What is boondocking and how do you go about it?
If your idea of heaven is living on the cheap and camping in out-of-the-way places far from the crowd, you may be a natural boondocker. The dry camping lifestyle is the frugal person’s nirvana. In its most extreme form, you will be parking your RV for free with no amenities of any kind. No water, electrical, or sewer hookups.
There are ways of coping with the lack of traditional services, and if you are willing, you can take a small income and stretch it so thin you can see through it. This is the ultimate in low-cost living, and if you have the desire and means, is an achievable full or part-time lifestyle.
If you have a small supplemental income and don’t want to work, your ship has arrived. Of course, this section is not meant to be an exhaustive explanation of all the nuances of boondocking, but it will give you a good overview.
Yes, that’s right, free camping on a long-term basis. And, the good news is that there are many forms of free camping. You’ll want to do a Google search for “free camping at casinos” and you’ll find many pages that have listings for this free short-term camping resource.
The first major free camping resource is our National Forests. Administered by the USDA, the Forest Service manages over 191 million acres with around 4,000 campgrounds. Not all of these campgrounds will be suitable for boondocking in an RV, but you can get a list by writing to the supervisor of each forest. Here is the address:
USDA Forest Service
Public Affairs Office
P.O. Box 96090
Washington, D.C. 20090-6090
The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) administers millions of acres of public land. Free camping – or a low-cost permit – is abundantly available. You’ll not have many if any, amenities available and may have a time limitation on how long you can stay, but if it is free you are looking for, they have it.
As an example, let’s say you’re in California near the town of Mammoth Lakes, you could head over to the Crowley Lake Campground and park for free in the BLM campground. It’s open from April 20 to November 1st on a first-come, first-served basis. There are no hookups in the campground. Among other inconveniences, you will have to deal with the beauty of the high-desert scenery, and fishing for trout and Sacramento perch in Lake Crowley. Gee, sounds like a rough life, huh?
The US Army Corps of Engineers maintains thousands of developed camping sites and some of them are free. You can research available campsites at http://corpslakes.usace.army.mil/visitors/visitors.cfm.
Almost Free Camping
Ever thought about volunteering some time for free RV parking? There are volunteer jobs begging to be taken with National Wildlife Refuges, the U.S. Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service, State Parks, and even private campgrounds. You only have to work a few hours a week and then you’re free to play.
Most of the volunteer positions will include some minimum amenities, such as water, and many will include full-hookups including cable TV. What a deal.
You’ll be asked to perform a variety of duties including greeting campers, handing out pamphlets, light maintenance, trail cleaning, answering questions, giving directions, and other duties. No, you won’t have to do all of them. Check our Volunteer Camping web page for more detailed information.
Beware of wild animals. See, Will is being attacked.
Let’s assume you have purchased a long-term use permit for a few dollars and you are ready to settle into your site costing you pennies per day. What will you need to do to maximize your stay without having to constantly run to the nearest store? Here’s the overview for your venture into frugal living and conservation of resources.
I’m assuming here that you don’t buy solar panels and are going cold turkey from the electrical umbilical cord. You’ll want to make sure that you have picked an area that isn’t too hot. You can always use a catalytic heater for getting rid of the chill, but cooling off without electricity is a different matter. Your electrical supply is probably going to be one or two batteries that came with your RV, so using them wisely is absolutely necessary. Having picked the right place to park for free, here is what you can do:
Go to bed when it gets dark. Instead of sitting up at night and burning out your batteries, simply go to bed and get up early. Enjoy your campfire at night, then use a flashlight or candles for supplemental light if you want to stay up later.
Don’t use the built-in 12-volt clock and lighting in your RV. Turn off the clock and use your wristwatch. Keep the water pump switch turned off. Use only the bare minimum of electricity from your battery. Don’t use RV’s built-in radio or other 12 volt appliances unless absolutely necessary. Use a portable battery-powered radio if you must.
Learn to enjoy walking, hiking, fishing, reading, working on a non-electrical consuming hobby. Forget about TV, the programming is toxic to the brain anyway. Enjoy what is around you and your free time. That’s what this is all about anyway. Right? I mean, who wants to retire so they can watch more TV? Well, maybe someone would, but probably not you.
If you aren’t careful, you’ll wonder how you could have blown through 50 gallons of water in less than two days. You don’t want to have to be running back and forth all the time to haul water, and if you’re using that much, then you’re also sucking down your battery charge every time the water pump comes on. Here are a few suggestions:
Keep the water pump switch turned off. If you have a small leak, the pressure will force more and more water out, wasting electricity and water. Of course, if you have a water leak, repair it immediately.
