For many people, hiring or owning a campervan is the perfect way to get off the beaten track and escape civilisation. Wild camping is the obvious way to achieve this, but if you’ve never tried it you may feel a little nervous or just want to know you’ve thought of everything.
Before we had kids, we only ever wild camped in Bella (I just couldn’t see the point in paying for a campsite) whereas now we tend to do a mix (in the hope our children will adopt another family and we’ll get a bit of peace and quiet…), so we’ve had our fair share of experiences, good and bad. But I wanted to make sure I hadn’t missed out any key points, so of course I went out to our amazingly experienced, knowledgable and helpful community, and here is the information we crowdsourced. Read these tips, add in some common sense and a dollop of intuition and you’re good to go!
1. Technology can help you find your wild camping park-up
The Park4Night app was the most commonly mentioned tool for finding park-ups. With 60,000 locations globally (most are in Europe) and counting, it is pretty comprehensive and includes pictures and reviews to help take out some of the guesswork. Searchforsites is the web-based alternative, set up in the UK and covering Western Europe. It doesn’t have quite as many sites but it does have good functinality. Many people also suggested using google earth to scope out locations before you arrive.
2. Or there is the good-old-fashioned follow your nose method…
These websites are pretty new; in our day we found our wild camping spots with a combination of maps and trial and error. Of course this way you are more likely to find somewhere truly secluded, however you are also more likely to end up having to sleep in a layby after spending hours driving around in the dark without success!
Bongo_life_ on Instagram said “I get my 10 year old to chose left or right at junctions, and so we travel…… “ because really there is no such thing as lost when your only purpose is to enjoy the ride.
3. “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints”
I would go further than to say leave no trace, I try to leave everywhere cleaner than I found it. This is especially true of beaches where the #2minutebeachclean movement has encouraged everyone to do their bit to remove plastic from the marine environment, but why not take rubbish home from wherever you are?
As Morgan Shepard puts it: “Dealing with litter and recycling. It shouldn’t need to be said, but sadly it does. Take it home with you or put it in a bin!! When you leave a park up covered in mess, it reflects badly on all of us!”
4. Be considerate and don’t overstay your welcome
You don’t have a right to wild camp in the UK. That includes Scotland where the freedom to roam legislation doesn’t actually cover vehicles. So you need to be considerate in your choice of park up and be prepared that there is a chance you may be moved on.
As Wandavan put it in their wild camping blog “It sounds obvious, but make sure you park somewhere quiet and away from dwellings- you won’t annoy anyone if they can’t see/hear you but to be honest, it also means they can’t annoy you – after all the whole point of wild camping is to get away from it all, right?”
Most people also recommended staying for a maximum of 2 nights, although of course you will need to exercise your judgement on this. One option for longer trips is to find a cluster of good spots and rotate.
5. Be prepared
Wild camping is all about preparation. Be sure that you have:
- A full tank of fuel – if you’re venturing into the highlands of Scotland for instance, you can drive for a very long way without seeing another vehicle, let alone a petrol station, so you will not want to run out of fuel
- A full water tank. Take every opportunity to top up your water. You will also want to ensure you have some large bottles of drinking water if the main tank is not potable. Rob Grant says “Water can be found in church grounds, some fuel stations and other businesses will give you water if you ask nicely.”
- Check engine water, oil and screen wash levels
- Make sure you have plenty of the food you love – campervanning is not about deprivation! Check out the size/type of fridge you will have if hiring a van and plan accordingly. Check also if the van has solar panels if you are planning to be off-grid for a while, if not you will need to be frugal with fridge usage. Plan ahead so you know the last town you will go through and stop to stock up.
- Have your breakdown number to hand. If you’re hiring a Quirky Camper, make sure you have saved the owner’s number on your phone.
6. How to deal with numbers 1 and 2…
This is one of the most common concerns people have but there are a number of ways to deal with it.
‘Free-weeing’ as I like to call it is generally ok, like all things, in moderation. In too much concentration it can be damaging to flora and fauna so try to avoid areas of high traffic and wonder further off the path. It’s also important to avoid waterways as urine is a pollutant. Likewise sapling trees can be damaged while established trees and bushes should be ok.
For pooing you need to be even more careful. Find a spot at least 200 feet from the nearest path, waterway, campsite etc and dig a hole 6-8 inches deep – deep enough so that someone won’t step in it but not so deep that it won’t decompose. Use minimal unscented, undyed toilet roll or leaves to wipe. Then cover over.
A pleasant alternative if you’re close to civilisation is to find a nice cafe with a toilet so you can have your morning coffee and ablutions. There are public toilets in many towns although many of these have been closed down or closed during covid. Petrol stations generally have toilets and of course if you’re passing a service station you may as well make a stop for all your hygiene needs.
If you have a chemical toilet in your van we strongly recommend using the green rather than blue chemicals and ensure that you do not empty it in a toilet with a septic tank. Ideally you would empty it at a campsite which works well if you are following the 2:1 rule (see below).
7. What did your mum tell you? Safety first!
It can be hard to talk about safety at the risk of scaring people, but as with many things in life, wild camping comes with risks and it’s worth baring a few things in mind to mitigate those:
- Be aware of your environment – don’t be paranoid but take a mental note of risks and have a plan
- Let friends/family know where you are and keep in touch. Encourage them to check in with you if they haven’t heard from you. With that in mind it’s worth checking if you have phone signal before getting settled in somewhere
- Conversely, do not advertise your location via social media. If you are going to use location tags then wait until you have moved on before you post
- Have a clear passageway to the front seats without having to leave your vehicle and park facing outwards so you can easily leave in a hurry if needed
- Pepper spray is legal to carry in most countries in Europe but not the UK, hwoever there are legal alternatives such as this
- If you have a dog they can be a great safety ally, and many of our campervans welcome pets
8. Why not try the 2:1 rule?
Lots of people, especially those with kids or new to wild camping follow the 2:1 rule, that is two nights wild camping followed by one night in a campsite. The advantages of this are obvious – a hot shower after two days of flannel washes, a comfortable toilet, stock up on all the essentials, refill your tanks and have a night off cooking. If you’ve got kids they’ll enjoy finding some new friends and there’s often a playground of other entertainment. If you’ve got a hook-up you can recharge everything. Remember, the way to win at this game is to have a wonderful, easy and memorable holiday, it’s not about proving anything to anyone!