In my last post about our budget blow out, I mentioned how we could have saved so much money if we’d gone free camping (or at least cheap camping) a lot more than we did.
So why didn’t we free camp Australia sooner?
Well, there are a few reasons, some of which are valid and some of which are more excuses than reasons. But whether they’re reasons or excuses, they still held us back from free camping around Australia as much as we could have.
But if you’re heading out on your own road trip around Australia and want to free camp, don’t let these same things stop you!
Hopefully this list of our stuff-ups and hang ups will help you to 1) prepare your rig better or 2) eliminate the excuses from your own mind before you let them stop you.So let’s dig in:
Not Being Self-Contained
To ensure that you don’t run into any difficulties free camping, it would be ideal to be totally self-contained. By self-contained I mean that you are not reliant on any services being provided wherever you are camping. This includes not needing a toilet, a shower, water, power or waste removal.
While we have the water, power and waste sorted out, the big one for us was:
You know this had to be number one, right? Many free camping sites do not have any toilet facilities. Some just have a long drop or portaloo, but some don’t have any loos at all.
So, if you’re looking at buying a caravan at the moment, it’s worth considering paying the extra ‘how ever many thousands’ to have a toilet on board. If you’ve got a toilet, you’re sorted; that’s the big one, out of the way.
Other options could be to carry a portapotti (chemical toilet) or go bush to wee.
Some campsites don’t offer much in the way of bushes, for ‘going bush’. So us ladies may find that the only time to discreetly pee, is at night. That couple of hours between arriving and nightfall is usually the busiest with set-up and cooking dinner and settling down for a bevy or two… none of which is remotely pleasant if you’re busting to go pee.
Digging a hole
And then of course there’s those times when you need to take a spade with you… if you know what I mean… uh, if you don’t, I mean number twos, poos, fecal deposits!
But, unless you’re really bush, more often than not, this option is not really an option. I mean, if you’re at a rest stop along the side of a busy highway, the spade option is not really appropriate. Am I right?
Generally (and I could be wrong about this) the ‘going bush’ option is really only appropriate, when you’re in the bush.
A note on toilet paper
Anyone that’s made their home for a night or two in a free camp, will know that toilet paper strewn across the camp can be a pretty common sight. The more popular the camp, the more toilet paper. It’s gross and totally unacceptable, what’s worse, is that it’s sooo freaking easy to avoid.
Ladies – if you’re going for a tinkle, take two wads of toilet paper. Wipe with one, and then wad up the wet side with the other wad of toilet paper. Then throw it in the fire or in your rubbish bag. Sure, you use a bit more toilet paper, but ain’t no one going to tell me that just leaving toilet paper to fly about the campsite is a better option.
Everyone – if you’re going to do a poo in the bush, dig a hole. Dig the hole deep enough so that little critters can’t dig it up again. Do your business in there and cover it up well. You can either put your toilet paper in there too and put a match to it, or take it away with you in a plastic bag.
It really is easy so it blows my mind that so many people can’t do that. Please, please dispose of your toilet paper responsibly!
Sorry, this is a sore topic with me, so it really gets me going. (And I recognise that I’m preaching to the converted on this site.)
I think I’ve done the toilet topic enough now. My preference? Have a toilet onboard. That’s what we’re planning to do when we get a caravan.
Not Enough Battery PowerWe’ve had ongoing dramas with keeping our batteries charged up enough to power our fridge and often that would stop us from free camping. If we had a fridge full of fresh veges and meat in the freezer, then we would opt for a powered site rather than risk having to turn the fridge off, or draining our batteries and ruining them.
It’s been a bit of a pain, but we’ve learnt some good lessons (i.e. don’t buy a big fridge/freezer unless you have plenty of batteries and good charging from your car and solar.)
Not Being Able to Find Free Camps
Especially in tourist hot spots
Following the main tourist highway up the east coast from Sydney to Cairns is not exactly conducive to finding free camping spots! You have to go inland in order to do that, but we really wanted to drive up the coast. Now that we’ve done it, any further trips on the east coast are likely to be inland where I know there are a lot more free and cheap camping options available.
Just keep that in mind when planning your itinerary.
Side note: WikiCamps – just pay the $8 and put the app on your phone. This app is the only reason we were able to find any camps, full stop!
I’ve heard of another resource called Camps 9, it’s a physical book and costs about $50. If you’d rather not use the crowd sourced information of WikiCamps then I have heard that this book is really, really helpful.
Too Far From Anywhere
Especially if it’s only appropriate for an overnight
Many of the free camps we saw, particularly in rest stops on the side of the road, were in a location that would really only be suitable for an overnight stop. For example, we didn’t want to stop at a rest area that was one hour away from the town that we intended to stay in for the next couple of days to explore the area anyway. Sometimes it just made more sense for us to stay in town at the caravan park, than have to drive in every day.
Worried About Security
This was a tough one for us. Being in camper trailer the security is not very high. For sure we should have a wheel clamp or tow ball lock (ummm, we don’t, yet/still) and then we should have things like the solar panel and fridge padlocked to the trailer. But that doesn’t mean all our stuff in our tent is safe, just unzip it and everything is there!
