Switzerland’s natural beauty is world famous, but that’s not the only reason it should be on your travel bucket list. Sure, it may be one of the priciest European travel destinations. However, if you’re planning to go wild camping in Switzerland and are willing to do some preparation, it may not be as expensive as you think. Not convinced yet? Just keep reading to find out everything you need to know and why this trip will 100% be worth it. (If you really want to get in the mood, check out my Vanlife Switzerland Playlist on Spotify)
General on Switzerland
This may be an obvious fact to some people, but let me remind you that Switzerland is not part of the EU and doesn’t use the Euro. Instead it uses the Swiss franc (CHF). Moreover, even if you have an EU SIM card you will have to pay a huge surcharge for using it in Switzerland. Don’t make the same mistake as me; turn off your data roaming before you cross the border!
If you’re a Schengen country passport holder, you won’t need a visa. Some other countries, such as the US, also do not require a visa and may stay in Switzerland for a maximum of 90 days. Don’t forget: Always do research on this topic in advance to avoid any disappointment.
Another important thing to remember is that there are 4 national languages: Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansch. How cool is that? The country’s largest cities are Bern, Zurich, Geneva, and Basel. All of these are diverse and well worth a visit, but – truth be told – stressful to drive in.
Geography & Climate
The amount of times I said “wow” each day while on our wild camping trip in Switzerland was just ridiculous. I feel like that’s all my brain could come up with to describe just how f-ing beautiful that country is. At only 41,285 km² it’s a rather small country, but it’s jam-packed with insanely gorgeous sights. And besides that, its small size also makes it easy to get quickly from one corner of the country to the other. Currently there is one national park, which is located in the country’s Far East.
Switzerland is the jewel of the Alps, but it has so much more to offer than that. Geographically speaking Switzerland can be divided into 3 regions, i.e. the Alps (60%), the Plateau (30%) and the Jura (10%). This means there is a huge diversity of wild camping spots in Switzerland. However, this also means that the weather may be unpredictable and vary strongly from one part of the country to another. Likewise, the weather and temperature may strongly differ between low and high altitudes, even in the summer.
Overall, the seasons are very pronounced. Summers in Switzerland are hot, while winters are cold and snowy. However, you should make sure to bring clothes for any possible weather. (I experienced a heat wave and a snowy hike within the same week in September!)
The Laws on Wild Camping in Switzerland
The Right of Public Access To The Wilderness is part of the Swiss Civil Code. That means, unlike many other countries, wild camping is generally allowed in Switzerland. However, there are specific local regulations for each canton (province). Further exceptions apply to the national park, wildlife sanctuaries, and federal game reserves. During the protection period the exception also applies to wildlife rest zones. As always it’s important that you do some research in advance.
The Cost of a Wild Camping Trip to Switzerland
I gotta be honest: Switzerland is hella expensive, especially if you don’t live on a Swiss salary. Pretty much anything will cost more in Switzerland that in its neighbouring countries. However, there is no cheaper way to explore Switzerland than wild camping, as you don’t need to pay for accommodation and can bring anything you’ll be using. That’s why you should fuel up your vehicle as well as stock up on food and drinks before crossing the border. Remember what I said earlier? This would also be the perfect moment to turn off your phone’s data roaming.
If you follow these tips you may not even spend any money in Switzerland besides the toll sticker for your car. Depending on how long you’ll be staying in the country, it may even be worth exiting the country a second time to stock up again. We stayed in Switzerland for three weeks, so that’s what we did.
P.S. There’s no shame about this; even Swiss people do the same!
Here’s what I would recommend you splurge on though: Activities and sights. I have zero regrets about the 32 CHF I spent for a return trip with the Gelmer Funicular (see photo below) or the 31 CHF I spent on a gondola return trip to the famous Ebenalp. Don’t shy away from these expenses, because they will turn a cool trip into an unforgettable one.
How to get there
Switzerland shares a land border with the following five countries: Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy, and France. That means you can easily drive there from any of these. Make sure to have a valid ID on hand for the Swiss border control.
Does that sound too boring for you? Even though Switzerland is landlocked you could take a ferry to get there. For instance, you could take a ferry from Germany via Lake Constance.
