How To: Wild Camp Anywhere And Not Get Busted

It’s that time again — another ‘how-to’ sharing the essential tools of the adventure cycle-touring trade. This time I’m going to deal with what is often a stressful thought for every rider:

“Where the hell I am going to sleep tonight?!?”

It’s a right, not a privilege

I believe that it is every human being’s nature-given right to sleep without having to pay for the privilege.

Some would consider the idea delusional, delinquent, idealistic or impossible. But believing it acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Conviction is the first thing you need on the journey to the as-yet-unknown place where you’ll rest your head.

Cricket Camp

I mean anywhere

In four months of cycling from England to Turkey, across all of Western and Eastern Europe, I spent a total of five nights in paid accommodation. It was difficult and stressful — at first. But soon, the realisation that it was not only possible but actually easy became a source of liberation. Since then, I’ve spent half a decade relying on the wild camp for overnighting during my travels on four continents.

The initial power to do this came from stubbornness of character. I refused outright to even consider paid accommodation. I didn’t think about it, therefore it didn’t exist. (I was a real expert in stubbornness!)

If an average hostel in Europe costs ~10 EUR a night, my first four months would have cost an extra 1,200 EUR (on top of my 4.7 EUR-per-day food budget) — about 20% of what I thought was my entire round-the-world trip budget for several years! Compare that to 150–200 EUR for a good-quality lightweight tent and the numbers speak for themselves.

Since then, practice has made almost-perfect, and there’s nowhere I’ve not managed to find a free spot to rest at night — whether by traditional wild-camping means or otherwise.

Best wild campsite ever?
Camping in the snow

Talk to people

If you’re unsure about your surroundings, stop and talk to people. The 99% will be very happy to help you find a suitable spot for your tent, and it’s always best to have the locals’ blessing if possible — what’s the worst that can happen?

Often you’ll find that this will lead to other social encounters of the most welcome (and welcoming) kind, and this is one of the enviable experiences that few but the independent adventurer have the opportunity to enjoy.

(If there’s nobody around, of course — great! Stealth camping couldn’t be easier!)

Staying with an old Hungarian couple
Toasting in Mongolia

Know when to stop

If you’re cycling in open country, allow at least an hour to locate a suitable place to camp; more while you’re learning. If you’re in or approaching a town or city, you need to consider whether you need to stop for anything, and if you’ve got time to make it through and out the other side. You’ll also need time to check the area and set up your camp before dark. Spending a few minutes absorbing the vibe of the area is usually a good idea (I’m talking human intuition here, not ‘energies’ or ‘auras’).

Obviously the amount of time you need will depend to a large extent on where you are — sometimes you’ll be spoilt for choice, but if you’re not in a particularly remote area, chances are you’ll need to ride for a while before you find the beach/spinney/pastureland you’re looking for.

If you’re in a busy area, scout a little, have dinner, then sneak off the road to your camping spot under cover of darkness. It’s not ideal, but you’re unlikely to be noticed after dark, unless you wave your stove/headtorch around a lot. This isn’t the ideal situation, but sometime you’ve just got to sleep.

Wild camping near the Aswan Dam, Egypt (HDR)

Understand yourself better

Yes, there’s stuff living out there — mostly dogs and ants, in my experience (and, if in England, little bunnies). If a dog finds you in your polythene cocoon in the woods, it’ll leave you well alone (after noisily swiping your breakfast if you left it outside). No animal will come to you looking for a fight, because random aggression hasn’t generally been an evolutionarily stable strategy. (If you’re American and you’re about to mention bears, you’re right, and you already know how to camp in bear country.)

And humans don’t roam the fields and forests at night brandishing lethal weapons. Why? Because they’re afraid of humans roaming the fields and forests at night brandishing lethal weapons. Get over it! Once you’ve quashed the nerves, you’ll start seeing potential camping spots everywhere, and boring your friends by incessantly pointing them out.

Camping under the stormclouds in Mongolia

A lot of our survival in the past depended on our overactive imaginations, which were (and still are) great at cooking up wild fantasies of savage beasts and hostile tribes hiding behind every rock. Because of this, and especially once it gets dark, people are uninquisitive of anywhere outside the places they know by daylight.

Now, of course, we’ve slaughtered or contained the man-eating wildlife and have (mostly) got used to living in each other’s company, so it’s safe to chill out. I’ve been hiding my tent just out of sight of roads all over four continents for months on end and have never encountered anything more than an invitation to come and sleep somewhere warmer and/or enjoy a glass or two of the local tipple (oh, and a black bear in Washington - no big deal). It’s worth mentioning that my experience is entirely typical of bicycle travellers.

