Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- Advantages of Boondocking
- RV Camping in Solitude
- Boondocking Checklist: Conserve Your Limited Resources
- Boondocking Checklist: Showering Alternatives
- Boondocking Checklist: Flushing Alternatives
- Boondocking Checklist: Safety Gear When You're Off Grid
- Boondocking Checklist: Generator or Solar?
- Boondocking Checklist: Inverter Possibilities
- Boondocking Checklist: Batteries Matter
- Boondocking Checklist: Temperature Control
- Parking Lot Boondocking
- RVing Memories
Look at any photo of an RV campground and you’ll see pure outdoor bliss. There’s usually a new motorhome, silhouetted by a brilliant sunset next to a lake with a few Instagram-worthy children in immaculate clothes. A pool and clubhouse loom in the distance, with happy RVers enjoying a late evening picnic as they experience RV living to the fullest.
What the photo doesn’t show is the steep price tag connected to this camping experience. Campgrounds charging more than $85 a night are slowly becoming the norm for RV travel.
So how can you lower your camping expenses? You can boondock. Also called dry camping, boondocking means parking your RV someplace that doesn’t have power and water hookups.
This means you are camping overnight for free or at a very low cost on Bureau of Land Management property, National Forests and close to National Parks. And yes, this includes “camping” at Walmart or Cracker Barrel.
If you aren’t staying in an amenity-filled campground, you’ll need some supplies. Let’s look at some boondocking tips and what you’ll need to make the most of your dry camping experience.
Advantages of Boondocking
For most people, boondocking saves money and lets you camp in areas away from others. My husband and I are full-time RVers and we save a substantial amount of money by boondocking a few days a week.
Many campers complain about high-priced RV parks where sometimes the sites are so close together you can’t open your motorhome or fifth wheel awning.
RV Camping in Solitude
In contrast, on one boondocking trip, we camped on a hilltop in the middle of 3,000 acres with no campers in sight. We even had room to fly a kite!
Many BLM sites, which allow you stay up to 14 days, let you camp next to pristine lakes or rivers with complete privacy. I just read about some campers taking two hours to drive 18 miles to their boondocking location. That’s dedication!
In most cases, boondocking sites are much closer to a main road. We’ve boondocked in Quartzsite, Arizona, with thousands of other campers, and found a free BLM site one mile off the main road. To find other boondocking sites, check out these websites: Campendium, The Dyrt and Hip Camp.
Supplies You’ll Need for Successful Boondocking
Boondocking Checklist: Conserve Your Limited Resources
Dry camping means you won’t have power and water hookups. So don’t expect to take a long shower, then watch TV while microwaving popcorn.
Make sure your fresh water tank is full before you choose to boondock. Then think “conservation!”
We met some campers trying hard to stay calm as their teenage daughter insisted she needed a 20-minute shower while boondocking. (Of course she also needed to use her cell phone.)
Boondocking Checklist: Showering Alternatives
We use use cleansing wipes such as Surviveware Biodegradable Wet Wipes on boondocking days when we’ll be skipping our daily shower. Believe me, you can survive without a daily full-fledged shower!
Save more water by washing your fresh fruits and vegetables before you leave home (or while you’re still hooked up to the water supply at a campsite).
After using dishes, we wipe them with paper towels to remove topical food before washing them in a dishpan.
If you are planning to boondock for more than a night or two at a time, consider buying (and filling up) several BPA free collapsible water storage containers.
Boondocking Checklist: Flushing Alternatives
We conserve water by using the dishpan water to flush the toilet. Speaking of toilets, die-hard RV boondockers live by the saying, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.” Not the most visually appealing phrase, but if you plan on boondocking as long as possible, that becomes your mantra. Dump stations are seldom found on public lands or BLM land.
Another option if you plan to dry camp for several days in a row is to buy a composting toilet or portable toilet with its own water tank and storage tank.
Boondocking Checklist: Safety Gear When You’re Off Grid
While some people feel uneasy camping in deserted areas, we take simple precautions. We usually boondock within sight of another rig, (but not too close). We have a very loud air horn and keep the keys in the ignition for a quick getaway.
We have never had a problem though. Some women traveling alone set out a pair of men’s boots by the vehicle as part of their camping gear.
