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In praise of wild camping. Or why tents trump five star hotels every time.

I hate five star hotels.
Actually, that not true at all.
I love five star hotels.
Actually, that’s not true at all.
I imagine that I would love five star hotels. As a professional vagabond you don’t get much experience of them.
But even when I become a millionaire I will still relish sleeping in my tent from time to time. Watching the sunset from a tent on a mountain top in Lesotho or waking in a meadow in Pakistan: the best views of my life have been ones that money cannot buy. Taking a tent on my travels has not only saved me many thousands of pounds in accommodation costs, it has also given me the freedom to reach more remote and wild places than I otherwise would have done.
For backpackers taking a tent is certainly a big decision: they are bulky and relatively heavy additions to your luggage. But the money it will save you and the spectacular places it will enable you to sleep ought to make a tent at least worthy of consideration. There are campsites with showers and other facilities across the world. But in this blog I am singing the praises of wild camping – sleeping out in the countryside far from the madding crowd (though naturally without breaking the law or trespassing!). No facilities, no people, no costs, no problem!
There are a range of very light tents available for one or two people, such as the MSR Carbon reflex or Terra Nova’s Laser Competition. There are also much cheaper, though less robust options such as the Decathlon Ferrino. This will pay for itself in hotel savings after just a few nights’ of use.
On short, summertime trips I leave the tent at home and pack a bivvy bag instead. A bivvy bag is like a waterproof outer layer for your sleeping bag. They’re not as homely as a tent, nor very nice in heavy rain. But they pack down to a small size and are great for stargazing as you doze off to sleep in a fragrant Tuscan olive grove or in a forest of giant redwood trees… In the morning you simply stand up, shove the bivvy bag and sleeping bag into your backpack, jump into a nearby river for a bracing wake-up wash, and then stroll into the nearest town to find a market stall selling breakfast and coffee. A sense of adventure, pristine nature, fabulous star-gazing, a five star view, and all for free.
But I have spent many nights wild camping without even a bivvy bag, snuggling down to sleep in just a sleeping bag on beaches, benches, hilltops and a host of memorable spots (including a swimming platform out in a bay, the terraces of a rugby stadium, a (clean) sewage pipe under a road, To really add to the adventure of your travels I urge you to give up the comfort of your five star hotel (or backpacker hostel!) for a few nights of your travels.
This piece first appeared in Wanderlust.
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  1. The only 5* hotel I’ve stayed in has been before and after the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge. It’s nice because it is novel and it is a treat. I especially love the shower at the Park Rotana. And they’ve got super showers. And the staff call me, “Miss Lisa”, which is sweet. And I like watching satellite tv in bed and flicking through channels (I don’t have a telly at home).

    Thankfully I do love sleeping my tent and I always get excited about going off to races where we camp 😉

  2. The only things that are amazing with 5 star hotels are the comfortable beds which give you a great sleep and also the breakfast buffets. But its hard to beat the experience of waking up in the morning and opening your tent to an incredible view. I always find the morning after the most exciting part of tenting, especially if you set the tent in the dark the evening before and your not sure to what view you will wake up to.

  3. Cycling from Bilbao to Porto over Easter and using this website to sniff out wild camping spots.

    Check it out:

  4. Hi Alistair, It sounds like you have travelled far and wide. Having come from Southern Africa I recognise your mention of the Lesotho mountains. I can’t agree with you more that to truely experience the places you go to camping is the best. Yes, 5 star hotels alow you to see the cities but not the nature. Camping adjunct to nature hiking, cycling and touring is the only real way to go. Best wishes on your travels CamperRon.

  5. What better 5 star hotel than a camp for me where I can be reading my book by the lamp and my big dogs out at the entrance flap keeping a vigil? But I won’t do it at unknown places like you did Al during your cycling expedition all over the globe. National Parks, US state parks, Canadian provincial and conservation parks provide me with the best of everything.

  6. Rob Bough Posted

    In his book “Cycling in Europe” Nick Crane says that “going indoors to sleep following a glorious spell outdoors is like walking out of a terrific film before it has finished”. He adds that if it is raining,windy or freezing then buildings do have their uses! Sums it up for me. I have fond memories of camping rough on cycling tours.

  7. The best place I ever slept out was in the Sahara in Algeria. Although it can be cold at night, there is nothing quite like lying awake in your sleeping bag at night and looking up at a clear, starry desert sky. Magnificent.

    Also, when you wild camp, you can keep pretty clean with a very small amount of water. It’s particularly important when you have been cycling all day!

  8. If you enjoyed this post you should read Tom Allen’s excellent post in a similar vein, but with great pictures and valuable advice:

  9. There is an outstanding feeling of being alive and free when being out in nature and sleeping under the stars.This is a most refreshing feeling o being alive.

  10. Totally agree with you. 5 stars hotels are cool but making your own tent and sleeping in the wild is even cooler! Totally different type of experience…

  11. Never had the pleasure of a star setting but sleeping under the stars is a way better feeling.

  12. Where was the pic taken? It looks familiar but I don’t want to stick my neck out as I’m not 100% that it’s looking north from Ben Oss. Oops, I’ve said too much. I’m wrong though, aren’t I?

  13. Mentioning lesotho mountains, reminded me of a trip i made through the maluties there in 1989, it was a scorching hot day in october and we were hiking on a 3 day wilderness trip. I decided to sleep under the stars and not set up tent. The stars were amazing and i drifted off to sleep by about 10pm. At 3 am I was frozen, I couldn’t get warm and didn’t sleep again. Next night I set up the tent and star gazed until i was ready to get into the tent. I didn’t have a sleeping bag of the right caliber for that kind of temperature and no bivy bag etc. But all adventures worth talking about have some problems, hardships to overcome… that is the adventure

  14. It is true – the best hotel is the one with the thousand stars at night….but after a very long time on the road, I sometimes long for a comfy bed and being indoor for a few days. It helps me to recharge my batteries and being able to enjoy the outoors again.
    Cheers from the road, Heike



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