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To Camp or Not to Camp?

Written by Jared on March 19, 2011

Camping at the Devils Marbles Nat Park in Australia

Decide whether to camp based on where you’re going and how you’ll get there. If you’re planning a trip to out of the way places, camping may be the best (or only) way to spend the night. On the other hand, if you’re staying close to civilization, odds are you won’t need to camp and may have trouble finding camping facilities.

Camping gear is the biggest problem. It’s heavy, bulky and expensive. Consider the size, weight and cost of the gear you’d need when deciding if camping is the best option for you. It adds up quickly, especially if you’re limited to a backpack for space. Remember that traveling is always more enjoyable if you have less stuff to worry about.

If your trip doesn’t involve camping, you probably don’t need camping gear. Many people are tempted to bring sleeping bags, tents or small gas stoves on backpacking trips. If your sticking to public transportation and spending your nights in hostels or hotels, you won’t have trouble finding what you need to get by.

Camping as a means to save money can be effective in some places. In countries where camping is enjoyed by the locals, campground prices tend to be higher. Where camping is rare there are usually other options that will be nearly as cheap.

In less developed countries the difference between private campground costs and inexpensive hotel/hostel lodging is negligible. In the U.S., Canada and parts of Europe you will save a significant amount of money by camping. Although you’ll still be spending more than you would for a room in a less developed area.

When to Camp

The most common way we travel is by overlanding, with our own vehicle. Camping is a natural fit for this type of travel. We also camp when we’re taking short trips to remote locations. This usually means other facilities aren’t available and we won’t need to rely on local transportation much.

We’ve found overlanding and camping to be complementary. Money saved by camping helps offset the price of the vehicle. The added bulk and weight of the camping gear is not as big of an issue. And having a vehicle allows us to reach out of the way places that offer camping facilities, which can be difficult if you rely on public transportation.

When backpacking we only camp out of necessity and we try to move around as little as possible. These trips usually involve hiking or otherwise adventuring in back country areas where our goal is to avoid civilization as much as possible. We usually don’t mixing long term travel with these sorts of activities unless we’re traveling by car or can rent or borrow equipment on location.

Leave the Gear at Home

Avoid bringing camping gear unless you’re actually going to need it for camping. If you’re backpacking and staying in hostels, hotels or couch surfing you’ll have what you need to sleep, and in many cases to cook. We’ve never needed a sleeping bag or tent while traveling by backpack. If you plan your trip accordingly, you’ll never miss them.

Some people like to bring a small camp stove to boil water and cook simple meals. We’ve never done this, cheap food is readily available if you are staying in town and are strapped for cash. There have been times when a stove would have come in handy, and saved us some money, but not often enough to balance out the extra gear cost and hassles of bringing it with us.

Most places where camping and hiking are common there will be ways to buy or rent the gear you need. If you are planning a popular tourist excursion, like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, or hiking to Machu Picchu or Everest base camp, you’ll usually want (or be required) to hire a porter or guide who will be able to assist with gear rental.

Camping Availability

Camping at the Ngorogoro Crater

Camping is not a common activity in many countries. For example, finding camping facilities in Asian countries can be difficult. In most of Europe and North America it is popular with locals, so finding campgrounds is simple. It is common in some countries for hostels or hotels to offer a camping spot or two on their property, or at least be open to the idea of you pitching a tent in the back yard for a small fee.

Even if camping is available where you plan to travel, getting to the campgrounds can be difficult without your own transportation. Campgrounds tend to be in remote places with no public transportation access. Hiring a taxi or hitching a ride is usually your only option.

Research campgrounds and how to get there before you plan the details of your trip. Most guide books will list and discuss camping options if available. Details are often lacking and listings are sparse in books that focus on more traditional lodging options. Figuring out whether or not camping is at all possible at your destination is a good place to start.

Of course you always have the option to pitch your tent on the beach or in an empty field, but you should be aware of the consequences. If possible, get approval from the landowner before pitching your tent on private property. When in doubt, ask the locals!

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