So there you are: all geared up and ready to go out and explore. That might be a full Overlanding trip for several weeks or just be the first steps into camping and wild camping. Maybe you’re just up for a quick weekend getaway. Expectations are high.
For me a good trip is directly linked to the quality of the spots we camp on.
I get a lot of questions on how we find those perfect spots. They don’t come served up on a silver plate, good places are hard to find and I’d like to keep it like that.
I’d like to give you an insight on how we find them. I’m not going to tell you my hotspots, you will have to find your own. 😉
The definition of a perfect camp spot is also very different from one person to the other.
Before we dig deeper in to that subject I would like to point out a few basic rules we apply:
Rule n° 1: No Campings
Despite what many people think, we don’t like campings. Staying overnight on a camping is a necessity for us, a practical stop for laundry, a hot shower, fix broken stuff and maybe to have a meal served. There are a couple of exceptions on that rule: because of good personal contact with owners of a camping, friends staying there or country regulations concerning wild camping. But in general we avoid campings and prefer to be out on our own far away from other people.
Rule n°2: Veto
Me and my girlfriend agreed that either one of us has veto right on the locations we find. Wether it’s a camping or wild camping spot, if one of us doesn’t feel good about the spot we turn around a continue searching. The reasons might be various but not discussable: safety of the spot, to busy or commercial camping, we don’t like the view, …
Rule n°3: No Stress
Because of the above sometimes the pressure adds up in the car: long driving days, warm, hungry, the kids are whining on the back seat… we do not give in to stress. If we have to move on and search a little further, we will!
Rule N°4: Keep it legal
Despite the fact that I only prefer to do wild camping, I also stick to the countries guidelines concerning that subject. That’s a big bummer for me because in most European countries such things are absolutely prohibited.
But there are a few near wild camping experiences that are easy to arrange!
Rule n°5: Go with the flow
I know this sounds a bit hollow but what I mean is that you have to be open for things that cross your path and be open for unexpected turns. This could be people, a wrong turn, bad luck that turns out to be a new opportunity. We’ve met amazing people and ended up in the most fantastic locations because we went for insecurity and said: “Oh well, we’ll see”
The idea idea is to find a unique spot or experience on each occasion. The key ingredients for me are: Being alone in nature with my family and be self-sufficient. And up till now every time we almost lost hope in finding, we found just that perfect spot. Stick to the rules! 🙃
For a weekend or a short week the preparations are the most intense and need to be done as much in front as possible, time is scarce and we want to enjoy as soon as possible. For these trips I try to find a piece of farmland somewhere nice and isolated, figure out who is the owner of the land and ask permission to spend a couple of nights in his fields. I also make good arrangements on using fire, going to the toilet, etc.
Being self sufficient: water, electricity etc is no issue. Burying your poo underground in the woods and taking your toilet paper back with you to trow it in the garbage bag is a part of that. Treating the land, nature and owners with respect is of utter most importance.
To find those unique pieces of land, we often go hiking. In the area we want to camp out and keep our eyes open for spots and talk to people we pass, if we pass any.
This is an intense activity and is mostly not long term. After 2 or 3 camps most people don’t want it anymore, not because of problems it just fades out. So you continuously have to scout for new locations.
There are alternatives for searching places that are a bit easier and can be done from home. In Belgium for example I use the website from the Scouting Federation: www.opkamp.be to find large pieces of land that are available for rent. It consists mostly of farmers who rent out their piece of land during summer to Scouting groups. Some provide even more services like water etc. In general you will always have to pay a (little) fee. Some of them are very flexible, some don’t. But you will only be able to rent a terrain out of summer saison, because they are all occupied in summer by the Scouts. Unless you want to rent it for a whole month.
Another tool that is great to use is www.homecamper.com, an airbnb like website with people opening up their gardens/lands for outdoor enthousiasts. There is a lot of rubbish in it like gardens with swimming pools, way too much entertainment… but if you take time to do some extensive research you will find some real gems in there. I know I did!
