After a taxing week at work or a tough moment in life, going outside to get some fresh air might have crossed your mind. If you’re finding incredible off-the-grid activity, boondocking might be an excellent choice for you.
If you’re new to the activities you can do with your recreational vehicle, the world of free camping might be a new concept. But, fret no more as we have narrowed down all the things you need to know about this fun and exciting outdoor activity. Plus, we’ll give you some enticing tips and tricks to bolster your outdoor experience!
What is Boondocking?
Boondocking, dispersed, primitive, wild camping, free camping, or whatever RVers call it, has many definitions. It is essentially an outdoor activity where recreational vehicle owners pull off the highway and stop by at a location where there’s zero to no access to amenities and similar services. The reason for this is to fully immerse with nature or an open place that is far from the comforts of established campsites.
There are two core indicators that you are doing this activity. The first one is the camp location, and the second one is how you camp. To say you’re doing this outdoor activity, you should be far away from established sites where there’s sure access to tables, electricity, water fixtures, etc.
What’s distinct about this activity is that it allows you to be self-reliant. Even without the need to depend on amenities and services, you can prepare for them yourself inside your vehicle.
Types of Boondocking
There are no official types of this outdoor activity, yet the sky’s the limit for its HOWs. Just remember the principal essence; to enjoy nature without too much reliance on the things you can’t usually live without on campsites.
Recreational vehicle owners usually categorize dry camping (stopping over at an open location or piece of land) and wild camping (stopping over in the boonies) as two main types of boondocking. Another on the list is dispersed settling.
However, generally, there are three types based on locations and how RV owners do it. Below is a list of them.
Photo via Tresspass
- The Primitive Way (Wild Camping) – Settling in an uncultivated area is perhaps an ideal way to enjoy nature. The great thing is, that is what stopping over in the boondocks means. You’ll only have yourself, a little bonfire in the side, the sky, and the stars above you.
At an unestablished campsite, there are no nearby services. There are also no camp hosts, dumping stations, and anything you can usually access established campgrounds.
In this outdoor activity, you’re entirely off the grid and on your own.
Challenging but exciting, isn’t it?
The only downside is that, since you’re in an uncultivated area, the risk and danger could be high. Even dangerous when you’re not prepared enough for what emergencies might happen. Nonetheless, if you’re really up for some hardcore adventure, this one might be the most rewarding and remarkable off-the-grid experience.
Photo by Sun RV Resorts via Insider
- Through Established Campgrounds with No Hookups – You’ve probably wondered if you can boondock in established campgrounds, and yes, you can, but with one condition; only if it offers no services or amenities. Anything beyond that is considered out.
Generally, you can boondock without paying for it. However, not all campsites are free, for instance, popular campsites or private areas and business lots.
Owners of these places often require you for a fee and a reservation. The good news is that the cost is commonly only dedicated to the place you’ll be stopping over since there are no hookups. So, if you’re cutting off expenses temporarily, this might be your best option.
However, the bad thing is that it’ll be harder to find campgrounds with no hookups these days. Almost all developed campsites have electricity, water, sewer, and amenities. Therefore, research skills and patience are a must.
Nonetheless, there are developed campgrounds for boondocking at local parks. These areas can give you more privacy and the opportunity to immerse yourself in nature. While this might seem like an alternative site, it’ll give you the comfort of peace and hone your self-reliance.
Photo by Long Long Honeymoon
- Through Overnight Stay – out of the general ways of off-the-grid camping, overnight off-the-grid camping is the simplest but might be the most rewarding one. It is because the overnight off-the-grid activity offers you a different experience and satisfaction.
There are two ways you can boondock overnight. The first one is through Wally docking. As RV owners call it, wally docking allows you to enjoy a piece of the parking lot of a store or a mart.
Of course, this isn’t the usual option for RV owners, but there will come a time that an overnight stay is necessary. There might be unforeseen happenings or an awful weather condition. So, an overnight stopover at a parking lot could be your best option in the meantime.
Wally docking might seem uncomfortable since you have no access to hookups, but that’s the essence of it, though. Also, just because there are not so many trees or views to find doesn’t mean it’s not boondocking.
Whether you’re in a forest, bivouac, abandoned piece of land, or even a parking lot at Walmart, you can experience the beauty of free camping. It might also be a good-feel experience while you are with someone you truly cherish.
Another type of overnight stopover is mooch docking. If you’re a beginner RVer, this term might be uncommon to you. But, for experienced RV owners, mooch docking is simply a quick visit or stop at a relative or friend while traveling to your primary destination.
To illustrate, you thought it was pretty late at night to drive. You stop by at a friend or relative parking lot driveway and temporarily stay there until sunrise.
