A Rough Guide to Guerrilla Camping

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We haven’t been able to find decent jobs during our recent winter in Canada, so on our upcoming road trip through western Canada this summer we are going to have to be extra-budget conscious. For two people who are already incredibly thrifty, it’s going to be difficult to find extra ways to save money. One way to do this, however, is by refusing to pay anything at all for accommodation, even in established campgrounds. Instead, when necessary we will rely on the age-old art of guerrilla camping.

Doesn’t that look cozy? It’s in the middle of a town in Germany!

What Elliott likes to call guerrilla camping is basically just sleeping somewhere that you’re not paying for, which is only really considered “guerrilla” in this day and age because such a thing seems drastically unconventional. Since it’s unconventional, people tend to frown upon it. If you’re being respectful in how you do it, there’s really no harm to it and nobody should be too upset. Better yet, if you do it right nobody will ever even know you were there at all.

Especially when you find yourself in a pinch, don’t waste $100 on an emergency hotel room. Instead, just grab a few hours of sleep until sunrise by following some of these suggestions:

  • Choose your spot- Once the sun has already set and you realize you’re going to have to spend the night where you are, look carefully for the proper spot. This is probably the most important consideration, but it takes some practice to get right. You don’t want anybody to see you coming or going, and you certainly don’t want to want to be surprised by somebody in the middle of the night. Be creative, and keep an eye out for any potential hazards (like potentially rising water levels under bridges or scary/smelly animals/people). You also want to be protected from wind and rain, especially if you decide to…

    Bridges are a great place to hide from the rain
  • Ditch the tent– If you find yourself in a super remote area, feel free to set up your tent. But then that’s just normal camping, isn’t it? Normally there will be people around when guerrilla camping, and there is nothing like a big colourful tent to attract attention. A tent also means you can’t see if anybody has seen you and that it will take you way longer to pack up if you need to scatter in a hurry. Look for bridges and other forms of natural cover instead.
  • If you have a car– Of course something like a cool old Volkswagen camper van is ideal, but you can also just sleep in a standard car (we’re tall people and we sleep in our little Corolla all the time). Even if you’re sleeping in a vehicle, find a quiet and inconspicuous place to park that won’t have any foot traffic looking into your windows.
  • Keep warm- Sleeping in the open (or a car) is often cold. If you don’t have your quality camping gear with you, even a sheet of recycled cardboard can go a long way in keeping you warm. Use all the jackets, sweaters, toques, and blankets you’ve got to get you through the night, especially as you should probably…
  • Forget the fire- There’s nothing like a big warm fire to attract a whole lot of attention. This isn’t traditional camping with a guitar and marshmallows and friends. This is surviving the night without having to shell out your last few bucks. You’ll make do without it.
  • If somebody sees you- …the jig is up. Even a second glance from a bored old lady means you’re toast and there’s a chance she’s telling everybody she knows. If somebody spots you coming, going, or sleeping in your chosen spot, it’s wise to go find another one.
  • If somebody approaches you- … just be friendly! So long as you’re not in the US (bang bang), it’s likely that whoever is coming to talk to you might be a little apprehensive or angry, but they’re probably not going to harm you. Make it clear to them you’re willing to leave immediately, that you’re not lighting a fire or doing any harm, that you’ll leave no trace you were there, and maybe why you decided to guerrilla camp in the first place. Who knows, they might even invite you into their home for a real bed instead!
  • In the morning- Wake up, pack your things, leave no trace, and stealthily be on your way. Congratulations, you just saved money and had fun doing it!
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