Actually, you’ll be surprised where you can get away with putting a tent, sleeping rough or blagging a horizontal surface! Sometimes, in ‘emergencies’, it’s been fun seeing what’s possible in this regard. I’ve slept in (click for pictures) bus shelters, inner-city parks, building sites, roadside verges, subways, empty garages, petrol stations, fishing boats, tramps’ hovels, hotel gardens, under tables, drainage pipes, storage sheds, abandoned buildings — even about five metres from a busy main road in full view of anyone who cared to stop and take a look!

The worst campsite ever

The last one wasn’t ideal (the mud was really sticky), but I got my head down undisturbed for a few hours!

Of course, if you’re out in the Sahara or crossing the Mongolian steppe, you can put a tent anywhere you please. The world is your campsite — enjoy it.

Wild Camping in ArmeniaSleeping on the banks of the SalzachBreakfast timeCamping in a garden in CapetownCamping on the Red Sea coastOn The RailsSleeping by the Swiss lakesBear baiting at Lake QuinaultMorning toast in SlovakiaSnow coated campDecember 2009Palmyra from my roomIstanbul by nightCamping near Salalah, OmanCamping in rural BelgiumBreakfastDead Sea at nightInside a Nubian village hutNight-time video diaryCricket CampFrench toast on a campfireThe storm threatensAnother gorgeous lakeside wild camping siteCamping in RomaniaSleeping under the Saharan starsHotel Room in Idfu, EgyptA nice place to spend the nightCampsite found!A happy coupleCamping under a Jordanian roadCamping in Suffolk, EnglandSleeping in Bucharest airportCamping on the Romanian plainsWild camp near Port OrfordBike and bivvyCamping by Lake Sevan, ArmeniaCamping in an Austrian orchardMy Flat in Yerevan 1Breakfast at Stillwater Cove campgroundSleeping on the beach in BulgariaKeeping each other warmCamping in the Turkish highlandsOvernight shelter in SW WashingtonEscaping a wild-camp siteCamping in the Jordan Rift ValleyA kind and unsolicited hostCamping in Huntingdon Country ParkCamping behind an Egyptian service stationSleeping in front of a beach hut in BulgariaCamping under the stormclouds in MongoliaCamping in the Swiss mountains'Neverland'Camping in the snowInside Dzaamar family homeMakeshift sleeping quartersWild Camping in IranSunset over KhovsgolFirst campSleeping in a Nubian village mosqueWild camping near the Aswan Dam, Egypt (HDR)Campground lightshowWild camping in ItalySleeping outside in BudapestCamping on the Hungarian Great PlainsStaying with a veteran cyclist in MontreuxSheltering in MendocinoBest wild campsite ever?BMX park in AustriaCamping in northern JordanSleeping in an abandoned roadside cafeThe worst campsite everStaying with Romanian villagersDawn on the ferry from Aswan, Egypt to Wadi Halfa, Sudan (HDR)Camping in eastern SwitzerlandCamping with road workers in the SaharaWild Camping in ArmeniaCamping on the deck of our shipLeaving our campsite in European TurkeyLeaving homeGer ceilingInside the Qusiya church community centreDesert camping in SyriaCamping in the Blue Nile Sailing ClubCamping in the Sinai DesertCamping in the woods...Camping on the banks of the NileVodka blurFamily gatheringHotel Masshad, Tabriz, IranStaying with friends outside GenevaBaghdad Cafe in the Syrian desertGer guesthouse in MoronHotel Iliko, BatumiCamping near WestportA lucky find

Camouflage

Your main sleeping option is your tent. Try to get one in a suitably-inconspicuous shade of green — MSR and Vaude make some lovely colours. This will serve you best in the wide variety of environments you might find yourself in on a world tour, because if it’s green, stuff grows there, and if stuff grows there, people live there, and people don’t see a green tent in a green field at night. Other colours will get you by as well, just not as stealthily.

Camping near Westport

Take off any shiny labels on the outside of the tent. Remember how useful you thought the reflective bits on your bags & tyres would be at night — well, now they’re useful for showing passing drivers exactly where you are. Make sure they’re facing away from the road!

I often use a green poncho as a waterproof in heavy rain, a picnic blanket, and finally a great way to make my bike and gear inconspicuous and keep it dry at night.

Wild camping in Italy

You don’t always need a tent

I sometimes travel with a bivvy bag. It’s a lot more inconspicuous than a tent, and I much prefer the feeling of sleeping outdoors than that of being cooped up ‘indoors’.

Bivvying is quite literally just sleeping outside, on the ground. The bivvy bag itself is a breathable, protective cover for your sleeping bag, and also a groundsheet, as you can slide your mattress inside it too.

For added protection from the elements, you can utilize a poncho as a shelter (or a ‘basha’ in military-speak), if you have a bit of light cord or a few cargo bungees such as the ones that might be strapping bags to your bike. Slide under this with your bivvy bag and you’ll stay dry even in a downpour.

