Being on the road for almost 3 months in the UK and Ireland means we developed a nose for free overnight parking spots. Until now we have only paid for a camping spot once. Stealth camping offers better views than any campsite and provides a sense of freedom and privacy, but it comes with some challenges and limitations as well. We would like to share some tips and tricks for those who are keen on taking up wild camping in a campervan themselves or anyone who is interested in our new lifestyle.
How to find a spot? We often use an app called ‘park4night’. Travelers share and review overnight parking spots all over Europe. Throughout the UK the National Trust provides great free car parks in the middle of nature, next to walking trails and sometimes there’s even a toilet. Good spots to spend the night can also be found at viewpoints – because of the pretty views of course – harbours and marinas, which are often free of charge, like in Edinburgh. Beach car parks – if there is not a height boundary – are great to stay overnight as well, as are spots near churches and grave yards – often pretty located and a quiet night guaranteed.
Going by like true tramps we learnt that you go a long way as long as you don’t bother anyone. Don’t park sideways on a busy car park – although it can be tempting and we did try this – and try to keep out of sight of residential areas. It all seems pretty obvious, but if you’re desperate for a nice and free spot, you tend to stretch your limits a bit. One day we had the nerve to park in a very posh neighbourhood in Glasgow and someone left a little note under our windshield which said: “If you stay overnight, your van will be damaged. A fed up resident.” The message was underlined twice and made it pretty clear we were not welcome. Fair enough so we moved on to another part of town for the following night.
To be able to travel freely like we do, you have to be self-sufficient. For cooking we use a big gas bottle that lasts about 1 or 2 months. Power seems to be infinite, since we have two solar panels on our van which charge a big battery. That works amazingly well, even in rainy countries like Scotland and Ireland. Our biggest challenge so far is that we run out of water pretty quickly. We only have space for two 19 litre canisters for clean water, which basically means we need to get water every other day. Luckily a lot of petrol stations offer free water. Although there is often a sign which says the water is not drinkable and the taste is maybe not the best, the water is really fine. And hey, we are still alive!
When it comes to public toilets Britain is the best. In almost every little town you can find one. There is even an app that shows where they are. If there is not one around, again petrol stations save the day. We do have a portable toilet in our van, but we only use it occasionally for number 1’s so it lasts a bit longer. Where to empty your chemical toilet is another one of those challenges. In some countries you can find service points where you can ‘get rid of your shit’, but that’s not the case in the UK and Ireland. In return for a fee, you can dispose your toilet waste at most campsites though.
The main reason for us to stay on a campsite now and then would be to take a shower. But often you have to pay for a shower on top of the fee to stay overnight. We prefer to go to a leisure centre once or twice a week to get a good scrub. Sometimes we even treat ourselves on a sauna and steam room for a few pounds extra. Another good option is to check out petrol stations along the motorway. Some offer – paid and unpaid – showers for truck drivers and other customers.
Staying overnight in the middle of nature is the best. If you like to park by the seaside, another thing to keep in mind is to check the tides. We learnt this the hard way in the far north of Wales. We neglected a sign which said: ‘Car park liable to flooding’ and woke up in the middle of the night discovering seawater was at our doorstep. Quite a scary adventure. Later we found out that it had been a day after new moon and springtides are common around those days. The difference between low and high tide at that time was about 8 metres. We still love the seaside, but since this particular incident, we prefer to stay on higher grounds.
One more thing. Don’t mind the prohibition signs. Especially England is full of them: ‘No overnight camping’; ‘Prohibited to park overnight at any time’; ‘No motorhomes between 11 pm and 8 am’ etcetera. Bend the rules a bit and ask around. Locals are often very friendly and interested and often encourage you to stay. As we continue our journey south, without a doubt new challenges and adventures will come up. We will keep you posted!