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The story of how I saved money, quit my job, sold my possessions, and set off to endlessly travel by bike around the world. My Plan

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May 2008 to April 2010

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Sept 2007 to May 2008

Sept 2006 to Sept 2007

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Nov 2004 to Sept 2006

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START HERE for Touring Bikes and Commuting Bicycles
Custom Touring Bicycles and Bike Upgrade Buyers Guide
Bicycle Touring Frames 
The Steel Repair Myth.
Steel and Aluminum Derailleur Hanger Repair.
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Phil Wood: The Best Bicycle Hubs

Panniers / Bike Bags
Cargo Trailers Vs Panniers
Tires for Bike Tours..
Bicycle Touring Saddles.
Women's Specific Bike Touring Saddles
Brooks Leather Touring Bicycle Saddle Care and Conditioning
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Touring Handlebars, Bar Ends, Adjustable Stems, and Padded Grips.
Sealed Cartridge Headsets

How to prevent flat tires
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Buying Camping Equipment
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How to Stealth Camp for Free while Bicycle Touring

Sponsors - Economizing/The Fugal Traveler - Stealth/Free CampingBudgeting - Charity or Cause - Receiving Donations - Health Insurance - Dreaming of Travel - Leaving It All Behind - Videos About bike tour Finances - How I pay for long term bicycle touring main finance page

Free camping, otherwise known as stealth or guerilla camping, is just what it sounds like: a free campsite. I call it stealth camping because I prefer a site where I am hidden from passing cars and surrounding houses. It's a simple way to save piles of money on hotels and campgrounds and some of my most awesome camping experiences have happened in free camping spots. Free camping has saved me thousands of dollars while cycling in the USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia where campgrounds are unfortunately overpriced.

The equipment needed for stealth camping is the same as regular camping gear with one important addition: a water bag. (see below) Typically, bicycle water bottles do not carry enough water for  overnight camping. I carry a 10 liter water bag for two people. One person will need  a six liter bag. I fill up the bag in town before I start looking for a camping spot. This means I don't have to rely on somehow finding a campsite with a water source, making my options much more flexible. I also recommend a neutral colored tent. A brightly colored tent covered with reflectors will shine like a beacon when it gets hit with a light. I've never used one, but many stealth camping enthusiasts swear by Hennessy Hammocks. (see below) I also use a neutral colored tarp to cover my bike with its many reflecting devices.

Collapsible Water Bag

I highly recommend being able to carry lots of water for free camping. Ten liters for 2 people and 6 liters for solo travelers/night.  If you're free camping in the backwoods or campgrounds where the water faucet is far away, a bag is handy and easy to carry empty.

Free camping in the cold mountains on the way to Christchurch, New Zealand.  I am holding my 10 liter water bag in my left hand.

The key to stealth camping, I believe, is to leave enough time at the end of the day to find a good spot. Usually what I do is figure out what town will be closest to my final stop for the day and re-supply there. I find a tap to fill up my water bag and make sure I have food for dinner and breakfast. The  water bag is great because it folds up small and light when not in use, but full, it holds enough water to make coffee, dinner, breakfast, and even clean up. I strap the full water bag to the top of my gear rack with bungee cords. Back during my early days of cycle camping, I used to tie two gallon milk jugs to my bike. They were easy to tie on to the rack but I couldn't fold them up when they were empty.

I try to leave town with a good quarter of the day left to look for a good camping spot. It takes flexibility to choose a campsite, and I will often backtrack to a good spot I noticed before rather than keep riding on into the dark looking for that 'perfect spot.' Most of my stealth camping spots are off secluded parts along the road, behind some trees, away from houses. Look for a flat spot that's not likely to flood in the rain. Check for signs of party spots: if there are beer cans or bottles on the ground, chances are you'll be visited in the night by teenagers looking to drink in the woods.

Bicycle travel has a huge advantage to car travel when it comes to hiding and stealth camping.  A car cant go over fences or bushwhack through the woods.   A car has to be parked somewhere which attracts attention.  With a bike you can follow running trails, cross small streams and find a cozy spot. I never light fires in the woods, and make sure the camp stove is nowhere near any flammable material. Remember: the key is to Leave No Trace. Once you leave, the site shouldn't look as if anyone has been there. This includes digging a cat hole for your bathroom and not leaving wads of toilet paper for others to find.

