Long Term Independent Parking: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Forests, Corps of Engineers, State Parks etc., information is available in great quantity from any number of sources and I'm not going to repeat all that here. Current addresses for obtaining such info appear constantly (with frequent changes) in all RV publications. The important thing is to take the time to gather this material so you know where to go (or not go) and what to expect when you get there. Do a web search for this government info.
Some Points: Paid permits are often required. They're usually worth it. Some State Park systems have annual permits. The cost keeps increasing, but they're often well worth it. (New Mexico has one of the best. You could literally spend your life there.) Arizona, Arkansas, Texas are also favorites. In the East, camping parks are always crowded and sites are often unavailable. In the West, except near urban areas and famous tourist attractions, the best sites abound. You don't want to park in crowded places anyway. (We refer to them, with screaming children, loud music, drunken fights and off-road vehicle noise as " RV Hell.") Many places have time limits (at ranger's discretion). If you're discreet (Rule #1 again) and keep a tidy site, don't raise hell or beat your spouse, you can often stay longer.
The very best parking is on private property. Here are some things we've done: House/farm/commercial sitting/caretaking. Ads in newspapers, RV pubs, etc. The first time, I just checked with real estate agents and ended up on 5 acres, feeding absentee owners horses and dogs, maintaining pool, keeping eye on house. Got paid well for it and had free electricity. Have done similar in several places.
Selling points are: You're providing security. You will take care of property and won't be sleeping in their bed, using their toilet, getting their stove greasy, etc. Just being on a property (especially with a cell phone) makes you most valuable.
If watching property and not doing chores, I've only asked for parking plus water and electric. In some cases have paid a dollar a day for each if I felt it was worth it. Have also parked in school yards, on construction sites, at businesses (auto dealers and repair shops -- anyplace easily ripped off -- are good), private game preserves and shooting clubs. Some security firms (rent a cop outfits) will take you on.
There are lots of broke farmers and just ordinary folks, especially in midwest and west. Your paying $2 a day for parking and water will help feed their kids. I'm well outfitted for dry camping with solar panels and such so don't need electricity. Usually tell farmer/rancher I prefer to park out on "back 40" for privacy. Find them by going to smallish towns and asking at diners and similar gossip hangouts.
Large commercial farms and ranches in the west have allowed me to park free at wells, stables, feeding stations, etc., just to have someone who can alert them to problems. I have made good friends doing the above. I often volunteer to help when a "third hand" is needed to fix a gate, or whatever. A bit of help in the garden, which is fun anyway, results in more goodies.
Expect to be quizzed and prove your bona fides. People, especially with small children, are leery of possible screwballs or perverts. Having retired military, law enforcement, para-medic or similar ID is great. Clean (not necessarily new) RV is important. So is being properly groomed. NO raggedy-ass beards (tidy is OK), male ear rings (let alone nutty stuff like nose rings), funky clothes (leave cammies in closet or they'll think you're a fugitive nut). Keep a tidy camp site! No crap piled up under RV. Pick up trash, even if not yours. It's easier without a pet. Too bad, but that's the way it goes. Farmers don't want your yapping dog upsetting their animals, chasing chickens or biting kids.
Membership Camps can be a good deal, but you have to shop carefully. You can really get ripped off at some. Many are nothing more than affiliations of overcrowded RV parks ( RV Hell again). A few like Camper Ranch Club do have large primitive areas with inexpensive dry camping at some locations.
Check out applicable "BOF" (Birds Of a Feather) or similar Special Interest Groups affiliated with RV clubs. Boondockers or similar (obviously) but also hunters, fishermen, nudists (their camps are usually clothes optional), treasure hunters, etc. All seek the privacy that you're also looking for.
WARNING! There are commercial outfits advertising in RV publications that offer to arrange for site sitting/care taking jobs. Some promise high pay, etc. Be skeptical! Some will charge you a listing fee and never contact you, that's a Rip-U-Off and you should complain to the magazine that published the ad. The best agencies will charge a fee to the guy who wants a caretaker. They will not charge a fee (or not much of a fee) from the guy who wants to be a caretaker.
Many RoVers have an urban home base or rural property that they invite people to visit through club publications. These can be quite nice. Sometimes free (but see TANSTAAFL later). Also note that if you're on the way from point A to B, you might not want to: spend the time it takes to call in advance, negotiate strange streets, socialize when you need sleep, take them to dinner, etc., just for one night.
Security is a main concern to RoVers, especially at overnights. - But it shouldn't spoil your fun if you take a few precautions. Get your outside business, like walking the dog and checking engine done in daylight. Don't use Rest Area toilets. You can't avoid talking to other RoVers, and probably don't want to, but be cautious. Don't invite strangers into the RV. Be alert! Watch for people coming up behind you. A tactic suggested by a RoVer, reportedly told to him by a police officer, seems to work well. When someone approaches you, don't retreat into RV or just stand there looking stupid. Instead, take just a step or two toward the person then stop and wait. This indicates you're alert and not just a wimpy coward, while still not seeming overly aggressive.
