sleeping bag with a curved tip will prove more comfortable than a wide zip. For those with wider shoulders choosing a more rectangular shape is best.

For all your camper needs to make your sleep more comfortable and safer, check out our range of products for VW campers.