In 2021, I wild camped for the first time of my life in Spain. I didn’t plan on it but I caught the bug instantly.
I was walking on the ancient pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela called El Camino. Due to COVID restrictions, pilgrims had to book a day ahead each time they were about to arrive at a daily destination. Normally you would simply arrive and get a bed without reservations. So it happened that I booked the day before and when I arrived, I was told my room was given to two other girls. There was no bed left for me, as the number of beds were also restricted. I tried every other hostel and hotel, but even the super expensive ones were fully booked. I ended up walking to the next town called Deba, which was also fully booked—so I had no other choice but sleeping on the beach. It was raining a lot, so I moved my sleeping bag up to the porch of an abandoned building by the beach where I met with a French guy. He told me stories about how he started his pilgrimage in France in Lyon, walking 30–40km a day and sleeping under the open sky each day without a tent. His stories were amazing.
I’ve always dreamed about adventure. I wanted to explore the jungles with a single machete, climb mountains no one reached before, finding species of butterflies you didn’t know exist—mainly the result of reading too many stories about Victorian explorers like David Livingstone and Mary Kingsley. I spent days with creating itineraries for my solo trip to travel around the wold with a single backpack. But for years, I never went anywhere. I let adults convince me it is not for girls, that it’s too dangerous and you have to be rich to travel and the whole world was already explored. So I locked away these ambitions and began to live a “normal” life. But whenever I met someone with stories from around the world, I got fascinated. The little voice in my head that called for adventure never shut up completely, but still whispered.
And there I was, sitting on the porch of this abandoned house with someone who spoke very little English and whose stories made my itch for adventure again. I was already on adventure! Walking alone on an ancient route, exploring the world and myself. This short French man just proved to me that you can walk from anywhere and you do not need much. You can even sleep anywhere and you do not need a tent either. I just realized how limited my way of thinking was. There are so many things to do in this world and there are so many ways to get them done. So that day, we slept on the porch, getting flooded by the rain—it was one of the best experiences of my life.
But as soon as I reached a bigger city, I invested in a single-person tent. (I wasn’t brave enough yet to invest in a bivvy bag. I still don’t have one but it’s on my bucket list.)
I slept in my tent many times on my Camino on fields, in the forest, and even in the backyard of hostels. It was just more relaxing to sleep outside than with 10 other, snoring pilgrims.
I’ve got a hang of it. There’s something in sleeping in a tent that nothing else can replace. Is it the bird song that wakes you up in the morning that is so charming? Or the relaxing sound of rain on canvas? Is it the fresh air that gets through the fabric that makes your sleep so sweet? Or just the fact that you have all this freedom to sleep wherever and whenever? I stop when I’m tired or hungry (or both) and scout around for a small patch of thick grass on which to pitch my tent. The anticipation of whether or not the sunset or the sunrise will beat any of the previous I’ve been treated to is exhilarating!
It could be all of the reasons above or none, or even more… But you’d be right to say that I started wild camping and I never looked back. I love it so much I now live in a teepee tent in Scotland.
(Wild camping has been legalized in Scotland and so everyone can legally enjoy the freedom of setting off from the base of a walk not knowing where they will stay the night. But it is not legal in Spain, though in case of pilgrims they tend to overlook if you do everything the right way: ‘leave no trace.’ I have never started a fire and take all rubbish away with me when I leave. Always check local law and regulations before you head out to wild camp anywhere.)
I’ve come to feel far more safe in my tent than I ever do in a city centre of an evening. Learning to trust your own skills in the wild and cope with whatever Mother Nature throws at you is liberating and empowering.
The past few days were extremely windy and rained a lot, and me and my boyfriend both got sick from living in damp clothes for days. So we moved to a room where we can stay dry and recover. Overall, it feels like a luxury to have a comfortable bed, cozy blankets and pillows and a room with heating, a proper toilet and hot shower any time of the day. But after a few days we started to miss the tent. I felt the need to be alone, doing whatever I want without others being around all the time. The fact that we had internet 24/7 made me feel like I was constantly plugged in. I was connected to everything and everyone. I just found myself on the phone whenever I had spare time and it occupied so much headspace. I had to unplug myself again and just be without any expectations. It’s something we all have to re-learn: we think we need to do something all the time, that we need to be productive and we don’t deserve to rest and relax daily, but only during the weekends and the twenty something days we get off of work for vacation.
There’s something about living simply that makes you really appreciate everything. The connections with others feel different when you meet others on a campsite. Waking up feels much better with birds or the sound of rain and cooking on a camping stove might not be ideal but it just makes every dish cozy and memorable. (And somehow taste better, too.)
Slowly I’m shunning the material items I have collected over the years and simplifying my life even now, living out of a backpack for more than a half year, carrying only the items that I can fit in and enjoying the natural world around me more and the digital world less.
Purely that I have escaped the stresses and strains of “normal” life and I’m enjoying my nights under canvas, by the campfire. After all, home is where I pitch it and it gives such a freedom in life I wouldn’t trade it with anything.
So why not join me? Grab your walking boots, head into the mountains and take part of something extraordinary that makes you feel alive.
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Photo: Laurine Bailly via Unsplash