Like any artful skill, it goes by many names: stealth, free and wild to name a few. Each have a slightly different meaning, but they all refer to one simple concept – sleeping in the wilderness for free. Apart from being a stellar money-saver, wild camping is an excellent method to connect with the landscape you’re travelling through in a way most tourists completely miss.
While it’s possible to bag a wild campsite almost anywhere, putting up your tent at nightfall and leaving early in the morning, there’s more skill involved in finding a picturesque place to call home for an evening or two. But with a little experience, finding a beautiful wild camp can be easier than locating a traditional campsite – especially in countries with under-developed or non-existent tourism industries.
First and foremost, start early. The best wild camps are rarely waiting just off the main road, so chances are strong you’ll have to do a bit of hunting. If you wait until dusk, not only will you feel rushed, but you won’t get to enjoy the surroundings once you’ve set up. It may take a few tries to find the right place, but your efforts will not go unrewarded.
If you’re near an ocean or other large body of water, head straight to it and the work is usually done for you. Coastlines are among the prettiest and most accessible places to set up a wild camp. If you can, follow the shore until you’re away from whatever public access you came in on – but if you set up near the water be sure to keep the tides in mind.
If you’re inland, check your map for lakes, rivers or patches of green with minor roads running through them. Once you’ve located a possible candidate for a night of free camping, don’t stop there – as you walk, ride or drive, look for even smaller unmarked trails leading deeper into the woods. Braving a small river crossing can be an effective way to find an even wilder spot.
Failing all of these options, a small patch of farmland, a church courtyard, or a cemetery are all excellent options. Though many balk at the idea of camping in a cemetery, they are often a perfect place to spend the night. It’s very unlikely you’ll encounter people there, and many have water spigots for watering the flowers that you could use for cooking, cleaning and perhaps drinking.
If you’re going to cook at your wild camp, make sure you have lots of water. If you know you are camping on private property (it’s often hard to be sure), asking for permission is recommended. You will be hard pressed to find someone that will turn you down – in fact, once you’ve swallowed your pride and done it, you may well discover this is a great way to meet the locals.
Some countries have laws colloquially referred to as the “right to roam”. The spirit of the idea is that we all have a right to respectfully travel through the world, regardless of who owns the land we are on. When visiting a new country, it’s a good idea to investigate these rights – they can make the task of finding a place to sleep immeasurably easier, especially for first-time wild campers.
As you become a confident wild camper, relying on the availability of the accommodations in the areas you visit will become a thing of the past. You’ll enjoy an unprecedented amount of flexibility over traditional methods of travel. Coming and going as you please in unfamiliar lands, discovering your own unique and secluded destinations as you go, this is the stuff adventures are made of.
Tyler Kellen is co-author of Going Slowly. He writes his blog with wife, Tara, chronicling their adventures around the world by bicycle.