Sleeping by the Swiss lakes

For the full British Army experience, you can leave your boots on as well.

Relax, it’ll be fine

I guess the main message that I’m trying to get across here is that you should prepare as well as possible, and then, when you’re on the road, never give up that conviction that there’s a place waiting for you, and all you’ve got to do is find it. That belief is one of the most powerful motivators we have.

Once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ve got a dependable tool for getting a good night’s sleep anywhere in the world — free. Just imagine the possibilities…

Ready to go? Check out my review of the MSR Hubba tent, ideal for wild-camping. Need more inspiration? Where I Sleep on Flickr, continuously updated.

90 Responses to “How To: Wild Camp Anywhere And Not Get Busted”

  1. Ben Allen

    Nice article Bro, enjoyed reading that. I’ll have to go off into the British Columbia wilderness at some point armed with a tent and see what happens. More likely it’ll happen when the weather is somewhat better that present though!

    Reply
  2. A.Aneko

    I loved reading your article…so right with your words about hospitality, hope and our imagination… keep on biking!

    Reply
  3. R. Wicks

    Hi Tom

    Thanks for another excellent article. I’m a newcomer to your blog, but I found it so engaging that I sat down one weekend and read it all the way through. I’m pleased to read that you’re planning to develop the site into something more — I shall definitely be coming back, and look forward to seeing it progress.

    All the best for your continuing adventures.

    Reply
  4. Yvan

    well, I used to calculate an annual rate of “free nights”, wich means nights sleeping somewhere you don’t pay for (a kind of “illegal nights”, at least in Europe)
    This was a few years ago, when I was still young and adventurer (like you guys hanging around this blog).
    I used to land att about 30 nights per year, wich was ‚I think, a quite honest result for a working guy leaving in Europe.
    Now comes what might interest you Tom: I got married. And the first 2 years increased my rates from a month to 3–4 months … and then suddently to 5 to 7 nights a year: we got children…
    I was wondering about your rates and their future?

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Interesting! Well, when I was on the road, free nights were about 95% of them. Now I’m renting a flat in Yerevan, so we’re down to the 5% when I head out for a night’s camping somewhere. Over a year, then, I guess about 50% is close!

      I guess the future travels will weigh in at around 80% free nights — my wife is slightly more inclined towards the occasional hot shower/bed than I am…

      Reply
      • Julius

        hi!

        I googled about wild camping in france and got here through a comment in a forum.

        You are so right, camping wherever the fuck I want is a fucking right. It’s todays society that is a shame!

        I live in Sweden though so I live in a country where I can: “camp wherever the fuck I want”, but not in my neighbors garage, thats a little too harsh xD

        Great blog I loved it. I will do the same thing next week when I head to France and bike to all kinds of castles, mountains, rivers, gorges and so on .

        Thanks for the great article!!!

        Reply
      • Pamela

        Speaking of showers…
        If you’re camping almost all of the time, where and when do you shower?
        Or you don’t shower at all? For four years?!!
        I have also had the stubbornness of not staying in paid accommodation when I was travelling in Europe as it was just too expensive for my shoestring budget then.
        But I stayed with Couchsurfing mostly which had showers.
        Showering was the problem when I camped out in Barcelona for 10 days.

        Reply
  5. lockie

    ive been on the road with the bike for about 6 years now,by the way, love this site, its killed a couple hours blissfully as I take a break. Its not the cycling I find , after all the motion is the same weather it be snow sand or a runway, its that last hour before it. I get more of a buzz now from ticking off countries where ive camped, of nearly 100, 2 have beaten me-the vatican and monaco, a blemish that kind of has me wishing to go back and try again! Ive had a gun shot over my head, hippos, elephants, a sloth bear and lions around it and to cap it off a lion on top of me in it! Hail black wolf tents I say! i find it incredible that whn cycling for a spot at night that people still call out hey white man– or the equivelent, and I know I wont sleep a muscle in most places (bar sudan, iran norway) if I know somebody has seen my tent. Ive spent the last 7 months in europe and with using the hospitality sites and my tent havnt paid for a solitary night! I find around big city airports is a winner, and train lines to be a close second if you can handle the noise.
    cheers for the read
    lockie

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Wow — what a story! How did you manage to end up in a tent with I lion on top of you, might I ask? I assume it wasn’t being over-friendly?!!

