Every day on the road ends the same way: bed time. Where do I sleep? The short answer is anywhere. You could cycle across a large chunk of the world staying in hotels every night but a) it would cost you a fortune and b) it would be no fun! I try to avoid paying for accommodation wherever possible. Here’s how I do it:
I end most days in my tent. In some parts of the world you can just stick your tent up at the side of the road and no one will bother you. Other places require a little imagination and skill in stealth camping.
I was terrified when I first started wild camping. Sleeping rough, hidden away in the forest? That’s when the mad axe men come out! The reality isn’t all like that of course, but not knowing where you will end your day takes a little getting used to.
Wherever possible I try to camp where I can’t be seen. This is either because wild camping is illegal in the country I’m in or because I don’t want to be disturbed. Anywhere is a possibility if nobody sees you: I’ve camped under motorways, in abandoned buildings and sneakily on people’s land. My one rules is this: either camp where nobody will spot you or camp where people know precisely where you are. I don’t want to be discovered when I’m sleeping because a) it’s a shock to be woken by strangers and b) you’re an easy target should anyone fancy robbing you. Depending on the environment I’ll give myself between 30mins to 2 hours to find a suitable pitch. Once you’ve got your camping ‘6th sense’ tuned properly you’ll find potential pitches anywhere but remember that the good spots are ones you won’t see from the road. You’ll need to park up, make a quick detour up that footpath or across that fence and do a quick recce. If you don’t think feel happy with the spot, trust your gut instinct. Hop back on your bike and keep searching. If I’m camping somewhere I need to be extra sneaky I’ll just pitch in the very last light and make sure I’m off at dawn.
Usually at the end of the day I like to have my own space but when I can’t find anything I ask people if I can pitch my tent on their land and it’s rarely a problem. I usually have a note written in the local language explaining who I am and what I’m asking for. Only once has someone asked me for money – I got back on my bike and found a free spot just down the road. Other times I ask officials or go to places of worship. For example: I slept in many monasteries in Thailand and a bunch of police stations across Indonesia.
It’s worth buying a decent tent if it’s going to be your permanent home, especially if you’re going somewhere where there will be rain/snow. I have a Microlight FS 2 by L.L. Bean. I should note that they’re sponsoring me but it is a really great tent. Here’s why:
It’s free standing. The first tent I used for the first 18 months (Vango’s Banshee 200) was not free standing and it was a pain in the arse not being able to set up on hard surfaces. I would not do a trip like this again without a freestanding tent.
The layers detach. When your tent’s outer layer is wet or frozen you can pack away the inner part but leave the outer layer separate. Then when the sun comes out you can dry it rather than having to unroll a wet tent the next evening. I also love layers that easily detach because I can erect just the inner mesh part to use it as a mosquito net indoors or sleep under the stars on clear nights.
The only bad thing about the Microlight Fs 2 is the colour. Silver and yellow is not particularly useful for stealth camping but if I need to keep a low profile I just chuck the outer layer on with the last light.
Couchsurfing & Warmshowers
I have stayed with more than a hundred hosts via the hospitality sites Couchsurfing and Warmshowers. Those two platforms are truly incredible resources. Not only do they save you a fortune, they are invaluable for the insight they provide into different people’s lives and connecting you to a local who can introduce you to their area.
I managed to cycle the first 2 months of my tour in Western Europe without camping or paying for accommodation. I stayed with people every single night! The people who host via CS and WS are among some of the most generous and wonderful you will ever meet – make the most of them.
CS has a much bigger network than WS but the latter is specifically geared towards touring cyclists. In Western countries you’ll have a good chance of finding people to stay with but the communities are non-existent in some parts of the world. In places like Iran and Java, Indonesia the communities where surprisingly prevalent. As a result I got a fantastic cultural understanding of the countries and a pretty good grasp of Farsi and Bahasa Indonesia.
The only difficulty with using CS & WS is getting in touch with people. In Europe it was a little fiddly because I never had a local SIM. WiFi was often available so I just planned a couple days in advance most of the time (as a result you have to compromise your ‘freedom’ a little for this to work). In other places e.g. Turkey and Indonesia I had a local SIM so it was pretty easy to get in touch with people when I neared a town that had active hosts.
When I pay for accommodation it’s usually because I have to. For example, in Uzbekistan I had to register my stay for the authorities and in North West China the police forced me to on occasion. If you can afford it, it’s nice to be able to have a night in a bed and some personal space every now and then. For my budget that was impossible in Europe and Australia but in China and South East Asia I would pay for a bed every now and then. I would whinge if it cost more than £5 but often I could find places for half that.
It’s easy to suss out which places are cheap and how much of a haggle you can pull. Once I’d worked out the names for them, I could spot the truckers’ stops in Indonesia for just £3. Down the road there would be a fancy hotel for five times the price.
The most I ever spent on accommodation was in China. In the roadside dives I could find rooms for as little as a couple quid but often as a foreigner I was only allowed to stay in certain (expensive) hotels. That winter cost me more than anywhere else but I was happy to pay for some warm nights when the outside temperature was deep below zero degrees.