Boondocking is being ready to stop and stay anywhere. This means being prepared to go off grid without hookups to water, power, or the sewer system for several days.
Boondocking, Off the Grid, Off the Cord, Dispersed Camping, Dry Camping or Wild Camping are all names for camping or RVing without any hookups (water, electric or sewer). Boondocking is probably the most popular term in the RV community, Dispersed Camping is what the government agencies (BLM, National Forest, etc.) call it, but our personal favorite might be Wild Camping because it embodies what it’s all about: driving out into the wild and camping. Being in Nature and a natural environment. Far from the madd(en)ing crowd.
Why Boondock? For us, the excitement of boondocking is in the search for that amazing spot and scenery. Having an eye out for prospective camping sites as we drive around and when we find a really good one, it’s a real thrill and it feels like we’ve won a prize.
Most people have lots of questions when they first consider boondocking. We recommend boondocking only after you’ve had many road experiences and parking in rv lots and campgrounds; once you’ve had the feel and expertise of how to camp with all the amenities in place. It makes preparing for the wild side of camping so much easier to anticipate when you know what will be absent when parking away from all those amenities that come with most every campground.
Can you Park Overnight in parking lots, truck stops and casinos?
Walmart is famous for being very RV-friendly. They even sell a Rand McNally Atlas that lists all the addresses of every Walmart in the US as well as its interstate exit number, if it is near one. However Walmart is not always in control of their land, so staying overnight in their lot is not always legal.
Usually there are signs in the parking lot if overnight parking is not allowed. It is advisable to check with the store’s security department to find out whether or not they allow overnight parking. But do look for signs since security doesn’t always know, and those signs are legally binding.
Try to keep a low profile, usually remaining hitched to the truck and often not even putting the slides out. Obviously camp chairs, patio mats, grills and other outdoor accessories should be kept stored. Remember we are talking about an overnight. Not an extended stay.
Cracker Barrel allows overnight parking at many locations, and they have a map that lists the addresses of their stores. However, many big rigs simply do not fit in their parking lots.
Camping World allows overnight parking in some of their lots. They list their store locations online and you can give them a call to find out which ones allow it.
Casino Camper gives descriptions of casinos that offer overnight RV parking, either in RV parks for a fee, or in a back lot for free.
Truck stops are another option in a pinch, although they rarely make for a good night’s sleep. It’s often busy, and bright lights from truckers arriving and leaving at all hours, often makes for a restless night. It can also be extremely bright in commercial lots and truck stops, making sleep difficult unless you have good window shades that block light very well.
Is it Safe?
Yes! We haven’t come across a real safety issue other than being unprepared for a sudden drop or increase in weather temperatures, or not preparing with enough water and food. The basics are simply using street smarts, common sense and some planning. Just remember:
- Your house has wheels. If you have a sketchy feeling about a place, you leave it.
- Carry a good, solid, heavy flashlight; extra batteries. Blind anything headed your way with the strobe mode and then use it as a weapon if needed in self defense. We don’t ever recommend going after something. Only defend if something or someone is attempting access to your rig.
- A fog horn/airhorn is great to keep on hand for deafening any unexpected visitors. We’d use this with great discretion since that noise might waken distant human neighbors who may then call the police. Perhaps that might be a good result, but then again, it may be overkill. You are in a solid vehicle that should have locks and be it’s own protection from animal and human intruders.
- And on that note: keeping your keys and phone next to the bed is always helpful in an emergency situation, activate your car alarm as a distraction (and potentially alert nearby campers), call the police or drive away.
- Respect The Neighbors – Keep The Noise Down. A good reminder that you may have parked within hearing distance of landowners who have sought out exactly that kind of privacy, solitude and peacefulness that nature provides.
- Bear spray is great to keep on hand for any animal encounters or unruly humans, but you’ve got to practice to use it correctly in a hostile situation. And only use when absolutely necessary.
- If you really are concerned about your safety, we recommend taking a self defense class. Confidence, feeling safe and knowing you can handle yourself in an unexpected situation is important. If truly stressed out, perhaps this off-road experience is not for you.
- Having pepper spray for threatening encounters is also wise, however please do not spray wildlife that wanders nearby. Those squirrels, snakes, possums, raccoons, etc., have THEIR homes where you’ve chosen to park off the grid and shouldn’t be harmed nor threatened by YOU. You’ve invaded their home. Live peacefully and kindly with wildlife creatures. *Remember, you’re the intruder here.
How do I find it and is it Legal here?
It’s typically all about use of free public lands like National Forests, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and several other government programs that run free or low cost camping resources. Use the Public Lands app as it’s a quick and easy to use resource for seeing if there are public lands near you. The US Federal Government owns nearly 650 million acres of land – almost 30 percent of the land area of the United States. Plus, campground locator websites like Campendium and UltimateCampgrounds add more free locations as they come up.
Electricity and Power
Generally it’s good to have a lot of boondocking gadgets because your RV might not just be your home, it might also be your mobile office. Power is a must. This is where solar power can really make a huge difference. If you have a good solar set up and as long as you have sun, you can live like very well, indeed. But if you are not ready to go all in and invest in a full solar set up, a portable solar panel is a very affordable way to start.
Obviously you can have a generator on board and you’ll be fine. But camping in the middle of the beautiful and peaceful wilderness with an obnoxious hum, buzz and stench of a generator is counter-purpose to why you’ve boondocked in nature to begin with. Additionally, it’s best not to worry about the hot noxious fumes igniting the dry grass you’re parked next to. Consider your options and intent.