      Reply
      • Pamela

        Yeah.… pray tell… I’m really wondering about the lion on top of you too.
        It must have been a nice warm night. ;)

        Reply
  6. bex

    Lovely post. I agree with you on the bivvy bag — I’ve only had a bivvy bag on most of my previous tours and I loved half-waking up in the middle of the night, half-opening my eyes, seeing millions of stars and falling asleep again. Nowadays, I’m a grownup, with a partner and a tent and other grownup things and, while we usually just use the tent inner, i’m still missing the feeling of feeling like I’m sleeping out in the world.

    Reply
  7. Six of the Best (November 2009) « The Next Challenge

    […] How to camp anywhere and not get busted – Ride Earth […]

    Reply
  8. EWK

    A great alternative to tents and bivy bags is a camping hammock. Search for Warbonnet Blackbird ;) No need to sleep on the ground if you’re in an area with trees.

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      That looks like a great sleeping solution, as long as there’s somewhere to hang it — thanks!

      Reply
    • Pamela

      A hammock is very versatile and good for every now and then.
      But it wouldn’t be very good for your spine if you slept in one consistently for a period of time.
      I actually slept in a hammock in the general class of an Indian train!
      It is totally cramped and 100% full in Indian train general class… every seat and floor, even right outside the toilet is completely full.
      I had the brilliant idea of tying my hammock to the luggage rack and I used the ample air space to sleep in a space completely my own! ;)

      Reply
  9. Doug

    Hi Tom! Just a funny story I though I’d share. Years ago I was cycling with a friend from Amsterdam to Nice and along the way we stopped in Lausanne to visit a friend who was living there. Well, we stayed out rather late and decided to sleep in real beds for a change. After being refused a room at a couple of hotels, which perhaps was not surprising as we probably looked and smelled a bit dodgy, we decided to fall back on camping. We got back on our bikes and rode downhill toward Lake Geneva. After stumbling about in the dark for a while we got our tent setup on the lakeshore and hit the sack. We woke up to discover that we had pitched our tent beside a boardwalk that runs along the lakefront. Various joggers and dog-walkers looked at us curiously as we spread our wet clothes in the sunshine. We had a spendid view of the mountains across the lake and no-one bothered us at all despite our having camped in an area that was in all likelihood off-limits to the likes of us. Good times…

    Reply
  10. Pastures New « Rob Friend Dot Com

    […] and I’ll be on my tod for at least half of the journey. I plan to camp as much as possible (for free), and keep my costs to a minimum, but my largest concern is the cold. On a previous tour we had the […]

    Reply
  11. Wild camping | woollypigs

    […] here. http://www.mark-ju.net – wildcamp.htm thebmc.co.uk – a great pdf from the bmc tom.ride-earth.org.uk – how to camp anywhere and not get busted guardian.co.uk – holidays wild camping environmental impact Rating 3.00 out of 5 […]

    Reply
  12. Philip Smith

    Great article. I really admire your tenacity, and loved the pictures on your flickr site. Great stuff.

    Reply
  13. james

    Nicely put together Tom, honest and straight to the point.

    It’s true isn’t it — in some sense, we do each have a right, as people, to stay in a place and pass the night.

    To deny that is basically the same as denying another’s right to drawing breath.

    Done respectfully and, as you say, if possible with local peoples consent, it’s all good, and, especially in Europe/USA, can actually start to heal the massive amount of fear and paranoia that we have all learned to feel.

    So go for it, sleep out.……you might just help someone to trust people again.

    Reply
    • Tom

      I could not have put it better myself — “you might just help someone to trust people again”

      Reply
  14. Alastair Humphreys

    Hear! Hear! Fabulous post, Tom.
    In case your readers think you are crazy and that wild camping is only for idiots, here is my own siren song of praise for nights out under the stars: http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/praise-wild-camping-tents-trump-star-hotels-time/

    Reply
    • Tom

      Everyone — check out Alastair’s inspiring blog. You won’t be able to stay indoors for long after reading it!

      Reply
  15. CurioRando

    Well conveyed: Hope more powerful than our fears. As college students touring ohio thirty years ago we asked a farmer for permission to sleep in his fields. He insisted on throwing our bikes into his pickup and taking us to his church’s campground, for which he as caretaker had the key. It was an idyllic spot with a pond where we skinny-dipped, and swung from a rope falling into the water after a hard day’s pedaling.

    Not sure who was more pleased, we at our good fortune or he at his opportunity to lend a hand.

    Reply
  16. Rachel

    Hey tom,
    Great article. Really useful for us. Pitching our tent is the one thing we are slightly anxious about on our upcoming expedition in Thailand (we leave in just under 2 weeks!). But your article has given good tips and in many ways will be a reminder to just relax and ask a local!!

    Thanks
    Rachel

    Reply
  17. Jarrod Dellamarta

    First visit to the site and I enjoyed the article. Funny you should say “humans don’t roam the fields and forests at night brandishing lethal weapons” — I was free camping in a field in Southern Laos when I was warned in broken English to beware of guys with guns. I ignored the warning and went to sleep in my tent. Sure enough about midnight some guys with guns turned up blazing away. Luckily they were just shooting for birds and weren’t interested in me!

