Free-camping is not a cost-free option!

ByRV DailyNovember 20, 2020
Free-camping is not a cost-free option!

When it comes to choosing between staying in a caravan park, or free-camping – which is the more sustainable choice?

Aussies are passionate about the environment. The physical world that excites our senses: the vast open landscapes, the crisp morning air, the wind through our hair, the birdsong livening the soundscape, the salt on our tongue, the perfume of wildflowers. Any reminder is enough to take us back to a happier place. We’re wired to rekindle that visceral connection, and a growing number of us are on the move to do just that, be it for a weekend or our remaining days. We’re spoilt for choice about where and how we stay; from the simplest swag, set up hundreds of kilometres from the next person, to a luxury caravan or cabin at a popular coastal caravan park.

Overwhelmingly, tourers will argue that free-camping is the most sustainable way to live on the road, but is it?

Let’s make one thing clear: sustainability is not a trendy government buzzword used to sell an abstract concept. A widely accepted definition is that of meeting our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. And that sounds pretty fair, right? We want our grandchildren to visit the same unspoilt landscapes decades from now. But sustainability refers to more than just preserving the natural world for future generations. We may ignore the social and economic impacts of our travel at a local community level while we chase reconnection with nature.

free camping in the Simpson

The perfect spot in the Simpson Desert for a small convoy to set down for the night. Not a camping fee in sight!


Part of the enjoyment of free camping comes from the need to prepare for survival, as it’s often not as simple as turning on the tap for a drink or shower or popping down to the shops to grab dinner. Seasoned free campers have a raft of tips from years of experience meeting their basic physical needs on the road that they’re happy to share.

But if we’re staying in a caravan park our needs become even easier to meet. The ability to be close to nature, but surrounded by creature comforts at a moment’s notice, might be more suitable. Maybe we’re working on the road,
or have a family in tow and it’s just more convenient. Sometimes, a combination of both along different parts of the journey works.

Camp on your own private site at Willow Springs Station, Flinders Ranges


Whether we’re at home, free-camping or staying in a caravan park, we’re using resources and producing emissions. But where are the most resources used and emissions produced – free-camping or a caravan park scenario? To understand that, we need to compare the average Joe Bloggs’ behaviour.


Every stay has a degree of environmental impact. In some ecosystems, such as desert, that can be decades, so while I fundamentally disagree with the assertion of being able to ‘leave no trace’, I agree with its guiding principles to minimise your footprint:

  • Plan ahead and prepare.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Minimise campfire impacts.
  • Respect wildlife.
  • Be considerate of your hosts and other visitors.

In some areas, a caravan park is a more sustainable option. Waste and emissions remain contained away from sensitive natural areas, parks allow for regeneration of sites and you’re contributing to the economy of the area; the park owners and employees, those contracted to maintain it, the local council, and businesses you buy from in town. Maybe you’ll also make new friends during your stay. So that’s a win on all three sustainability measures – environmental, economic and social.

But free camping can be more sustainable in terms of resources used and emissions to the environment when done properly. You wouldn’t trash a caravan park and then leave, so take that same attitude away with you free camping and dial it up a notch.

Happy camping!

Sometimes all you need is a patch of flat ground to put down your swag. Camp sorted!