Pull over, whip the seat back and head off to noddyland, simple right? Sleeping in your car or ‘boondocking’ isn’t completely off the cards, but here’s how to do it right.

I was half-asleep in my car along a side road on the South Coast of NSW when I stumbled upon the term ‘boondocking.’ Yes, I was Googling ‘is sleeping in your car legal?’. Or in other words, will someone be tapping on my car window at 3am to question me?

While I love a bit of reserved, organised camping (I mean, how good are BBQs and hot showers?), there’s something refreshing about being able to pull up to an epic spot, turn off the car lights, pull a blanket over you and call it a night – no set up, no set down. 

Wake up to an incredible view the next day, jump in the ocean for a ‘shower’ and drive off. While it’s not technically illegal – according to NSW state law at least – it’s a little frowned upon, just ask my coworkers. 

Plus, there are some right – and wrong – ways to boondock.


So what exactly is boondocking?

Boondocking is a fancy term for free camping in remote areas, without amenities or hookups. If you’ve ever free-camped, wild camped, or dry camped, you’ve likely already done it. There’s even an offshoot term, ‘moochdocking’, which is when you mooch off friends and family’s properties to dock up for the night. I like to think that it’s a much better term than ‘sleeping in my car’.

You can ease in by free camping in designated areas such as state forests, parking lots that allow overnight camping, or properties of friends and family (moochdocking). Then when you’re comfortable enough, you can go further abroad and seek out your own remote areas; down a dirt road, along a coastline, or even quiet city streets. Just be respectful and follow a few dos and don’ts.

Read more: Why I Car Camp With Hiking Gear


The Dos of Boondocking

Do: Seek out a secluded spot

Find somewhere that’ll allow you some shuteye (aka don’t park under a streetlight).

Do: Pack some creature comforts

If you’re not pitching a tent, you can afford to bring a few extra luxuries for added comfort like a pillow or warm doona for wintery nights.


Do: Crack a window

If you’re choosing to boondock in your car, wind down the window a little, otherwise you’ll wake up to fully steamed windows (Titanic-style).

Do: Park near the ocean

If your road trip allows it, park near the ocean. There’s nothing more refreshing than a post-car-sleep dip in the ocean to shake the cobwebs off.


Do: Plan ahead for toilet time

Make sure you’re respectful to the area around you. Seek out toilet facilities either before you park up or bring a shovel, just like hiking, for more remote areas.

The Don’ts of Boondocking

Don’t: Carpool too hard

While it’s awesome to carpool on road trips, it’s harder when your car is your home. Remember that you all need to stretch out at night and from learned experience, five people in a sedan is like a game of Twister (and someone always snores).



Don’t: Steal from paid campsites

Free camping doesn’t just mean you don’t pay for a campsite. If you park or pitch a tent on a proper campsite, pay your dues and don’t just drive off before anyone catches you.

Read more: The Hidden Cost of Free Camping

Don’t: Ignore signs that say ‘Don’t Camp’

Don’t park in an area clearly marked as a ‘no camping’ area, there are signs there for a reason (probably frustrated locals) and trust me, the fines aren’t cheap and rangers do patrol.

Don’t: Leave your rubbish

Just like hiking, free camping has the same motto, ‘pack it in, pack it out’ – in other words, don’t leave any trash behind.

Read more: 10 Tips on How To Tread Softly in Our Wild Places


So why boondock?

  • It’s perfect for those last-minute spontaneous plans, especially on long weekends, when every popular campsite is booked out
  • Adventuring can add up, and not having to pay for a night’s accommodation, saves you money
  • If you don’t have all the gear – tents, sleeping bags etc – this is the perfect way to dip your toes into adventuring without committing too much
  • If you’re towing along a four-legged friend, boondocking might be an easier way to bring them with you as most state forests allow dogs
  • Finding the perfect spot to sleep becomes as much a part of the adventure as the road trip itself. And once you find that perfect spot just once, and wake up to sunrise the next day, you’ll never look back. It’s addictive!


Some Places I’ve Enjoyed Boondocking

Yadboro Flats National State Forest – New South Wales

Situated on the banks of the Clyde River and with easy access to Budawangs National Park, this is a great introductory boondocking spot in NSW. While it’s fairly well-known, you’ll still have ample space to yourself to set up camp and there are even state forest-run long drops.

The roads are windy, so get in before dark and enjoy the sunset against the Budawangs before heading off to hike Didthul / Pigeon House mountain the next morning.

Jacks Bay Road, next to Jacks Blowhole Track – New Zealand

For the more experienced boondocker, this is one of those spots you just happen to stumble on down a random road. It has everything you need – car parks right next to the beach and a hike to tackle along the cliff edges the next morning. Just be respectful of the local community nearby!


Beaches to the south of Swansea, Tasmania

As you cruise along the East Coast of Tasmania along the Tasman Highway, you’ll find some incredibly remote beaches just south of Swansea, including Coswell and Piermont. Nestled next to these beaches are parking lots that make for perfect overnighters. While there’s no official signage stopping you from boondocking here, just remember to leave no trace so it stays that way.



Feature photo thanks to @thecampstovechef