If there are two of you, don't just crap out on the sofa while your partner is outside. Keep an eye on him/her. Some people feel safer (and are) in a two- RV caravan. (But three or more can be a logistical nightmare when fueling or finding overnight parking.) Spending an hour waiting for some jerk to find the cheapest filling station in town gets old in a hurry.
Caravanning, not just for security, but for mutual assistance and companionship works well for some people and many singles do it routinely. You need to be careful in selecting your companions. If nobody in the group has a sense of direction, tools or mechanical skills, the whole gang can end up sitting alongside the road with their finger stuck in their ear -- or someplace else.
You'll be approached by pathetic people at some stops like rest areas and malls. You can't take them to raise but you can be compassionate. Never give one a ride! You could be robbed or maybe worse. Some will ask for "some change." Give them a dollar. Not from your wallet, keep a few singles in your pocket. Don't abuse them (it's no fun waking up with a flat tire). Some will have some pretty creative scams (on the way to a job in L.A. and need $20 for gas, here's my business card, I'll repay you). I went along with one of these once just for the hell of it, the guy's wife and kid looked pathetic. But I also gave him my card so he could repay. Most unlikely, thought I, tossed his card and forgot about it. Was quite surprised many weeks later to receive the $20 plus a bit more. You never can tell....
Some people just need a favor (and would do it for you). But be cautious. Maybe they really did forget their lug wrench. But maybe they want to borrow yours and beat your brains out. Again, keep an eye on each other. If alone, park near other RoVers or a truck (even though you may not want to be thought of as a lemming). Truckers don't particularly like RoVers but won't stand idly by while someone pounds on you. When morning comes, if you and trucker are getting ready to go at the same time, it's nice to offer him/her a cup of "real" coffee and a hot roll (pun).
Incidentally, I've never had a trucker deliberately screw around with me in 20 years of FT. Indeed, many truckers are also RoVers (or wannabes) and will pick your brain for tips. Learn the trucker's road signals, give them some slack. They're trying to make a living.
Guns? Aside from a (very) few military and law enforcement types, most people have never shot anyone and won't know if they're capable of doing it until the time comes. (And that's a tough time to find out if you can really do it. Because if you can't, the bad guy is likely to take your gun and do you in.) If you decide to carry a gun, take a gun handling and safety course! Practice! -- so you won't shoot yourself (or somebody else) accidentally. Don't do anything stupid. People have snuck out for a smoke at night without awakening spouse and come back in to be blown away as a robber. Often, bullets (even if you don't miss) can penetrate vehicles and people other than the intended. Also, you can get in serious trouble if you can't prove your case and are charged with manslaughter (or worse).
Small but important stuff: Signs or tire covers with your name and home town just assist bad guys in taking advantage of you. Save them for when in a safe place. Stickers with "Home Is Where You Park It," "I Get My Electricity From The Sun," or similar mean all your good stuff is in there and make you a target. Various club emblems, on the other hand, mark you as an experienced traveler -- and a less attractive target. "Elks Club" and similar stickers indicate to cops you're a "solid" citizen. "Protected by Smith and Wesson" and "NRA" stickers can, in some places, be a legally sufficient reason for police to search your RV and, in many places now, confiscate weapons, booze and the whole damn RV. The side of the road is no place to argue the Constitution with a cop (who may have no idea what's even in the Constitution). Be Discreet! Don't "deal with" problems you could have avoided in the first place.
Keep your vehicles in "tip-top" condition. That does NOT mean polishing them (unless you have nothing better to do). It DOES mean maintaining them. The "clicking" noise you've heard for three days might be a bad "U" joint or drive shaft or?, but it definitely means "fix me." Almost all tire blow outs are because the RoVer screwed up (and bought cheap crap, didn't check weights or tire pressures, etc.) and are not from punctures. And remember: 4-wheel drive just lets you get twice as far from help as 2-wheel drive. Spending the night on the road (or atop a highway overpass at the junction of two Interstates) under these conditions is not fun boondocking.
Once you get to a place where you can stay awhile, you can relax -- somewhat. At least as much as at "home." Just because you're with other RVs doesn't mean there's not a thief among them. Scout the place out a bit, maybe get acquainted, before you buzz off in the car to see the sights. You don't need to be paranoid, just cautious. The vast majority of your fellow RoVers will be nice people.
So, how do you find the really swell places you've seen on magazine covers? With great difficulty, because so many pristine places have been screwed up by thoughtless campers. Nice places are usually found by word of mouth from people who think you're OK. If you're not a slob, a combative drunk, spouse abuser, don't run a generator endless hours, don't have an annoying dog or otherwise disturb people, you'll be recognized as OK. If you're reasonably friendly and helpful (just a good neighbor), you'll soon find yourself invited to join in. Someone will say, for example, "After the rally a few of us are going to xyz. Would you like to come along?" Nothing wrong with going where the "common herd" goes. (Everybody ought to experience "Quartzite" and "Death Valley" at least once.)
