As travellers on a tight budget, we are always looking for ways to save our money. One of the biggest costs with travel anywhere in the world is accommodation. Hotels and campgrounds, caravan parks and resorts. They all want a slice of your wallet. In Australia, even a backpacker hostel can set you back $40 and more, for one night in a dorm room. Even plain old tent sites can get crazy, we once paid a whopping $45 for an unpowered tent site for one night!
What many travellers in Australia don't know about, or are even unsure about, is free camping. Because Australia is a HUGE place with long distances between towns there are always little roadside spots tucked away where you can spend the night for absolutely zero dollars.
Here's our 7 must know tips for the perfect Australian free camping experience.
1: First and Foremost: Get the Wikicamps app
This is an app for your phone that will show you the whereabouts for tons of camping options all around Australia. It's worth $7.99 on the app store and it is the best $7.99 we spent! It includes a trip planner, a chat forum and you can store its contents offline on your phone. You can use the filters to see only free camps, hotels, caravan parks, camps with water, toilets, phone reception etc. It really is the only camping app you will need while you're in Australia. Read the reviews on the site you choose and leave a review yourself. This lets fellow travellers know if it’s a good camp or a bad one.
2: Travel by vehicle
While people have travelled all over Australia by every means possible the best way to see it is by vehicle, either car or motorcycle. There are so many back roads and hidden places that are accessible if you have your own transport. Jump onto sites like Gumtree to find the cheapies. While motorcycles are great fun, the car is your ticket to easy free camping. Our advice is to buy a wagon or van and sleep in the back. This means you can stealth camp in city car parks, at beaches or down gravel tracks. While you can buy a sedan or motorcycle and just pitch a tent as you go, we do find having a wagon a little easier for camping in populated areas. With some curtains up, you are more likely to blend in and less likely to be asked to move along. A tent setup in the middle of a parking lot is sure to draw unwanted attention.
MyDeal Pro Tip: Fit out your car with a side awning for the perfect shady retreat.
3: Obey the signs
If you pull up to a spot where you want to camp and there is a big sign saying NO CAMPING, then don’t camp there. Over the years these ‘No Camping’ areas are spreading and are being aggressively patrolled as too many travellers ignore the signs and basically annoy the town’s residents. There a few Shires in Western Australia that now don't allow free camping at all in the whole Shire. If you do decide to free camp in these areas and you get caught out, the fines are huge. It’s easier to just move on.
4: Camp almost anywhere
As long as you aren't on private property, or in a designated no camping area, then you can camp. Just be a little smart about it. Don't make your own tracks. Always stick to marked trails. If you start bulldozing your own paths into the bush, then pretty soon the locals will notice this activity and that could potentially lead to another off-limits area. Sometimes all you need to do is go down a side road and find a gravel pit or a pull in by a river. Rivers and creeks almost always will have several free camp spots along them. Always respect culturally sensitive areas such as those around Uluru. Don’t destroy them and leave everything as you find it.
5: Rubbish: Take it out with you
Don't leave your rubbish behind. Many hidden free camps don't have any facilities provided. Including bins. Take your rubbish out with you and dump it in a roadside bin. If you see some other lazy travellers rubbish lying around, pick it up. Also, if you take a poop in the bush, bury it deeply. No one wants to see someone else's dirty toilet paper and poop pile. Burying it keeps it out of sight and keeps the area looking clean. Again, don't give the locals a reason to clamp down on free campers.
6: Speak to other campers
These guys will be a great resource for the best camps coming up down the road. We have had many a great camp because we followed another travellers advice. Plus, travellers are a friendly lot and you may just end up sitting around a campfire, sharing a glass of wine and chatting. It's a great way to make new friends as well as to gain some up to date tips.
Bushfires destroy large parts of Australia's amazing outback every year. Too many of these are started by careless campers. Always be aware of the current fire restrictions for the area you are in. Don't be that traveller that ignored the warnings and restrictions and ended up burning a town to the ground. Most towns and shires will have large signs displaying the current fire danger risk. There are some great safety tips to be found on the DFES website. If it is safe and you do have a fire, make sure you put it out before you leave camp. We have turned up to camps in the middle of the day where the fire is still smoldering and smoking from the night before while the campers are long gone.
Free camping around Australia is a great way to see this fantastic country. Waking up to the sound of birds, or the crashing of waves just meters from your car just adds to the experience. By being a courteous camper and following the basic tips above you can do your bit to help keep free camping exactly that. Free.
We are Todd and Chantelle, two Australian thirty-somethings with a thirst for adventure, knowledge and meaningful experiences.
In 2016 we decided to sell everything we own, switch up our life and go adventuring around the world instead of working. And we have never looked back! Find out more on Over Yonda Adventures.