Andy McKay

Apr 20, 2023

Trespassing in the US

I’ve been doing more back and bike packing in the last year, often solo. Get all your gear, point in a direction and go for days and days. Unfortunately when you do this life isn’t always predictable, you aren’t 100% sure how far you’ll walk or cycle that day, if anything will go wrong, if weather will change and so on. So in a pinch you might need to camp somewhere remote. Or perhaps you get lost and end up in private property.

Last year I was in Maui with my camping gear and had a wonderful time. You can camp on the beach legally in Hawaii, I looked at internet forums about “wild camping”, where you just put your tent down out of the way. In other parts of the world, this is wild camping. But when I rode past those areas it looked very, very sketchy. Everywhere else had big “private property” signs all over the place. You don’t realise until you go to the rest of the world, how much of the US is private property and how nerve wracking it feels to go places where you aren’t sure if something is private property or not.

In Canada, UK, Scandinavia, France, Italy, Austria etc, where I’ve done travels this has never worried me anywhere near as much. Ever. The UK is special because, yes a lot of land is private, but the right to roam gives you the chance to hike on that land.

In a pinch when I’ve ended up in the wrong place in a UK, someone has come and spoken to me nicely. I’ve done it Canada and people were helpful.

However, the US strongly enforces trespassing laws… and there are so many guns. It’s just terrifying.

In 2005 stand your ground laws were introduced which are in effect in 28 states.

It turns out that “shooting at a trespasser is always a legal gamble”. A gamble, what the fuck?

This week there’s been a series of terrible shootings in the US that reminded me of

  • “Accused of shooting a 6-year-old neighbor and her parents in North Carolina after a basketball rolled into his yard” Source
  • “Black teen shot at doorstep after ringing wrong doorbell” Source
  • “Two Texas cheerleaders shot after one gets into wrong car” Source
  • “Woman shot dead in New York state after friend pulled into wrong driveway” Source
  • “Why are Americans being shot for knocking on the wrong door?” Source

None of these are backpackers, struggling out in the wilderness, but it just doesn’t seem worth it. It’s stressful enough holidaying in the US knowing the number of gun deaths, possible bankruptcy due to medical problems, and the oversized trucks means I’m more likely to be killed on my bicycle.

Hawaii was nice and I would go back, but I’m unlikely to be going anywhere else by bike or foot in the US for while. Instead, there are so many other beautiful parts of the world to go.