We’ve all been there. We find a perfectly idyllic location and think to ourselves that it’d be wonderful to spend the night there.
Whether it has a spectacular view, it’s quiet and remote or it has the promise of a beautiful sunset; to stay the night would be wonderful.
If you’re on foot with a small tent, you could be rather discrete about it. Hiding a 3 metre high motorhome is no mean feat though.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Make life easy by following this common sense guide on wild camping for motorhomes and camper vans.
Legalities of wild camping for motorhomes and camper vans
Not to be a party pooper but in some countries, wild camping is simply illegal. England is a perfect example of this. The Uphill Climbing Association have a great article about the legalities of wild camping in the UK.
It’s geared towards those camping in tents but the principles are the same. Regardless of the law, no matter where in the world you are, you can wild camp responsibly in your motorhome.
When to park up for the night
Find a suitable site well before dark so you can see the lie of the land and any no camping or private land signs around.
You won’t necessarily see ditches, pot holes, low hanging branches or shady looking characters after dark but they may well be there. If it’s not a suitable spot, you still have a couple of daylight hours to find another location.
If you’re a newcomer to road trips, read a beginner’s guide to road trip planning
Choose your pitch
So you’ve found an idyllic spot and decided you’d like to stay overnight. Are you on private land? Is the land cultivated? Is there a nearby village?
A little consideration for your surroundings and the environment will help ensure you have an uninterrupted stay. Seek the landowner’s permission where appropriate. Most of the time, they will grant you permission and you’ll probably get a cup of tea too.
If near an African village, you’ll need to find the village Chief. You’ll have a wonderful experience observing the village formalities in this situation, regardless of whether permission is granted or not.
Be aware of your surroundings
Think of the condition of the land and the impending weather. You don’t want to get stuck or leave large tyre tracks across a water logged field after a night of heavy rain.
When parked up on a remote track, make sure to leave enough space for other vehicles to get by. In Bosnia, we had a convoy of tractors driven by very drunk farmers pass harmlessly by, in the early hours of the morning.
If we’d been nearer the track, they wouldn’t have easily passed. This is particularly relevant if you’re camping in convoy with other vehicles.
Wild camping in convoy
If there are several vehicles wild camping together, ensure you maintain a 5m distance between each vehicle as a fire break. An accident in one vehicle should not lead to all group vehicles becoming damaged.
Keep a low profile
This is particularly relevant if you’re not sure you have the right to be there. There’s nothing more certain to attract attention than being sat on your deckchairs around a dining table, your washing hanging out and awning at full stretch.
Loud music playing and bright lights shining won’t help you there either. If it looks like your wild camp is becoming a bit more permanent, you’re more likely to be asked to move on. Make a judgement call on your situation.
Essential reading: Kitchen essentials for your camper van
If you think there’s any risk of someone asking you to move on, make sure you have a designated driver. In the event you’re asked to move on, being drunk will either mean you’re unable to drive or it would be illegal and dangerous.
Depending on where you are, lighting a camp fire is probably not the best idea. It could spread into a bush fire, attract unwanted attention and will certainly leave a mess.
The same can be said for a BBQ. Don’t light one unless you have a self contained unit that sits off the floor and can be packed away full of ash.
Never leave your campsite rubbish bags out. Not only does it look untidy but you will attract the local wildlife. We made that mistake once near a village in Senegal.
Watch the video to see what happened. Most importantly, do not leave rubbish behind. When you leave your overnight camp, leave nothing behind.
Essential reading: how to sleep for free in Europe
Being moved on
If you are asked to move on, respond graciously, apologise and ask if they can recommend another place to stay. Hopefully it won’t be a campsite 200 km away. In all likelihood, you’ll be pointed towards an acceptable wild camping spot nearby.
When to leave
Don’t outstay your welcome and move on after a day or so. Leave your pitch early in the morning.
Leave no trace
Use your own toilet facilities or a public convenience if available. Don’t openly soil near a village or on the farmers field. Plan your black water capacity and make arrangements to empty your chemical toilet at the next disposal point.
Read how to empty a portable toilet for some dark humour. Never empty the contents in to drains. Take all your rubbish with you and leave no trace you were ever there.
Wild Camp Responsibly
If we all stick to these simple principles and apply some common sense, we will avoid causing problems for ourselves and future overland travellers following in our footsteps.