Camp/Solar Shower  For those of us who can't survive without a hot shower.

Collapsible water sinks and buckets   I like a folding bowl or bucket for showers. I heat water on my stove or a fire and use one of my pans to pour water on myself.  Also useful for washing dishes and laundry.

Backpack Hammocks  Camping every night with no place to sit gets old so I like a light weight hammock to hang out in off the ground.  Nothing better than having a place to take a nap after a hard day of cycling.

hammock tents   Hennessy Hammocks are tents that can be strung between two trees and free camping bike tourist often swear by them.  I still prefer my tent but understand the appeal.

 Backcountry Shovel/Trowel Often when you free camp in the backcountry you need a little shovel or trowel to dig a hole and other camping toilet accessories to be a responsible bicycle tourist.

 All Purpose Tarp   If you are spending a lot of time camping in the woods, a tarp can cover your bike, make more shade and living space, and create comfortable longer term camps.

  Backpacking Camp Chair The problem with stealth camping is there is seldom a place to sit. A camp chair can be a lot to carry on a bicycle but a welcome luxury.  Maybe I will try it in the future.

On occasion, I've had to camp in small city parks. City parks are great because there's usually a water source and bathroom, perhaps even a rain shelter. The downside is that camping is sometimes prohibited. I have never had an issue camping in city parks, but I'm very careful and I don't leave any trace of my camp. My strategy is to roll into the park, find a water source to fill up my water bag and scope out a secluded spot where I can camp for the evening. Once that's all done, I relax in the picnic area. I do all my cooking and clean up there. When the sun is setting, I pack everything up, push my bike to my hidden camping spot, quickly put up the tent, put all my gear in the tent and lock my bike securely to a tree. Because it's a public park, I camp with the highest security.

Stealth camping in a picnic shelter in Kansas and behind a hockey rink in Canada.

At first light I get up, put all the bags back on the bike and quickly roll up the tent. Then I return to the day use section and have a breakfast picnic complete with hot coffee and oatmeal. It's my experience that no one really cares if you camp this way in a small town. The best scenario is a town just big enough to have a public sports field or park but too small for its own police force. Big city parks are too dangerous, in my opinion, as you're much more likely to  be found by police patrols or unsavory park dwellers.

Another option for free camping is to ask permission to put up a tent on someone's lawn. I don't do this often but I've talked to a few solo women cyclists who prefer this to stealth camping.  A good friend told me she tries to ask at a place where the home owners are already outside so she can check them out beforehand. She's careful to ask if there's place where she can pitch her tent, rather than asking if there's a place she can sleep, so they don't get the idea that she wants a bed indoors. Usually her impromptu hosts offer up a shower and some dinner, and being close to a house feels a bit more secure than being alone in the wilderness. I prefer being alone in the wilderness so this isn't a camping option I use much.

Stealth camping need not always be hidden.  This is a free campsite on the side of the road in easy going New Zealand - where no one seems to care.

 Free camping in the developing world is much different than the first world. Usually there is no issue of legality. People don't care if you camp between their fields or in an empty lot in a small village. I sometimes have to entertain a crowd of small children or put up with a little staring, but no one will object to my being there. The biggest problems I have camping in developing country is turning down offers to sleep with a family and dealing with heat and humidity. Hotel rooms are usually cheap enough in the third world, and a fan makes the night much more comfortable.

 I understand that some people may take issue with camping illegally in public parks or on private property. While I admit that I potentially break the law with my camping choices, I do not advocate destroying any property or leaving any trace of your campsite. This is a choice that responsible cycle campers need to make for themselves. My goal with this article is to provide information about free camping, not to encourage law breaking.

Camping in between potato fields in Ecuador.  People in the developing countries seldom care where you camp.

Camping on a fitness trail in a city park in the Mid West, USA.



Sponsors - Economizing/The Fugal Traveler - Stealth/Free CampingBudgeting - Charity or Cause - Receiving Donations - Health Insurance - Dreaming of Travel - Leaving It All Behind - Videos About bike tour Finances - How I pay for long term bicycle touring main finance page


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Injustice of Poverty

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