HOW TO SLEEP FOR FREE ABSOLUTELY ANYWHERE
I’m a firm believer that every single one of us has the god given right to be able to sleep for free, without the need to worry about having to move on because it’s deemed not correct or proper.
I believe it’s every persons right to be able to get their 40 winks without having to first pay someone for the privilege but I also admit that at the same time you do need to be able to sleep in comfort and security in order to be able to enjoy it.
Many people might think the idea is just plain stupid or even delusional in the modern and comfortable world we find ourselves in; where a hotel, hostel or campground is usually just a stone’s throw away but also where it seems, everything in life costs money.
It wasn’t always this way of course. You only have to go back a mere hundred and fifty years or perhaps to the start of the industrial revolution to find a world very different from the one before our eyes now.
Even today, in countries where a nomadic culture still prevails, it’s often perfectly normal to pitch shelter in a different location every few nights and without the need to hand over a wad of sweaty cash in order to do so.
SO WHAT CHANGED?
I think we have changed. We have become almost too comfortable in today’s world of fluffy bed sheets and constant access to gas, water and electricity to even think about another way of spending the night. It’s all too easy to forget today that it wasn’t so long ago that we all lived in a completely different way and without the convenience of the above things in our lives. Perhaps we fetched water from a well for our daily needs instead of turning on a tap. Perhaps we used candles to light our homes instead of flicking on a switch and maybe we even wrapped ourselves in clothes to stay warm instead of turning on the central heating. Perhaps our lives then were infinitely more difficult, brutal and dominated more by our daily chores but I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing per se.
I’m in no way saying we all need to go and live in a way which harbours visions of caves where the odd woolly mammoth might pop by to say hello but I do think we should remind ourselves that we’re all very privileged to have been born into a world with such an unending list of creature comforts that we all take for granted, perhaps too much.
Most people might believe that the many chores we used to undertake out of necessity, but which have now almost completely vanished from our lives, give us more time to enjoy the other things in life but I really don’t see that all too often. I see the vast majority of people, including myself, zoning out to an endless succession of digital nonsense; be it television, Netflix, Twitter or Facebook, and not really doing anything constructive with all that spare time that has been bestowed upon us. Sometimes I think it’s counterproductive and we should all remember the value of human interaction instead of simply switching off after a hard day’s work. It’s for these reasons that I prefer to travel by bicycle and to sleep outside; It’s nice to flick off that switch, read a book, write or perhaps play something rather than simply zoning out. Travelling by bicycle and sleeping in a tent is my own small but helpful way of reminding myself where I came from and that I shouldn’t take for granted that which is given to me now.
I can think of no better feeling than waking up to a beautiful sunset in amazing surroundings and with the realisation that it was all free.
Of course, there are times when out in the sticks and particularly when on a bicycle that payed accommodation just isn’t an option and to sleep for free is the only real choice. In a way though, I’m not really talking about this aspect, but the fact that, even when paid accommodation is practical and the area where you are is populated, why should you feel the need to have to pay for something as primordial and essential as sleeping.
I tend to think back to an encounter I had with an English guy whom, having visited his sons in The Netherlands, was cycling back to Dunkirk before catching the ferry back home. I met him just as we were both leaving the ferry, after which I was to cycle back up to Manchester. He told me a story that I could relate to in a way because I tend to sleep for free quite a bit. The night before he was about to cross over into Belgium, as it was turning dark and with no town in sight, he decided to sleep in a bivvy bag by the side of the canal he was following. Having settled in for the night, along came two police officers whom told him that it was unacceptable to sleep there and that he would have to move on before informing him that there was an official campsite a few km’s back.
Now let me just remind you that the guy was on public land, it was after dusk, in the countryside and he wasn’t even camping, but merely sleeping in a kind of sleeping bag on the grass. I think it’s sad and utterly preposterous that a person must have to find some kind of official accommodation in order to get his or her required sleep for the night. It’s barking mad really when you actually stop and think about it.
In the two months I cycled around New Zealand and the six months I spent cycling around Europe, I can count on two hands the amount of times I actually paid for somewhere to rest my head and most of these were results of simply wanting to meet people and thus were mostly hostels.
This was again proved to be the case when I cycled to Vietnam.
Sure, at first it was a little difficult to find suitable places and maybe even a little scary too but all that soon fades away when you realise that travelling this way is not only free but also uplifting, fulfilling and you soon actually start to embrace it. It gives you confidence and control over your own life and path and it also injects a kind of energy into you that perhaps you didn’t even know you had. It’s exciting to rise in the morning and not know if your next night’s sleep will be on a beach, a forest, someone’s land (with their permission) or even in someone’s home (having been invited in obviously).
The reason why I chose to do this came from one very simple fact. Paid accommodation is often expensive and so I had to ask myself, do I want to pay to sleep and cut my trip short or do I want to sleep for free and thus prolong my trip? It was always going to be the latter of course and being stubborn helps too. And thus when a person proclaims that they can’t afford to travel, I say the choice is up to them; enjoy a month’s luxurious holiday in quiet comfort or travel for a year and come away with a lifetime of memories.
AND HOW TO DO IT
Take your time in finding a suitable place and know when to stop
I have always found that the very best time in which to pitch your tent is just before nightfall. Not only does this mean you’ll have really got the most out of the day in regards to distance if that’s your main concern, it also means that you’re very, very unlikely to encounter anyone out and about around at this time, particularly those pesky dog walkers.
