How do we find places to camp? We get this question often from our friends and family back home, people visiting resort areas on vacation and from other overlanders. We find places to park in many different ways. Here you go:
- In the US, we used a website called freecampsites.net. Sounds kind of sketchy, right? Our results were varied. We used this website nearly exclusively during our loop from Wyoming to Arizona. During this stretch, we drove every single day, so keeping our rig set up wasn’t a concern and we were mostly just looking for a place to park, so the view, amenities, etc. weren’t a huge deal. Some of the locations were suitable, some were questionable and a few were completely ridiculous, so if you use this website, make sure to read the reviews and have a backup plan just in case.
- BLM and Forest Service lands were great resources for camping in the US. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe with BLM lands, you can essentially drive down a road and park alongside it wherever you want. Don’t be an idiot and drive way off the road or destroy the land and vegetation, but a reasonable distance off the road won’t get you in trouble. Look for spots where other people have camped before to keep the impact on the land minimal. I believe there are a few more restrictions for Forest Service lands, but you should be able to locate a spot without much hassle.
- Walmart parking lots. I know many people are against camping in Walmart parking lots as they are loud, bright, removed from nature, etc. but you really can’t beat the convenience of knowing you won’t be asked to move in the middle of the night, having access to groceries, a bathroom before bed and first thing in the morning and they are free. I used to be one that would criticize camping at Walmart overnight, but it has come in handy for us several times and we had some of our best night’s sleep at Walmart. Who would have thought?
- Beaches in Mexico are public land and are free. However, accessing the beach is not always as easy as it might seem. This bullet point is more to make you aware than to provide a resource for camping, but we were told by many people that, if you can access the beach, you can legally camp there without any problems. Many resort towns have public beach accesses where you can camp and use the facilities for free.
- Police officers are a good resource to find camping. We have all heard about those crooked cops south of the US border, but we have had nothing but good encounters with the police. Well, except for getting pulled over in Cabo. Police probably have more knowledge about the safety of camping in certain areas than anybody else, so utilize them! Many of the police officers we encountered were very curious about our travels and were happy to help us.
- Gas stations are an option for free camping, but we only recommend them as a last resource. They are loud, smell bad and being right next to the highways probably aren’t the safest locations. That said, they are much better than just pulling off to the side of the highway, which we never do.
- iOverlander.com. This is hands down the best resource anyone can use for locating places to camp, literally anywhere in the world. It was developed somewhere around 2013 by overlanders wishing to create a database for other overlanders to locate places to camp. It is free and allows people to submit a name, GPS coordinates, photos, rating, services and a writeup of the location. It identifies the location as either an established campground, informal campground or wild camping. Many of the reviews provide cost information which is helpful in negotiating price when you arrive. Realistically, without this website, I believe that many overlanders would be discouraged early on in a trip. We are not an exception. In addition to camping locations, users also submit information such as police checkpoints, propane filling stations, auto repair stations, border crossings, and other useful information.
- Although we are too techy to use them (haha just kidding, kind of), many people use the Church’s camping guidebook which is an excellent resource and is accessible without computers, internet, etc. One problem with them is that they quickly become outdated and don’t provide you with information about campground closures, price increases or grumpy campground hosts, such as the crazy Dutch guy in Cabo.
- Word of mouth can’t be excluded from this list as some of the best places we have camped have been discovered this way. Nothing beats information from people who have visited a certain location before. One of our favorite camp spots, in Manzanilla, was discovered by talking with Peter and Mary Kay who have been coming to the same area for nearly ten years. If they have been coming to the same spot for ten years, there must be something special about it.
Each person is a little different in their method of locating a camp spot, but I would imagine most of them include a combination of those listed above.
When we first began our trip in Baja, we probably paid to camp about 80% of the time and camped for free the rest. Being new and not quite comfortable in a foreign country forced us to pay to camp. Now, we have essentially flipped this ratio and pay to camp about 20% of the time and camp for free 80%. Some people we met pay to camp all of the time and others never pay. It certainly helps the budget to camp for free, but showers, restrooms, laundry, security, etc. are often worth the small fee.
How much do we pay to camp? The most we ever paid to camp was $30USD in Cabo on New Year’s Eve. We hadn’t paid to camp for nearly two weeks and hadn’t had a shower in equally as long so the downtown location, in combination with the wifi, showers and toilet, were worth it to us. Logically, the more services a location offers, the more it will cost. Generally, I would say a spot to camp can be had for $5USD about 75% of the time, $10 20% and more about 5%. A range of $5 to $15 is what we would call normal.
I think that pretty much covers our camping, but please let us know if you have more questions!
The question will, undoubtedly, be answered differently by people depending on their circumstances.