A note about LED Lighting
New models all have them, but if your RV is older, you should consider upgrading to LED lighting throughout your trailer or coach. Switching out lights from traditional bulbs to LEDs is a huge help in saving power. With the efficiency of LEDs, you could leave your lights on day and night and never run down your batteries. (Not a suggestion)
- Before leaving, fill up two containers: your 25-gallon fresh water tank in the camper and your extra 7-gallon container.
- Use the 25-gallon fresh water tank for washing your hands, brushing teeth, doing dishes, and showers.
- The seven-gallon tank is used for filling up your water bottles and for extra water just in case the 25-gallon runs out.
Water conservation is very important while Wild Camping but it doesn’t mean you can’t shower nor live “normally”. With a few very affordable adjustments you can cut your water consumption in half without sacrifice.
Showering – Switch to a low-flow shower head like an Oxygenics and install a shut off valve so you can turn off the water while lathering up. Combined, these two simple and inexpensive changes will save a lot of water without losing water pressure. An unexpected benefit is never running out of hot water, even with a small 6 gallon propane/electric hot water tank, if that’s what you have.
Faucets – Most hardware stores sell faucet aerators but very hard to find really good ones, so try ordering 1.0 GPM faucet aerators for only a few bucks online. Switching over to low flow aerators (1.5gpm or less) will have you feeling a lot less guilty about washing your hands and your dishes. Paper plates increase your footprint, trash amount and is just simply not good for our environment. Aerators reduce amount of water needed by as much as 50%.
Solar Shower – Use a solar shower for doing dishes and any general clean ups. It’s easy to get into the nearby town for refills and the water stays nice and hot without using any electricity. It’s also very handy for beach camping when you need to rinse your feet before heading into the RV.
An H20 Labs water distiller allows you to take water from any source and turn it into clean, safe and good tasting drinking water, but it does require a lot of power. So, as long as there is a water source of some sort (lake, pond, stream, etc.) having safe drinking water is never an issue.
However, with newer RV’s larger fresh water tanks and energy efficient Firewall water purifier (http://amzn.to/2r6lDES or http://amzn.to/2r6yAhN) you might find that you don’t use your distiller as much anymore. For on the go and hiking we love our rechargeable Camelback All Clear that can turn most any clear fresh water source (lake or stream) into safe drinking water 1 glass (0.75L) at a time.
Usually you can’t stay on public land longer than 14 days, and they ask you to “pack it in and pack it out,” meaning: don’t leave the place a mess. Leave it as you found it.
Generally an RV won’t leave a footprint behind, but sometimes we arrive at a site and end up filling several grocery bags with trash. Take all your trash with you and find suitable and appropriate places to dispose and recycle. As we travel, we unfortunately find trash left behind by others. We would rather take out someone else’s trash left behind, than leave that for our children and their children to find when they go camping with their RVs years from now.
Let’s all pitch in and keep our land beautiful and pristine. Our feeling is that if we can stay for free for two weeks on a gorgeous piece of property, surrounded by hundreds of acres of natural beauty, the least we can do is to pick up a little trash.
*On that note, some sobering current concerns for our land; please take serious note of this. We will ALL be affected:
If you are interested in boondocking, or simply camping in National Forest and BLM campgrounds, it is important to be aware that America’s public land management is changing rapidly. Camping sites are closing, “Road Closed” signs are going up, and public land is being sold off to private entities at an alarming rate. Why?
There is currently an enormous push by America’s leaders to change the country’s public land management from federal control to state control.
The eventual effect of this change will likely be that much, if not most, of the public land in America will no longer be accessible to the public. Why? It is predicted that the states will not have the funds to afford basic land management, like wildfire control, road maintenance, etc., so they will sell off the land to private (likely foreign) corporations who want to extract the natural resources.
In every western state, we’ve seen both recently closed campgrounds and dispersed camping areas on public land.
We at Roaming Times are not hunters or fishermen, but conflict makes for strange bedfellows. Hunters and anglers are much better organized around this issue than RVers, and they are gathering resources to stop this tragic change. Ironically for us as animal enthusiasts, we have a support system shared with Sportsmen, in keeping our public lands accessible and not sold off to private investors and corporations.
Have a look at this website and mull it over: SportsmensAccess.org
If the spirit moves you, sign their petition.
Shocking public land changes we have seen in our years of RVing full-time are described in these two blog posts:
- Copper Mining (NOT CAMPING!) at Tonto National Forest
- What is Happening to our Public Land? – Changes at the Grand Canyon
If all this sounds too weird to be true, here is an article from a mainstream magazine that discusses it as well:
- The Great Public Land Heist Has Begun (House bill to sell national forests passes committee) – Outside Magazine
Bottom line: have FUN with finding those out-of-the-way places. For most of us, half of the excitement of boondocking is in the search. We always have an eye out for prospective camping sites as we drive around, and when we find a really good one it’s a real thrill. Why won’t we share our finds, you may wonder? Precisely because the reason to boondock, is to escape the populated and touristy spots. More importantly, the essence of boondocking is being able to experience true independence, freedom and self-reliance, things that are rare in today’s world.
One of the greatest thrills of boondocking is suddenly coming across a campsite that is ideal for you, somewhere you would just LOVE to stay for a few days. Being off the grid is exhilarating.
- For more great resources for finding those out-of-the-civilized-world experiences, check out Be My Guest Boondocking as well as RV with Me.