How To Camp in Your Van For Free in Australia

How To Camp in Your Van For Free in Australia Image | East Coast Tours Australia

As a universal question for new and seasoned van campers alike, you will probably find yourself Googling “where can I camp for free on the East Coast?”

While sleeping in your van is a very cheap way to explore the wonders of Australia, I have often been unhappily surprised by the costs of spending a night or two in paid campgrounds and caravan parks. Ranging from $20 to up to $90 a night for a spot, you’ll probably want to avoid such costs, particularly if you’re like me and chose “van life” as a way to escape accommodation expenses.

Luckily, free overnight campsites are plentiful across the East Coast, and often nestled near charming local towns and awesome views. So, if you’re looking for a cheaper way to travel Australia, as well as an excuse to get off the beaten path, here are a few ways to find the best free spots across the East Coast

Download WikiCamps

An incredibly pertinent and unmissable step in finding free, and really any, campsites across the East Coast is to download the WikiCamps app! This handy phone app allows a comprehensive collation of campsites, toilets, free showers and more laid out on a map, complete with recent reviews and awesome filter tools. As the main resource used amongst van-lifers, backpackers, grey nomads and pretty much all travellers on wheels, it’s often more accurate than Google Maps or a general web search. Available for a one-off app purchase of $10, it may seem expensive for an app, but it’s honestly the best app purchase I’ve ever made! Once downloaded, set your filter to no cost, and browse the surrounding free campsites available. Another awesome feature of WikiCamps is that it tells you if a site has service, and which providers are available in that area, so you won’t ever head into a no reception zone unprepared! 

Person in at the beach in Cairns at their blue van

Be stealthy 

While sleeping in your van is discouraged, and often illegal in some local areas, it doesn’t hurt to make your van as unobvious as you can while travelling the East Coast... particularly for times when you can’t reach free camping. Long story short, try and make your home on wheels look less like a home and more like your average vehicle. I’ve even seen people go as far as to put up plumbing or electrician decals on the side of their van to optimise stealth and minimise fines! However, that is pretty extreme, and you can usually get away with simply not having obvious curtains but still blocking the fact that you have a bed in the back from the view of passers-by.

Person holding the steering wheel of a car

Be self-contained 

If you can, create a van setup that can be fully self-contained. While you don’t need to have the full tiled-ensuite-with-a-shower-and-ceramic-loo shabang, I would recommend stocking your van with a basic portable toilet. This way, if you do need to pull over in a quiet street or car park to spend the night, you don’t wake up in a panic when it’s time to… you know what. However, if you’re like me and want to avoid using your van loo at all costs, sleep close to public toilets so it’s just a quick drive around the corner when you need to go. But, if you’re doing this stealthy street-parking method, please heed the next tip with extra caution! 

Spaceships van pop top at the beach

Never sleep in beach car parks

And I mean never. No matter how quiet the town, rainy the day or amazing the view, never sleep in busy car parks, particularly if there is a “no overnight camping” sign (which there usually is). While it may seem like a super Instagram-worthy opportunity to wake up and peer out at the beach, public car parks are usually the first stops on council’s rounds as they give out fines for sleeping in your vehicle. These fines can range from under $50 to over $300 (I once received a $333 fine for sleeping in a beach car park *sad*). Rather, hang out by the beach, park, or wherever you want, until you’re ready for bed. Then, simply drive just around the corner to a quiet street. The next morning, catch a sunrise by waking up early and driving back to the car park where there will often be toilets too! 

Van esplanade at cairns with palm trees

Say G'day to local pub owners 

Sometimes, you may just come across these unicorn pub owners who are honestly the best people out, and will let you stay in your van for free behind or next to the pub! Usually, there is a bit of an unspoken expectation that you’ll buy lunch or dinner and a beer or two. A lot of these gems will show up on WikiCamps, but if you’re in a quiet town with a pub, it never hurts to get chatting to the workers and owners. Best case scenario, you may get a free night’s stay with a toilet (and dare I say hot shower?). Worst case scenario, there’s no free camping on offer, you’ve had a chat with some locals and are in a prime location for a couple of cool afternoon beverages with good friends! 

Tap beers at the pub, colourful labels, one person with a tattoo pouring beer

Always be mindful of the environment and your neighbours

When hanging out in car parks, sleeping in the streets or spending a night in a free campsite, be mindful of the planet of those around you! Acts as simple and necessary as picking up your rubbish and leaving a spot cleaner than you arrived will help to create a way more camper-friendly culture. Similarly, if you’re in residential or quieter areas, be mindful of noise at night. And, as a rule of thumb, don’t blast your music out of a Bluetooth speaker in the wee hours. Just don’t be that guy. Pass on the good vibes, leave public spaces free of litter and take it slow as you explore the wonders of this incredible country.

Two women next to their campervan by the beach

Check out our favourite free campsites here, or chat with a local to explore your options when it comes to hitting that East Coast road.

Live chat or call us today to make the Aussie road trip you’ve been dreaming of a reality! 

East Coast Tours acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners of Country and recognises their continuing connection to land, sea, culture and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and extend that respect to all First Nations peoples.

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