How to Set Your Caravan Up for Free Camping

How to Set Your Caravan Up for Free Camping Australia

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I absolutely love Free Camping. In fact, Free Camps provided over 90% of our accommodation when we were living on the road. But not having the conveniences of power, water and amenities on hand for much of the time means that you need to be organised and prepared.

Before we hit the road, I didn’t know much about Free Camping besides the fact that they are spotted all around Australia and many people swear by them. After the first 12 months of full-time travel I can 100% attribute our low weekly accommodation costs of just $34.40 per week (average) to Free Camping. 

See Our 12-Month Travel Budget →

So how does one manage to survive largely on Free Camps while travelling? It all comes down to being well set up, in addition to being wise with your resources.

Here’s how to set your caravan up for Free Camping so that you can enjoy all that these amazing camps have to offer.

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see our disclosures here.

How to Set Your Caravan Up for Free Camping

When looking at how to set your caravan up for Free Camping, the main resources to include are power, water and amenities.

Free Camping Infographic

WATER

It goes without saying that humans need water to survive. We can go weeks without food and still survive, whereas without water, you’re talking only days.

But, water is not just for drinking, we need it for staying healthy and hygienic. Think about how often you turn on the tap to wash your body, the dishes and clothing, plus to use for cooking and keeping your home environment clean.

Before you head to a Free Camp, it’s good practice to make sure all of your water tanks and vessels are full. We could carry close to 300L of water, which we could survive off for up to a week if need be.

However, we’d generally go through it quicker than that as I’d do loads of washing in the caravan, depending on when we would be refilling the water tanks. It’s all about organisation and a bit of foresight.

Doing Laundry Off-grid →

When considering how to set your caravan up for Free Camping, you’ll need as many water tanks as you can, plus additional water storage vessels.

The extra water containers are important so that you can put them in the car to gather extra water while you’re out and about, then top up the caravan water tanks when you get back to camp without having to move your whole set-up.

Water Containers & Bladders

The longer you can make your water last, the longer you get to enjoy awesome Free Camping Australia. When you find a really great spot, you might just want to extend your stay for an extra few days if you’ve got enough resources on hand.

Carrying some spare water is always recommended if you know that you’re heading into an off-grid camp that looks good.

Water bladders, jerry cans and containers are all handy to have, because if there happens to be a town nearby, you can always duck in and refill your water vessels without having to pack up camp.

We had a long 150L water bladder, which would perfectly fit across the back floor of the car (under the kids’ feet). We’d pull it out only when we needed to get extra water to top up the caravan water tanks, the rest of the time it lived rolled up in the back of the car.

Finding Water

Sometimes things can happen on the road, which can delay you from filling up water as planned. Being stranded somewhere without enough water is not fun and can even be life-threatening. A good tip is to keep a 20L water container full of fresh water as a back-up incase you run out and need drinking water.

The best way to find the nearest potable water tap is with the WikiCamps App, which I reckon is the most useful App for travelling Australia. And no, I’m not affiliated with the brand in any way, I just cannot recommend it highly enough as a travelling resource.

Places that generally have water taps:

  • Visitor Information Centres
  • Parks
  • Dump Points (separate tap for drinking water)
  • Petrol Stations
  • Showgrounds

For more tips on finding water while travelling, check out the following article.

How to Find Water on the Road →

Water Saving Tips

  • Only turn the tap on a little bit when in use
  • Don’t overfill your sink for dishes – just use a small amount
  • To wet a cleaning cloth, soak it in a bit of water in a container (or a plugged sink), rather than running the tap
  • Brush crumbs off plates outside instead of running them under the tap
  • Skip the ‘rinse’ cycle in the washing machine
  • Collect rain water or creek water for washing feet & shoes etc.
  • Turn off the shower off between rinses

How to Set Your Caravan Up for Free Camping
– WATER –
Ensure you’ve got as much water storage as your space and payload will allow for.

