Have you been bit by the travel bug but are on a tight budget? Try urban camping for a unique adventure that’s compatible with any budget – learn more here.
Urban camping is simply camping within urban landscapes. The concept is simple, but this style of camping can manifest itself in various ways, from a grassy patch in a park, car camping, finding a corner in a train or bus station, and more.
There are many reasons to try urban camping: you may want to do it yourself if you have the travel bug, a limited budget, limited time, a sense of adventure, or a combination of these. While the world of urban camping has many possibilities, it’s important to be aware of local laws and restrictions to avoid any trouble and to be respectful of local people and surroundings.
Whether you’re more interested in urban camping in a secluded and green area in some of the alluring parks many cities now have, making a spot for yourself on asphalt in a busy area in the downtown area, or keeping it within the safety of your car, there are many options for urban camping.
Keep reading to learn more about where and how to urban camp.
Advantages of Urban Camping
The allure of urban camping can be due to a wide range of attractions. Depending on how ‘natural’ the urban setting available to you is in your camping adventure, you may still be able to connect with nature and the outdoors if you find areas in woodland parks or in undeveloped pockets of the city.
Urban camping can also satisfy the need for adventure and escape when you are limited on resources such as time and money. This style of camping can provide a unique experience but within the comfort of society, so you don’t necessarily have to cook your food over a fire or camping stove (although the camping stove meal is still an option).
Urban camping allows for convenient and free ‘accommodation’ within the setting of a city so you can still enjoy perks like access to coffee shops, museums, nightlife, restaurants, and whatever else pleases you in the city.
How to Urban Camp Legally
While it is possible to get permission or a permit to sleep in some public or private areas, the reality of urban camping is that many people who partake in this activity do so illegally. For this reason, urban camping is often referred to as stealth camping instead because it relies on not being noticed, caught, or having any other unwanted interactions with police officers or strangers on the street who may be dangerous.
It’s important to check local laws to be aware of whether and where it’s legal to urban camp on public property. You can visit local government websites or directly contact the metropolitan police departments of your city of interest to find out if you would be breaking any laws by camping in an urban setting. Make sure to call the non-emergency number of the police department which can be found on their website.
Generally, loitering is against the law in most places and it’s illegal almost everywhere to camp on public property without a permit. Some cities allow urban camping on public property, but require tents to be disassembled by morning, so be sure to double check local rules and regulations.
In the case of private property, you will need to ask permission to sleep there too. You should avoid camping on private property where you can get in trouble for trespassing without permission. Though some urban campers fly past these rules without significant problems, we do not recommend doing this as it is illegal and you can get a fine or even be arrested.
Some organizations such as churches, philanthropic foundations, or other non-government organizations such as nonprofits may allow you to sleep on their property if you ask them permission. You can call some of these organizations or ask them in person.
Where to Urban Camp
If you’re able to get permission or a permit to urban camp, aim for a safe and concealed area. It’s smart to pick a spot with easy access to public restrooms. If you have a gym membership, you may want to camp close to the gym so you can use its bathrooms and even shower if you like. Other places that allow open use of bathrooms include public parks, gas stations, and 24-hour stores.
If you don’t have a tent, consider sleeping in a bus or train station to protect yourself from the elements. You will need to ask permission from an employee to avoid the embarrassment and displeasure of being woken up and kicked out. Bus and train stations are generally more welcoming to the backpacker or bohemian type of travelers, so it’s likely they’ll allow you to sleep there.
In some cities with wooded parkland areas or trail systems, urban campers may attempt to post up with a tent or hammock. While these folks might be lucky enough to find a peaceful section of secluded greenery right in the middle of urban chaos, this sort of urban camping, if done illegally, is still dangerous and not recommended. If caught, you may only get a warning, but you could get a fine, arrested, or drawn into conflict if you come across the wrong kind of people.
Try to stay away from potentially dangerous areas. To be aware of these, you may want to do a bit of research before picking a spot to check for crime rates or any other information that pops up. It’s a good idea to scope out the surrounding streets or area to see how safe it feels. Make sure to avoid sketchy areas at night.
A more high-budget way of urban camping is “urban glamping“: glamorous camping within the city. This type of holiday is usually planned professionally and can be booked, more like an unconventional open-air hotel room than like a real camping experience. Private rooftops and terraces offer their spaces for people to camp in a comfortable setting. Governor’s Island, for example, will offer a glamping retreat with “luxury outdoor accommodations” and “en-suite bathrooms”.
If you are unable to find a nice spot to urban camp with permission or in a sanctioned camping ground, there are alternatives for finding cheap and easy accommodation in the city. Use Hostelworld or Booking to sort through the cheapest accommodation, whether that be a youth hostel or motel.
Tip: Check out freecampsites.net to find free campsites across the world, some of which are within or close to city limits.
Urban Camping Safety Tips
While urban camping can be just as safe as camping in isolated wilderness, there are still some safety precautions to consider. It is important to use common sense, street smarts, and to keep your guard up.
It’s safer to camp with others, though some people do attempt urban camping alone. Like when walking at night in a questionable area, it is safer to be with friends. At the very least, let someone know where you are.
If you are nervous about urban camping, the safest option within this type of camping is car camping because you can keep all of your belongings and yourself safely locked in your car. You can also put a cover over your car or hang sheets inside of your car windows for some privacy.
Warning: Urban camping is inherently dangerous. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you feel threatened, disengage and run to find help. Your belongings are not worth getting hurt.
What to Bring When (Urban) Camping
Most importantly, bring warm clothing, a knitted beanie or wool socks, and dress in layers to stay warm at night. Even in warm places and in the summer, temperatures can drop drastically at night, so it’s crucial to be prepared. Anyone who’s experienced sleeping without enough clothing while camping can tell you how uncomfortable this is and that you do not want to try it yourself.
Depending on your plan and resources, you’ll want to pack a tent and sleeping bag, unless you plan to sleep in your car. Even in this case, a sleeping bag is usually necessary. Despite the feeling of comfort cars can give, they can still get very cold at night inside.
- Check the weather forecast to be prepared about what to wear and bring. You may need an umbrella, raincoat, or winter jacket.
- Bring dry foods you can eat without cooking unless you have a camp stove or meal prep before leaving. Foods such as trail mixes, nut butters, and crackers make great camping food.
- Bring water bottles to stay hydrated. It’s generally safe in the US to refill your bottle with tap water in public bathrooms.
- Bring toiletries that are either necessary or convenient such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, dry shampoo, etc.
- Just as in camping in the wilderness, make sure to leave no trace. Pick up any trash you may have left (ideally even trash that’s been left from others).
- To be stealthier, pack up your campsite in the morning before the sun rises and be on your way.
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