However, the question is, why not stay at their house instead?
Of course, you’re free camping, and again, you don’t need hookups when you’re at it. As an RVer, the challenge is always along the way. If you’re up for a unique adventure, a quick visit and stop outside of a relative or friend’s house might be a breath of fresh air for you.
Helpful Boondocking Tips and Tricks for Campers and Adventurers (With Vans, Trailer, or Recreational Vehicles)
For sure, you are excited as we are for an off-the-grid camping experience. But, before that, here, we list some advice and tricks you should consider before, during, and after temporarily inhabiting an off-the-grid place.
Photo via Process Sheet
Prepare Ahead of Time and Review Your Checklist
To sail without preparation is dangerous. The same goes for off-the-grid camping. While it’s true that too much planning can ruin the fun, planning can also save you.
An element of surprise is possible along the way for a hardcore adventure like off-the-grid activity. That surprise might ruin the whole trip. Therefore, it’s still best to do some preparations.
Ask yourself first how many days you’ll boondock. Usually, RV owners only do it for a night or two. Some experienced boondock campers do it for more than two days, extending to 10 days or a month.
So, on the off chance you’re stopping over for more than a night or two, you’ll have to extra prepare.
You can create a detailed list of all the essential things you’ll need for the trip. Include your budget plan in it. Also, include a checklist of the van or RV parts to be checked.
Here is a list of some of the possible and most essential things you should include in your checklist (Expand the list as much as you can and based on your needs):
- Water for drinking
- Water for bathing
- Food (Ready-to-go meals, fruits, veggies, meat, sweets, etc.) Pre-plan your meals!
- Paper towels
- Paper plates
- Trash bags
- Inverter or charger
- Generator/solar power/portable batteries
- Extra lights, power banks, batteries
- Whistle or walkie-talkies (In case of emergencies)
- Medicine and First-aid kit
- Video Camera (For video documentation, but optional)
As for the expenses plan, consider the days you’ll boondock and the place where you’ll be stopping over. Remember that even though most boondocking areas are open, there are places owned by businessmen, private or public entities where reservations and fees are required.
So, to not be legally troubled, always make sure if a location is free or not. It will help you adjust your budget plan.
After everything has been set and prepared, don’t forget to check on your van or RV. Is the engine working correctly? How about the brakes, batteries, tires, utilities, storage compartments, roof, and walls? Are there any signs of a leak?
Lastly, make sure to check on yourself, too. Are you physically, mentally, and emotionally well for this kind of activity? If not, you should reconsider it on your next journey.
Photo via gs4.gadgethacks.com
Helpful Advice; Review and Check the Weather Condition
If you’re going to a place for the first time, you should check the possibility of rain. Of course, you can’t fully enjoy off-the-grid camping if it’s raining cats and dogs.
Aside from that, it’s a little risky when you don’t know the weather conditions or natural setting of the place you’ll be heading. Better prepare ahead than regret things later.
Photo by Wyoming State Parks Photo via SweetwaterNow
Conserve Water and Food Sources (Make Sure to Check Your Trailer Tank)
Since you will be on a trip to a place where there is zero to no access to water fixtures or water sources, sewage, and other amenities, you should always check on your tanks. Be mindful of your usage, especially on drinking water.
As a general rule of thumb, while a person can survive for a month or two without eating any food, experts state that an individual can only last for three days without water.
Therefore, if you’re planning to boondock for weeks, always make sure that your food and water consumption is enough for the day. You don’t want to suffer from dehydration or hunger while camping at a faraway place, especially when you have young kids or elderly with you.
Using greywater (dishwater) to flush the toilet will also help a lot in conserving water. If you consider this, you might not forget to bring an additional gallon or bucket with you. Having an extra water gallon or bucket will let you store and save plenty of greywaters.
Photo via ChapelHillTN.com
Scout or Research Where You Will Stay (Whether It’s a Campground or National Park)
We understand how amazing going to unfamiliar roads and places are. It’s not a good thing when you don’t know a single thing about the site. That’s where research skill is a must before going to the actual place.
You can google the place first. Read some articles and maps on how to get there. Also, know if it’s a safe site or not.
Another friendly tip is to hire a local or a guide to scout for the place. It’s incredibly helpful if you have a large rig or automobile. It will also help you figure out the situation or condition of the roads and the camping site.
Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto via 9News
Find a Safe Boondocking Site
Finding a safe place to boondock is perhaps among things you should always consider regarding the previous tip. After all, why would you go to a dangerous place?
However, even if a site is known to be “safe,” risks and dangers are just around the corner. So, in addition to this tip, you always have to take precautions.
For instance, there might be animals in the area or thieves. Your van or RV must be duly protected. Further, make sure to lock your doors, especially during sleep hours.
