Considerate camping

Catherine Lawson — 27 August 2019
Travel etiquette

Winter is a favourite time for Aussie travellers to hit the road, lured north by warm beaches, dreamy hot springs and distinctly tropical scenes. But when so many of us share the same top itineraries, the most remote, far-flung destinations can quickly become crowded and congested.  

To ensure things stay convivial, rather than chaotic, all this close wintertime living demands we show a great deal of consideration towards each other, especially when the sun goes down, generators begin to hum, dogs bark, music cranks and smoky campfires get out of hand.

1. Keep it down

I once met a guy who got out of bed at 10pm, banged on the door of a nearby caravan and suggested that since he could hear their blaring television from across the campground, he might as well come on in and watch it with them. Suffice to say the movie was quickly switched off. 

Noise at night can be intolerable: loud voices, generators, a barking dog, any music that you just can’t stand, and especially the guy warming up his 4WD for 20 minutes at 5am. It might be a loud drunk around the campfire or a toilet door banging in the breeze: wherever we go, humans turn the world into a very noisy place. 

While we all contribute to the campground cacophony in some way, it’s important to be fair when we travel and quieten down at a reasonable hour to allow others to enjoy some golden silence.  

Considerate camping tip: Generators are the biggest cause of campground conflict so ask neighbours if the noise is bothering them, and tell them exactly when you’ll be switching it off (by 9pm at the very latest and never in no-generator zones). A big no-no is to disappear for the day and leave your generator running in your absence. After dark, lower your voice around the campfire, keep pets and kids as quiet as possible, turn down or switch off the music and TV, and close doors quietly.

2. Know your limit

It’s a wonderful Australian privilege to be able to travel almost anywhere in the country, and overnight for free in roadside rest areas and friendly community camps. 

Free camping not only stretches the budget, but these sites also lure self-sufficient travellers off the beaten track to escape the crowds and discover new routes and towns worth touring. 

I often wonder, though, if free camping areas will exist in 10 years' time given how much pressure there is from commercial interests to close them down and how badly some travellers treat them. 

Respecting stay limits can be difficult when we are settled in and enjoying ourselves, but we must resist the temptation to linger too long and move on to make way for the next wave of travellers. 

Considerate camping tip: Always respect time limits. If there’s a 48-hour limit, enjoy a couple of nights then move on. Many free camps are provided (or tolerated) by local communities, so treat camps well, spend a few dollars in town, frequent their festivals, donate to their op shops, keep public facilities (especially dump points) clean, and give locals a reason to sanction our stays. 

3. Don’t rubbish a good thing

Have you ever pulled into a camp to find the rubbish bins stuffed to overflowing? The lids won’t close, rubbish is blowing about in the breeze and some sneaky sod has stashed his dead battery and a rusty gas cylinder, and the flies and the stench are unbearable. 

What a terrible impression of travellers this creates, and a messy camp does nothing to encourage those who follow to do the right thing. Just imagine being the person tasked with cleaning up after us all!

Considerate camping tip: Leaving rubbish beside any bin encourages animals to raid it, so when bins are full, carry yours to the next destination. When you break camp, top up your rubbish bag with as much discarded campground litter as you can find: plastic bread bag ties, bottle tops and cigarette butts included. If travelling with kids, offer them some loose change or a daily treat for every 10 items of rubbish they retrieve and make every day Clean-up Australia Day. 

4. Light it up

Campfires are great fun, except if you are the traveller downwind whose caravan is filling up with smoke. 

The rules for campfires are simple: respect all fire bans, be aware of the direction of your campfire smoke, and never light a fire on a windy night in a crowded camp.

Considerate camping tip: Use only existing fire rings at camp, don’t chop down or break the limbs off live trees, and keep every campfire small. Don’t try to burn non-combustible glass, tin and plastics that will hang around for all eternity. Finally, you might avoid campground complaints by inviting the neighbours over to share your campfire, but remember to extinguish it completely with a bucket of water before going to bed. Never use sand as it only insulates the fire, keeping it red-hot underneath and posing a risk to barefooted kids.

5. The small things

They may be the most cherished things in your caravan but not everyone you meet will feel the same way about your pets and children. As a mum who loves to go camping, I know that my own glorious little creature is something many couples on the other side of parenthood would much prefer to admire from afar! 

The same goes for dogs, especially if (like me) you are the parent of a child who is petrified of them. Thankfully, there are two things that parents and pet owners can do to endear themselves to other campers. 