    Cheers
    JD

    Reply
    • Erwin Buse

      Hi Jarrod, Thats funny I had the same experience in Laos. No coincidence cos I was staying in the same field as you. We sure had a nice time. I guess its more dangerous to step over a sign in Alaska “No tresspassing” and camp out there. They wouldn’t be hunting for birds.

      Reply
  18. Bryan Keith

    Haha, I got a laugh over the guys with guns in Laos. The worst I ever did was near a marijuana field in Chihuahua. Bad, bad timing for darkness. Bad, bad idea. We hid like the paranoid tourists that we were, and we were happy to get out of there in the morning.

    The only advice I would add to your post is to have a good lighting system. Spending the winter cycling in Albania and Greece, I seem to find myself looking for a place to camp in the dark each night. Sometimes a warm tea in a warm café is a great way to spend the first couple cold hours of darkness. Having good lights makes that a much more comfortable option.

    Reply
  19. Jack

    Great article, definitely feel like I’m a step closer to heading out and getting it done. I plan on hitch-hiking through France to Spain and will hopefully be wild-camping, along with utilizing resources such as couchsurfing and hospitalityclub.
    It’s definately nice to hear such a positive approach for once.

    Cheers!

    Jack

    Reply
  20. Paul Firth

    You should try wild camping in Holland, they really, really don’t like it. Got myself nearly arrested once for daring to try and camp in some remote woods. A dog-walker reported me and a policeman told me he’d been looking for me for half an hour just to tell me to pack up and ship out!

    Reply
    • Tom

      In the Netherlands I always asked around for camping spots, and ended up sleeping in a wonderful variety of places — a boathouse, a narrowboat, a back-garden, a garage floor and a yard behind a cafe!

      Reply
    • Wim

      Being from Holland (and living in the USA now) I have done some wild camping in Holland. You just have to know where. With that heavy population density it is hard to find a quiet piece in the woods.

      Reply
  21. mike

    sooooo y not hike and camp her in USA!!! much safer and dont have to wory about getting killed buy ppl hew want money,rape,and what ur worst nightmear may come true.i say USA IS MY LAND OF THE FREE.come camp and hike or live with the rest of us that want to live in peace!!!

    Reply
    • Tom

      On the other hand, there are more gun-owners and ‘no trespassing’ signs in the USA than anywhere else I’ve been…

      Reply
      • andy

        Yeah, there are lots of gun owners in the US. I’m one of them, and I know many more. We aren’t to be feared, though. Really, it’s mostly a cultural thing. By and large, rural people in the US are genuinely decent. As you found elsewhere, just asking around is likely to get you good results. If you’re ever in Connecticut, let me know.

        Reply
  22. Feargus

    “It is my belief that there is always, always somewhere to sleep that doesn’t involve handing over your passport and a wodge of cash”

    I’m so glad there are others out there who feel this wayIt’s just a shame society as a whole has a long way to go before collectively thinking this, well, unless you live in Scandinavia.

    Cheers for the post.

    Reply
  23. Feargus

    Indeed, how could I forget, I lived there for two years!

    Reply
  24. Sam Gorman

    i am thinking of going t spain with nothing more than a tent some supplies and a dream of waking up in a different place each day. i currentl live in england and have found that my only option is to “sign on” and try and get work in a town with no jobs. so ive decided its time.… time to pack the bags and make way for a new lifestyle. ive spent a good number of weeks online trying to find someone who has done this kind of thing for tips, but (allmost) every one says its extreaml hard to impossible. this article has affirmed my plans to take the plunge! MANY MANY THANKS hope to be commenting here in a few months time from some unknown remote part of spain! thanks another time!

    Reply
  25. Basso

    Loved your article! I plan on riding across Canada next summer, but I have to say that I am somewhat concerned about bears. I know about not taking food into the tent, not cooking within 200ft, hanging your food, etc, but there are bears out there, and that is, perhaps, the only trepidation I have with “wild” camping. I’m enjoying reading your site. Thanks for all the wonderful info.

    Reply
    • Tom

      I’m also shit-scared of bears!

      Reply
    • Simon

      I cycled across Canada in 2009 and the only provinces where you should be concerned about bears are British Columbia and Ontario. Personally, I did not encounter any bear and, from the many stories I was told about, only a few cyclists cross the path of a bear. Follow basic safety guidelines and you should be fine. The bear is more afraid of you than you are of it.

      By simple curiosity, where will you start from ? Are you doing it West to East ?

