One of the main factors driving vanlife enthusiasts is the urge to reconnect with nature and to experience the wild. We want to escape society’s hustle & bustle for a while. Therefore, many of us feel absolutely no desire to stay on camp grounds (me included). Instead, we opt to search for wild camping spots.
With this in mind, this desire to be in nature comes with great responsibility. It is our duty to leave the lowest possible impact on the landscape, ecosystem and wildlife we are visiting. That means we should ALWAYS follow the Leave No Trace Code Principles, which I explain in this blog post.
Before sharing my game-plan on how to find beautiful wild camping spots with you, I need to give a BIG DISCLAIMER: Wild camping is not legal in many countries and choosing to ignore this is at your own risk. Always check local legislation, for example in wild camping in Sweden is mostly legal, but there are some exceptions. In other countries perhaps it’s legal to park for the night, but you’re not allowed to set up a proper camp.
But without any further ado, let’s get to it…
1. Using Apps to find the most popular wild camping spots
The app park4night is without a doubt the way most vanlifers I’ve talked to find wild camping spots. The free version is simply amazing! It gives you access to countless spots, which have been shared and peer-reviewed by the community. So is it necessary to pay for the premium version? Well, I wouldn’t call it “necessary”, but there are definitely benefits to it. For instance, you can search for nearby services, such as public toilets, laundrettes, wifi, drinking water to fill up your van’s water tank. Besides that you can also filter spots according to reviews. That means you can choose to only view the best locations, which is a real time saver!
Another app that I’ve heard people use is iOverlander. I’ve personally never used it, but you may want to check it out.
2. Checking Satellite View when looking at Maps
This will give you a better idea of the landscape and terrain. Moreover, you can see whether there are a lot of buildings in the area. That way you can avoid bumping into too many people. You will also be able to look for specific features, for example in Sweden we looked for lakes with jetties. This approach definitely needs a bit of creativity and patience, but I’ve found some really cool spots using it. And the best part? You’ll probably not find any other campers at the wild camping spots you find using g this method.
3. Asking fellow travellers or locals for tips
What was that again about wanting to get away from people? I guess I need to take that back. Meeting people that simply know the area better than you can be really valuable. On the one hand, they can tell you if you need to look out for anything (think: dangerous terrain, wildlife, etc.), which may save your butt. On the other hand, these people usually know the local hidden gems, which you wouldn’t find on any App.
Friends of mine even told me that locals have invited them to camp on their private property! So there we have it: It can never hurt to be friendly and ask!
4. Scouring social media for inspiration on wild camping spots
How often has it happened that you’re on IG and see a camper in a gorgeous spot and think: “WHERE THE F IS THIS??” – Or is that just me? To be honest, Greece wouldn’t even have been on my radar as a vanlife destination if it hadn’t been for social media. But IG, YouTube, and Pinterest aren’t just great resources for inspiration. If you utilise hashtags and geotags smartly, you will also find beautiful specific locations. Let’s say you search for #vanlifeportugal or #swissvanlife on IG. Chances are that you will find loads of beautiful photos that may have tagged the exact location. Another approach is to watch YouTube videos, for instance vanlife vlogs or destination guides. These videos have the added benefit of giving you an even clearer idea of your intended destination.
5. Following your adventurous spirit
Sometimes you just need to go for it and follow your instincts. This is probably the most time-intensive but also by far the most rewarding approach. The wild camping spots you find when you’re driving around mindfully with your eyes open are the ones that will stay in your mind and heart the longest. It’s truly a rewarding feeling to feel like you’ve “discovered” a place, so don’t miss out on trying this approach!
The DO’s & DON’TS of finding wild-camping spots
DO some research before you get behind the wheel. Seriously, you’ll feel much better if you have a variety of options to choose from when looking for your next wild-camping spot. I personally save all of the potential locations on the app maps.me with colour-coded tags and a small description.
DO try to arrive at the intended camping spot in daylight. That way you’ll have enough time to look for a second option if you don’t like what you find. Furthermore, it is safer to drive during daylight, especially when the roads are tough. Arriving before its dark will also give you an idea of the surrounding area. Where am I? What kind of location am I in?
DO check the weather forecast and assess if your wild camping spot is safe. If there is a chance of rain or even a storm it may not be a good idea to camp on a beach, close to a river bed or on a half-eroded gravel path.
DON’T simply use one of the above methods. Only relying on apps will mean that you may have to share all of your spots with fellow campers. On the other hand, you may miss out on the best spots in the area if you’re not making use of all of the available resources.
DON’T beat yourself up if you don’t 100% LOOooOVE all of the places you spend the night. Sometimes you’re too exhausted to keep driving. Other times your car is giving you trouble. Don’t worry if you may spend a night here or there on a lame parking lot. It doesn’t matter; we’ve all been there.
I hope this post was helpful! If you have any more questions please leave a comment or shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org <3 I’d love to hear from you!