Are you seeking for a way to make your travels cheaper? Interested in cheap – or even free accomodation? Long term tent camping while travelling was my solution to saving money while living in Australia. I sacrificed on amenities like plug sockets and an attached bathroom – but I gained the freedom of being self-sufficient, a deeper love for nature and less of a dependancy on material things, while saving a small fortune. Sound enticing?
If you’re interested in how to live in a tent long term but aren’t sure how to go about it, or have some fears, I’m here to answer all of your questions. I did it; I spent most of my year in Australia living in a tent. It can seem a bit daunting, and many people still do think I’m absolutely nuts, but honestly, I’ve never been as happy as I was in my tent.
Living on a Campsite: the need-to-knows
I lived in the Arts Factory hostel in Byron Bay on its attached campsite for 5 months. The hostel’s kind of famous – it was the setting for part of the Inbetweeners 2 Movie! It cost me $110 AUD per week to set up camp at the hostel and use all of its services. At the time, there was the option to work for accommodation for free rent – this has since been made illegal, so now they offer paid jobs to people living there. This could be your first port of call if you’re looking for a job in Byron Bay!
The campsite was a fantastic community of people from all nationalities and walks of life. It was a peaceful place, with lots of love and music; there were so many creative souls living there who would constantly be painting or drawing.
Most people had tents made for multiple people, so they could fit furniture inside. I had an eight-man tent which I shared with my friend; inside we had two mattresses, a shelving unit, a ‘sofa’ (which was made out of milk crates and cushions) and more milk crates that we used for storage. We decorated it in signs and prayer flags, and it was a lovely little refuge.
There were a few outdoor areas where everybody sat; my friends had a tent circle and we used to sit in the middle to hang out. Rain was sometimes an issue – there were often big storms in Byron – but we had a high quality tarp and I made sure I kept any electronics safe from water damage. Dry bags will come in exceptionally useful if you’re living in a tent – check out the one I use here.
If you’re interested in living in a tent in Byron Bay, the Arts Factory should be your first point of call. There are also similar campsites where you can live on Australia’s east coast and elsewhere in the world – possibly not with the same atmosphere as the Arts Factory though!
Living in a Campsite FAQ
How do you shower and use the toilet?
Campsites all have blocks of showers and toilets! Of course, it’s a short walk to get to them – not ideal if it’s the middle of the night – but this is the same in many hostels where dorms don’t have en-suites.
What about electricity?
Yep, there wasn’t any electricity in the tent, so it wasn’t always possible to keep my phone 100% charged. But who needs that anyway? There were power points in the kitchen and bathrooms and elsewhere in the hostel.
A power bank will come in very handy if you’re thinking of living in a tent but are worried about the lack of electricity. Here’s the one I use, which lasts for up to seven charges.
Where do you cook?
Just like all hostels and most campsites, there’s a camp kitchen! Labelled food could be kept in the fridge. It’s a great social atmosphere as everyone uses the kitchens, and even though it could be tiresome with pots etc always being used, I still made some great meals in the kitchen.
What about keeping my stuff safe?
I completely understand this concern, and I’ll be honest; there’s no guarantee that your stuff will be safe. But there are ways around this. You could padlock your tent – although there is the argument that that makes it look like there is something to hide and someone could still slash their way in, but this campsite is so busy that they would be seen.
Alternatively, you could find a way of locking your valuables into your bag and then maybe locking the bag to a bigger object – if someone’s going to steal your stuff, they’ll look a lot more suss when it’s in a case that’s attached to your sofa! Check out some sturdy padlocks and bike locks that you could use to lock things away here – this is practice that should be taken when you’re in any hotel room without a safe, anyway.
Aren’t there spiders and snakes in Australia?
Yep, yep there are. And crocodiles and dingoes and big cows who look like they can trample your tent with one footstep (this isn’t in Byron Bay, but I experienced this while free camping in rural Western Australia!). Wildlife can be a danger in Australia (although it’s really not as bad as people think it is), and steps should be taken to minimise risk of any harm.
Keeping your tent securely zipped will prevent bugs or snakes from getting inside. I travelled around Australia in a K-Mart tent that cost me $12; and when the zip broke, I just replaced it with another one. This meant that I did sometimes have nights without a functional zip, which probably isn’t the wisest move – and during my time in Byron Bay, my tent was very ripped, with lots of holes in. I was too attached to it to let go!
