Porto 1 Portugal Credit Valerie

Portugal: guide to a cross-country trip in a van

To the point What a joy! My Portugal visit by van! I'll share with you all everything I learned so you can be prepared for your trip to Portugal in a van.

I noticed a strong interest from Quebecers to visit Portugal in 2022. Several discounted airfare promotions plus the fact that this country has the lowest cost of living in Western Europe explains, in my opinion, its popularity at the moment.

However, it will more than meet the expectations of the foodie traveler or beach lover. Even though public transportation services are well developed in Portugal, we opted for more freedom by renting a retrofitted van. The articles on Milesopedia about Vanlife inspired me!

Now here’s the bottom line for us beginners, as far as the rental process, itinerary, and use of reward points are concerned.

Van rental

While looking at van rental websites, we quickly realized that the price and the level of comfort were not the only criteria to consider. It will also be necessary to think about:

  1. Mileage
  2. Security deposit
  3. Insurance
  4. Border crossings
  5. Vehicle format

1. Mileage

The number of kilometers that we drove during our stay is important, because many rental companies limit the mileage and apply a surcharge for each additional kilometre. Sometimes the surcharge is more worth paying than booking a package with a higher mileage limit.

We made this calculation when planning our itinerary. In our case, we wanted to do a big tour of the country leaving room for the unexpected. We therefore opted for a higher mileage package. It is also sometimes possible to find agencies with unlimited kilometres.

Porto 1 Portugal Credit Valerie
Porto 1 Portugal Credit Valerie

2. Security deposit

The rental sites offer vehicles belonging to companies or individuals. However, a security deposit must always be left at the rental. The big advantage of using companies is that the deposit (along with the whole payment) is made by credit card, whereas it is very difficul – if not impossible – to find a private individual who accepts this method of payment.

You will either have to make an international transfer which will incur costs, or pay cash and find yourself with a huge amount of money, 800 Euros for example, in your pocket when you return from your rental. This poses two disadvantages for me:

  • First, it makes me uncomfortable to walk around with so much money because I fear theft or loss.
  • Then, at the end of my trip, I find myself with a large amount of foreign currency that I will not have time to spend and that I will lose on exchange if I convert it back to Canadian dollars.

3. Insurance

An important point to consider is the insurance coverage for the car. Normally, I don’t have to consider this because I use the one that comes the credit card.

However, you should know that credit card insurance does not cover converted vans. At least, all the ones I’ve checked cover only “regular” vehicles get from point A to point B.

Take the time to familiarise yourself before renting a van.

4. Border crossing

In Europe, it is easy to move from one country to another thanks to the Schengen area which abolishes the borders between 26 European states. However, when renting a car or a van, changing countries is a factor to consider and will sometimes cause an surcharge .

5. Vehicle size

The vehicle format will mainly be an issue in terms of driving and parking. If you visit typical villages or old towns by van, the streets are much narrower than what we are used to in North America, and were not designed for large vehicles.

Itinerary in Portugal

We chose a looped route in order to return the van to the same spot where we picked it up, and avoid the extra expense of one-way travel.

Here’s what our 15-night van itinerary looked like:

Days Destination
1 Lisbon
2 Route d’Algarve
3-4 Lagos
5 Evora
6 Monsanto
7-8 Douro Valley
9 Amaranth
10-11 Porto
12 Aveiro
13 Costa Nova
14 Nazaré (small fishing village)
15 Peniche

This trip, including detours to tourist attractions and other nearby villages, took us 2,217 km. Many rental agencies offer a basic package of 100 km per day. That’s why it’s best to know your approximate route and do the math.

Lisbonne - Crédit Valérie
Lisbonne - Crédit Valérie

Attractions in Portugal

To discover the Portugal’s attractions, I suggest you consult the following guide:

Ulysses Guides also offers some very fine books on Portugal, so don’t hesitate to consult them. Here’s one that might interest you:

Fabulous Portugal Ulysses Guide
Fabulous Portugal Ulysses Guide

Using points

We paid for all our expenses with the HSBC World Elite® Mastercard®. Reward points are quite flexible and allowed us to reimburse the following expenses:

  • The van rental (tested with Indie campers).
  • The hotels booked on Booking.com for our arrival and departure in Lisbon.
  • Airline tickets, either directly with the airline or with platforms like Budgetair or GOtogate.
  • Tasting and shopping at the wineries (which offered accommodation).

It’s a great way to travel with points because all the big expenses are eligible for coverage and as a bonus, your port or bottle of wine could also be paid in points if you choose a winery that falls into the accommodation.

Don’t forget that this card also comes with a $100 travel credit that many members have used on the Viator activity site.

To know

Officially, it is forbidden to camp anywhere other than in a campsite or designated area. Don’t be surprised if many do it anyway. Be aware that although some may tolerate it, the law is clear in this regard.

You can still use apps like Park4night or Ioverlander to find legal places to spend the night. There were options as affordable as 3 Euros per night.

In Portugal, it is difficult to avoid the toll roads without making big detours. There are two types of tolls:

  • Either you pay directly at the entrance – credit cards are accepted without any problem.
  • Or have your license plate scanned and receive an invoice to be paid at a post office. Otherwise, the rental company will mail the invoice to the customer.
Porto Portugal – Crédit Valérie

Bottom Line

Don’t hesitate to take the plunge: visiting Portugal in a van is a great experience!

Here are some ideas of activities to book in Portugal with Viator:

Come to discuss that topic in our Facebook Group!
4.2 Milesopedia Rating
A curious and multilingual globetrotter, constantly searching for adventure and new experiences. Valerie recently started travel hacking to maximize her passion.

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