Considerate camping tip #1: Keep your dog in camp (tethered if you must) so that it can’t wander into other campsites and become a nuisance. Control the noise, too. Barking dogs are no fun and yours may need help adjusting to the communal nature of campgrounds. 

Considerate Camping #2: National parks are no place for pets: their noise, scents and the poo you don’t pick up (not to mention any aggressive behaviours) pose a real risk to fauna and flora, making it vital to play by the rules. You can still enjoy national park stays by sharing pet-sitting duties outside park boundaries with other travelling pet owners.

Considerate Camping #3: Babies cry, toddlers tantrum, but older kids yelling and tearing around the campground long after dark is something parents can control. Let kids wear themselves out in daylight hours and quieten them down after dark. Finally, instruct kids to walk around, not through other people’s campsites. 

6. Personal space

Imagine this: you’ve parked the rig on an endless white sand beach — palm trees swaying, a shady chair and a cool drink — when suddenly, into your deserted campground roars a campervan that makes a beeline straight for you, parking so close that you can barely open the caravan door. That happened to us at Mission Beach, turning our perfect camping experience completely on its head. 

There might be safety in numbers, or maybe you want to be closest to the toilet 

or the tap, or furthest from the bin or the road but in the quest to secure an ideal camp, it’s easy to destroy your neighbours’ solitude in a flash. 

Considerate camping tip: Unless space is extremely tight and you’ve no other option, set up camp well away from others. If you absolutely have to park on top of someone else, go over and introduce yourself, explain the situation and be especially conscious of keeping the noise down. 

7. On the loo

Let’s face it, outback and public toilets can be disgusting places at times, but piling our collective excrement into one big hole prevents the area 100m around each campground from turning into an unsanitary toilet paper flowerbed. One of the most unforgivable messes I’ve ever come across was stumbling onto the contents of someone’s porta-loo, emptied less than 10m from a roadside rest area directly onto the ground. 

Considerate camping tip: If you enjoy the convenience of a portable toilet, make it your business to track down dump points along your travel route (never empty into enviro-loos and other water-free public toilets). Make use of the campground toilet if it exists and if not, dig deep, far away and cover well. 

8. Don’t pollute

You’ve just arrived at a remote freshwater swimming hole: cool, clear water, a nice sandy beach and a couple of shaded rock slabs to spread out the picnic. As you are about to slide in, you notice a nasty, oil slick across the water — sunscreen!

Most of us appreciate the need to wash ourselves, our dishes and our laundry well away from creeks, rivers and rock holes, but you may not have considered what else you are washing into the water when you take a dip. 

The majority of sunscreens and insect repellents sold in Australia are not fish-friendly, so resist the urge to lather up just before you take the plunge. Switch to a zinc-based, reef-friendly sunscreen, don a long-sleeved cotton shirt and wide-brimmed to keep the sun off, and apply potions after your swim.

Considerate camping tip: In camp, switch to genuinely biodegradable washing-up and laundry detergents, soaps and shampoos, and scatter grey water at least 100m from any waterway. Wiping oily pots with paper towel before you wash up lessens the amount of detergent you need to use.  

9. Recycle on the road

You have great recycling habits at home, so why stop once you hit the road? You may not always find recycling bins for glass, cans and plastics in campgrounds and rest areas, but with a couple of reusable folding bins on board, you can cart your recyclables to the next disposal point, set a great example to other campers and feel good for doing right by the environment. 

Considerate camping tip: Plastics and cans are easy to crush and take up far less room when empty. Newspapers and magazines can be offered on to camping neighbours too. 

10. Keep wild things wild

Whether you actually feed the wildlife with an open palm or are just careless with your rubbish bags, providing nocturnal critters with a meal can be disastrous for their health as well as their ecosystems. 

Camp-fed animals tend to hang around, becoming pests and putting themselves at risk of being hit by vehicles and attacked by travelling pets. 

Considerate camping tip: Never lure animals with food just so that you can get a good photo and never enter a national park with pets on board. Protect native vegetation by sticking to walking trails and 4WD tracks, and show respect for historical and Indigenous cultural sites by looking, but never touching, artefacts and artwork. 

11. Pay it forward

I know a bloke who leaves a stash of firewood at every free camp for the next traveller to enjoy, and I have personally been the lucky recipient of a gift left at a roadside camp near the NT’s Flora River — a cheeky bottle of red with a note that simply said “Enjoy”! 

Considerate camping tip: Paying it forward by cleaning up a camp or leaving a share of tank water or toilet paper for the next camper is a guaranteed way to ensure good things follow on your next Aussie adventure.  


travel camping consideratecamping caravans


David Bristow