Maybe you’ve been there.
It’s dark outside, with the otherwise black skies above lit only by thousands, no millions, of twinkling stars. The stillness, the quiet, of the night is total, save for perhaps the gurgling of water over rock in a nearby stream. The smell of pine needles fills your nostrils.
As settings for outdoor adventures go, this one seems nearly perfect.
And then it hits you.
It was a busy day of fishing or hiking or paddling or hunting or biking. A good dinner followed. There was a campfire.
But now, more than anything, you long for the sound of half a dozen noisy generators or the hooting and hollering of drunk neighbors. You want to smell gasoline. Have the night punctuated by Christmas lights strung months before the holiday.
And most of all, you want to pay for it, maybe dearly, night after night after night.
Ah, not really.
Yet that’s the reality of camping in many, if not most, developed campgrounds. You pay to have lots of close-by company.
There is an alternative, though: boondocking.
Brian Hoag, editor of www.rv-camping.org, defines it as “remote location camping outside of improved campgrounds.” It’s generally free, and while most often associated with RVs, can be done – at least on public ground – in anything from a tent to a truck camper on up.
Hoag once spent five years living full-time in a motor home. The kind of boondocking he frequently did frequently then is what most campers, and probably most RVers, think of and even expect when they first start out.
“When was the last time you saw an RV magazine with a picture of an RV in a crowded campground? You usually see a beautiful lake or mountain boondocking-type site on the cover of those magazines,” Hoag said.
Opportunities to boondock are more common all across North America than some might think, too. National forests, Bureau of Land Management properties, select U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lands, and even some state forests and parks allow it.
On national forests, for example, boondocking – called “dispersed camping” – is permissible for up to 14 consecutive nights per location.
“Dispersed primitive camping is allowed on National Forest land away from developed campgrounds and anywhere that your camping equipment and/or vehicle do not block developed trails or road right-of-ways,” reads the official advisory for Wayne National Forest in Ohio.
There’s no fee and – provided you’re not part of a group of 25 or more – no requirement to register or check in with forest officials in advance.
That last fact is one huge draw of this form of traveling and camping, said Marianne Edwards, co-founder of boondockerswelcome.com, a community of travelers and landowners who boondock on public and private property.
“Being able to go where you like, when you like, is another ideal the RV industry promotes, but the reality of using campgrounds, especially in peak season, means planning far in advance and then sticking to a pre-determined route and schedule. Boondocking gives us the freedom to live the RV dream as advertised,” Edwards said.
It does take some planning, however.
Public boondocking sites – open to all campers, and not just those with RVs – are primitive. Some may have a picnic table, fire ring or pit toilet. Others don’t have even that. They’re just wide spots or pull-offs along the road.
Before committing to spending a night – or multiple nights – in such a spot, Hoag suggests practicing at home in the driveway.
“Practice conserving power and water to see how long you can make your resources last,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun to have the batteries go dead or to run out of water at home than in the middle of nowhere.”
He also recommends doing some homework, seeking out tips online and elsewhere on boondocking.
Safety isn’t a big concern, he said. He’s felt more threatened sine some developed campgrounds, surrounded by crowds.
But he advises using some common sense, too.
“Though we’ve never had a problem with security boondocking, if we’re away from our campsite we will put expensive things in storage. Out of sight out of mind when it comes to personal property security at boondocking campsites has worked for us,” he said.
Private land boondocking can sometimes be a little different.
Edwards – whose site is modeled in some ways after couchsufring.com, which connects travelers with homeowners willing to share space – said member landowners vary. Some are current Rvers “paying it forward.” Others are former RVers, and some are prospective campers. Still others are just folks who like to meet new people.
The sites they offer can be primitive, too. But they can also be a spot in a driveway.
The biggest difference, perhaps, is that private land boondocking is – or at least has the potential to be – a little more social.
“Most hosts look forward to your visit and will help you make the most of your stay. They will share local info, suggest where to shop for supplies, lend you a tool, or recommend a trusted mechanic. They’ll tell you about the area’s history, the hidden gems, and maybe even share their secret fishing hole,” Edwards said.
“You’re bound to make a new friend. And, if you travel the same route often, you’ll likely be invited to stop in again next time, taking the stress out of future travel planning.”
However you do it, and wherever you do it, boondocking offers a lot. It’s free, devoid of hassles and fun.
And then there are those other things, the sights, sounds and smells of the actual outdoors.
“Many of us boondockers don’t like hearing the incessant drone of a generator when we’re trying to enjoy a beautiful mountain view or sweeping desert vista,” Hoag said. “We like solitude!”
Boondocking tips and resources
So are you thinking of boondocking? If so, here are some tips on what to do and what not to do, courtesy of Pocono RV Sales and Service.
- Pre-plan/pre-cook your meals.
- Cook with gas. If you choose to cook on a fire, choose your location wisely.
- Bring bottles or jugs of drinking water to save the water in your fresh tank for washing and showering. Take short showers to extend the fresh tank. Use disposable dishes and utensils to limit dishwashing.
- Don’t dump dirty water in areas with ponds, rivers, water holes, etc.
- Use dish or dirty water for flushing purposes.
- Pre-wash fruits and vegetables while at a place with water hookups.
- Many areas won’t have trash services so clean up after yourself. Pack it out/pack it up!
- Disposing of human waste in a campground is easy. When boondocking, use the cathole method (bring a small shovel).
- Extend battery life it by turning off your heater and lights at night. Minimize use of TV and other appliances. Bring extra blankets, sweaters, flashlights, etc.
- Solar panels and an inverter come in handy.
- Generators are great for extending RV camping trips, but bear in mind without a place to recharge, use is limited and can bother nearby campers.
- Propane supply can be extended by turning off your water heater and only use it when needed.
Additional tips and information on boondocking can be found at the Roads Less Traveled blog and the Technomedia blog.
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