      Reply
  26. Bartholemeu

    Great article.
    Quick question — what do you use to ensure that your bike does not get stolen overnight, given that it is your lifeline when camping in the middle of nowhere…
    D-Locks can be heavy, and a cable — weak, not to mention there is often nothing to lock your bike to…

    Reply
    • Tom

      Hi Bartholomeu. I don’t carry any type of lock. Especially when in the middle of nowhere, your choice of camping spot is the best security you can have. If I’m feeling paranoid for some reason (rarely), I might bungee the rear wheel to my tent, or leave my cooking pots balanced on the frame to wake me up if something moves. Some people think this is naive, but the fact that I’ve never had anything stolen when camping speaks for itself :)

      Reply
      • dave

        No lock at all!?
        But what do you do when you stop in town to visit LIDL or something?

        Reply
        • Tom Allen

          Normally I just leave the bike. If I get a bad vibe (rarely) I’ll just take it round the back of the store to where the staff go on their cigarette breaks…

          Reply
  27. Simeon Banner

    I think Tom is very brave… I tried to just camp this weekend and a friend, with experience, asked if I had this piece of equipment and waterproof boots and a poncho and from being fired up to go I was struck full of doubts. I wonder if Tom became less fearful with experience or was he just like that from the beginning? I can’t imagine being able to sleep in a metro station or urban environment. It is true that the fear is mostly imagined. I salute Tom for being able to conquer what for most people remains a massive wall.

    Reply
    • Tom

      Tom was definitely a lot more paranoid when he started out — as with many things in life, experience brought his fears into context ;)

      Reply
  28. Jo

    I agree with the freedom associated with wild camping… however I’m just not sure I agree with the principle. Firstly there are a lot of irresponsible ‘free campers’ out there who do not respect the environment they are camping in, and leave more than a footprint. But more importantly to me, I think that if you are a visitor to a country, enjoying what it offers for ‘free’ — the outdoors (no way around this when on a bike — you enjoy it all day every day) then I believe you have a responsibility to give something back to the local economy. You use public toilets, shelters, picnic areas ond other visitor facilities that are all maintained for everyone to enjoy and use for free. We just cycled across Canada this summer and almost exclusively paid to camp, finding where possible municipal lcally-run campsites, some of which were not the prettiest but if people didn’t use them, they would struggle to survive.

    When asking around for somewhere to camp late in the day, we were welcomed into peoples homes/told to camp on their land several times. On leaving, we would give a small amount of money and as that was almost always refused, we insisted that the money was taken and given to a local charity. That way we got to meet great local people, usually stay in their home (and be fed) yet still feel we had contributed in some way to the local area.

    Yes, if you are on a tight budget, the cost per night adds up and I guess for some people that would mean a shorter trip. But for us, it was in our budget and I felt a whole lot better about the whole thing. Just my perspective I guess — won’t resonate with everyone. Great site overall btw — wish I’d found it before I went cycle touring!

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Interesting perspective. But what if a person receives so much unconditional hospitality while travelling that they spend the rest of their life giving freely to others as a result? Isn’t the economy of good-will just as important as the economy of finance?

      Reply
  29. Adel

    Hi Tom,
    I am a newbie here. What an inspiring story.

    I have always had the dream of biking around the meditteranean, thus capturing the cultures and beauty of Middle East, North Africa and Europe. I have never one something like that before and I keep going back and forth whether to do it on a motorcycle or pedal bike. I prefer bicycle but don;t know how to estimate time needed to cover distances and whether I need to train hard before embarking on such a trip.

    Do you have a blog post on how to prepare for such trips, estimate time based on distance and terrain, and many other precautions and things to consider before embarking on such a trip?

    Than you.

    Reply
  30. Sidetracked Guides: Camping Wild (Part 1)

    […] Try to be creative with your pitch. As Tom Allen says in his superb guide “How to Wild Camp Anywhere and Not Get Busted”: […]

    Reply
  31. Sidetracked Guides: Camping Wild (Part 2)

    […] sleeping in some inopportune places – bus shelters, garages, petrol stations to name some of Tom Allen’s favourites – then a more durable mat would make […]

    Reply
  32. Margaret

    Your tip about talking to people makes so much sense, particularly in Europe and in areas where people tend to take pilgrimages. Years ago, when I was a teenager, I did a pilgrimage with a group to the Shrine of Jasna Gora in Poland, walking over 130 km in a span of a week. Along the way, people in small villages opened up their homes, barns and fields to us so that we could rest. It’s just the hospitable thing to do. But you always ask kindly first!

