What is Boondocking?
You might have heard the term Boondocking before if you are an experiences RV’er. If you’re new to Boondocking, here is the simple definition. Boondocking, or boondock camping as some call it, is when you are camping in an RV, or Van, without being connected to any sort of services such as electricity or sewage. Some also call this “off the grid.” This can either be in the heart of nature or it can be in the middle of a busy city.
Some RV’ers have made boondocking a sort of lifestyle because for the traveler who is on a budget, this is often the cheapest way to travel. After all, when you are boondocking, you are essentially living rent free. While there are still some cost to be considered, boondocking is becoming an increasingly popular lifestyle as many people struggle to keep up with the high cost of living.
How to Boondock
Any size RV can boondock. Some might find it a lot easier than others. For example, someone living in a Van can basically park anywhere a regular car could and live off the grid. Someone like me who tows a 25 ft travel trailer with a 13 ft truck might find it a little bit harder. Basically all you have to do is find a spot you are legally allowed to be in and set up shop. It’s important to follow any rules and regulations of the area in which you are in. Try not to be that guy who gives RV’ers a bad rep. Many parks, beaches, and rest areas have strict rules about overnight camping. i like to spend the day at local beaches in the San Diego area but I start to pack up around 9 p.m. If you are looking for a place to stay overnight then you should plan to stay somewhere that allows for this.
Boondocking on Government Land
A great place to boondock is in National Forest land. Most land on National Forest, BLM, USDA, and Army Corps of Engineers allow you to stay overnight in undeveloped areas for up to 14 nights for free. If you are staying at a developed camp site there is usually a fee. The fee varies depending on the campsite. It’s always a good idea to check with the local park ranger to see what the local rules are. In most cases they will be very helpful and might even give up some great spots to camp.
Another resource I have had success with is camping on state land. However, every state park usually has it’s own rules and fees so be sure to check with your park ranger before setting up shop.
This is where things can get tricky. Every city has it’s own laws about oversized vehicle parking. If you are trying to hunker down in the middle of a bustling city for the night, you might get a knock on the door by the local police in the middle of the night. Or, you might wake up to a hefty parking fine. So check with the laws of the city you are in. Like I said before, if you are traveling in a van or a class B RV, you might be okay. If you have a Class A, Class C, or Travel Trailer, you might have to find a spot of the beaten path. I have had success parking by storage units, warehouses, or anything industrial. Also, some stores like Wal-Mart, Home depot, and Lowe’s allow you to park in their parking lots overnight although not always. You can check with the store manager beforehand to avoid being bothered in the middle of the night. Another great place to stay is Casinos! I have had much success with boondocking at casinos. In fact, I have yet to find one who does not allow it. The reason behind this is they want you to stay and spend money. And they usually have a parking lot large enough to accommodate you. You usually just have to check in with security and let them know of your intentions. There is usually a time limit of about 72 hrs in my experience.
Boondocking Tips and Tricks
It’s important to remember that you are living on finite resources when boondocking. Electricity and water must be conserved if you plan on boondocking for any extended amount of time. When it comes to water, I usually keep my on board fresh water tank filled before I head out. I also keep an extra portable tank for drinking water. Try to shower at a truck stop or take NAVY showers. This means turn on your water to get wet, then turn it off, soap up your whole body, turn it back on to wash off. Keep the water running as short as possible. Lets talk electricity, every situation will be different depending on your setup. If you have solar, then it’s important to park in a spot that will give you plenty of sunshine. If you are running on a generator, only run it when necessary. You are not going to want to run a noisy generator in the middle of a neighborhood at midnight. That’s just asking for trouble. Try living on your 12 volt battery as much as possible. Switch to low power LED light if you haven’t already. I have a re-chargeable Coleman Lantern I use at night to avoid using my on board lights at night. You can charge laptops and run low power TV’s on 12 volt power if you have an inverter (see my article on RV inverters). Finally, if your urban camping, try to be as stealthy as possible. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself. Don’t blast your radio, don’t open your awning, and don’t drop your stabilizer jacks.
Boondocking can be a lot of fun if you due your due diligence. Planning ahead is key when boondocking. There are plenty of apps and websites dedicated to helping campers find great spots to camp. I have used Freecampsites.net. Remember to keep your spot tidy and respect your neighbors. Never camp in a spot where you don’t feel safe. Ask for permission if boondocking on private property. Be safe and have fun!