• 2 – 3 Caravan Water Tanks
• Spare Water Bladder (to transport in the car – a long 150L one is a good size to fit across the back floor)
• Water Jerry Cans/ Containers
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AMENITIES

Toilet, Laundry Bag
Must have an onboard ensuite

Toilet

You’ll find that there are many Free Camps spotted across Australia that do actually have toilets, however that is the exception and not the rule.

Bear in mind that they will often be Drop Toilets, not the usual flushing type that we’re privileged enough to have in our homes.

You must have an onboard ensuite with a shower and toilet for Free Camping. This also ensures that you’re allowed to make use of camps for “fully self-contained vehicles only.”

There are two ways to collect the toilet waste, either of which will be installed in your caravan during the build process:

  1. Toilet Cassette (most commonly used)
  2. Black Water Tank

A Black Water Tank allows for a larger capacity of toilet waste to be collected before needing to be emptied. However, most modern caravans come with a Toilet Cassette, unless a Black Water Tank was chosen during the build.

Before going to any camp, always make sure that your Black Water Tank or Toilet Cassette is empty before heading in. That way you’ll have the maximum amount of waste storage space available.

Some people choose to carry a spare Toilet Cassette, just to give them more space and allow them more time at the good Free Camping spots.

How to Empty the Toilet Cassette →

Tips for saving space in your toilet cassette/ tank:

  • Pee outside where possible (guys)
  • Put a lidded bucket (lined with a plastic bag) beside the toilet to throw your toilet paper into, rather than waste space in the tank

Shower

While it’s not very common to find showers at Free Camping grounds in Australia, it’s not completely unheard of. Babinda Boulders in Far North Queensland is an example of a gorgeous little Free Camp with showers and toilets. 

However, when you’re setting your caravan up for Free Camping, you need to have your own bathing facilities onboard. National Parks and many Free and Low-Cost Camps will specify that you be “Fully Self-contained.”

Fully Self-contained:
The ability to camp without being reliant on outside resources
You must have your own onboard toilet, shower, water & waste facilities

Grey Water

Many caravanners opt for a dedicated grey water tank, which collects the van’s waste water (from sinks and the shower) rather than having it empty onto the ground.

We didn’t have a grey water tank and never had a problem along the way. We would either attach a hose to our grey water outlet and direct that water to a nearby tree, or put a bucket underneath the pipe and manually tip it out further away from camp.

However, many camps are getting stricter with this rule and I’d recommend at least having a Grey Water Bladder for those times where a hose or bucket just isn’t going to cut it.

A portable grey water bladder (like the one above), is designed to sit on the ground underneath your caravan connected to a grey water hose. Then you can simply empty the bladder at the next dump point while you’re emptying your toilet.

How to Set Your Caravan Up for Free Camping
– AMENITIES –
Ensure you’ve got an onboard ensuite for bathing and personal hygiene.

• Toilet (with cassette or black water tank)
• Shower
• Grey Water Tank or Bladder
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POWER

Collarenebri Primitive Camp, NSW - Solar Panels on Roof
A good solar set-up is essential!

Another essential resource for Free Camping is to have your own good supply of power. The most basic things that you’ll need power sources for are lights and charging devices, plus cooking and heating water.

Solar Power

Since Australia is such a sunny country, it just makes sense that we utilise the sun’s power while Free Camping. Solar panels collect the energy, batteries store the energy and an inverter converts the energy for 240 volt devices and appliances.

Most caravans and campers come with some sort of solar set-up these days, which will be enough for your basic needs (lights, 12v fans and charging phones).

If you want to be able to run extra things (e.g. washing machines and laptop chargers), plus be able to Free Camp without having to recharge the batteries via 240-volt power, then you’ll need to add extra batteries and panels.

Unless you’re well versed in solar electricity, I would recommend getting a professional to do the solar upgrade using high quality materials.

Having an additional (portable) solar panel or blanket is handy for chasing the sun and getting some extra charge into the van during the day. Make sure you’ve got an external Anderson Plug on the caravan for plugging in extra panels.

A portable solar panel is also great for topping up the car’s auxiliary battery so that the car fridge/freezer (if you have one) doesn’t drain it between drives.