Longer trips are easier to prepare for the simple fact we don’t prepare them. We just set our destination countrie(s) and leave. Since we do long distances we have time enough in the car to seek for a location to sleep that night. That gives us as much flexibility as you can get. Depending on how far we get, road conditions, weather, how tired I am, … we look for a destination. We practically change location every night or two nights and every once and while we stay a bit longer somewhere if it’s a top notch location. This brings a lot of variation to our travels and we get to see very different regions of a country or even multiple countries. The first 2 days are mostly about making as much distance as possible. We cover about 900 to 12OO per day. And after two days we slow down and start wandering around, changing directions and destinations in a blink of an eye. On driving days we cover from 100 to 400 km depending on the roads we travel, sometimes we just move a mountain further. At the end of our trip we cover between 7000 and 10000 km over a month.
There is no destination, you don’t have to race to the next spot.
The journey is the experience, not the destination.
While driving, i’m the only one doing that, my lovely girlfriend is either reading books or scouting online about the next destination we are heading to.
If we are travelling to countries where wild camping is allowed we just use Google Maps and my Garmin Overlander maps to find great locations to stay. We look for long dead end unpaved roads that lead in to a forest or near a lake. We just drive and every now and then I zoom out on the map to have a better view of the nearby land features. If we see something interesting we give it a go. And we always end up with a great spot and view. especially when we stick to our rules.
Sometimes we just follow a tip from someone we met along the way. Sometimes we meet people on the way and decide to pitch up together somewhere, I really love that spontaneous way of travelling, meeting people and freedom to roam.
Another app that I tend to use is Park4Night. This is a great community based app where people tag camping spots they find so other can go there as well. And when you visit a spot from someone, you can also rate it and confirm whether is as good as the initiator described. Works really well! Off course there are different types of users: camper vans, mobile homes, caravan people, … People have very different ways of enjoying nature and chances are big that when you use this app your spot will be a bit more crowded when you wake up. We often found a nice spot and then in the morning when you wake up you’re surrounded by a caravan and mobile home or two. There is nothing wrong about that, nature is for everyone. And we always have great conversations with those guys. The variety of people you meet is so interesting. But sometimes you just want to be all on your self. The best thing is just to find your own spot with on maps as mentioned above. Luckily there is also a search option in the app with can narrow down camp spot features. When I use the app I mostly filter for places in nature only accessible bij 4X4 vehicles. Then you can be sure that most of the campers, mobile homes and caravans will never get there.
The app is a bit controversial because some people believe it’s the end of this kind of adventurous travel, making it more mainstream. I kind of agree with that but I also believe in sharing knowledge. That is also why I started this website, to share. It’s up to people how to deal with it. I also believe that this will not get to mainstream because this kind of travelling is not luxurious, comfortable, lazy and plug and play! Most people just want to book an all-in in a resort and be brainlessly entertained with fake excursion, tourist traps, … I don’t like that but I do like that most people like this, keeps them away from my path.
Even though I’m not a fan of campings there is no way to avoid ending up there every once and while. Because of the country restrictions or the need for a hot shower, repairs on the car or trailer we search for a nice peaceful camping. This is where me and my girlfiend team up great. I’m the one getting us there, pitching up and making everything as comfortable as possible. My lovely girlfriend is an ace in finding that one unique spot. She scouts for hours online to find the one nature camping that would qualify our high expectations.
And those expectations aren’t high, in fact they are pretty low. If we search for a camping we want it to be as less equipped as possible, as close to nature and wild camping as possible. So no pool, no restaurant, no entertainment center, not a lot of places, maybe even places without electricity, no specific caravan or mobile home infrastructure, … you get the drill!
And sometimes we make exceptions on that because I’m tired.
It’s just an overnight stop on the way and safety is more important than a view.
An important item in finding the right Camping is also the time of the year. We travelled Portugal in winter and Spain at the start of spring time. Most campings aren’t open yet or just opened, for most people the nights are way to cold so you find a lot of campings that are totally empty. For Sweden and Norway, high saison is August, so if you are travelling June or July, most campings will be much calmer.
But the campings we do find are great and the next best thing to camping in the wild often we meet like-minded people there who stay there for the same reasons as we do.
Sometimes we make a stop overnight in a cheap cabin or hut mostly because of long rainy days. It’s not a race and you learn to appreciate basic comfort if you’ve been lacking that for longer periods.
And a small navigation tip: I often just use google maps to go from one place to the other, When you select your destination you often get more options to select from. I always take the road with the most detour or that has the longest travel time. This is mostly the most scenic route over small local roads. We’ve found the most epic mountain passages like this all over Europe. An other option is to set my Garmin Overlander to “Curvy Roads” and “off road navigation”… fun guaranteed!
Travelling like this is really team work.