Boondocking is a fancy term referred to by RV’ers who love to be off the grid and dry camp. Dry camping means no water, electricity, or sewer hook up. This type of camping is for anyone who wants to get closer to nature, away from the everyday hustle and bustle, and of course, it’s FREE!
The first time boondocking can be scary, hard to adjust to, and hard to be prepared for. This quick guide will help the most basic beginner become a seasoned boondocker in no time at all! Now you may be asking a few questions such as, “Where do I find free spots?” “How do I save water or get power?” “Where do I dump and fill?” “Is this even safe?” I am here to put your mind at ease and get you moving in the right direction.
Four Options for Boondocking
There are four main options for dry camping, and each one has their pros and cons to be aware of.
Stealth – Just as it sounds, this is the art of hiding in plain sight. This type of camping is best made for small RV’s, camper vans, and some small trailers. For Stealth Boondocking you'll want to search out an area that does not have a "No Parking" or "Tow Away Zone" sign. This is great for short term stays between destinations or if you're just looking for a place to get a few minutes of shut eye. This option is not ideal long term and runs the risk of security and/or property owners asking you to leave at any time.
Parking Lots - As many of you know, parking in lots at Walmart, Bass Pro Shops, Cracker Barrel, and in some casinos will allow you to stay overnight, but it is important to call ahead and check. Also, it is safer to park towards the back of a lot out of the way of regular shoppers and patrons. This option is best for short-term stays.
MoochDocking - This is the art of mooching off your family, friends, or someone with a plot of land. Mooching is when you are living in your home away from home on someone's land generally for free or for a small fee. Like the saying says, “It’s all about who you know.”
Dispersed - Dispersed camping is going to be the most off the grid option for free camping and longer stays. This free option is usually on state land, national forest land, and other Bureau of Land Management land (BLM). Generally, 14-day stays are what is allowed here before you become a squatter and are asked to leave, maybe even after receiving a ticket. To stay safe and know you’re abiding by the rules, learn how to find the right spots in the next section.
Recommended App/Website Resources
There are many websites, Pinterest Pins, and apps to find places for boondocking. These are found to be the most effective.
These sources will help you do research ahead of time to plan out a trip is going to be the best option for a successful boondocking trip. Once you find where you are going, it is also recommended to check the spot out on Google Maps satellite view. You can find a good spot to park your camper, make sure there is room to turn around if needed, and ultimately explore the area. If you want to be sure the spot is going to work, unhook your trailer and explore ahead of time.
Water, Electricity, Dumping, and Safety
Going off the grid brings challenges that need to be addressed ahead of time. Where will you get water and electricity? How will you empty the tanks? Is it even safe?
Water - It is important to fill your tanks ahead of time and bring as much extra water as you can carry. This includes spare tanks, water bottles, coolers, etc. Keeping track of how much water you use while boondocking is also important. Short showers or spit baths will save a lot of water and disposable dishes can be burned or tossed (preferably burned).
Electric - Using 12-volt power that comes equipped with your camper will help preserve resources while saving you money. You can certainly use a generator, but you may have to pay buy one and you will need to pay for fuel. Most generators are also annoyingly noisy and bulky. That being said, if you use a generator, run it for an hour a day to charge the batteries in the RV and make sure you charge anything else you need.
Another alternative is to use a solar panel. This will trickle charge your batteries and can last a long time between plug ins.
Dumping - You can dump in most campgrounds or state parks for a small fee. Occasionally, you can find a free place to dump. Search your apps for these hidden gems!
Safety - Boondockers have a code of respect for one another. It is common to see other people boondocking, so be courteous to other spaces. Some rules to follow include doing your best to be respectful, share space and resources, and If asked to leave an area by security or a land owner, do as instructed. After all, you are a guest.
Cell/Internet - You may be far from cell service or internet and that can be daunting. Know where to get service in case of emergency. Alternatively, you can get a 12-volt Wi-Fi and cell signal booster to extend your signals reach.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” Always plan, plan, and plan. This will save you from issues and having to cut your trip short.
Another tip is to stay in a campground for a night or two between boondocking spots so you can dump and fill, recharge with full hookups, and give yourself time to plan your next adventure.
Lastly, leave no trace behind! Cleaning up after yourself is good for the environment and keeps places open for future boondockers.
I hope you enjoyed these helpful hints to make your next trip more fun, safe, and hassle free. Now let’s get boondocking!
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