Generator

Free Camping with a generator is an option, but bear in mind that petrol generators are noisy and not overly popular with other campers in the campground. People generally don’t mind if you put it on for a short while to recharge the batteries or power an appliance during the day.

Most often you’ll find that people are more accommodating of a noisy generator for a short while if you’re courteous, plus acknowledge that you don’t want to inconvenience them.

Thankfully, solar generators are becoming more common, which are really quiet and obviously save on fuel. There are some really great options on the market that are perfect for caravanning and camping.

Keep in mind, that with a good solar set-up, you shouldn’t need a generator to top up the power. However, it is good to have one onboard as a backup, just in case you run into a problem with the solar and can’t get it fixed immediately.


Gas

The gas will generally power your hot water, BBQ, hot plates and oven/ grill (if you’ve got them). It pays to have two gas bottles, so when one bottle runs out you can switched to the second bottle and get the empty one refilled as soon as possible.

With the gas hot water systems, if you leave them switched on, they will continuously be heating up the water in your hot water tank all day and night. If you don’t want to waste so much gas, leave your hot water switched off and just turn it on once a day for showers and dishes.

Heating a kettle of water for dishes and smaller jobs will use a lot less gas than heating a 30L hot water tank.

SmartSense Gas Bottle Level Monitor
Gas Bottle Monitor & App →
How to Set Your Caravan Up for Free Camping
– POWER –
Ensure you’ve got a good quality solar set-up with plenty of battery storage.

• 3 – 4 Permanent Solar Panels (roof of caravan)
• 2 – 3 Batteries (lithium or lead crystal)
• Inverter (at least 350 watt)
• Battery Management System
• BCDC Battery Charger (automatically chooses best power source)
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HEATING & COOLING

Caravan Diesel Heater Installation
The best heater for Free Camping is a Diesel Heater

Heating and staying warm

Staying warm in the winter while Free Camping in Australia can sound tricky, but there are many options for keeping warm.

The most popular off-grid camping heater is the Diesel Heater. You can easily pick one up off eBay and install it yourself if you’re handy on the tools. Check out the full guide below for step-by-step instructions with pictures.

How to Install a Diesel Heater →

Some other heaters that you can install are Gas Heaters and Combinations Heaters (which run off gas, diesel or both).

Tips for heating the van/ camper while Free Camping:

  • Diesel Heater
  • Gas Heater
  • Combination Air & Hot Water Heater
  • Generator & 240v Air Conditioner split-system
  • Cook inside the van
  • Set up camp in the full sunlight
  • Awning walls, screens & annexes (insulate)
17 Tips for Keeping Warm Off-grid →

Keeping Cool

The best way to keep cool while Free Camping, besides taking a dip in a local creek (if it’s croc-free!) is to get yourself some 12 volt fans.

12v Sirocco Fans

12 Volt Fans (eBay) →

Among the better quality ones are the Sirocco fans, with 3 different speeds and a timer for it to automatically turn off. But, that’s not to say there aren’t cheaper ones around that also do a great job.

12 volt fans don’t draw much power (about 0.5A per hour), so you don’t have to worry about them draining the batteries.

10 Tips for Keeping the Caravan Cool →
How to Set Your Caravan Up for Free Camping
– HEATING & COOLING –
12 volt heating and cooling devices will help to make Free Camping more comfortable.

• Diesel Heater for winter
• 12 volt fans for summer
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FOOD

BBQARM Notch Point, QLD
Cooking with the Weber & BBQARM at Notch Point Free Camp, QLD

Make sure you’ve got a bountiful supply of all of the foods you’ll need before heading into a Free Camp. While some camps are located close to towns, others can be in the middle of nowhere.

Keep in mind that many rural towns throughout Australia only have a tiny Food Store (if one at all), so you may not be able to rely on them to get exactly what you’re looking for, plus they’re often expensive. While I’m a huge advocate for supporting small towns that you travel through, you also need to consider your budget.

Camping Food & Menu Ideas →

As we didn’t have an oven in the caravan (just hot plates and a grill), I had to learn pretty quickly how to use the Weber to cook anything and everything. We housed the Weber on a nifty BBQARM to eliminate the need for a BBQ table.

