when your wild camping isn’t so wild
“Wild camping is camping outside of campsites..”wikipedia
What springs to mind? Abundant fields of flowers, mountains on the horizon and the noise a nearby stream your morning alarm? Well you’d be totally right. There were days on our 6 months trip where we were awoken by beautiful sunlight peeping through our blinds where when we opened the doors, fresh pine smells drifted into the van and we were completely immersed in nature without a soul around us.
Well yes of course it clearly is like that but there is also the flipside. When I planned our European adventure that is exactly how I imagined every morning but in all honesty if you’re planning on visiting cities you may end up in the less than glamorous surroundings of a car park. I guess this is not to shatter your dreams and expectations of vanlife but of course being realistic and honest is totally what I would want someone to be like if I was researching the topic. In this piece I wanted to explore the prejudgements on wild camping, what it is, the reality and the legalities. I would like to state I am not encouraging readers to partake but it is important to understand wild camping realities.
Firstly, I have looked into what my thoughts were on wild camping however this is not the case for some peoples thoughts. Pulling over in inappropriate areas and leaving masses of mess and litter is what some people think and its hard to change that perception when few ruin it for the many. We have experienced some abuse on our travels in particular a very irate and rude woman in Stuttgart who smashed on our window told us we were parked illegally, asked if we were going to pick up our litter and said we were a disgraceful representation of Britain. What she failed to see was this; we hadn’t slept in the van in that parking spot we were parking up for the day the same as her, the litter that surrounded our van was not ours and in fact if she wasn’t so irate we could have explained all these things especially as I didn’t believe we were a bad representation of our country. She was off before we had the chance to and even though it wound me up no end there was no point in arguing because this woman was beyond reason clearly. We continued our day as planned and as we left cleared all the litter around our vehicle despite it not being ours. It’s a sad fact that we took blame for other ignorance or lack of understanding. I cannot even begin to explain how important it is to respect those around you as many people I have come across have said ‘leave the place as you find it’.
Why Do It?
The above isn’t to say that it is all bad. For us travelling over a 6 month period going into a campsite very night was just not cost effective. Instead we kitted our van out with all the necessities and in all honesty and as gross as it is the great outdoors made a perfect toilet! Instead we chose to wild camp across Europe whether legal or not as long as we were discreet and left no rubbish or trace it did no harm. We chose to stay in airbnb’s and campsites at regular intervals for a proper hot shower and washing machine facilities.
The Legal Bit
In all honesty you are breaking the law when wild camping in certain countries however you can wild camp legally in Sweden, Norway, France, Poland. There are rules around this so be careful and read up. From our experience be especially cautious when in Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, Belgium, Croatia and Italy. We were rudely woken in Menton by the police who despite being strict merely asked up to move on and said we couldn’t sleep there. There were around 6 campers so I can understand their frustrations.
How We Did It
To be honest for the first 3 months we would go on google maps satellite view and pick a bit of deserted land and pray it wasn’t fenced in. During the day we would use Parkopedia and adjust the vehicle height and fine free spots to park. We met another fellow vanlifer on our travels who introduced us to wild camping heaven in the form of an app Park4night that is the website but also there is an app which is life changing. You can search for campsites, see wild camping spots, find where you can empty your chemical toilet and find fresh drinking water. Our whole vanlife experience changed when we found out about this. Not only is it a great tool we also came across other people camping in the same spots and got talking!
If you’re planning on sleeping in the great outdoors I thought I would share some of my tips following the bad experiences but also the good:
- Check up on the rules around wild camping in every country you visit. Like I said we wild camped in all of the countries we visited without getting ourselves a fine but I guess that could be luck or the fact we were super discreet (get those black out blind on point!)
- Despite it being illegal don’t let horror stories put you off everyone has different experiences.
- Give back to the economy. Yes you aren’t always in campsites but if youre in a cafe car park then make sure you buy a coffee and brunch there, to be honest if you get chatting to the owner you’ll find they are probably more than happy to let you use the loo and stay if you are a paying customer. We stayed at a beach club in Montenegro where they let us use their showers after we got talking over a few drinks.
- Park up in a remote spot. The town centre car park is probably not a good shout but the tram station one stop out of town will provide you with quick access and a more discreet and probably quieter night.
- Arrive late and leave early, chances are you’ll get a parking spot and no one will notice you under the cover of darkness (providing those blackouts are tight)
- Be discreet. You’re in a carpark not on a beach so put away those chairs and don’t be busting out the bbq.
- Leave no trace. Don’t be a dick and leave your rubbish on the side of the road, you don’t even need to walk to a bin you can drive up to one for god’s sake.