Obviously, you can’t just keep cycling until a little before dusk and pray that along come’s a nifty little out of the way spot perfect for a night’s sleep as the world just doesn’t work that way. Instead, try to start looking at least a couple of hours before dusk which basically translates to simply scanning the area that you’re actually travelling through. When doing this, you can often spot a multitude of places and once sure of a certain place, you can simply sit down and begin to make your dinner safe in the knowledge that tonight you’ll have a nice quiet place to lay your head.
Spend a few minutes scouting out the area first
This is probably the most important thing to do when looking at a potential campsite and I can’t stress this enough. The only way to get a good night’s sleep is to feel safe. Dog’s, insects and other animals aren’t usually a cause for concern but locals can be a nuisance. Just have a look around to see if there has been any recent activity in the area. For example, if you see a beer can or a plastic wrapper, take a look to see how faded it is. This is a failsafe method to use in order to ascertain whether or not the area is visited frequently enough to ensure a restful night’s sleep and in years of doing this, I can confidently and proudly boast that only once have I been ‘visited’ and I was so camouflaged anyway that they didn’t even see me!
You can also look for tracks leading in or out of the area, broken branches, lights in the distance and whether or not the area is visible from the road or farm houses etc.
This is a pretty easy rule to follow. Sleeping outside changes the way the body clock operates; you sleep when it’s dark and wake up when it’s light. It’s a beautifully simply concept and a healthy one too, thus waking up at 6am is not only feasible but is also done without much effort at all. The trick is to try not to stay there longer than say half 7 or 8 at the very latest. Obviously it depends on your surroundings but the only real consequences of staying later are early morning dog walkers.
Consider cooking earlier on and eating later
Cooking once you have found a place to sleep gives you something to do whilst you wait for an appropriate time in which to pitch but if you really don’t want to draw any attention to the area you intend to use, it’s usually a better option to cook your meal earlier. You can then keep your food in your mess tin until you wait to eat or simply eat it earlier. Incidentally, the good thing about using mess tins is that they really do keep your food warm very long and so it’s still hot and tasty when you’ve managed to pitch your tent.
Also, if you are in an area where there are houses around or that the only thing between you and the road are some bushes, both noise and light from a burning stove will no doubt cause unwanted attention.
It’s usually quite easy to cook when you have already pitched your tent, just lay your ass on one of your bags and simply get on with it. There is one problem with this approach however, particularly if you’re in a warm climate, and that’s usually caused by ants. Oh how I love ants. Just by dropping a few food crumbs around the outside of your tent whilst cooking will mean you’ll wake up in the morning with hundreds of the little buggers crawling under your sleeping bag whilst also infesting your bags too. Again, just another reason to cook your meal earlier on rather than waiting until you have pitched.
Remember to stock up on water
I always carry about five litres of water no matter what time of the day it is – it’s just too important to let those bottles run dry. However, this is even more important later on in the day. Think about how much water you use at home when cooking, drinking, cleaning the pots and yourself and that’s not even mentioning that all-important coffee and breakfast in the morning. Needless to say, you’ll need a lot and from personal experience, it’s a nightmare if you run out.
In order to make your water go a little further, there are a few things you can do. For example you could use the water left after cooking your pasta to clean the pans and utensils before washing them off afterwards with a little fresh water. Also, one large mouthful of water is often more than enough when brushing your teeth. When washing all that dirt and sweat off at the end of the day, you just have to remember that you are sleeping in a tent on your own and so being super clean kind of goes out the window. For you to feel just comfortably clean to be able to enjoy your night’s sleep, very little water is actually needed. Just get on with it. At the end of the day, two litre’s of water is usually more than enough after you have pitched providing you have already cooked.
Talk to the locals
I have to admit that there really have been a few times that I have come up a little stuck with regards to actually finding somewhere safe to sleep for the night although it must be said, the few occasions where this has happened reflect my own stupidity rather than it being difficult to find somewhere. More often than not it was the result of taking a busier road rather than a smaller one or getting a little lost on the way out of a large city and thus not quite making it out to the countryside in time.
If this does happen, there is help at hand. I’m referring to of course to the general public. You may or may not believe the quiet fact that the vast majority of humans are in fact pleasant, normal people willing to help, just like you and me, I hope. That’s why if you really do get stuck, it’s always a good idea to ask people in the local town, village or farm if it’s at all possible for you to pitch a tent for the night on their land. I have never once been turned away and in fact, a very few times, I have been invited in to eat with them and take a shower. I never ask to but they seem to want to help out whether be through their own perceived obligations to someone visiting their country or possibly a little pity. Once people know that you’re not simply a vagrant, and perhaps if you have told them of your grand ambitions, they’re almost always more than willing to help and will often go further than that. You’ll meet some very interesting people too and also get to learn a little about the local culture and land – not the sort of thing you’d get at a hostel.
If you are a little shy, you could also phrase your question in a way as to seem non-intrusive. For Example, “do you know a place where I could pitch a tent for the evening”? Instead of “would it be possible to pitch a tent on your land, just for the evening”? Doing so at least gives the other party the option of saying no without the need for any embarrassment as it were.
I might add that conveying that last message to a person that doesn’t understand your mother tongue might not be the easiest thing in the world.