Free and Low Cost Camping Around Australia
Free / low cost camping- Hints, tips and tricks.
We choose to free camp and do so about 98% of the time- not because there is anything wrong with staying at van parks, but because we more often than not, love the free camp locations/ scenery, the freedom and the vibes..... But also by free camping we can save some extra money which we put back into the towns and communities by way of our family attraction visits and our need to shop for food, and boy do we buy lots of it.
Low cost camping defined for us is less than $20/night.
Free and low cost camps can/may have features such as; ammenities- toilets, cold or hot showers, bins, dump point and potable water. Activities are often available or local to the camps like; parks, playgrounds, pools, nature walks, birdwatching and often even cooking facilities like gas bbq's (a great way to save your gas) or the freedom to enjoy a camp fire (another great opportunity to save gas by camp fire cooking).
Our Free Camp Setup
We own an Australian Offroad Camper (AOR) Quantum Plus (Q+). These hybrid campers are factory built for remote and off grid travel- so when choosing a van, this was one of our main reason why we choose an AOR.
Solar and batteries
Our van is kitted out with a standard 300watts of solar via two rooftop panels.
The AOR’s come Standard with 200Ah AGM batteries but knowing how much we wanted to keep off the grid, we opted for an upgrade to 300Ah lithium (LiFeP04-lithium iron phosphate) batteries. The rationale for the upgrade was they are light weight, have an ultra fast charge capability and that they hold the maximum charge longer than an AGM battery.
The van is equipped with a 2000W inverter which gives us the ability to run and charge all of our 240V electrical appliances/ items.
So far in the 5 month since living full time on the road in the van-the lowest charge we have had on our batteries was 50% due to a 5 day long stay with plenty of cloud cover and we did not hook up to the car . To combat loss of charge over periods like these or to top up the car battery we use a ‘Trax RV‘ 150watt portable flexible solar panel that is flat with a thickness of about 4mm and stores perfectly under our bed when not in use and during travel.
Our Q+ usually comes standard with 2x 140L water tanks but we opted to reduce our back water tank down to 80L to include a 60L grey water tank to capture all shower and internal sink water. This has been both interesting but valuable. To help replace the decrease in water volume we carry 2x 20L water jerry cans on the back of the van, and when travelling remote with questionable water resources we choose to conserve water and forgo luxuries.
Many vans now come with onboard toilets, most come with removable cassettes, we however have a macerator toilet with a 110L black water holding tank (which is emptied via tubing and internal pump or manually). This for us with the size of the tank is an incredible asset when travelling remote.
Lastly we cannot recommend highly enough the BEST water filters for filling your tanks. The BEST filters remove chemicals for approximately 5000L, killing harmful bacteria including Guardia and Cryptosporidium. This is achieved through the use of the silver coated crystals within the easy to use unit. Along with the BEST filter we recommend you actually use an actual drinking water/ food grade hoses rather than your typical garden hose.
Fridges and Pantries
Catering for 5 people and choosing free camp locations that are regularly off the beaten track- it often means we don’t have quick and easy access to shops. To be sure we can remain off-grid for weeks at a time, we choose to run 2x fridges. In the back of the Prado which is setup for remote touring we run a 65L Waeco fridge/ freezer (that we run as a fridge only), then our van’s external kitchen comes standard with a 82L evaKOOL fridge/ freezer on a kitchen slide. We find with this combo we are able to carry a good amount of fresh fruit and veg, along with the staples of our meal planning.
To go with the Fridges we have 3.5 pantries/ areas for food storage. Within the external kitchen there are 2, on the Fridge kitchen slide there is a large upright pantry as well a shallow wall pantry on the external wall of the van. When travelling into the Outback for long term remote travel we also use a long slim line storage box for a pantry that sits on the top shelf of our ORS draw system in the prado and we fill some of the space under Wade’s bed with items like UHT milk, food in boxes and our breakfast shake bags.
Safety and leaving your van
For peace of mind, during the build of our van we optioned for a Black Knight Global Tracking System. This is a device installed into the van that gives us the ability to remotely track our van’s location. If it is within a set geofence (digital fence) and begins moving without our knowledge or if it leaves the set perimeter, we will get an alert to our phone which provides real time GPS tracking.
For extra protection on the van we have invested in a good hitch lock, it is not only stainless so it wont rust and is harder to cut through, but it has it’s own personal unique key. AOR use Cruisemaster DO35 hitch couplings on all their vans and so not only do you need the hitch receiver to tow it, we have the added security with our hitch lock.
When Free camping anywhere, our first observation when we arrive is always do we feel safe..... The safe vibe or your gut feeling should out way anything you have been told. We have been very fortunate to have never picked a site that didn’t suit us, this is largely attributed to quantity and quality of the information we can get from Wikicamps. But if you do feel unsure- don’t unhitch or set your awning up until after sussing it out further, if nothing changes just leave- Safety first.
