More than just a weird word.
One Night Stays
To me, Boondocking is free camping without any services. There is probably a lot more to it than that, but to me, that is what I call Boondocking. I live in a part of Canada that is vast and pretty unpopulated. I can drive in any direction and find a place where I can spend a night in my RV, Boondocking for free. Most of these places are not great camping spots, but they are an option to stop at to rest and unwind. I have stayed at abandoned business’s, churches, rest stops, parking lots and truck stops, to name a few. If there is anyone around I’ll ask if I can park there for one night. We also try to park away from any buildings or driveways, so as not to impede anyone from coming or going. I get up, have my coffee and go the next morning. I will do this if I am going somewhere. It’s not something I would do every night of a trip. It is part of the journey and not my destination. I am usually going somewhere and there are usually arrangements made for where to stay when I get there. For me, I have spent the day driving and using a fair amount of gas, so it is nice to just pull over to eat and sleep. I will save the $40-$80.00 it might cost to stay in an RV Park and I will be tired and not in the mood for a camping adventure anyway. When we travel it’s usually just the two of us and the Dog so we stop many times throughout the day to sight see and stretch our legs. We eat when we are hungry and sleep when we are tired. Sometimes my wife will take the dog on an extended walk in the afternoon and I will grab a quick nap on the couch before getting back on the road again. You can do whatever you want if you are prepared for it. So let’s talk about what you need to Boondock this way or for extended periods.
Staying in a Campground with an RV is not always easy. If you have been traveling all day and you are tired you just may not feel like it. A lot of times Campgrounds are quite a way from the road you are traveling on. You would need to find the exit, drive to the Campground, register, pay, find your site, level out and hook up. For just a place to sleep one night, that is a lot of work. If you don’t travel far and stop early, it is a great way to spend the night. I always feel safe and secure in a Campground. It just bothers me to pay for a 24 hr site and then stay 8-9 hrs. Some of these RV sites are almost just like parking in a parking lot, only with hook-ups, anyway. So you can see why I prefer to Boondock when I am traveling. I just pull over, walk the dog, eat and go to bed. I don’t worry about security too much. We have deadbolts, sensor lights and a huge barking dog. Our RV is like a bus. It is very high and you need the steps to get in or open the door. All our windows are 6 ft or higher from the ground so we feel pretty safe. We always make sure we have Cell reception and our phones are with us.
To stay somewhere overnight all you need is Food, Water and Warmth. These three things are easy and don’t require much more than your food, jugs of water for drinking and a portable tent type heater. Your RV may be able to supply you with electricity if you have a Generator, a Coach battery bank with an inverter, or a solar charger. If you have a generator then you can have 110 AC house current when it is running. One usually comes with your RV, if so, then you should have all the power you need to run everything. The only problem with this is that it runs on fuel and costs a bit to run it for a long time. It also has an engine, and therefore an exhaust, so it can be quite loud. If anyone is parked or living near you they probably won’t appreciate listening to that for long periods of time.
We live in a world of change. The ways we can create electrical power are improving rapidly. We now have portable power packs that are increasing in the amount of power they store all the time. These portable units can plug in to your DC power or old cigarette lighter and charge while you are driving, then supply AC house current later when you are parked. They are great for charging phones or laptops and can run a TV or computer for hours. If you don’t need much to get by, a portable power pack might meet your needs. I have one but I use mine more for emergencies, hiking, ATV’s, or when I am trying to conserve power for some reason. Some of these units come with a portable solar charging pack. You just put the little solar panel in the sun and it charges the power pack as long as you have sunshine. These can charge kind of slow but they are improving and you only get what you pay for.
Another great invention is the portable inverter. A pure sine wave inverter safely converts DC current from your batteries to AC household current. These power boxes come in a variety of sizes, from 300 watts to 3,000 watts. The smaller lower wattage inverters can plug into one of your accessory plugs and will draw power from your battery and convert it to AC household current. The higher the power the bigger the appliance you can plug in to it. If you use one of these smaller inverters you must be careful not to drain your battery. Years ago I used to use these, but I always hooked them up to my house batteries to be sure my main engine battery would not drain. These too are good for one night stays or to be used while you are driving and all your batteries are charging.
Portable solar panels or suitcases are another option for charging your batteries. They need to be out in the sun all day so they aren’t too good for a one night stay. Portable units you just open up outside and charge your batteries, work slowly and need time to charge them up. Times are changing and there are always newer products out there so maybe this will be solved soon. I have never used one, but know people who do and it seems they are always waiting for the next newest thing in portable solar power to replace what they have now.
If you want to stop in your RV for a one night stay, you can make a reservation at an RV Campground or Park, or you can pull over somewhere safe and park for one night without much preparation. If you have Food, Water, and Heat you pretty much have it covered. If you like the safety of others near, over quiet, you can always stay at Walmart, Cabella’s, Bass Pro, or other large stores with permission. Check online to see if the one near you is RV friendly. A lot of Casinos are now offering RV parking if you sign up for a membership or register at the front desk. There are a couple of new apps like Harvest Host, overnightrvparking.com and Boondockerswelcome.com that will put you up. As the RV lifestyle grows it is becoming easier to find a place to stop for the night. In the USA there is always BLM land where you can get a permit to park for free for up to two weeks at a time. I just noticed in Ontario, Canada, that all the rest stops on the Trans Canada from Quebec to Windsor have RV overnight parking spots. This is new and it shows that this Recreation is now getting accepted as a popular way to travel.