For safety purposes, some RV owners bring a baseball bat and pepper sprays with them. Some even get firearms and other protective gear. If you do so, always make sure you’re carrying it legally.
Photo via Cordelia Recreational Vehicle Center
Make an Inventory and Classify What Tools to Bring
Among the worst things that could happen while boondocking is when your RV and its parts are malfunctioning, such as lights are flickering or flat tires. It is why we recommend bringing the necessary tools for repairs.
But, before that, make an inventory first. List and classify all the things that are needed based on your vehicle type. In that way, you can’t forget to bring them.
Photo via Pinterest
Be Knowledgeable of National, Local, and Site Laws and Regulations Concerning Boondocking
Some areas are not always free. Some require a fee or reservation. So, once you are not knowledgeable about that, you can get into serious legal trouble.
It is crucial to learn about state and local laws and regulations. The truth is that you are not allowed to barge in or settle anywhere you want to. If you’re doubtful whether a place is for off-the-grid camping or not, always ask.
In this way, you can determine if you have to ask the owners first and pay a reservation fee. Seeking help from the internet is also a great thing. You can read some reviews about a particular location and determine whether you can openly camp there or not.
In every outdoor activity, ensure you’ll do it legally and you’re following the laws and regulations of a particular place.
Photo via Family Adventure for All
Prepare Extra Fuel for Your Trailer or Recreational Vehicle (The Same Applies to Batteries and Other Essential Tools)
In addition to the checklist above, extra fuel is essential when stopping over. Imagine getting stuck in the middle of an unfamiliar road because you run out of gas. It would be such a disaster, and all the more when you run out of extra fuel in the tank.
To make sure this won’t happen to you, always bring spare tanks of fuel. In that way, even if you run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, you can refill it. It will also save you in the long run.
Photo via Family Adventure for All
Consider a Composting Toilet or Tool for Your Sewer System
In disposing of obscene materials, you can opt for a composting toilet or a macerator pump. Although there are other options for you, these two might be worth considering in the long run.
This toilet works just like a regular composting machine. It is an organic and environment-friendly approach as it turns solid materials into fertilizer. The composting chamber where the composting system is operative can be found beneath the toilet boil.
Meanwhile, an RV macerator pump is also another option when it comes to disposing of waste.
With a reputable macerator pump, you can clear and run your tanks effectively and efficiently. And since you’re boondocking, it is a great tool to help you eliminate filthy solid wastes without the need for services.
An RV sewer tote is also a beneficial tool in discarding wastes.
Dumping waste is one of the travelers’ concerns; however, with the help of technology, that might not be a problem anymore.
Photo via Wikipedia
Make a List of Emergency Hotlines
A listing of all the accessible hospitals and police stations’ emergency hotlines is necessary. You can’t be complacent always, even if you have all the medicine or protective gear inside the RV.
Things to Avoid When Boondocking (Wild, Road, Parking Lot, National Campground or Public Land Boondocking)
Photo via Wondering His Wonders
For other RV owners, this outdoor activity is only a hobby, but it helps remove others’ stress and pain. It is a way to move on from heartbreak or to breathe. It’s also a way of life for experienced RV owners.
Moreover, even if it is a temporary activity, it is an important event for others. With this being said, we need to consider others. Indeed, there will come a time, we’ll have near neighbors, so respecting them and their privacy is tantamount.
Here we list some of the things to avoid, especially if you are new to off-the-grid camping.
Photo via Dan Hawk
Using Generator During Sleeping Hours
When you’re on an off-the-grid camping activity for a couple of days or weeks, eventually, you’ll have to take the necessary naps and sleep. Also, you might have some local neighbors and other RV boondock enthusiasts near you. The bad thing is that when your generator is too loud that it will distract others.
We recommend that if you have a generator instead of alternative power sources that are less noisy, like solar power, we recommend avoiding using it during quiet hours. Generators are commonly annoyingly loud, so utilizing them might not be suitable for the neighbors near you.
You can also opt for investing in solar power instead of generators. While generators need fuel, solar energy doesn’t. Solar energy is also less noisy.
It is why recreational vehicle owners often prefer solar energy. Since solar energy is cheap and maintenance-free, it is an excellent choice and an alternative option.
Hence, if you prefer less noise at night, you can opt for some alternative like solar energy. If you don’t, make sure to avoid using generators during sleeping hours.
Photo via Generatorist
Using Electric Appliances When the Generator is Off
As a general rule to everything, only use things when you need them most. The same applies to our electric sources at hand. When you think you don’t have to use a fan, please don’t use it.