If you’re looking for tents to live in permanently, a K Mart product probably won’t cut it. If you buy a good quality tent, the zip shouldn’t break and you’ll likely be able to resell it when you no longer need it – backpackers in Australia are always hungry for this kind of stuff. Check out this tent from Wild Earth for a great high quality example.
Disclaimer: I’m not a snake or spider expert, so take this with a pinch of salt. But I did have a snake and a few spiders in my tent in Byron (the one with lots of rips and holes – your high quality tent shouldn’t have these!) and I’m alive to tell the tale. The snake was a baby python, which wasn’t venomous, and I just let it be – presuming that eventually, it found its way out of my tent. Most of the spiders were huntsmans, which aren’t venomous, but there was one wolf spider. This freaked me out a bit because they are pretty venomous, but luckily there was a spider expert on hand to extract it
Moral of the story? If you have a tent with rips, know that Australia’s wildlife isn’t quite as deadly as it is made out to be. Snakes are actually very shy and will only bite if provoked – so don’t try to pick one up.
It’s highly unlikely one will attack you even if it does find its way into your tent. Use a torch when you get up, and you’ll be all good. And if are in the unlucky tiny minority that get bitten by either snake or spider, the antivenom is soo good nowadays – so scoot on over to hospital and they’ll fix you right up.
Yep… I know I sound nuts. Living in a tent for a year changes you 😉
Living in the Arts Factory Campsite
I really didn’t see much difference between living in a tent in a hostel and living in a dorm room in a hostel, which lots of travellers do. In fact, I much preferred it because I had my own space and I was never at risk of sharing a room with an inconsiderate stranger!
This is obviously written from my experience at the Arts Factory Hostel in Byron Bay, but I’ve stayed at other campsites all over Australia and it rings true for those as well – as I’m sure it does for other campsites all over the world.
The Arts Factory Hostel is a one of a kind place; it’s a bit of a hippy refuge, with talented musicians, fun workshops and classes and an awesome atmosphere. It’s both a chill and party hostel, and it is located in gorgeous grounds backing onto a rainforest. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, why not book a night or two in its dorms to see if you like it? The campsite cannot be reserved in advance and there is sometimes a waiting list, but you can book dorms using this link – and then see if you want to stay at the campsite!
Free Camping Long-Term – living in a car or a tent
SO, after I left my home from home, the Arts Factory, I drove around Australia… for a long time. I left Byron Bay in February 2017 and hung up my road trip shoes in December 2017 – with a couple of breaks when I stopped in Perth and Broome and a short holiday in Asia.
Some of you might be wondering how the hell do you live in a car or tent for nine months of your life? My answer? Very well. I literally was the happiest I’ve ever been! Here’s how to have a comfy, well-facilitated life, even when living in a car and camping on the side of the road every night.
Sleeping in a Car
Of course, when you’re living in a car to save money, one of the most important things to make sure of is that you have a comfy bed. If you want proper sleeping quarters, you’re going to need to either remove or permanently fold down your back seats.
Then, I’d recommend heading to a foam store (Clark Rubber is the Australian chain) and getting your mitts on a foam mattress, which can be cut to size. I ended up with a single mattress in the back of my Subaru; if you have a bigger car you might be able to fit a double in.
Storage wise, if you’re technically inclined, you could construct a shelving unit as a base, and then put the mattress on top. This means you can keep your stuff organised underneath, and sleep upstairs! Of course, make sure you can still see well out of the back of your car.
If you’re going to be living in your car for a while, why not make it super cosy and get proper pillows and a duvet? I put prayer flags up in my car! Oh, and just a pointer – if you’re in Australia camping anywhere that’s not Darwin or Cairns in the winter, take a hot water bottle for the nights when it can get freezing. The same obviously applies wherever in the world you are living in your car – make sure you check night temperatures before you go as they can be vastly different to the day.
Sleeping in a Tent
If you’re camping out rather than living in your car, the same applies. You won’t want to sleep on a yoga mat for months and months straight – get a foam mattress and roll it up to put in your car. It works wonders! You’ll also probably want to invest in a high-quality tent – like the Vango Banshee 200.
