A guide to finding wild and free places to camp in your camper van.
We’ve all seen the beautiful photographs on Instagram of camper vans parked up in beautiful locations with not a soul in sight and the sun glistening off the windscreen. Yet sometimes the reality is far from this image. Finding a dream location sometimes requires venturing beyond the busy campsites and exploring lesser know places. In my experience the most beautiful places that I’ve camped haven’t been at campsites but in wild and free locations.
Wild camping and free camping – whats the difference?
By wild camping I mean a remote location far from the nearest village or town and out of site from the nearest building.
Whereas free camping means I’m not paying to camp so it could be a lay-by, a carpark, a pub stopover or a wild location.
Having been campervanning for over eight years now, there is a question that I’m continually asked:
‘How do you find places to camp in a camper van?’
Initially when I got my first camper van I stayed at large busy campsites, not even considering going anywhere else. It wasn’t until a fellow campervanner showed me how to wild camp. Once I’d been wild camping in my camper van I was hooked (not electrically!). The years following I moved away from proper campsites with singing and dancing facilities and with more people than in the hamlet I live. Now my camping consists of wild camping spots, overnight stays in remote pub car parks and the occasion farmers field type camping where the poshest facility is an outdoor cold water tap.
So I hear you ask, how do I find these spots to park my campervan overnight?
A Map (a real one of the paper variety)
Get yourself an Ordnance Survey Map of your local area. These maps contain an incredible amount of information. Open up the map fully, sit at the table, grab yourself a drink and study that map. When I say study it, I really mean look at it properly. Take in where the rivers and streams are, if that’s what you want to camp near. Do you want trees near by or hills? It’s all displayed you just need to look properly. Some of my favourite wild camping spots have been found by looking at an Ordnance Survey Map getting an instinct for an area and backing my judgement. Try it, it takes practise, if you’re not feeling confident check out local campsites in case you struggle to find a spot to wild camp once you’re out driving. You’ll then have a back up and it takes the pressure off having to find a wild camping location. The Ordnance Survey Maps also come with a mobile download version which is really handy.
Fancy starting out by buying a map for your local area? Visit the Ordnance Survey Map shop >>
Google Maps: Satellite View and Street View
It is the 21st century after all and we can’t ignore the amazingness that is Google Maps. Get your laptop out bring up Google Maps, change the map to satellite view. Have browse round the area where you might like to visit, once you find somewhere that you think looks promising drop switch to street view and follow the road. This is a great way to see what an area is like from the road and it lets you see if there are any potential spots to park up at. Be aware though, it can spoil the fun a little.
It would appear that modern technology is changing the way we camp. There are a number of Apps available to download that will help you find places to park your camper for the night. These are great if you’re struggling to find somewhere to park for the night, however be aware that as they increase in popularity the chances of having a spot to yourself do reduce.
Personally my favourite app for finding a camping spot. The app covers the UK and Europe and identifies free camping places, car parks with overnight parking and campsites. It hasn’t failed my yet and it’s really easy to use. It’s a great back up if you’re struggling to find somewhere to camp. Free version with subscription option available if you’d like more features.
Wild Camping POI App
Access to thousands of wild camping spots in the UK and France. Also lists campervan friendly pubs and aires. Membership to www.wildcamping.co.uk is required but a free demo is available to test.
Camper Contact App
The Camper Contact App lists camper van parking places throughout Europe including over 700 in the UK. You can easily search by the best rated or by free stopovers. There is a free trial version, to sign up for full access costs £4.50 a year.
There are endless amounts of Facebook groups dedicated to campervanning and the search for places to camp.
Campervan Overnight Parking Facebook group has over 89,000 members and is a great source of inspiration as well as being the perfect place to ask members for recommendations for camping places in particular areas.
Campingpubs Facebook group has over 26,000 members and is a comprehensive list of pubs in the UK that allow camper vans to stopover.
There are many groups specific to certain areas of the UK, take a browse round Facebook, you’ll easily find groups specific to your camping and camper van needs.
Google Map of Wild and Free Camping in the UK
Twelve years of wild camping has gone in to the production of this Google Map listing places to wild camp for free in your camper. Lovingly produced and very well maintained by www.wildcamping.moonfruit.com
It’s free to use but they do ask for a Paypal donation if you find it useful. It’s worth taking a look at the website as it lists other useful maps.
Google Map Of Pub Stops
This map lists lots of pubs in the UK that allow camper vans to stay the night in the car park. Remember it’s polite to eat and drink at the pub as a way of thanks and ensuring that the pub makes something from your stay.
Just get in your camper van and go ……
There is no substitute for getting in your camper van and going.
Head somewhere that you’ve never been before, take those small roads and stay away from the main tourist routes. This is by far the best way to explore, who knows what you’ll discover. You don’t always need a detailed map or an App, find a unspoilt spot that hasn’t get been discovered by the masses. Follow your instinct and remember, adventure is what owning a camper van is all about.
By Ana – The CamperVana