Life, Liberty…and Wild Camping

How Swedes, Scots, and Kiwis are Respecting Our Right to Nature

If you’re the type of explorer that loves chasing clouds and frolicking in open fields, then modern property laws probably aren’t your best friend. You might love national parks, but hate the hassle of park fees and regulations. The good news is you’re not alone.

Countries like Sweden, Scotland, and New Zealand pride themselves on opening public land for recreational use. They know that being able to enjoy yourself outdoors is a fundamental human right, and we Luno Lifers can’t agree more!

Here’s how these countries are taking outdoor access rights to another level:

The Nordic Right to Roam

The Swedes make a bold move on their official website for tourism and travel information.

“Sweden has no Eiffel Towers,” they admit. “No Niagara Falls or Big Bens. Not even a little Sphinx. Sweden has something else — the freedom to roam. This is our monument.”

Sweden and its fellow Nordic countries like Norway, Finland, and Estonia all have a policy of “allemansrätt” (“the everyman’s right”) in place, meaning the public has the right to roam free in nature and do things like hike, camp, cycle, and ski without hassle.

The Swedes aren’t playing around — the right to roam is actually written into their constitution. They even listed their entire country on Airbnb! If you're traveling in the country, you’re allowed access to any public land and can camp there as long as you stay at least 70 meters (approx. 230 feet) from private homes and farm land.

In Norway, you have to keep at least 500 feet from the nearest inhabited house or cabin. If you want to camp for longer than two nights in one place, you need to get the landowner’s permission, except in the most remote areas and mountains. You can even fish for saltwater species without a license!

The right to roam is much more restricted in Denmark, but sleeping in a campervan or vehicle is widely tolerated as long as you don’t put up a tent or awning. You could pull into a roadside layby or even stay on a local farm with the farmer’s approval — a practice known as “bondegårdscamping.”

Iceland is also car-camper friendly, as Luno Life founder Pete Ducato showed us in his travel logs. You can camp pretty much anywhere for a night as long as there’s no sign saying you can’t and you’re not on cultivated land.

So if you want to try living wild and free like a viking (minus the plundering and pillaging), then fly over to Scandinavia!

New Zealand’s Freedom Camping

New Zealand has A LOT of open space and some breathtaking mountain scenery. It’s no surprise that Peter Jackson wanted to shoot Lord of The Rings there! To take advantage of all that space, people practice “freedom camping,” i.e. camping on public land that isn’t recognized as an official camping ground. This land includes rest areas, picnic areas, and any remote areas. There are even websites and apps that will help you find camping spots!

But freedom camping doesn’t mean that you can camp wherever you want. You need the right type of vehicle and some sites require that you be “self-contained.” This means that you need to be able to live in your vehicle for at least 3 days without getting more water or dumping waste. In other words, your vehicle has to have:

  1. a toilet
  2. freshwater storage
  3. wastewater storage
  4. a trash bin with a lid

If you’re not self-contained, you can still camp for free in New Zealand’s national parks (or “Holiday Parks” as they call them) and in some publication conservation and toilet-free campsites. With the certification, you can park in ALL conservation campsites and in campsites without toilets. The country is your oyster!

So for the die-hard Tolkien fans: It’s time to go explore Middle-Earth in real life, Luno style!

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code

If you go to Scotland, you’ll likely hear bagpipes, taste sheep organs (haggis), and see a unicorn or two. Yup, the unicorn is the country’s national animal! You might also want to roam around and track down that elusive Loch Ness monster. Thanks to Scottish laws, you can.

In 2003, the Scottish Parliament passed a land reform act guaranteeing everyone’s access rights to most public lands and inland water. Those lands include the Cairngorms, Loch Lomond, and the Trossachs National Park. You’re also free to wander through mountains, moors, and forests as long as you’re not on cultivated land.

So wild camping is a go, as long as you follow common sense rules like leaving no trace and keeping your distance from roads or private property, all of which is outlined in the country’s Outdoor Access Code.

You can use the land for just about anything: hiking, cycling, horse riding, rock climbing, ski mountaineering, caving, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, diving, and paragliding. And in case you get hungry while you’re out in the hills, you’re also allowed to pick wild mushrooms and berries —  just don’t go around making a buck off of them (recreational land use is permitted, while commercial use isn’t).

So how about chasing down that Loch Ness monster? Bonus points if you’re wearing a kilt!

. . .

If you’ve ever scoffed at wilderness permits and camping reservations, now you know there are entire countries scoffing with you. How about we follow the Swedes and add a new amendment to that dusty old Bill of Rights? If only the country was run by car campers!