Overseas backpacking adventures are easy enough when you’re on an organised excursion – everything’s taken care of courtesy of the tour operator. But DIY camping on foreign soil is another matter altogether.

It’s all very well for Baden-Powell to have preached ‘Be prepared’ an outdoorsman’s mantra to live and so not die by. He never had to deal with customs at JFK International en route to a camping adventure on the Appalachian. But getting a gas canister past a burly Customs official with a sharp x-ray eye isn’t the only thing to keep in mind when your camping jaunt is a global affair. Here are the top five pointers for the boy-scout checklist.


Given that the United States is notoriously tight on Customs, we’ll use their rules as the global guideline, taken from the Transportation Security Administration website (www.tsa.gov). Camp stove fuel including gasoline, propane and butane aren’t permitted in carry-on or checked bags, neither are strike-anywhere matches or flares (one book of safety matches or one common cigarette lighter is allowed as a carry-on item). Even camp stoves and empty fuel bottles can be problematic, depending on cleanliness. If you are particularly attached to your burner, ship it and the matching empty fuel containers ahead of time, but remember to research fuel availability at the destination. The best bet is to buy both stove and fuel after you land. Most other gear – multi-tool knives, campfire hatchet, fishing tackles – are all okay in checked luggage (not hand luggage, obviously).

Pitching up

Know the law of the land. In Papua New Guinea, for instance, it may pay to heed post haste that the wall of welcoming smiles in one village did not mean that the jungle behind was open slather for camping, as could be conveyed by a man wielding a machete and privacy issues. In some countries, wild camping is a relaxed affair. In others it’ll end with a shotgun poking through your tent door. In England and Wales, for instance, there is no general right to camp, it’s considered trespassing unless you use an official site or first obtain the landowner’s permission. Yet just over the border in Scotland, wild camping is permitted on most land so long as you follow the Outdoor Access Code (www.outdooraccess-scotland.com). Generally in Western Europe free camping is illegal, but there are plenty of official camping sites. Scandinavian countries are more open to camping out in wilderness areas. In the US, the rules change from state to state – the wilder the state (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico) the more likely it’s okay to wild camp. There are plenty of campsites in national parks (www.fs.fed.us) and reservations at www.recreation.gov. Amidst ‘the real’ Africa, camp where you like remembering that it’s not the landowners or lawmakers you need worry about, but the local fauna (that’d be lions, stampeding elephants…). Requesting permission from the local headman or village chief is always a good idea, too.

Water and food

That alpine stream looks like it could be the lost fountain of youth, such is the sparkle of its waters. But given you are not familiar with the region’s hydrology, geology, or contaminology (a made-up word, but you get the drift), best not rush into filling your bottle. Even campsites with facilities that run tap water shouldn’t be assumed as safe, especially in developing nations. Portable water filters are only partially effective, as they don’t remove all pathogens such as those causing hepatitis. Iodine or chlorine tablets generally eradicate most gut pathogens from water but they will not always kill Cryptosporidium or amoebic cysts. The simplest and most effective way of purifying water is to boil it remembering that at high altitude water boils at a lower temperature than at sea level so germs are less likely to be killed. As for food, “cook it, peel it or forget it” is the safest motto. wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/contentSafeFoodWater.aspx

Flora and fauna

Australia has some of the world’s deadliest creepy crawlies, but not necessarily the biggest or scariest, try a bear snuffling your tent out in Canada (or Scandinavia) for a wake-up call. Find out about the kinds of wildlife that will be sharing the bush with you and how you should share it in harmony. Facing a curious bear, you’re supposed to not run, just try to make yourself look bigger than it. And you really should have strung your food up high away from camp in the first place. Find out about the terrain you’re travelling through, what lives there and ask local park rangers for advice. The same goes for plants and flowers, especially if you intend to sample bush tucker (remember it was a wild berry mix up that is implied to have caused the death of supertramp Christopher McCandless in the film version of Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild) www.wildsurvive.com / www.wilderness-survival.net

Coming home

Tent pegs are the biggest culprit along with hiking shoes for bringing dirt back and with it all sorts of biological nasties and flora (seeds etc) that represent a threat to Australia’s indigenous wilderness. Give anything that has come in contact with the earth (tents, backpacks, cooking gear, camp spades etc) a thorough clean. Ensure you haven’t forgotten, tucked away in some ‘emergency stash’ pocket of your pack, foreign items not allowed back in Australia including: fruit and vegetables, most dairy products, egg products, uncanned meat products (fresh, dried, frozen, cooked, smoked, salted or preserved), live plant material including cuttings, vines, roots, bulbs, bark, seeds and raw nuts, which you may have collected in the wilderness. www.smartraveller.gov.au

More tips for a smooth journey

Passport and visas – have your passport valid for at least six months longer than the expected length of your trip and plenty of empty pages for bureaucracy. Check for visa requirements. www.embassyworld.com

Medication and jabs – take supplies of any prescribed medications (and check that it’s legal to carry them to the country you’re headed to). Carry a doctor’s letter confirming your medicine. Get the full gamut of travel inoculations. www.tripprep.com / www.travelhealthadvisor.com.au

Weather – has different vagaries in various parts of the world. Know local weather patterns and possible eventualities. For instance, camp with caution from June to November in Cuba as it’s hurricane season. www.worldweather.org

Altitude – given our highest peak doesn’t give us a slight head tingle, let alone head spin, it’s important not to underestimate the danger of altitude sickness. It kills. Understand it. Respect it. Take your time getting high. Altitude sickness can take effect anywhere above 2,500m. www.altitude.org

Park regulations – each country has a different approach to the balancing of protection and recreational use of its wilderness areas. Do your homework, abide by local regulations and always abide by the ‘leave no trace’ principle. www.atn.com.au/parks/links.htm

Back to Top

Did you find this article helpful? Why not Share it!

click to share facebook click to share Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *