Brian and I have had a keen interest in boondocking since…well, actually, I don’t know exactly when.
Unlike that “What??? You’ve been obsessively dreaming about living full time in an RV too?!?!” moment we experienced, we had no startling revelation around boondocking.
Could be that the more we learned about living in an RV, the more we heard about boondocking. It’s more likely that me trying to convince Brian we needed solar and a composting toilet played a role.
Brian likes to collect facts – especially those he can use to shoot down my fanciful schemes. When I won’t let go of an idea and he doesn’t want to embrace it, he’ll do a deep dive on the topic then try to kill me with facts.
Not to be outdone, I’ll Google until I can counter Brian’s argument or it’s clear to me that he’s right.
With each of us researching to support our side of the toilet/solar debates, it was inevitable we’d hear about boondocking. Seems obvious now, but people who write about composting toilets or solar tend to like boondocking.
Brian vetoed the composting toilet early on. I researched the idea further and wound up agreeing. As unappealing a thought as dumping black tanks is, it’s currently the least awful way to deal with sewage.
Solar, though, was an idea Brian warmed up to pretty quickly. Some you win, some you lose 🙂
Boondocking is RV-speak for camping without water, sewer or electrical hookups. You know, like we used to do back in the day.
Only instead of sleeping in a tent atop dirt (and rocks…no matter how hard I tried, there were always rocks), we get to sleep in our RV. Whether the rest of the boondocking experience resembles primitive camping is up to us.
Places to boondock exist all across the U.S. When someone says they’re boondocking they might mean anything from spending the night in a parking lot to camping on vast stretches of mostly-empty public land for a couple of weeks at a time.
While we’ll overnight in a parking lot or driveway if necessary while en route to a destination, Brian and I are more interested in the type of boondocking that’s also referred to as dispersed camping.
If we do need a place to park overnight, Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome offer better alternatives than parking lots full of idling diesel engines and all-night traffic. There’s no telling, though, how often we’ll settle in for the night at a Flying J or Walmart because we’re tired or desperate.
Can’t complain about the ambiance when a business allows overnight parking as a courtesy. The most we’ll pay for the privilege is the cost of fuel or a meal we’d spend money on anyway.
Parkin’ it – pros & cons of RV parks
We’ve visited four or five RV parks in our area hunting for a good place for a “practice” trip. That’s the extent of our personal RV park experience. Thanks to Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, I’ve virtually experienced at least a few dozen more.
Like everything in life, RV parks have their pros and cons. What Brian and I see as negatives might be things someone else would welcome. It’s possible we’ll change our minds about some things once we actually live the experience instead of only theorizing about it.
It’s always nice to get the hookup
The biggest benefit RV parks offer is hookups. That means electricity to power necessities as well as niceties, and water to wash dishes, do laundry and shower. A site with full hookups offers the convenience of dumping sewage at the campsite. If a site offers only water and electric we’ll have to pack up and move to dump our tanks, or find a portable tank.
Besides hookups, RV parks offer onsite amenities we won’t get when boondocking. What’s included varies from place to place, but laundry rooms and showers are common. Some places have swimming pools, playgrounds and organized activities for kids. In general, the more desirable the location and the more amenities, the higher the price.
Comfort & convenience will cost us
If we were on vacation we wouldn’t think much about throwing down $50 – $100 per night for a spot. But since RV life will be an everyday thing for us, regular stays at pricier places would kill our budget. Monthly rates are cheaper, but not all parks offer them. Those that do may only offer them in the off season. And of course, committing to a month means staying within the same area for the duration.
RV parks are in all sorts of locations; from more to less populated areas, places with lots to do or spots whose only selling point is that they’re situated along a convenient travel route. Generally, though, it seems easier to find parks close to restaurants, nightlife or attractions than it is to find dispersed camping locations convenient to these things.
The reality of RV life is that until we can open up other options, we’ll have no choice but to stay in parks and pay the price. We should still come out ahead vs. living in our house and covering its associated costs. But it won’t be by much unless we stay in some of the jankier parks.
The parks that gave us the willies as we drove through, followed by narrowed, untrusting eyes set in skulls ringed with cigarette-smoke clouds.