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Absolutely! No need to be furtive when there are people around to talk to. And it often leads to far more interesting evenings than you planned…

      Reply
  33. Ian & Anita Bain

    Gidday Tom,
    Great website most enjoyable. We tour on a tandem and have done the west coast of USA. South England, normandy and brittany in France. Part of the North Sea cycle route in Norway and Sweden and just returned from Western Australia . We,ve had a tandem for 13yrs . Fully recommend it. Adventure cycle touring is the best way to explore country and culture . Cheers ‚thanks for the excellent article .
    Ian & Anita

    Reply
  34. Martin

    Nice article. I wild camped for the first time last year in a Suffolk wood. After spending half an hour rationalising all my fears my mind gave up making-up scare stories and I had a lovely time : )

    Reply
  35. Markus Vesala

    Hi everyone, and Of corse our host Tom.

    Tank you for a interested website. Have planing for a wild for a 2 weeks bike vacation to Scotland now in 9–23 April 2013. Usually I’m a camper whit both auto camper and a caravan behind when I’m traveling. I actually live fulltime in it. It’s my 4 year now, and I looove the freedom it’s give me. If I’m not working I’m hit the road. Always free camping as it commen to to here in Scandinavia.

    Now I’m gonna do what I’m have being dream of for a long time. To have a bike Holliday in 2 weeks in Scotland. Of corse free camping or like you say; wild camping. It’s cona be soo lovely. So tanks Tom for al your inspiration when I’m reading your website here.

    If anybody have plans to come to Norway. Your always welcome to visit me and my smal dog on my basecamp, whits is a ordinary camping place be course the electricity situation in ordinary life of mine. Of corse free.

    Markus
    E-mail: [email protected]

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Thank you Markus! I’m really glad you’ve found this discussion useful. Hope you have a great trip in Scotland, one of my favourite places…

      Reply
  36. Markus Vesala

    Yes, I really did love the trip. Resting at a friend house in Edinburgh just now after al this days of biking and Wildcamping. It’s was a wonderful trip from Tyndrum via Fort William up to the Inverness and back again to Edinburgh.

    I’m sure I come back another year to bike some more in Scotland.

    //Markus

    Reply
  37. Matt

    At last I have proof for my other half that I am not mad. I have not yet taken advantage of free camping but have just about convinced the boss to cycle from northern England to Morocco. Despite my absolute conviction that we could freebie almost every night she was never convinced but now you have provided the proof, thanks.
    Matt.

    Reply
  38. Gill

    Are there any women out there who wild camp? I have a mad notion (don’t even have a bike — though I might have access to a folding bike) to go cycle touring but I don’t have anyone to go with. Don’t know if I fancy being a lone middle aged female wild camping.

    Reply
  39. Alicia

    Hello! Great article and stunning pics! I am also heading for a wild camping trip in siberia-mongolia this fall, and want to head down to china after. Do you have any experience wild camping in China? I have heard its quite a tough nut to crack in this sense, any experience?
    Cheers and happy travelling!

    Reply
  40. Jacob

    I just wanted to point out to visitors coming here through Google, that there are reasons why you should not wild camp in certain countries — most often the very densely populated ones.
    Wild camping is about being discreet and not leaving any trace. Do not camp where other people can see or hear you, especially not if it is on someone’s property. It is not your right to camp anywhere you want if it annoys other people.
    Ask as much as you can. If you get a no at the first house, ask at the next. Most people will be very kind to you.

    Reply
  41. Wim

    After my study I went for a bike tour from Holland to France and Italy. I was camping wild for the first time. After a few days I developed a “nose” for the right spots. Mostly deserted places with no signs of human activity (rubbish, tire tracks or trails). I did this for about 10 year. Later I did it with a motorbike but that was quite difficult. I have slept in, on or near about half of the places you have slept. I can add: at the end of a runway of Le Bourget, Paris. No alarm clock needed. At the edge of a military proving ground in the south of France where they started nightly manoevres with tanks and heavy guns. Against a slope of a highway under the bushes with the cars racing a few meters from my head. In a clay pit that was hard in the evening but soft a foot deep after a night of rain. In a chapel on a cemetery in the north of Spain after three days of solid rain. Between two lakes in Belgium where during the night dozens of frogs jumped from one lake to the other over my face.
    But all those nights added flavor to the trip. Now, at 68 and living in the USA, I’m trying to find ways of making bike trips and camp in the wild here and there, if needed. I don’t believe the campsites at the east coast are as many as in Europe.
    Thanks for the very nice and inspiring article.