Roads & Driving
Swiss roads are generally in a really good condition, which makes it a pleasure to drive. As long as you’re 18 years old and hold a valid driver’s licence, you’re able to drive in Switzerland for up to one year without requiring an International Driving Permit (IDP). You only need an IDP if your driver’s licence is not written in Roman letters.
When arriving in Switzerland make sure you have a motorway sticker behind your windshield, which allows you to take the Swiss highways. This sticker costs 40 CHF and is available at the border, petrol stations and post offices. The benefit of this toll system is that you pay only once for the entire year instead of each time you use the highway. If you think about it, that’s a pretty fair deal!
Make sure to familiarise yourself with Switzerland’s traffic laws, as these differ slightly from other countries. Furthermore, the Swiss enforce these traffic laws, including the legal blood alcohol levels of 0.5 per mil and speed limits, very harshly.
You should drive at least one of the Alpine mountain passes during your trip. These are some of the most beautiful roads in the world! Most passes are open from May to October, but some are even open year-round. However, due to severe weather, passes can be closed at any time (you should check their status online). Besides, make sure that you and your vehicle are able to tackle these narrow and steep roads. If pass roads are closed or if you want to save time, you could take tunnels and even car-trains. Luckily, most tunnels don’t require an extra toll, apart from the Grand St. Bernhard and Munt la Schera.
Traveling & Wild Camping With Pets in Switzerland
Even though Switzerland is not part of the EU, you can easily bring your dog, cat or ferret along on your trip. You need to make sure your pet has a microchip or a tattoo, if given before the 3rd July 2011, as identification. Furthermore, you need proof of a valid rabies vaccination that was given 21 days before arrival. A quarantine for your pet isn’t necessary if you fulfil all of these criteria.
Additional rules apply if you travel with puppies younger than three months or with more than five adult dogs. Besides that, there are also regulations on banned cat and dog breeds, depending on the canton. Take a look at this website for more information on this topic or if your pet is not a dog, cat or ferret.
Switzerland is a very pet-friendly country, but there are various laws, depending on the canton (province). If in doubt, do some research on the specific local regulations. For instance, only the canton of Schwyz requires dogs to wear a leash in all public spaces, even on hiking trails. On the other hand, many hiking trails in other parts of the country that do not require you to use a leash. Your dogs will love it!
On a serious note: If there should ever be a reason why you need to see a vet, you’ll be glad to know that there are many vets, which are generally proficient run English.
Any trip or destination will be different and require you to have a different packing list. Besides taking your wallet (terrible joke, sorry! HAHA) you should also consider taking the following items on your trip to Switzerland:
- Strong sunscreen (the high altitude means a higher risk of getting sunburnt)
- Warm clothes and extra layers
- Hiking attire, e.g. hiking boots
- A small backpack/daypack
- Reusable containers (to bring food on day trips & hikes)
- Reusable water bottle (you can fill it up all over the country)
- Swimwear & a microfibre towel to bring on hikes (if you want to swim in a lake on the way)
- Tweezers/ tick removal kit
- Binoculars (if you’re into watching animals)
- A hot water bottle (if you get cold at night)
What I loved about my vanlife adventure in Switzerland
I’m not gonna lie. The best thing about vanlife in Switzerland is the county’s natural beauty. The gorgeous landscapes make it fairly easy to find spectacular wild camping spots. Besides that, the relative small size of the country means that you can get from A to B pretty quickly.
I also love that Switzerland takes sustainability very seriously and is very clean. It is the most eco-friendly country in the world and recycling seems to be a national sport. It’s fascinating to find out more about this topic and fun to participate in!
Besides that, I enjoyed the impeccable quality of most tap water and water fountains, which are purer than bottled mineral water. That means you don’t have to spend money on buying water. Instead you can just conveniently fill up a bottle in any town square for free.
Moreover, Switzerland is located in the heart of Europe. That means you can easily combine a trip to Switzerland with other countries, for instance Italy, Austria, France, Liechtenstein, etc. This makes it an amazing country to visit if you’re someone that loves exploring and are eager to experience many cultures and landscapes.
Are you looking for more inspiration? Check out my post on wild camping with your van in Sweden to find out why it’s my favourite destination. Or maybe vanlife in Greece, including the bluest lagoons, sunny weather, and fascinating mythology is more down your alley?