At first thought, urban camping sounds somewhat alluring. You envision the sweet warm glow of the city lights, the soothing drone of passing cars and a good free nights rest in the heart of the city.
In truth, urban camping is nothing more than simply sleeping on the street. Its something that homeless people, crazies, and drunks do all the time. Not only must you be weary of these guys, but also police, prostitutes, and thieves. There’s really not much romantic, glorious, or relaxing about it.
However, if you plan to backpack Europe or the world, there’s good chance will get to experience some urban camping yourself. You might miss your train, arrive too late for a hotel or maybe just run out of money, and have no other option but to hit the streets. Although it can be uncomfortable and even frightening at first, if you know how and where to camp, you might just get a decent nights rest. Not to mention, it’s totally free.
Urban Camping Equipment
One of the few highlights of urban camping is the city heat island effect. As a result of heat absorption by concrete during the day, and the heat produced by car engines, metros, and buildings, cities tend to be a few degrees warmer than the country side at night.
However, even if you’re in the tropics, the night is still going to get chilly. This means that you are going to want to bring clothes that are warm and can be layered. A good packing list should include, long johns, jeans, a sweater, long sleeve shirt, a windbreaker, wool socks, and a warm hat or beanie. If this doesn’t keep you warm enough, one tried method is to stuff plastic bags in between layers.
To tent or not to tent? Although camping usually necessitates a tent, urban camping is best done without one. A tent, even if concealed well by park foliage, becomes a target for night creatures and also police. However, a sleeping bag is not a bad idea to have. Other items you may want to bring include a trusty pocket knife, a head torch, chemical heat packs, a space blanket, or radio.
Where to Go Urban Camping
Depending on the city, the streets at night can often be pretty dodgy to say the least. Therefore it is best to set up camp somewhere that is concealed from the world. A few good spots include nooks in alleys, in bushes, or in public parks.
However, if you’re looking to sleep indoors, your best option is at the train or bus station. In most cities, train stations are open 24/7 and usually tolerate backpackers for the night. Although this is not technically urban camping, this option is the warmest and safest.
Similarly, if you’re up for it, homeless shelters, police stations, churches, and mosques, can also make free indoor shelters for the night. If you make friends with the local homeless, they will usually let you know what kind of services the city offers and point you in the right direction.
Hanging out with homeless people isn’t for everyone though. So if you want a relatively relaxed nights rest, without much socialization with night people, the train or bus stations followed by large parks are the best options.
Legality and Safety
Sleeping on the street is technically illegal in most cities. However, if you don’t look too suspicious, most police won’t bother you. If you do look suspicious or too young, police will sometimes ask that you come into the station. If you’re a runaway, they may even enroll you at a group home. Fortunately, escaping is pretty easy. Simply let the police know that you have enough money for a hotel and tell them that you are waiting for an early train, bus or plane. This story will usually get the coppers off your back.
Urban Camping is inherently dangerous. No matter what city you find yourself in, there will always be at least a few crazies, dodgy drug dealers and prostitutes roaming the streets at night. To stay safe, it is best to avoid them altogether. If you do run into anyone of these night crawlers, the best you can do is trust your instincts and be sure not to accept and offers.
Urban Camping is free, which makes it great alternative for runaways or budget backpackers. However, if you’re not prepared or aren’t used to it, you’re likely to have a not so good nights rest. While you can prepare by educating yourself through guides like these, the only way to really get used to it is to embrace a new homeless persona, have no fear and hit the streets.
Good luck and safe travels,