Obviously, most cars aren’t kitted out with kitchens, so you’ll need to find a way to make your own food. I find the best way to eat is a mixture of making cold meals that don’t need cooking (salads, wraps), and using a gas stove to cook hot dinners. Tinned food is your friend on the road, as is eating vegan. It largely depends where in the world you are, of course, but sometimes fresh food wouldn’t even last a few hours in a car in scorching Australia.
But some great meals, like lentil chilli, curry made with chickpeas and tinned vegetables and pasta dishes, can be made with dry and tinned ingredients. You’ll also need a big container or two of water; you can never have too much.
‘But how do you shower?!’ is one of the main questions I was asked when living in my car. Erm, my honest answer is that it was sometimes difficult. Sometimes I had to make do with wet wipes or a quick wash in a public bathroom. Free showers in Australia can often be found by beaches and occasionally in towns. Roadhouses often have shower facilities that cost around $3.
Campsites will often let you use their shower for a small fee. Sometimes I’d check into one anyway to do laundry etc. And quite often I’d end up swimming in the day so would be semi-clean that way too. Many free campsites, especially in Australia, are by lakes and rivers. Some are safe for swimming, but not all – especially not those in the Northern Territory (crocodile central!). Only swim in them if you know it is 100% safe to do so.
When I was living in my car in Melbourne (a somewhat dark, but also an inspirational time in my life where I made $14 last a week) I took out a cheap gym membership and used the showers there.
The whole point of living in your car is to experience the great outdoors, so there’s your living space! For extra lounging room, you could use a couple of camping chairs, and make a tarp cover for if it’s raining. I always liked curling into my bed early after a long day’s sightseeing as well. I’d recommend investing in some good books or a kindle when you are taking up residence in a tent or car.
Most cars are fitted with a cigarette lighter. A port with USB outlets can be plugged into these, which can be used to charge your phone and other devices. For appliances like a laptop, it is a bit trickier – I soon got into the habit of just locating plugs wherever I was. Because I was working on the move, I’d often spend an afternoon in a library. Luckily my MacBook is great on battery!
If you or anyone you know is planning on living in a tent long term, check out this gift list for campers.
Where to stay
I’ve wrote a whole post about free camping in Australia which addresses how to find these campsites – this is where I mainly stayed in my car. I also had a spell of living in my car in Melbourne when I was absolutely skint. Here’s some information about finding free campsites in the US and Canada, some great spots to free camp in Spain and Portugal and a guide to wild camping elsewhere in Europe.
These free campsites in Australia can be a bit risky, but there are ways to ensure you stay safe. In my free camping in Australia post, I write about how to select a safe free campsite. Once you are in the campsite, you can stay safe by locking the car and rolling down the windows slightly. If you are in a tent, you could find a way of locking the tent from the inside, or just camp near others.
I’ve already touched on some of the animals that you can encounter while camping in Australia, but it must be remembered that larger, potentially dangerous animals can find their way into free campsites.
Crocodiles terrify me. They love nothing more than a human dinner, so in the top end of Australia, avoid camping near rivers or watering holes of any type at all costs. It’s recommended to give it at least 50 metres. Don’t swim in said watering holes either.
Dingoes and huge cows can be a threat, but my best advice here is to be vigilant and go with your gut. You’ll hear a pack of dingoes and other animals don’t move too much around at night.
If you’re living in a tent long-term in another country, make sure you are aware of the dangers of certain animals and act accordingly. Bears are the biggest issue in the USA and Canada, and you can read this article about staying safe during bear encounters for some tips. If you are free camping around Europe, or any other part of the world, it is best to ask locals about any potentially hazardous wildlife.
Long Term Tent Camping
I hope I’ve encouraged, rather than scared you out of, living in a tent! Long term tent living can be daunting, but it’s a great way to connect with nature, save some money, and see an authentic side to a country. Some of my best memories ever have come from my semi-permanent tent stint, and to be honest, I’d trade any apartment or house for my car and tent in a heartbeat.
Do you think you’d ever live in a tent? Or have you had any funny or memorable experiences camping? Let me know in the comments below!
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