    Reply
  42. Tips to Nab a Free (Or Nearly Free) Vacation - Pimsleur Approach Blog | Pimsleur Approach Blog

    […] permitted in most of England, but it is in Scotland. There are, however, plenty of people, such as Tom Allen, who believe wild camping is nothing less than a human being’s prerogative. If you do decide […]

    Reply
  43. Ryan Howman

    I have a opportunity to tour from monaco to south of spain roughly 1000km and have tent an backpack ‚v little money 120euros .which in my case means travelling 80kms a day an 10euros.my concerns are:1 is this feasible ?.2 i bought a set of road tyres for my mtb will they last should i take spares 1 or 2.?.3 my pack weighs 40,50kgs its hiking pack which 1.7kgs itself should i use this or switch to urban backpack and belt bags taking weight off my back and moving some to my hips …
    hope u can help as this is my first tour.And thanks for this great site.

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      1. Yes.
      2. Ride until they wear out, then buy new ones from a bike shop. Bike shops are everywhere.
      3. You absolutely don’t want 40kgs on your back! Get rid of the unnecessary half of your stuff, then put the rest in a cheap pair of panniers.

      Safe trip!

      Reply
    • Wim

      I have done your tour (in parts) in the 70’s. I did an average of 80 km a day. And that is with sight-seeing but not visiting museums or other inside stuff. With some experience I got the total weight of my pack down to 12 kg, tools included. Later I added a lightweight tent and the weight went up to 16 kg. I used 4 bags hanging from carriers. You don’t need spare tires but a spare inner tube is handy to do a quick repair and fix the holed tube later when you do a planned stop. Don’t use a back pack, it is very uncomfortable if it is heavy and warm.
      Have a nice trip.

      Reply
  44. Canada, fuck yeah!

    […] There’s also a good resource about stealth/wild camping […]

    Reply
  45. Wild camping in Europe | Trails and Tours - Bikepacking

    […] story. Some maintain that cowboy camping (with a bivi) is tolerated almost everywhere. So here is a positive bottom line if you want one. And here is some conflicting nitty-gritty for […]

    Reply
  46. Anjuli

    Love this and it’s been true for me as well! As a female who regularly travels solo and camps wherever I feel like I’ll throw in too that it’s not much more dangerous for a female than for the fellas though I do sleep with a knife and often bear spray.. animals are not a worry, it’s the people to be nervous of at times.

    I also do a lot of road tripping and don’t want to pay to sleep so I often use couchsurfing.com when in cities for a shower and a few days not to worry about where my belongings are while wandering (or again, people) and even with a car I don’t get bothered when parking in most places, I try to park out of the way and have stayed in Walmart parking lots, housing communities under development, alongside canals and on service roads, farmers fields, simply pulled off the side of highways, etc.

    It’s a good life traveling and without lodging expenses the budget stretches much further for other things. Thanks for a great share! :)

    Reply
  47. will

    I find a good map really helps. I look for areas of woodland or ideally a lake or river where I can have a swim to get clean at the end of the day and to wake myself up in the morning

    Reply
  48. MrJazzz

    Been there done that… my way to go is with a hammock and a green tarp 4 feet by 8 .

    Since i travel mainly in the caribeans, i have no problem find 2 palm trees to hold my bed… if it rains… tarp me up !

    I spent many months that way from bahamas to St-Vincent, never paid a dime anywhere.

    I never cook so i do not carry much things with me . I eat fresh and live. Only one little backsack with 2 t-shirts, 2 pants, sone food and water and my Ipod touch to keep in.. and take emails.

    winter 2013 to 2014 I will be around bahamas again, I love it, you can cross bear feet from and little island to another and be alone there… period.

    Bythe way if you know anyone in need of a serious baot watcher, my am fully trustable and own a sailbaot myself, somewhere in Canada…

    Reply
  49. Jason Kind

    Brilliant article, I think its worth imagining what you would think if you saw yourself wildcamping.….Most people will leave you well alone because your Brave, Crazy, No threat anyway.… Would love an article about keeping clean on the road when Rivers etc are not available.

    Reply
  50. Tripper

    Great tips. I have found some of them from my personal experience to be valid. Away from the crowds was also my motto. If you are lucky to spot a river you feel like god, hehe.

    Reply
  51. Jeremy

    Hey Tom,
    I’m so inspired after reading all about your travels. Two friends and I are thinking of doing something similar (without bikes) throughout Eastern Europe. I think that a combined fluency of Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian will leave us in good stead. Do you have any opinions or tips on travelling with a group of 3?
    –Jer

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Hi Jeremy. Travelling in a group of any size is possible but comes with its challenges. Most important is that everyone is on the same page when they begin regarding expectations. In practical terms, I found that dividing ‘roles’ up worked better than everyone trying to help to everything, particularly navigation and food — giving people the chance to play to their strengths. I think fluency in 4 languages (including English) will be a big help. Good luck!

      Reply
  52. Mike Cope

    Just a quick point on Bike Security, if you are worried in any way take your seat post out (assuming it is quick release) and keep it in your tent. It keeps your saddle dry and will make any potential thief think twice. Great site by the way Tom.

    Reply

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