Free Camping Food Tips:

  • Mix fresh food with pantry staples to stretch your supplies
  • Freeze pre-cooked meals to save time & gas while camping
  • Take pre-packed food out of bulky packaging to save storage space
  • Use a 12-volt Food Sealer to package smaller portions
  • Cook over the campfire to save on gas
  • Catch fish and crayfish to add to your meals
How to Set Your Caravan Up for Free Camping
– FOOD –
• 12 volt Fridge/ Freezer for the car – use it as a drinks fridge or deep freezer
• 12 volt Food Sealer – for meal planning & space saving
• Learn to cook as much as you can on the BBQ & campfire
Camping Food Checklist & Menu

Camping Food Checklist + Menu Planner

  • 4 pages
  • 12 food item categories
  • Checklists pre-filled with 100+ items
  • Menus pre-filled with 21 meals, 14 snacks & 3 desserts
  • PRINTABLE & DIGITAL
  • Download once, use over-and-over again
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RUBBISH

While some Free Camping grounds across Australia may have rubbish bins, the majority of them don’t. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll need to take all of your rubbish with you when you leave.

Leave the campsite cleaner than how you found it.

The easiest way to store rubbish until you can get to a bin is with one or two Dirty Gear Bags, which attach to the spare wheel on the back of your car or caravan. We found that having two made life easier that you could use one for empty bottles and recycling, then leave the other one for bagged rubbish.

Navigator Wheel Pack
Navigator Wheel Pack & Bin Buddy →

Other uses for spare wheel rubbish bags include sandy kids’ toys, dirty recovery gear and wheel chocks etc.

The best way to dispose of paper and cardboard waste is to burn it on your campfire each night. When you’re doing grocery shopping, consider favouring products that have more cardboard packaging than plastic – it’ll make your disposal job easier.

15 Caravan Bin Ideas →
How to Set Your Caravan Up for Free Camping
– RUBBISH –
• Bin for inside the caravan
• Dirty Gear Bag/s for the spare wheel to act as a ‘wheelie bin’ until you can dispose of your rubbish
• Burn cardboard in the campfire
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LAUNDRY

You may find yourself having to doing a bit of washing while Free Camping, but how can you keep on top of the laundry while off-grid? Here are some options to help you out.

Washing Machines

I often did the washing off-grid using the caravan’s Automatic Washing Machine by plugging it into the inverter. We had plenty of solar power, so as long as the sun was shining, I could do washing.

You only need a minimum 300 watt inverter to run the small, portable machines. Many people who don’t have an in-built washing machine will opt for a Twin Tub off eBay, which will do just as good a job.

15 Caravan Washing Machine Options →

A little tip for saving water when doing the washing while Free Camping is to skip the ‘rinse’ cycle. You’ll save around 40 – 60L of water by only doing the ‘wash’ cycle, then skipping straight to the ‘spin’ cycle. Your clothes will be fine, they’ll get plenty more rinses in the future when they go through regular loads.

Using a Wool Wash detergent is great for camping as it doesn’t require rinsing.

Wool Wash
Wool Wash (eBay) →

Scrubba Wash Bag

A popular way to wash small amounts of clothing while camping is with the Scrubba Wash Bag. Inside the bag is an internal wash board and the bag only takes a small amount of water. You can agitate the washing with your foot or hand, so no power is required.

These little guys roll up to nothing, meaning you’re not taking up a huge amount of space with a washing machine.

Scrubba Wash Bag
Scrubba Wash Bag →

Camping Clotheslines

There are a whole range of different clotheslines available for camping and caravanning, it’s just a matter of finding the perfect combination for your set up.

The most popular washing line in the caravanning community is the permanent awning clothesline, which is really easy to install yourself for under $30.

Also available for caravans are expander clotheslines, portable clotheslines, pegless clotheslines and clothes airers. For more clothesline options, check out the article below.

12 Caravan Clothesline Ideas →
How to Set Your Caravan Up for Free Camping
– LAUNDRY –
Experiment with various washing & drying options to streamline your Free Camping laundry process.

