Travel & Touring | Camping & Caravanning

 By: Brendan Batty

Campsites and caravan parks have two sets of rules – the are the formal written rules, but equally as important are the ‘unwritten’ rules. They’re the lines you shouldn’t cross if you want to stay in the good books with your neighbours onsite.

Camping and caravanning have never seemed more popular in Western Australia. But while there’s been a lot of talk about how popular it’s become since the emergence of COVID, the truth is numbers haven’t yet reached the heights of 2019, when Aussies took nearly 14 million camping and caravanning trips (compared to 12.7 million in the 12 months to June 2022). Of course, the pandemic did change the way people engaged in camping and caravanning, with more people than ever taking to the road on longer trips.

Whether it happened before or after COVID, though, one thing is certain. More and more people are experiencing this incredible pastime for the first time (or at least the first time in a long time).

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But as new and old campers come together, there are some ‘expectations’ that the more passionate members of the caravan and camping tribe might expect you to follow. So to help you stay popular while you're sharing common ground, here are eight of the more important unwritten rules you’ll probably want to follow.

1. Love thy neighbour

For many people, caravan parks mimic the 1950s neighbourhood charm you see in old sit-coms. Aussies see caravan parks as places kids can be left to be kids, and adults can enjoy some time as adults. As such, don’t ignore your neighbours or pretend they don’t exist. When you turn up to camp, introduce yourselves to them, and have a bit of a yarn. When a new neighbour turns up, offer to help set up camp or at least have some cold drinks ready if they ‘drop around’. You’ll all be richer for it.

An older style caravan at a caravan park with a 4WD parked near it

2. Respect your borders

Etiquette dictates that we keep our camp within the confines of the site we’re allocated. A stray guy rope or awning over your neighbour’s site will not be viewed kindly, and parking your car on or over another site is only acceptable when dealing with your best friends or extended family.

Of smaller concern, but still noteworthy, is the issue of walking through someone else’s campsite. On any perfect summer day, the walk to the beach or creek for a swim would be so much shorter if we could just shortcut through a few campsites, but not everyone looks on it as harmlessly as you might. On the other hand, if someone walks through your site, maybe they’re some new friends you’re just about to meet. Judge each campsite incursion on a case-to-case basis.

Tents on grass in caravan park

3. How’s the serenity

Some sounds are synonymous with camping and, therefore, sacred. Among them are an acoustic guitar played softly around a campfire and the hearty laughter of parents enjoying themselves while the kids roam somewhere else.

Other sounds are not. For example, that same song you played on guitar around a campfire will probably not be appreciated late at night on a loud stereo. Your car idling early in the morning to charge your battery and run your fridge will not be popular. Anything more than a quiet conversation after 10pm (the almost universal ‘lights out’ time for caravan parks), and you’ll probably undo the kind introduction you gave when you first got to camp.

On the other hand, some late-night noises require patience rather than anger. A young family dealing with a crying baby probably needs some kind, encouraging words the following day because they definitely got less sleep than you and feel more guilty about it.

4. Kids will be kids

Caravan park etiquette dictates that kids should obey all the rules and definitely not skateboard around the amenities or visit the playground without adult supervision. Failure to supervise children was the number one poor behaviour called out in RAC's Caravan and Camping Survey in both 2021 and 2022. But in the end, kids are kids, and unsupervised, outdoor play is exceptionally good for them in a world where screens dominate their downtime.

Short of them genuinely endangering themselves or others, or blatant vandalism, we’d be better off nurturing the kids in our communities and encouraging their love of playing outside rather than deriding them for being immature.

A small boy in caravan park playground

If you must say something, seek out their parents for a quiet, kind word. If your kids misbehave, take responsibility for that and try to help them change their behaviour. And kids, if you are reading this – there will be an ice cream truck rolling through in the afternoon. Don’t wreck that opportunity.

5. The grass is always greener

In the guide, Explore Australia by Caravan and Motorhome, there are a bunch of camping etiquette ‘rules’ and, on review, a significantly large proportion of them are about not killing the grass. This is one of those pay-it-forward mantras.

Camping in the dirt has its place (the outback, for instance), but in a caravan park, the grass is excellent, so don’t kill it for the next person. Don’t empty hot water on it. Don’t refuel your car or boat on it and risk spilling fuel. Don’t light campfires on it, and definitely don’t dig a trench into it to make rain flow around your tent.

A row of tents and caravans in a busy caravan park

6. Common ground

We have to share many things while holidaying in a caravan park or campsite, so there has to be a lot of give and take. We share amenities, kitchens, playgrounds, barbeques, and natural wonders.

Common courtesy dictates we should leave things as good as or better than we found them. Wipe down tables and benches in camp kitchens and don’t leave food scraps in the sink. Clean barbeques after use and pick up any rubbish you come across. If bins are full, find another. If the campsite has provided them, use a mop to dry your cubicle after showers and don’t forget to take all your toiletries out when you leave.

7. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

Increasingly, caravan parks are allowing controlled use of campfires, especially in the colder months. You’ll often need an off-ground, portable fire pit, so consider investing in one if you want to camp with a fire.

Harry Fisher, Western Australian YouTuber and author of the campfire cookbook Fire To Fork agrees campfires are perfect companions while camping. Asked what he considered campfire etiquette, he says, “Always collect fallen, dead timber, rather than cutting something down and don’t collect it from around the campsite, as it strips the landscape of its important dead wood. Collect what you’ll need on the way to camp, or buy it once you get there.”

Two men at a campsite placing wood on a campfire

Regarding smoke, he says, “Do your best to avoid it by collecting plenty of finger- and wrist-size sticks to chuck on if it gets smoky as they’ll burn hotter and get rid of it almost immediately.”

Size matters, and Fisher says that while sometimes big bonfires in large clear areas in low fire-danger seasons are appropriate, if you have to sit four or five metres away because the fire is so hot, it’s probably too big. Only build one as big as you need to cook on or keep warm, and always on an established fire scar, fire pit or the allocated area. Make sure you have an effective means of putting the fire out and don’t leave them burning when you go to bed – not a single ember should be left lit.

8. Your four-legged best mate

More and more people are looking for options to take their dog with them on road trips. RAC's Caravan and Camping Survey in 2022 found that 23 per cent of people usually take their dog  caravanning or camping with them. Of those who weren't pet owners, 73 per cent said they either enjoyed or didn't mind having dogs onsite.

Dogs are becoming increasingly common and accepted in caravan parks, particularly during the low seasons. Sue Hincks, a dog trainer and caravanner says most dogs love company whether two or four-legged. However, Hincks also warns that the relationship doesn’t always go both ways.

“You have to be aware that not everyone likes dogs, and not all dogs like another dog coming up and being in its face.” Make sure your dog is going to be a polite camper, too. An aggressive dog or one that barks frequently may be better left with a trusted caretaker or a quality boarding kennel.

A dog off lead standing in a camping ground

According to Hincks, obedience is also essential for the dog’s safety. “If there was something on the ground, like a snake, you should be confident that if you call the dog, it will come back instantly. If your dog is likely to go and  investigate, you could have a problem a long way from a vet.”

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If you plan to bring your dog to a dog-friendly park, inform the park and familiarise yourself with its rules. Typically, dogs must be kept on a leash or in an enclosure and should not be allowed to roam freely. If you plan extended outings, don’t leave your dog unattended at your

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campsite. Consider local dog-sitting or boarding services instead. In most holiday towns, there are usually a few options available.


And, of course, remember to clean up after your dog.