It’s not as easy as it used to be, but you can definitely still get away with free camping at the beach, by the river, in a park, or even in a suburban, city or industrial area. After nearly a year of living out of a van, we’ve only been ‘moved along’ by the council once. I have had an amazing mixture of experiences with this new found freedom, from waking up at the oceans edge, to waking up on a busy main road. I feel like I should share some tips that I’ve learned along the way both from our mistakes and other peoples mistakes, and hopefully it helps you in some way.
Scenic Camping (beaches, rivers, bushland, parks etc.)
So you’ve found yourself a beautiful little beach car park, there’s hardly anyone here, there’s no cctv cameras lurking on the lamp posts…..but of course there’s a big fat ugly white sign that says ‘no camping’ or ‘overnight stays prohibited.’ Damn. How beautiful it would be to fall asleep to the waves crashing on the rocks, and wake up to the sunrise. I say go ahead. But keep these simple tips in the back of your mind;
1. Wake up with the sun.
Get up at 5am, turn on your little gas stove, boil some water in your little camp kettle and make yourself a cup of coffee. Make your bed so that the van doesn’t look like a sleazy master bedroom, change your clothes, and start the day. That council employee probably doesn’t even start his shift until 7am so when he hops into his government provided car to come down to the beach and bust all of the campers, you can say “I jut got here..” Unless he was posted up in the sand dunes overnight with a camera, how can he prove you stayed there all night?
2. Put. Your. Rubbish. In. The. Bin
Need I explain? Just because you’ve fooled the council doesn’t mean the locals won’t notice you. In our experience it’s usually only the travelling backpackers that are lazy and litter, but unfortunately nobody knows if you’re one of them or if you’re Australian – we all just fall victim to that classic backpacker/camper stereotype. So do van-dwellers all over the country a favour and leave your little area spotless. If there is rubbish there when you arrive, pick that up too! You’ll be able to keep coming back because there is no reason for anyone to complain or report you.
3. Change it up.
Don’t stay in the same spot for days on end. People come here every day to walk their dogs, jog, have a picnic etc. If they see the same van for four days straight they might start to be annoyed, who knows. Don’t let it get to that point and you might save yourself some trouble.
Suburban Stealth Camping (cities, shops, industrial areas etc.)
These tips will make vanlife easier in general but stealth camping is kind of in a league of it’s own and you’re going to want to have luck on your side. Councils are harsh and I’ve learnt that penalties can range from $100 to $600 from talking to other campers in their travels. We were once told in Brisbane that we’d be fined $550 per person, not per vehicle, which is very extreme. Good luck! And don’t make a habit out of this…
1. Your vehicle should fit in a standard parking space.
I apologize to all those big-rig fanatics out there, and I’m sure it’s somehow possible to live stealthily in one for a period of time, but lets face it – the bigger your bus/trailer/coach is, the more you’ll be noticed.
2. Appear subtle and clean
Whilst a multi-coloured hippy-mobile might seem appealing to some, please use forethought when shopping for/renting your van and consider if you can blend in.
You can’t expect to go unnoticed when you’re fluro or floral. Stick with a solid colour or two-toned van and you should be fine. Also, go through a car wash every now and then, keep the van clean and you’ll be more inconspicuous.
3. Don’t park illegally
I know it sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised. How can you possibly expect to get away with camping illegally if you’re not even parked legally?
Again, obvious. But worthy of a mention, seeing as though it could be the difference between receiving a fine or not. Technically, if it cannot be proven that there is somebody inside of a vehicle, how can you be penalised for overnight camping? Our curtains are thick and cover every inch of window inside the entire van, and you can barely tell from the outside if there are lights on inside.
5. Prepare elsewhere
When you roll into your chosen street or carpark, you’re going to want to switch off the ignition and basically go straight to bed. No lights, noise, movement etc so that people in the area don’t notice you. This is why we suggest doing your cooking, eating, changing clothes, making your bed and any other part of your night routine BEFORE you arrive at your spot for the night.
As mentioned before, we have been moved along by the local council on one occasion.
We had slipped up and slept in, and it was our own fault. That is why waking up super early is our number one piece of advice.
At the end of the day, you’ll meet new people, foreign backpackers and seasoned grey nomads along the way and get plenty of advice, but the best lessons will come from your own experiences!