So we do what we can. We keep the fridge in the back of the car (so that goes with us everywhere anyway), we take all our electronics with us and we leave the rest and hope for the best.
If our site was to be robbed they’d get food, clothes, camp chairs, and bedding. The only things of value (other than the camper trailer itself) that gets left at a site is the solar panel and batteries, but if we’re free camping we need all the solar we can get, so the panel is staying out in the sun and feeding those babies.
That we had a tent when everyone else was in a caravan or motorhome
In some of the free camps that we checked out, I felt too embarrassed setting up our tent when everyone else at the free camp was in either a caravan or a motorhome.
Sometimes I felt like we were the poor cousins next to these fancy rigs. I would be looking to see if there were other camper trailers or tents, and if there weren’t I’d just assume we must be doing something wrong or not read the sign that says ‘Fancy Rigs Only’. :-O
And sometimes we felt like we’d look silly pulling out our massive tent. With the kitchen on the outside, the pantry boxes, stove and gas bottle and related paraphernalia, I feel like our set-up looks like we’re settled in for the long haul, even if we only intend to stay for one night.
So what can you do?
- Be self-sufficient – if you don’t have the budget (or desire) for a caravan with an onboard loo, think about getting a porta-potti and a shower tent, or something like that. Test it out on a shorter trip to make sure that whatever solution you come up with is one that everyone is happy with.
- Planning – I’m actually, usually, a really good and thorough planner. But for this trip I didn’t want to pre-plan too much; you know, I didn’t want to take away from the freedom and spontaneity of this road trip. But I think that if we’d planned a little (okay, a LOT) better we could have found free camps further inland and done more sightseeing around those areas.
- Make sure your set-up is secure – well, as secure as it can be. Take precautions like: securing the high value items, not leaving your site for too long, being mindful of the ‘tone’ of the area you’re in or travelling with others.
- And stop worrying! – This last one is for anyone else who’s a worry wart, like me. Don’t feel embarrassed if you’re the only camper trailer in a sea of caravans. It doesn’t matter that it takes you 90 minutes to set up your site. No one cares that you have to pull out your porta-potti and set up a shower tent. Stop worrying about what other people think (or more likely, what you think they’re thinking) and just get in there, set up your site and relax.
I know this goes without saying… but make sure you obey all local rules and regulations, and be respectful of the neighbours and any fellow travellers.
We are so outrageously lucky that Australia supports free camping. We get to enjoy some fabulous scenery and breathtaking locations. Let’s make sure we all respect that privilege; enjoy it and don’t ruin if for others.
I really hope that you don’t have the same hang-ups about free camping that I did. I’m not gonna beat myself up over the fact that we missed lots of free camping opportunities, I’m just going to learn from it. My intention in writing about these hiccups we had in getting used to free camping, is that you’ll be able to plan your own trip a little bit better, and that maybe your mindset is in a better place to start free camping a lot quicker than we have.
If you have any questions or helpful comments about your own free camping experiences, please hit us up in the comments below.
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Thursday 5th of December 2019
Security for us really isn't a problem. We travel with our 50kg rottweiler lol she's totally a socialite and thinks everyone is her new bestie, but you don't want to wake her protective side up. We sleep soundly knowing no one will touch our stuff with her guarding us
Friday 6th of December 2019
Sonya, your security system sounds gorgeous!! :-)
Monday 9th of September 2019
A sensor light/ Solar or Batter operated grab a few and tie them to your tent. That is how we do it so if anyone gets close the light comes on. And they run.
Monday 9th of September 2019
What a great idea (and easy!). Thanks Kerryn :-)
Tuesday 7th of November 2017
Hi Michelle, I'm not so sure about using the padlocks at all. We stayed in a caravan park where tents, campers and pop-top vans were broken into. Where they couldn't undo the zips or in the case of the pop-top they just slashed the canvas with a knife. I would rather a few items were stolen than have to get the canvas repaired mid trip.
Tuesday 7th of November 2017
Oh gosh that's so bad. :-( My remedy is to get a caravan (!) but padlocks would have been a lot cheaper. :-)
Monday 6th of November 2017
Thanks for all the info...very welcoming indeed...saving this to show hubby..we are just selli g up and planning our big trip now...Cheers and hope to see you out there..
Sunday 5th of November 2017
Hi Michelle, my husband and I spent 4 months travelling around QLD, NSW, Victoria, Melbourne, South Australia, and the NT back to Brisbane and we did it in a self-contained hard floor backword camper trailer and we also had a portable washing machine and a ports loo. We had little port locks that we put on all doors and windows when we slept so we felt safe at all camp sites and free camps when we were at Cooper Pedie there was a lot of camper trailers and caravans that were broken into when people where sleeping so our locks made us feel a little bit safer if they really wanted to get in the locks would not do anything but we had no trouble at all in all our travels we were pretty well set up.
Sunday 5th of November 2017
Hi Sheree, That sounds like a great camper trailer! (I'm trying not to be jealous... but I am. :-O) That's a good idea about the little padlocks. You're right, it wouldn't stop anyone, but at least it would slow them down or make our tent a less easy target. Thanks for that suggestion. Michelle :-)