Boondocking Checklist: Generator or Solar?
Running a generator is a controversial subject with RV boondockers. Yes, a generator allows you to watch TV or run the microwave while dry camping.
We are the kind of campers who boondock to enjoy the silence of nature and don’t want to hear a mechanical generator running. Instead, we opt for solar power when hookups are unavailable.
On our last six-week camping trip, with ten days of boondocking, we never ran our generator. Instead, we relied on our solar panels and practiced “living off the grid.”
Many newer motorhomes and campervans come with solar panels. We have seen many people boondocking who use portable solar panels, such as this solar starter kit. Amazon.com : Renogy 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Starter Kit with Wanderer : Patio, Lawn & Garden
We have 100 watts of solar power on our motorhome, which gives us about two days’ worth of electricity to use for lights. Of course, this assumes it isn’t raining or we aren’t parked under a tree for shade.
Boondocking Checklist: Inverter Possibilities
Another possibility for generating electricity while boondocking is to use an inverter. An RV inverter lets you run the standard domestic devices in your RV when living off the grid. An inverter uses the RV’s 12v batteries to supply the power. Just remember not to run the air conditioner and a hair dryer while also using the Instant Pot for dinner! We used our portable inverter to charge our e-bike batteries.
Boondocking Checklist: Batteries Matter
The solar power produced by our panels is stored in the battery. The larger battery bank capacity you have, the longer you can boondock with this power source. My husband installed a second battery less than a week after we bought our motorhome. This allowed us to boondock two to three days, using our lights, fresh water pump and charging our USB-powered gadgets.
It’s easy to end up with a dead battery if you are too enthusiastic with your electrical use. We learned this the hard way as newbies to the boondocking experience. My husband was thrilled to discover the NOCO Ultrasafe Jump Starter. This handy device, about the size of a pound of butter, jumpstarts dead batteries on most gasoline vehicles. At the opposite extreme, it also recharges phones and tablets!
Boondocking Checklist: Temperature Control
When camping with full hookups, it’s easy to use electricity and run the air conditioner to regulate the temperature in your motorhome for a comfortable camping experience.
Unless you want to run your generator constantly, creative approaches to cooling are required for RV boondocking.
Here’s how we do it: When the temperature rises, open all the ceiling vents and windows for a possible cross breeze. We bought an inexpensive sunshade to cover the large front windshield of our motorhome. We actually used this to keep heat out in the summer and then used it again when temperatures dropped to keep the cold out and the heat in.
An extended awning blocks the sun from coming in your windows as well. Maxxair makes a 12 volt fan you can install in your roof vent for additional cooling power. Or go simpler yet and purchase a battery operated camping fan. We ran into some surprisingly cold weather while boondocking and were glad to have our down comforter. Some friends recommended the Little Buddy indoor safe heater that runs off of small propane tanks. They claimed it kept their motorhome toasty warm. Added safety bonus: it shuts off if it is knocked over.
Parking Lot Boondocking
Yes, RV life is best on a road trip and camping on BLM land in solitude. Often though, the ground is not as level as in a campground. That’s where these fun, Fasten 2X2 RV leveling blocks come in very handy. They look like giant LEGOs and allow you to use as many of the segments as you need to level the camper.
Sometimes though, after a long day of driving you just want to sleep to get an early start the next day. That’s where parking lot boondocking can’t be beat!
Businesses such as Walmart, Cracker Barrel and Cabelas often allow campers to use their parking lots. We always call ahead and politely ask where to park for free camping. So far we’ve never been refused.
One of my favorite memories is parking behind a Walmart on Thanksgiving and serving a complete Thanksgiving meal to my daughter and son-in law. We were plenty cozy inside, eating until we all were stuffed. (Because that’s what you do on Thanksgiving.)
A variation on parking lot parking is affectionately known as “Moochdocking.” Simply ask family or friends if you can park your motorhome or travel trailer in their driveway. That’s one way to enjoy the boondocking experience!
Whether boondocking on a deserted piece of BLM land, or a crowded Walmart parking lot, keep thinking “conservation.” Conserve your water, power and blackwater dumping needs. You’ll experience a whole new type of free camping that still creates positive memories.