This was one of our biggest questions before going on our trip. It is different in each country: hotels in Europe are too expensive for long-term cyclists but within the budget in South-East Asia. You can camp almost anywhere safely in Japan but not in South America…
A lot of cyclists do wild camping. It’s free and after a tough day of cycling, a lot of people want to be on their own and don’t feel like talking to locals. We are not big fans of wild camping, we don’t sleep well! So we tend to ask the locals. We don’t always have to speak to our hosts, usually they show us a place in their garden and leave us to ourselves. One time, we ended being invited to a wedding … so do be prepared to talk!
We tend to free camp on the days we cycle in order to afford a hotel on our rest days. Rest days are often dedicated to running errands, finding ‘stuff’ and we prefer to leave our things in a locked room.
Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of different solutions:
- Wild camping
- Paying camp sites
- Guesthouses or hostels
- In the garden or house of a local following our request for a place to pitch the tent
- Cafés or restaurants (we have dinner and then ask for permission to pitch our tent)
- Police: especially in Patagonia, the carabineros are always ready to help and recommend a good place for the tent.
- Hosting networks: Warmshowers (cyclists hosting other cyclists), Hospitality Club and Couchsurfing (hosting networks for all kinds of travellers). Cyclo-Camping International also has a hosting network, the CAC.
- Friends and friends of friends.
When we stay with locals, we give them a thank you card. Ours is a patchwork of photos of our trip, some cyclists give postcards of their country. When we stay with friends or warmshowers hosts, we thank people by cooking a few meals.
Here is below, for every country, the places where we slept (more detail on the Countries info page):
Europe (France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary): paying camp sites.
Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria: wild camping, paying camp sites, guesthouses and small hotels.
Turkey: hotels, paying camp sites (on the Black Sea), petrol stations, wild camping and people’s places.
Iran: wild camping (we would ask locals and camp in fields, orchards and even next to a caravanserail) and small hotels.
Turkmenistan: cafés on the side of the road (we would have dinner and then ask and people would let us camp nearby or even sleep in the restaurant) and hotels.
Uzbekistan: at people’s homes (either we would ask or we would be invited without asking and always ended up being treated like princes), restaurants (on the side of the road) and hotels (cities).
Kirghizstan: guesthouses in villages (affordable and a big breakfast is included), people’s gardens, yurts (lake Song Kul) and wild camping.
China (Xinjiang): hotels and friends. We tried once to stay with people and we ended being questioned by the police at 1 o’clock in the morning. We crossed Xinjiang in July 2009, one week after the riots in Urumqi and the police was on the lookout for spies. As we didn’t really enjoy this part of China, we decided to motivate ourselves by staying in a hotel every night. For 10 euros we could get a nice double room with bathroom (and air-conditioning!).
Japan: the safest country we ever visited. We slept everywhere: in city parks, on rest areas on the roadside, in the garden or the fields of locals. We only went to two paying camp sites and one hotel in 40 days! We also stayed with friends of friends and warmshowers hosts.
Thailand and Lao: guesthouses and friends. Cost of life is so low that, unless you are wild camping die-hard aficionados, you can get a double room with bathroom for about 6 euros a night. We also preferred this option because we saw quite a few dead snakes on the side of the road.
Australia and New Zealand: we didn’t cycle much (Sylvie had a tendinitis). Paying camp sites, friends and friends of friends.
Chile and Argentina (Patagonia): guesthouses, paying camp sites and wild camping. In the South, as the weather was very cold, we got used to asking people in the estancias. The police (carabineros) also helped us a few times by suggesting a place and giving us water.
North Argentina: we would ask the locals on the days we were cycling. Guesthouses on rest days (and even sometimes on cycling days!).