Heat your water on your range. You’ll get three benefits from this one. If you have to wait for hot water to get to your faucet then you will waste water (unless you capture the cold water in a pan), you’ll waste electricity pumping the water, and you’ll waste propane by keeping the water hot all the time in the hot water tank (you’re going to turn off your water heater to save propane). Whether you are bathing – we’ll talk more about this in a moment – or washing dishes, you can use far less hot water than you are used to. It actually, takes very little water to wash and rinse dishes.
Take a bath using a washcloth. You don’t have to shower and there is no need to stink either. If you have really long, thick hair, this could be a problem. Short hair that can be wet and rinsed with minimal water usage is by far the most efficient.
Get a container and save some of the soapy water from bathing or washing dishes. You’ll use this water to flush your toilet instead of using your supply of freshwater. Again, you conserve by not using electricity to pump water to flush the toilet, and by using soapy water to flush, you save your freshwater.
Invest in a few collapsible five-gallon water containers so you can refill them on trips into town. You can get water at many service stations by just asking.
Install the best water filtration system you can afford. You don’t know for certain the quality of water even in the best of campgrounds. At least you will be able to filter out many harmful pollutants, and all microbes and amoeba. We would recommend the Big Berkey Gravity Fed Water Filter pictured on this page. Although I would not recommend it, you could pour lake or river water into the filter and produce drinkable water. You can read more about this impressive water filter by clicking on this link.
Turn off your hot water heater. A substantial amount of propane is lost just keeping the pilot light burning. Heat only the amount of hot water you need on top of your range.
Think about getting an “on-demand” hot water system and doing away with your hot water heater. This system provides any quantity of hot water you need without wasting propane.
If it is chilly at night, put on more cover rather than burning propane. Wear warmer clothing during the day.
No, we aren’t going to try and conserve sewage. It is a force to be reckoned with and will require your attention whether you like it or not. Unless you purchased a large fifth-wheel trailer or motorhome, your gray water, and black-water holding tanks are very likely to be pitifully small in holding capacity. Below are a few points to consider.
Always dump your black and gray-water holding tanks and top off your fresh-water tank before you arrive at your boondocking destination. You may not have a dump facility available at your campsite; not even a primitive pit toilet.
If your boondocking site has bath facilities, use them instead of using your RV. You’ll be lucky to have access to a pit toilet, but if one is available, you’ll be glad to use it rather than manually toting sewage from your holding tank.
Some people use an external tank to dump sewage into. You’ll see an image of one on this page. You can read about this type of tank by clicking on this link. This is not only difficult to deal with but offers many opportunities for spills. If you are serious about boondocking routinely, purchase and install a macerator that pulverizes the sewage and discharges it through a garden hose into smaller containers that can be securely sealed. Click this link to read more about a Macerator Pump. You can also purchase smaller, easier to handle, hard-plastic containers to hold the waste.
You are going to have to find somewhere to dispose of the sewage. Whatever you do, don’t just discharge it on your campsite. First, it is the wrong thing to do and secondly, if you get caught you’ll not like the consequences.
Gray water is another issue. In some places, it is OK to drain wastewater from sinks and tubs directly onto the ground. Be certain that it is an acceptable practice where you are camping. Otherwise, follow the same disposal practice as with sewage.
Here are additional boondocking tips contributed by fellow RV’er Bobby T.:
- Urinate outdoors. Nothing wrong with this with most places as long as you aren’t in too public of an area.
- Instead of washing hands, use an anti-bacterial wet napkin.
- If you are going to be without blackwater drainage areas for an extended period of time, use disposable portable johns that you can bag the waste. Store the waste outside of the RV inside of a bucket.
By now you are probably feeling a little queasy about all the boondocking complications you have to deal with. Well, here is another one. You probably will not be provided with a handy dumpster to whisk away your trash at most of the primitive boondocking sites. Here are a few things to consider:
If at all possible, dispose of excess packaging before you leave the store. Modern packaging techniques deliver your product enclosed inside a package which is enclosed inside another package which can also be enclosed within yet another package. You don’t need to carry all that excess material into your RV and then have to haul it out again. Break your purchases down into the small possible packaged units and dispose of the excess packaging at your store’s trash receptacles.
Don’t just assume that you can toss your trash into the first dumpster you find. Business establishments pay to have their trash contained and dumped and most dumpsters are not for disposal by the general public. Think about it. Would you want some stranger stuffing their trash into your personal garbage cans while you pay for the service? If you have just shopped at a merchant, ask first if you can toss a bag of trash in their dumpster.
Contact the local city hall or county services to find out where you can dispose of your trash. Often you will find that there are city and county parks with dumpsters available for your use.
Next Chapter – Which RV Tow Vehicle To Choose
|Back To Table of Contents|