Boondocking for an Extended Stay
I’m not going to debate what is real Boondocking and what is not, but some people say you are not Boondocking unless you are off grid in the back country for an extended stay. I think, off grid without the luxury of services, whether in a parking lot or on a mountain road somewhere, is all Boondocking. So, lets talk about staying off grid in a Forest, on a Desert or anywhere else for a longer period of time.
One time I was driving through Quebec and was having a problem with my throttle sticking. I pulled into a Truck Stop to check it out and pulled up to the pumps to top up in case I had gotten some bad fuel. When I tried to start my RV again, it just wouldn’t go. A friendly local man came in, saw my dilemma, and towed me to an out-of-the-way spot in the stations parking lot. I asked if I could park there until I could figure out the problem. They supplied me with a couple of numbers of local Truck repair shops to try if I could not get going. They also said I could stay as long as needed. Fortunately my water tank was full, I had a generator, an inverter, and huge house batteries for power storage. Our fridge ran off Propane and was full of food, drinking water, and everything else we would need. We were prepared for Boondocking, so other than wondering what was wrong with the RV, we had all the comforts of home. It took a few days to figure out the problem, order parts and repair the RV. During this time we learned a lot about being prepared.
Not knowing how long our stay might be we conserved all our resources but never suffered one bit. If the batteries ran low, we ran the generator for a half hour to charge them up. When we travel we like to keep our food simple through the day and maybe enjoy one bigger meal at night. So we keep a lot of cold meat in the fridge and freezer. We also had bread and frozen buns and condiments. To break up the day, we walked the dog a lot and explored the area we were in. At night, we watched movies and prerecorded TV shows until we were tired. We flushed the toilet with the water off and only turned it on when we had to. Sometimes we used paper plates and saved them for starting camp fires when we would eventually get to our camping spot. When needed, we used baby wipes to wash ourselves or ran the water only as needed. I kind of enjoyed it. There were empty fields and trails all around us for exploring and we got to know the people who worked at the truck stop. Now five years later, I still stop there for gas and to say hello every time I travel that way.
When I go to visit my Kids and Grand kids in Toronto, we travel prepared because we will be Boondocking when we get there. My daughter makes arraignments for us to park the RV at the rear of a big church parking lot not far from her house. This is perfect for us. We can walk back and forth to her house, come and go as we please, and get to sleep in our own bed at night. There’s no unpacking and putting people out. Its like a home away from home. Our RV is huge. Its like a bus. It is powered by a rear diesel engine and it has large capacity tanks. I can boondock for a week without giving up any luxuries which is long enough for me. When we visit my daughter, I usually spend one day a week going out and refilling my gas and propane. Then I drive to a local Provincial Park that has a campground, about five miles away. to dump my tanks and refill my fresh water. We will pick up groceries at this time and then head back to the church for another week with our families. This is Boondocking to me. It might cost me $15-$20.00 to dump my tanks and get water. Another $15-$30.00 for propane and a tiny bit of gas, but compared to the cost of a Hotel stay in Toronto for a couple of weeks, it is a small price to pay.
There is a new trend in the RV lifestyle that is getting very popular. They are calling it, RV Nomads. These are people that for whatever reason, gave up the Sticks and Bricks life for the full time RV Lifestyle. It seems that most of these RV Nomads travel around the USA, follow a comfortable temperature, and live full time in their RVs. Sometimes they travel in numbers called a Tribe and some prefer to do it alone. Either way, they are constantly meeting like minded travelers and learning about good places to camp, shop, eat, buy gas, etc. while on the road. From what I can tell, they help each other out, share experiences, and love the outdoors. These brave souls who seem to have walked away from everything traditional, have learned to survive with minimal belongings and live life in a couple of hundred sq. ft. one day at a time.
To Boondock for extended periods comfortably, it’s not all that hard. If you prepare and conserve you can do it. Having an RV with big tanks and solar panels is ideal but you still need to be careful. You may notice that your Grey water tank from your sinks may fill up faster than a Black water human waste tank. To even them out you could put a plastic tub in your sink to catch your soapy dish water or other waste water. Then use that to flush the toilet instead of fresh water. This uses the water twice instead of just once and puts it into the tank that doesn’t fill up as fast. Unplug everything you are not using. Whether it has a tiny light on a charger or a clock on an appliance, it is using your power. Whenever you think you need it, clean your body with Epic Wipes. These scented, cleansing wet towels for adults, are big enough to clean your whole body and saves on shower water and filling up the Grey tank. When you put your generator on to charge the house batteries, plug in all your rechargeable items like laptops, tablets, phones, flashlights, power boxes and camera gear. This way you don’t waste power plugging them in when they don’t have a charge. Put your steps down and leave them down so as not to have them in motion and using power. We use motion sensor battery operated night lights in the bathroom and hallway so we don’t have to turn on lights in the night if one of us has to go. Always cook with propane, a BBQ or Campfire coals and make sure your fridge is switched to propane. We always turn the hot water tank off and heat water on the propane stove for dishes. We have to turn the generator on to work the microwave so it doesn’t matter too much except for bothering the neighbors with the noise it makes. Clorox wipes are good for cleaning up and sanitize at the same time.
After a few trials you will establish a list of your own. The thing to do is try it and then be prepared. You can always leave for a few hours, dump your tanks and refill with water if you don’t last as long as you hoped. Its just that breaking down camp is sometimes a chore and you may lose your spot if you are coming back. You never know when you may have to Boondock so it is always good to travel prepared.