Any traveler worth their salts finds themselves making the Great Outdoors their bed for a night every now and then. Be it a picturesque forest in the Loire valley or a concrete bridge under a Turkish motorway,it’s always an experience. The main thing is to be prepared. A trip to the army surplus store before you set out will make your nights warm and dry so that you might actually get some sleep.
Moisture is your enemy when camping. Falling dew or damp ground can give you pneumonia, aching joints and an embarrassing runny nose for days afterwards. A plastic groundsheet is a good start, or a waterproof poncho can also give you the protection you need. If you have a fancy waterproof sleeping bag then you’re set but you need all the insulation you can get – an incredible amount of body heat will be lost to the ground.
If you’re short of bedding at least try to cover head as much of your body heat is lost there. Keep your shoes on and wear all of your clothes unless they’re soaked.
The other consideration is to look for as much cover from the elements as possible. Forests are a good choice as there’s less wind and the ground is likely to be drier. There’s wood for making fires and you can make a discreet bed for the night. Be careful in dry areas though as starting a forest fire is definitely not a good way to meet the locals.
Beaches are another natural choice but the sand can steal a lot of heat. You’ll also want to check how far the tide comes in or else risk a rude awakening in the small hours of the night.
If you get stuck in a desert you’ll probably freeze to death if you can’t get a brushwood fire going. The stunning display of stars might partly make up for a night hopping around, trying to keep your circulation going. An old cowboy trick in extremis was to kill a buffalo and crawl in amongst the warm blood of the belly…
Before bedding down anywhere do your best to work out who lives nearby. Then you’re faced with the tricky dilemma of whether to ask permission or just bed down incognito. If you ask you might get refused and moved on – but you might get lucky and find a host who invites you in or throws you a loaf of bread.
If you catch bed bugs from sleeping outside lay your clothes and blankets in the sun for a couple of hours – for some reason this makes many parasites run away.
Bears and other carnivores can be a real danger in some parts of the world and then you should keep your food a hundred yards away from where you sleep, preferably suspended from the branch of a tree. If you’re in snake country be careful when you awake as some snakes like to warm themselves by you as you sleep.
A good defense against mosquitoes is lemongrass or lavender oil (a tiny bottle can last you ages). You can also go chemical with some industrial repellent but it’s probably worse for you than the insects. If you have no repellent at all and find yourself getting eaten alive, you can wet tobacco and smear the juice over you.
Always carry matches and a bottle of water. You won’t go far wrong with a bar of soap and a mirror either so that you can look presentable for when you return to society. You can bury your belongings or hide them in the undergrowth when you venture into town.
Sleeping in the countryside is great because you’re generally spared from being bothered by the most dangerous animal – humans – but remember that water, shelter and food may be harder to find.