The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Beautiful
Whether you prefer to stay at caravan parks or freecamps is a regular topic of conversation between travellers on the road. Briefly, to explain the difference between caravan parks and “freecamps” (and for the purposes of this article I am including low cost camps as “free”) caravan parks usually have a variety of amenities (power, water, rubbish collection, laundry facilities, bbq areas, pools, sporting facilities etc) for their cost whereas freecamps tend to have fewer or no facilities and a lower, or zero, cost.
Complaints are sometimes received from caravan park owners that the freecamps take their business. This may be true to a degree but only if the people who are freecamping would use the caravan park if there was not another option. In very popular tourist areas sometimes it is difficult to get a space at a caravan park should you want to stay in one. Some travellers will simply bypass a town if it has no freecamps.
There are different kinds of travellers
If you are going on your annual holiday you will probably be ready and willing to spend freely for your vacation.
If you live on the road, either through working requirement, retirement, inability to afford a house, extended vacation, to see the country or any other long term reason, most people’s budget will not allow for caravan parks ($20-$45+ for a site) every night.
For example, retirees living on the aged pension currently receive around $600 per week. If they had to pay $200+ per week in a caravan park there is not a lot left for food, fuel, maintenance of vehicles, insurance and all the other costs of living. Similarly if you are a backpacker living in a tent and picking fruit to earn a wage, you probably won’t be able to earn enough to pay living expenses and continue to travel (unless you are a gun picker of course).
Yet there seems to be a wide held opinion that people who stay in freecamps are cheap, even total misers. Some are – yes, we’ve seen you arrive late and leave early to save yourself gulp! $5, $10 or even a gold coin donation – but in the majority of cases it is the travelling market voting with their feet (or wheels) and choosing the option that meets their needs at a price they can afford.
A further consideration is your method of travel. If you only have a tent you will need facilities at some point. If you have a fully ensuited caravan with solar power, then your requirements will be less.
Some travellers will only stay in caravan parks as they are perceived to be more secure than freecamps. Some freecampers will stay in caravan parks some of the time for the facilities and convenience. Some travellers will never stay in a caravan park if they can avoid it.
Overall, there is more than one kind of traveller and they need more than one kind of accommodation.
Local Community Views
There are many freecamps in small communities, either in addition to the local caravan park or because there isn’t one.
In a large number of small towns the council or local groups have set up freecamps or allowed the use of community assets such as sports grounds to be used. Often if a fee is charged the money goes to community groups and /or to the maintenance and improvement of the site. The general view appears to be that travellers are welcome as they contribute money to the local economy (which may only be a general store and/or a pub) that would not otherwise be available. Particularly in drought, flood and fire affected areas, tourists are needed. And there seem to be plenty of places that have one or more of these events happening constantly.
Freecamps are a plus for local businesses as no matter how frugal a traveller you are, you have to buy food and fuel. It can happen that if a town doesn’t have a low cost camping option the traveller’s business will go to the next town that does. Recently we stayed in a town which had both a caravan park and a freecamp. While at the local hairdressers I was interested to hear a discussion about the freecamp. Travellers are asked to put their receipts in a box. Apparently they regularly total @$10K per week. And that would only be from the probably very small percentage of people who remembered to save their receipts and put them in the box.
Another aspect to consider is events of every kind, music, arts, markets etc. Many towns have iconic annual or more regular events where accommodation is at a premium. Freecamps can provide that bit extra accomodation when it’s needed.
Location, Location, Location
Both caravan parks and freecamps can be situated in the middle of town or further out, on the banks of rivers, in beautiful parks and by the beach. One difference that does come up quite often is that freecamps often have that bit more space to spread out your camp and choice on where you park.
Less Facilities, Less Rules
Freecamps often have a broader acceptance of pets and the ability to have campfires. On the other side, there will not always be a caretaker to answer questions and solve problems. Frequently you will need to take your rubbish with you. Some camps will have water, toilets, dump points and power, some will only have a place to park.
So, What’s the Answer?
Broadly, there is room for both caravan parks and freecamps. I’ve seen many towns happily incorporate this. The exceptions have been where the local caravan park either has a bad reputation (you can’t get away from social media, wikicamps etc) or is badly placed, far from the attractions etc. One answer might be to have (as we have seen in several places) caravan parks that offer two tiers of accommodation. You can have all the facilities for a premium price, or simply somewhere to park, water and rubbish collection for a discounted amount, therefore catering to everyone’s needs. Another idea is for caravan parks to offer some extra truly useful attraction, for example the Gundagai Tourist Park installed a weighbridge for their customers and another park we’ve stayed in offers caravan repairs. Brilliant idea.
In 2018 there were 670,000+ registered RVs in Australia and 23,000 new ones were manufactured. They’ve all got to park somewhere when they go on tour. With these numbers plus tents and every other variety of camping options, there really should be business enough for everyone.