Further, even when the generator is on, avoid using it too much. It will help you conserve energy, especially if you consider boondocking for weeks. Only use electric appliances when you need them most.
Photo Via Youth and Environmental Europe
Leaving Water, Food, Trash, and Other Valuable Items
Once you’re boondocking, the possibility of intruders can be high. Animals might come as well as thieves. To avoid consequences, always remember not to leave food, trash, and other valuable items outside.
The smell of food and trash can attract prowling animals too much. Hence, once you’re already done eating, dispose of wastes immediately or store them inside your vehicle.
Besides, it’s recommended that you have an adequate storage compartment in your RV. It should also be secured and sealed enough as not to attract outsiders.
When talking about valuable items like phones, video cameras, watches, clothes, etc., always be attentive. Bringing costly things while being careless will only give you headaches. Lastly, always remember the “Leave No Trace Principle” wherever you are.
Laughing Out Loud and Unnecessary Noises
People boondock for the sake of refreshment and peace. If you aren’t ready for that, you might as well consider other outdoor activities that will let you shout and laugh all you want.
Moreover, for the sake of respect for the local neighbors, other RV owners, and the place itself, always keep voices moderate when talking or laughing. Most boondocking locations that can be found in the wilderness also have spiritual significance for the locals, so if you don’t respect them, you should go to other places.
Invading Others’ Privacy and Space
Regarding laughing out loud and unnecessary noises, other RV owners’ privacy and space are also among the things you need to bear in mind. Sometimes, when a place is best for boondocking, many people would camp there. With that, you’ll expect you’ll have several neighbors around.
If you have no prior reservation, it’s helpful to maintain a respectful distance from them. Choose where you will exactly park, how, and calculate the space you’ll need while considering others’ space.
However, if you think that there are too many people for you, and you have other options to go to, and it’s still not too late, leave and go to your alternative location. Don’t force yourself to fit in a place that’s already occupied by others.
Why Should You Try Boondocking in a Camp or Stay in the Wild Once in your Lifetime?
Photo by Fresh Off-the-Grid via Twitter
There are many reasons why you should boondock in public lands or wherever it is. Some RV owners say it’s great for adventure. Some also argue it’s best for meeting new places and local people; it’s all significant justifications.
However, we only have one crucial thing in mind that would sum up all tons of reasons; experience. Boondocking is a breath of fresh air and will teach you lessons of being prepared all the time, being ready for challenges and opportunities along the trip, and seeing life through the lens of nature.
You cannot experience these things by only listening to other RV owners or by reading reviews online and watching review videos. You have to try it out. See and feel what is boondocking.
In that way, you’ll experience things that are beyond the videos you see on the internet. Who knows what unique obstacles and opportunities are waiting for you ahead? And who knows, this experience might help you think about new perspectives in life?
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Boondocking
For first-time boondock campers, the idea of pulling off the highway and stopping over at a place where there are no amenities and sources might scare or challenge you to some extent. But you should not be worried. As long as you know what it is, how to do it, and prepare for it, you’ll be fine like experienced campers.
For now, if you still have a lot of inquiries in mind about what is boondocking, we have made a list of them below to prepare you. Read on.
Is it Legal?
Boondocking is usually free on public lands, for instance, local and national parks. The thing, however, is that there are rules and regulations you need to follow. Some states allow and encourage off-the-grid camping, such as Arizona, Colorado, California, and Wyoming.
On private lands, boondocking isn’t always free. Most of them require you to have a reservation first and a fee for the location. So, to avoid facing legal consequences, you have to abide by their own rules and regulations.
Is it Safe?
There is no place or outdoor activity that is safe in this world. However, with the right preparations and precautions, you can avoid and mitigate the impacts of unprecedented events.
On the other note, when talking about safe zones, always do some prior research before going to the actual place. Be knowledgeable of the natural setup of the site as well as the local people surrounding it.
Is it More Practical?
Yes, the good thing about boondocking is that it helps you save twice a penny, unlike camping on established private or public lands. You can cut off expenses for amenities, sewer, water, etc., that are not present and are not free on usual campgrounds.
How do you know if it’s okay to boondock in a specific location without prior research?
In this case, find some ranger or police officer in the area and ask. You can also seek help from local people, in case there are any. However, if there’s no sign of a ranger, police officer, or local people, find evidence for camper signs.
If there isn’t any and you feel uncomfortable, consider finding other locations if it’s not too late. If there is any and you feel comfortable with the place, consider it a boondocking spot. In the meantime, until someone comes along.
Venturing on an off-the-grid activity is a little scary at first, but do not let that fear stop you. Now that you’re already here keep in mind all the fundamentals, advice, and tricks to make the most out of your boondocking experience. Lastly, feel free to modify our checklist based on your needs.