If you are staying anywhere and heading away from the van here are some tips you can do to help minimise any stress. Pack away your easy to grab or annoying to replace items, take your valuables with you, shut your windows and lock the door, make friends with your neighbours, ensure you have the safe vibe feel before you leave and use padlocks where you can- they can be a great deterrent.
This app has by far been our best investment out of all of the Apps we use on the road, hands down most valuable addition to our trip. We use Wikicamps every time we move locations. We use it to find our camp for the night, we use it to find dump points and water fill points, we love that it has the feature for setting filters to narrow your search and a function for leaving reviews and photos.
The filter function covers a wide variety of options and proves very useful especially if there are a cluster of camps. It includes; all camp site types (free, donation, low-cost, caravan parks, national parks), points of interest, dump points, potable water, dog friendly, toilets, showers, local activities, reception, power, time limits, self contained only etc.
The app works by visitor interaction. App users can leave ratings, comments and photos of the sites and points of interest which are then used by others as a point of reference and this is the bread and butter of the apps success. We usually ensure to stick to 4-5 star ratings, but be sure to look at the amount of ratings completed as well. Be sure to take all of the comments into consideration- the good, the bad and the ugly. When you do this, keep in mind though if someone has had something not go to their plan their review may not be a true reflection.... So take a look a the most recent ones, check out the photos for a comparison to what your imagining. Be sure not to be turned off by all bad reviews- twice we have read a review and been disappointed before arriving to a camp and a point of interest and once arriving we found that it was actually a great experience we just needed to remain open minded but keep our standard.
How do we find our free camps
The way we mainly find our free camps is through wikicamps but we are a very recommendation based travelling family. So outside of wikicamps we absolutely love receiving recommendation from others via word of mouth, or direct referrals from fellow travellers on our Trekking posts. Second to these we love to soak up the experiences that others have shared through their own posts. The best way to look at this is, you know most of these people or their style or standards, so you can usually gauge from their experience.... If you share your experiences-people will share back.
Doing the right thing
You cant stop others from doing the wrong thing- but if most people are doing the right thing, it will keep these free camps and facilities going.
Pay; if there is an honesty box- pay for your stay (low cost camps or national parks). If it asks for a donation and the facilities are worth the request- chuck in a gold coin at least. These areas are maintained and serviced by someone- the required payment helps to make this happen.
Rubbish; many location will actually have bins provided, use them and don’t litter. But if the bins are overflowing or there are none available, take your rubbish with you. We use the Bushranger Wheelie Bin.
Litter; if your in an area that has litter laying around, grab a bag and pick up some extra rubbish to put in the bin or take with you. For us this is a non-negotiable, since setting off if we use a free facility of any sort we will always pick up at least 5 items each, even if its not free we still will.
Toileting; If you do not have a toilet on board or your in a camper- use a free camp with toilets. It is completely unfair and unhygienic to go no.2 on the ground without consideration of others, animals or the environment. However if you are stuck with no options.... Go and dig a hole, bury your business and bag your paper to place in a bin or burn it.
Time limits; if there is a time limit on a free camp stay, for example 48 or 72hours only etc- stay only the allotted time. This is a courteously to all other travellers and does not upset the council or people who run/ maintain the area. These are the people who keep these sites open and they set time limits for a reason.
Pet friendly; if the site is not pet friendly, do not take stay or visit with your furry friend, respect the rules and locate another site in the area. If the site is pet friendly, be sure to pick up after your pet and respect any sign around pertaining to environment/ location care.
Grey water; when dumping your grey water there are a few things to consider first. Is it ok to dump where you are (are you sacred ground or an organic farm), there will more often than not be an indication if you can not dump on the ground. Some people use dump points (unless indicated that its a small tank only), some people dig a hole (so not to leave bacteria to form on the surface or to leave mud puddles) some people collect and use to water the plants near by. A caution to consider- some people open and dump in populated areas or whilst driving with cap off and a full tank- think of those around you or those driving behind you.
NEW Outback Travelling Families Facebook Group
Don’t be scared of remote and rural travel.... Trekking Downunder have created a group to encourage travellers and families to see the beauty of the outback and feel supported to do so. The Outback Travelling Families group has lots of people sharing experiences, car and van set ups, gorgeous Outback photos and asking questions about travelling the Outback.
This group is quickly becoming a great Resource! And our biggest goal of the group is creating an awareness that the smaller Outback communities have been doing it tough with the drought, so we are about encouraging people to get out there and explore! it makes a big difference having people coming though and spending some money on food, petrol, attractions, camping- and helping create awareness. We are all about creating a community- connecting individuals and families with Outback travel.