• Washing Machine
• Clothesline
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SECURITY

Caravan Security Devices - Hitch Lock
Always use a Hitch Lock when unhitched

The biggest piece of advice I can give when it comes to security while Free Camping in Australia is to tune into your gut instinct. If you drive into a campground and just don’t get a good feeling about it, keep driving to the next one. If there are people or activities going on that are making you feel uncomfortable, don’t stick around to find out.

Your intuition will never lead you astray.

Once you’re all set up at camp, you will still want to make sure your investments are safe and secure from wandering thieves.

Always make sure you lock up things like generators, fridges, BBQs and solar panels. It doesn’t hurt to throw a security cable around chairs, tables and bikes if you’re leaving the campsite and you feel the need.

Tips for campsite security:

  • Go with your gut
  • Secure doors, windows and hatches
  • Use a trailer hitch lock
  • Use a car hitch pin lock
  • Use a wheel clamp on your van/ camper
  • Secure items with security cables
  • Install an alarm or GPS tracking

For a more comprehensive look at caravan security, check out the article below.

13 Caravan Security Tips →
How to Set Your Caravan Up for Free Camping
– SECURITY –
Ensure you’ve got the necessary locks to keep your items secure.

• Coupling Lock
• Hitch Pin Lock
• Wheel Clamp/ Chains (optional)
• Security Cable for loose items
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COMMUNICATION & SAFETY

UHF Radio
Every traveller should have a UHF Radio in the car

You’ll often find yourself without any phone or internet reception while Free Camping around Australia, so it’s important to have a few safety measures in place.

Tell People Where You’re Going

Make sure you’re staying in contact with people at home and they know the general area and direction of your moves.

Chat to locals at the pub, food store and post office as you’re going about your business. Friendly conversation about your travels believe it or not could prove to be very useful information if something happened to you and a search party was needed.

Talk to other travellers about where you’ve been and where you’re heading. Not only is it a good way to make connections on the road, but it also keeps people informed of where you are if need be.

In the case of emergency, all of these people having information on your whereabouts will help out emergency workers and could just save your life one day.


UHF Radio

You definitely need to have a UHF Radio in your car, which will help you connect with anyone else who’s on the radio in close range. This could come in handy if you’re in an accident or you need to get hold of emergency services. Local farmers, station workers and truck drivers will always help out if they hear the call.

For more information on UHFs and which channels you should be tuned into as a traveller, check out the following post.

UHF Info for Travelling Australia →

Satellite Phone/ Internet

If you plan on heading off the beaten track or being in areas without reception regularly, consider getting a Satellite Phone. It could literally save your life.

Telstra is the only mobile provider worth having once you get out of the cities and away from the coastline. Optus claims to be getting better, but Telstra (although not known for great customer support) has the monopoly on the widest phone coverage across Australia.

Satellite Phone
Satellite Phone (eBay) →

Once you get into regional and outback areas, Telstra will work in pretty well all towns (even the tiny ones), but generally only has a radius of about 1km out of town.

Beyond that, you’d need a Satellite Phone to make emergency calls or connect with friends and family back home. If your car breaks down or someone falls sick or injured and you’ve got no reception, a Satellite Phone will be your saviour.

Another option is to get set up with Starlink Internet, which will work anywhere around Australia, as long as you’ve got open skies above for the dish to connect to the roaming satellites. You can learn all about Starlink for caravans in the article below.

Starlink Internet for Caravanning →

First Aid & Ambulance Cover

You simply cannot go Free Camping in Australia without at least one First Aid Kit, although I’d recommend having multiple kits.

At the very least you should have a comprehensive First Aid Kit which travels in your vehicle with you and is easily accessible at camp. It’s also good practice to have an additional kit in the caravan or camper, plus a small First Aid Kit in your hiking pack.

First Aid Kits to consider:

  • Snake Bite Kit
  • Vehicle First Aid Kit
  • Caravan/ Camper First Aid Kit
  • Hiking Bag First Aid Kit

In addition, you should always make sure you’ve got adequate Ambulance Cover for interstate travel. Check out the article below, which covers the rules and fees for each state around Australia.

