But, it’s more than just free accommodation.
Lately there are more and more caravan parks who are getting upset at us free-campers and some have even started to protest to local councils to have free camping sites closed down. They think that if there were no free-camps, that all of us who do free-camp would suddenly be happy to pay the $20-60 / nt to use our own facilities on their land.
They have accused free-campers of everything, from being an eyesore to destroying the environment, leaving behind rubbish, urinating everywhere, and pretty much, freeloading. They think we only care about the “free” part and don’t give anything back to the communities we stay in.
But they are so so wrong.
Obviously, some people do leave trash. But so do people in caravan parks.
Obviously some people do pee and poo everywhere. But so do people in caravan parks.
If anything, free campers tend to keep the amenities even cleaner than when we arrived. We find it a privilege to be able to stay for free.
A lot of the well maintained free camps these days have donation boxes. We always give a bit and I’m pretty sure most other free-campers do too!
And as for not contributing to the community? Well there was a case recently where a council was being pressured to close it’s free camp down, so they put a box in and asked campers to leave receipts from their purchases around town. They found that on average each free-camper spent $15-40 per day around town. That’s a lot of money. We are no exception either. After staying at a wonderful free-camp we filled our gas bottle up at the local service station for $10 more than it would have cost to drive 15km each way to the closest city. Because we wanted to support the community. We bought our supplies at the local store. A couple of weeks ago we stayed at a pub in Farrell Flats - literally the middle of nowhere that, in exchange for purchasing either a drink or a meal, would let you camp for free, have hot showers, toilets, connect up to their power, and even use their washing machine and dryer! How amazing is that?! We had a drink and a meal and a wonderful time! And we thoroughly enjoyed our hot shower and clean clothes! In a town as tiny as theirs, it's the free-campers who keep their pub alive. They get between 3-5 free-campers a week. That’s quite the revenue for a pub in a town of only 150 people.
If we had to pay the exorbitant fees caravan parks ask these days, simply for the privilege to use our own van and facilities, then we wouldn’t be able to afford to pay a little more at the local market. We would have to drive that extra bit to the cheaper petrol station or larger supermarket.
By far the biggest positive we have found from free-camping has been the unexpected realisation that, by looking for free camps, we have been taken completely off the tourist trail. Recently we stayed in an abandoned flora and fauna park, that, to encourage more people to visit the area, the council has turned into a free camp. It’s simply beautiful. We spent 2 days doing bush walks and visiting the surrounding villages. We would never have visited that town – Crystal Brook - a town with zero tourist attractions – if it wasn’t for it’s free camp.
A couple of nights before that we slept by the Murray river in Cadell, a town that has created an amazing free-camp inside a park on the outskirts of town. There were sculptured lawns, a playground, the cleanest public toilet I’ve ever seen, and at night, they lit flood lights across the river to the cliffs. Beautiful. We bought some local produce and left a donation. What a beautiful piece of Australia that town showed us that we would never have seen otherwise. All because of it’s free camping.
So, for us, free camping works. I’m sure there will be times when we may want to stay in a caravan park. I can absolutely understand why others might chose to. But for us, being fully self-contained and with solar, means we don’t need to find somewhere to plug into so why should we have to? Why should we have to camp within walls and near so many other people, when we can camp in the bush with nature? It should really be about choice. I hope more and more small towns and cities open up their own free camps and don’t give in to the greed of the multi-million dollar international corporations that own most of our caravan parks. Our country is too beautiful to miss out on camping in these incredible off the beaten path places.