That shudder-inducing memory brings up the final point in my RV park pro/con list…
People aren’t always nice
After telling me about a particularly rough day at the shop, Brian often caps off the story like so: “People suck, honey.”
When we planned to move to New Hampshire, Brian wanted a house on a big lot in the middle of nowhere, with no neighbors. After the last month or so in our neighborhood, I’m more inclined in that direction than ever.
Thing is, I know there are plenty of decent people in this world. Nice folks that don’t try to dupe small business owners. People who wouldn’t think of spending years stewing over a neighbor’s perceived wrongs.
I’m betting we’ll find more like-minded folks amongst the boondocking set. But it’s possible we’ll have plenty in common with any RVer when compared to our fellow suburbanites. Which would be a good thing, because we’ll find more RVers in parks than out in the boondocks.
It might be nice to drink a beer with some of these people once in a while.
Yes, there is a good chance somebody in some park will annoy us at some time. Or their unsupervised, unruly child will. Or their barky dog, whose crap they’re not responsible enough to clean up.
Since most people in parks are on vacation they must let it all hang out. Potentially annoying, but somewhat understandable.
They’re up late hooting and hollering around the campfire, not worried about working the next day. Pumping already jacked-up kids full of Little Debbies and Mountain Dew, because for them it’s a special occasion. And sometimes screaming and yelling at the kid’s inevitable meltdown when the sugar high comes to a screeching halt.
Partying vacationers and their entourage – on top of RV parks’ proclivity for packing people in like sardines so it’s impossible to tune out the partiers – are one big reason we want to boondock ASAP.
The upside of boondocking
Low, low, low cost living
If we ignored our yearning for boondocking’s easy-to-come-by natural beauty and freedom and focused only on its frugality, we’d still want to be boondockers. That’s because it’s free or so cheap it might as well be free.
It’s beautiful out in the boondocks
Scrolling through my Instagram feed I find one drop-dead gorgeous boondocking location after another. I used to think most of these places were nothing more than flyover country. I have seen the light, but don’t take my word for it. Check out @camp.addict, @interstellarorchard, and @drivedivedevour on Instagram.
Less crowded…or no crowd at all
Most RVers stay in parks, leaving prime boondocking locations comparatively uncrowded. As you might expect from anything gorgeous but not spendy, the more comfortable and convenient a boondocking location is, the more popular it’ll be.
Almost no rules!
There are few written rules out in the great wide open, a definite draw for us even if nothing else about boondocking was. An unwritten code says don’t be a slob, don’t cozy up to another boondocker’s campsite when there is plenty of space around, and leave the place better than you found it.
One government agency or another manages most boondocking locations. Written rules dictate how long we can stay and how many miles away we have to move when our time is up. But they’re minimal, easy enough to comply with, and far better than the rules in most RV parks.
Some parks might not like our 15-year-old rig or may take issue with my preference for line-dried clothes. In the middle of the desert, who cares?
Recreation is right there
We can find plenty of boondocking spots in the midst of hiking trails, lakes, mountains and rivers. All we’ll have to do to take advantage is step outside.
All in all, I see so much upside to boondocking. As eager as we both are to ditch the house for the RV, I’m about twice as stoked about someday being able to cut the cord and make boondocking an all-the-time thing.
At least, that’s the theory.
We’ll need to be inventive
The most obvious downside to boondocking is that, the farther away from it all we get, the more we’ll have to improvise. No veggies for dinner? Can we pick some cactus leaves without getting arrested? Leaky pipe? Um…100-mile-an-hour tape?
If I need ideas I can reach back to childhood experience. One or another of my dad’s DIY fuck-ups sometimes turned our house into an off-grid shack, right in the middle of suburban Southern California. A week without running water, or years with no electricity in a room? No problem.
Another dysfunctional-family bonus was our oddly-stocked kitchen, which inspired a certain inventiveness when it came to cooking and eating. That carried over quite nicely into adulthood and my aversion to grocery shopping. I can almost always make something out of nearly nothing. Good thing, because our RV pantry is really small.
When it comes to improvising, Brian has me beat by a nose. His upbringing was only a little less crazy than mine, and that allowed him plenty of unsupervised time for exploration, adventure and figuring out how to do/get what he wanted.
