When it comes to camping while on a bike tour, personal safety should not be overlooked so quickly. It is easy to become complacent and think that worst case scenarios may not happen to you, when in reality, things do happen. In 2014, my friend Evadne, who was traveling down the Pacific Coast, had her bike stolen at the Emma Woods Campgrounds in Ventura, California while she was sleeping right next to it. To add insult to injuries, the bike was locked up!
I have been very fortunate in that I’ve personally never faced anything that risked my own personal safety during my travels, but I think I can attribute it to some rules and guidelines that I follow to maximize my chances of a safe experience at campgrounds.
Let’s dive into some points that I look at when it comes to camping.
Research Your Campgrounds
When I plan on staying at a campground that I’ve never been to before, I try to do as much research as possible. The first thing I look for is if they have a hiker/biker site. The reason why this is important is because if the campground is ever full, there will always be space for hikers and bicyclists. State campgrounds like Oregon and California have a no turn-away policy for people who are traveling by foot or by bicycles.
Visit the campground’s own home page for more information about their facilities. Look at their pictures and read their amenities highlight. You’ll get a better picture of what to expect when you get there in person. I would also suggest calling the campgrounds to confirm the rules and policies with them.
Be sure to look at sites like Trip Advisor, Yelp, or even Google for reviews of the camping facilities. At this day in age, third-party reviews are crucial to the success of any company or even campgrounds, so be sure to use it as much as you can because other campers insights and tips are beneficial. When I was traveling in Europe, most campsites have reviews and their own websites and that helped me familiarize myself with them before deciding whether or not they were good places to spend the night.
Know The People
The next thing I would think about for camping is knowing your environment and the people. What does the community feel about wild or stealth campers? Is there a local policy on this? For example, places like Croatia does not allow you to wild camp as there are still active minefields left from the war back in the 1990s. Read about other people’s experience on sites like Crazy Guy on a Bike to see if they’ve been able to wild camp before. Most US National Parks allow you to camp if you are a certain distance away from the public roads. Many Bureau of Land Management sites are also free for campers, so look into those as well. In Serbia, farmers would actually welcome you to stay on their land. I personally did not have the opportunity to experience this, but I have heard from other friends who have confirmed this rumor. Bottom line is: always ask first.
Beware of Critters
When it comes to wildlife, the main rule is look out for your food. In places like the forests, the smart thing to do is to never leave your food outside. When in bear country, use their bear boxes or hang your food away from your campsite. Don’t keep your food on your bike or inside your panniers. In places where raccoons or other rodents are problematic, you may want to keep your food in your tent while you sleep. In my experience, small animals like these will not bother you while you are sleeping next to your bag. Just be aware at all times and keep those tent zippers zipped up so you don’t invite unwanted guests.
Another critter problem would be insects. Make sure you’re not set up on top of a colony of angry ants, spiders’ nests, or any other swarming insects. While traveling through Hungary, one of my friends accidentally pitched her tent on top of an anthill and by the next morning, her tent was covered with angry ants who had found their way into her tent. Yikes!
In Europe, I constantly had problems with earwigs, spiders, and slugs. Although they were not as aggressive as the ants, it was a pain because whenever I had to break-down camp in the morning, I’d have to deal with them. I had to face bunches of them hiding in corner sections of the rain fly. I had to flick them off or swat them away from my tent every morning. It was annoying at first, but I got used to it. Eventually, the frequency of this happening declined as the daily temperature got warmer and the days were drier.
Check the Weather
A bike tourist will eventually become an expert in reading weather reports or radar maps. Almost everyone I know who travels extensively are very skilled in telling or predicting the weather. This is essential as you want to make sure you’re prepared to face whatever mother nature has to offer you.
A major consideration is taking a look at your campsite and making sure you’re not at the lowest point where rain run-off can easily flood your tent. This was a problem when I was camping in Germany last year. The rain came down steady and our campground was at the bottom of a steep ravine. All signs pointed that flooding could be a problem. I had a sleepless night as the rain continued to pour and our campsite flooded in the evening. I couldn’t stay warm as cold water started to flow underneath my tent’s footprint. This is also very important. Make sure where you are staying isn’t susceptible to flash flooding. During thunderstorms, find higher grounds to camp or just get out of places that may have flash flooding. I would even go as far as finding a hotel room to stay in for the night to avoid such dangers.
Strong winds are also a problem for bike tourists. Be sure your tent is ready with extra stakes to hold down your tent. Most tents have guidelines that are meant for you to stake down in case you face strong winds. Take advantage of those and pick up some extra stakes. This will save you from having your home blown away from you.
It all comes down to being prepared for the worst-case scenario. To do that, you must communicate and ask before you get there. Call the local law enforcement agencies to get information on where to camp safely for the night. Talk to locals when you make it into town and see if they can help you with this. This may work for smaller towns and you may even get offered a place to stay.
The more information or preparation you have on hand, the less riskier your situation may be. As I’ve eluded in dealing with dire weather situations, pay for hotels if you have to. Your safety is something I wouldn’t compromise.
Also, I recommend finding someone to bike tour with. Safety in numbers can go a long way to prevent anything bad from happening to you regardless if you’re a guy or girl. Have your cellular phone by your side and keep your environmental awareness keen. These things can go a long way to insure that your trip goes on without a hitch.
If you have any other tips you can share about camping safety while bike touring, please post in the comments below. Would love to hear what you may have in mind to insure that you don’t get into any bad situations.