Ambulance Cover for Travelling Australia →

Snake Bite First Aid

In addition to stocking a regular First Aid Kit, I would also recommend either a Snake Bite Kit or at least two SMART Pressure Immobilisation Bandages. They should go with you wherever you go – hiking, in the car, at camp.

As Australia is home to 170 snake species, 100 of which are venomous, make Snake Bite Bandages a priority and know how to use them.

The SMART bandage is basically an elasticated bandage with little rectangles on it. You simply wrap the bandage up your bitten limb and make sure you’re pulling the bandage tight enough for those little rectangles to turn into squares. One bandage should do one adult limb, but it’s always good to stock a few.

▶️ VIDEO: How to Use SMART Bandage

How to Set Your Caravan Up for Free Camping
– COMMUNICATION & SAFETY –
Ensure you’ve got communication & safety items covered in case of emergency.

• UHF Radio
• Satellite Phone/ Internet (optional)
• First Aid Kits (for the car, van & hiking pack)
• Snake Bite Kit (or Pressure Immobilisation Bandages)
• Australia Wide Ambulance Cover
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Finding Free Camps

The final tip for getting set up for Free Camping Australia is to download the WikiCamps App. Honestly, it will be your bible. You can use WikiCamps to locate the nearest water tap, Info Centre, public toilet or shower, dump points and of course campgrounds of all sorts.

Make sure you download ‘Offline Maps,’ so that you have access to finding all of your resources, even when you’re in the middle of Australia without a whiff of a signal.

Use WikiCamps to Find:

⛺️ Camps (Free, Low Cost, National Parks, Caravan Parks, Showgrounds etc.)
⬇️ Dump Points
💧 Potable Water Taps
🌳 Rest Areas
🚻 Toilets & Showers
ℹ️ Visitor Information Centres
🏊‍♂️ Swimming & Fishing Spots
🚤 Boat Ramps
👕 Laundries
🐶 Pet-friendly Locations
💨 Gas Refills and more…

To get the most out of WikiCamps, you need to set up your filters correctly and then use the Trip Planner to help plan and track your trips. Have a read of the following step-by-step guide on how to use WikiCamps.

Full WikiCamps Tutorial →

Free Camping Australia Checklist (before arriving at camp):

  1. Fill all water tanks, bladders and containers
  2. Fill up gas bottle/s
  3. Empty toilet cassette/ black tank
  4. Empty rubbish bags and bins
  5. Ensure you’ve got plenty of food and drinks
  6. Ensure you’ve got enough solar & all batteries are full
  7. Ensure you’ve got a First Aid Kit
  8. Tell someone where you’re going
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FREE CAMPING ACCESSORIES
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✔️ Checklists →
💲 Budget Spreadsheets →
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9 thoughts on “How to Set Your Caravan Up for Free Camping Australia”

  1. I must say, this guide is the most helpful one I’ve come across. The topics covered are incredibly informative, and I am truly grateful for the valuable information provided. Thank you for sharing your knowledge – I have gained a lot of insight from it.

  2. Free camping is such a great way to travel but you really need a good set up. You’ve covered all the bases here along with others that I had not thought about. I will be much better prepared next time I travel now.

  3. This is one of the best guides to camping I’ve seen. So many fun/useful gadgets I’ve never heard of. The washing bag is very intriguing, we do backpack camping and that would be perfect for our trips.

  4. I like the idea of camping of grid. Looking for ways to conserve and produce your own energy. It would be an interesting challenge to looks for new ways. Your suggestions prove you’ve done your research, such a helpful guide to learn from

  5. Always great to know there are free places to camp. And some great options in Australia. It sure has kept your travel costs down! It looks like the WikiCamps app is a great resource to find all you need before you are in a free spot without services. We would definitely want a generator for essential things. Good to know there are things to keep you safe when camped out.

    1. There are so many free camps around Australia, it’s fantastic! It has a positive knock-on effect for the local communities as it means travellers will stay and spend money in the town across many of the businesses.

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