At the shop, Brian devises ingenious ways to solve crazy gun problems while making the bucks that pay the bills.
In the Army, Brian did the hardcore SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape) school, living in the woods and eating bugs to survive. Out of a class of about a dozen and a half soldiers, he was the next-to-last one caught and tortured by the “enemy.”
It’s true that boondocking is less about survival than adaptability and flexibility. But it’s nice to have a partner with MacGyver-like skills. He swears he’s never eating bugs again, though.
We’re too big to get into some cool places
Another potential boondocking downside for us is tight or poorly-maintained roads that lead into some spectacular spots. Our 41-foot Dutch Star has what we think we need for us and the dogs to live in relative comfort. But its size does cut us out of some boondocking options.
Service is for customers, not freeloaders
As one might expect with anything costing so little but delivering so much, there’s little urge to make things convenient for boondockers.
From what I’ve read, we can forget about firm plans, because there’s no reservations system. It’s first come, first serve. When we do get a spot, we shouldn’t get too attached to it before checking the rules. It’s likely they’ll say we have to move along after 14 days.
We can only carry so much
Boondocking’s biggest limitations aren’t around rules as much as they are our rig.
Our fresh water tank holds a little over 100 gallons. The grey tank (which holds water from the shower, sinks and washer) can hold 65 gallons; the black tank (the toilet dumps into this one) holds 45. Our diesel tank, which powers both the engine and the generator, has a 150 gallon capacity. The propane tank holds 32 gallons.
How long any of this will last us is a question we can’t yet answer.
We know we can stretch our on-board resources with conscious use. It’s unrealistic to expect to camp without electricity in anything but mild weather, though. Even then we’d have to run the generator to do much of anything.
How about snowbirding?
One strategy we can adopt to boondock longer is to follow the weather. Avoiding temperature extremes would keep us comfortable enough without propane or electricity.
Minimizing water use both conserves our fresh water and slows the rate at which our tanks fill up. We could carry extra water to extend our ability to stay in a spot.
We have a kick-ass Berkey water filter, which would allow us to filter and drink water from pretty much anywhere we could find it. It’s huge, though, and we’re not sure where in our RV we could keep it.
The water-saving Oxygenics Fury showerhead and shut-off valve Brian installed should significantly reduce our water use. But from what we’ve read of other RVer’s boondocking accounts, showers will still quickly use up water and fill up our grey water tank.
I’m getting the idea that we should get comfortable with feeling a little grungy.
We won’t have electricity to power much of anything without running our generator. That, of course, consumes diesel fuel. And while it’s a quieter generator, it’s still annoyingly loud to anyone hanging around outside trying to chill out.
It’s okay to use the generator for a couple of hours a day, but relying on it for all our electric needs isn’t ideal. Beyond the fuel use and noise, generators need service at certain intervals. More-frequent use means more-frequent maintenance.
Wherever possible we’ve replaced electric items with manual, mechanical or solar alternatives.
There’s the solar charger that can sit on the dash to keep our phones charged, and maybe tablets as well. We’re going to try an AeroPress for our morning coffee. I have a Sun Oven I’ve learned to use on a basic level. We’re bringing a couple of cast iron pieces so we have the option to cook over a fire and conserve propane. We’ll also bring along our Sun Shower, a heavy-duty bag with a nozzle that holds a couple gallons of water it heats in the sun.
For the best boondocking results, go solar
Even conscious conservation and non-electric niceties won’t help us get where we want to go. For that, we need solar.
Our Dutch Star currently has a single panel that does nothing more than keep the batteries charged. If we had the system we want we’d be able to make enough power to do pretty much anything except run the air conditioners.
That kind of system would start with better batteries. Then we’d need new inverter. A charge controller. And maybe half a dozen new solar panels.
And for all that? $8K. Money, honey.
If you’re interested in reading more about boondocking from sources with actual experience, visit FreeCampsites.net, Drive Dive Devour, Technomadia, Cheap RV Living and Gone with the Wynns. These are some of the sites we’ve drawn inspiration from as we’ve decided how we want to live in our RV.
Are you an RVer who already boondocks? Give us your best advice in the comments below!
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