Blue Highways are where you find good places. You're not going to find them on the Interstate but can, sometimes, near it. If you have a giant 5W or monster MH, your pickings will be pretty slim. Even with small rigs you can get in trouble if you don't know where you're going and just follow your nose. It pays to stop and ask the locals (and even then, some fun-loving yokel might misguide you just for laughs). Smart RoVers often make day trips from camp grounds in car or truck just to find good places for later. Some, with reasonably-sized RVs and in no hurry, just tool around checking out interesting places. Some of us don't tow a toad, but one of us drives it as one might use a "scout" car to seek out good places. (You can often offset the cost of driving two vehicles by not having to purchase all the towing equipment costs.)
You can still screw up. I have driven down a narrow road atop a levee to a good place at the other end of it. What I neglected to check on was if the levee was still in place all the way. It wasn't. I got to back up a trailer almost 5 miles. In Arizona I attempted to cross a deep wash and couldn't get up the opposite side. I backed up as far as I could and tried again and again until I was firmly settled at the bottom. A guy eventually pulled me out with a road grader. How humiliating!
Locals can tip you off to some great places to park. A typical example: In a small town in the midwest I asked if I could park behind a service station. The guy said OK, but said I'd be more comfortable parking at what he called "The Tree." At the edge of town was a giant oak tree and a small, free, unlisted park with water sponsored by some civic group. Most pleasant. Some, few, RV publications regularly list places to park.
Day's End in the "Escapees Magazine" is particularly good. Listings run the gamut from overnite stops to places where extended stays are possible. Some are in very scenic places. Computer disks, printouts and companion maps for comprehensive listings of archival stuff are available also at reasonable cost. The "Exit Authority" book is most helpful at advising what's really available at interchanges -- but is soon outdated.
Books on places to park (advertised as "park free every night, etc.") are usually a disappointment as most of the listings are National and State Parks and such places that you should have already found out about on your own. BUT, look for books and magazine articles (use the library) to search for titles in areas like: Alternative Life Styles, Nomadics, Hidden Places and the like. The Fed Gov't has a pamphlet about "lesser known parks" or somesuch title that is pretty good. It's intended, I think, to encourage people to go to neglected parks --just what you're looking for. (I wouldn't go to Yellowstone on a bet.)
Here are some places you can park at no or minimal cost -- and have fun also: Flea Markets, Gun Shows, Art Festivals, Race tracks, ethnic gatherings (where you can watch Scots toss telephone poles, pipers pipe and Polish folk polka are amusing), anything else that appeals. Fraternal organizations can be great and don't always require that you be a member.
Here's a great source: Timber/lumber/paper private corporations have, literally, many thousands of acres of pretty nice country. They're so often criticized by tree huggers that they often (good will gesture) have parking (and sometimes services) for RoVers. Most are in the northwest, but also in Texas and other southern states and, surprisingly, in places like Ohio (where RV parking is scarce and expensive).
Hard-to-find (old) RV parts dealers can be good places. It'll usually take at least a day to go through the junk yard and find stuff cheap that you really need. Also at some metal/electronic/etc., surplus/salvage places you can take a day or more to scrounge through all the piles of electric motors, pumps and all the other stuff they carry. Caution: Some of these aren't safe at night because of location. Use your smarts.
Use Your Imagination! Here's just one example that's pretty extreme but makes the point: A friend used to overnight at radio and TV tower sites. Generally, nobody ever questioned him (they seldom check these things unless something goes wrong). When they did, he had the official FAA color charts that towers must comply with. He'd tell them he intended to contact the station and offer a bid for repainting, replacing lights, etc. Key point was that if they called him on it, he was prepared to do the job. (He'd once earned a living that way.) If you're going to fake it, make sure you can back it up.
Getting Along. Many boondockers are experts at keeping an RV running and get a lot of enjoyment out of helping others. Less talented folk are expected to learn from this, not just take advantage. Feel free to ask someone to help you with a problem. Watch. Take notes. Don't be a beggar. You've probably got a talent of your own you might offer. Even if you're inept, you can help out or play "gofer." When many RVs are assembled in the boonie situation, there's always a need for campfire wood, a watchman to keep the fire from burning the place up, someone to haul water, trash, etc.
Things aren't always going to go as planned. Boondock Rule #2: Stay flexible.
Boondock Rule #3: Conservation of resources.
How long can you boondock? A week, easily, even with the substandard heaps sold today. Indefinitely with better equipment (more on that later). Conservation is the key. You do NOT waste water, electricity or fuel. It's easy to learn how. Read the literature. Talk to "them that's doin' it." Practice the tricks at home so you can plug back in when you screw up. (As when you find out running a furnace all night will kill your battery before dawn if you don't know what you're doing.) Go to rallies and Escapades, attend the seminars, TALK to people, pick their brains. (Boondockers love to show off their tricks.)
A Sampling of Some Simple Tricks:
Alternative Parking at $ Places
Off season at RV parks can be cheap. A typical park in CO charges big bucks but closes much of the place down in winter (no water and no sewer unless you move the RV). Electricity, however, is left on. Parking on such a site (in this "storage" mode) is possible for about $1 a day. No snow removal so you have to be careful about selecting when to get stuff done. Electricity is about $1 a day and an extra $1 if you're going to run an electric heater. Not bad. Especially since simple RV storage lots sometimes charge about the same with no electricity and won't let you stay in the RV or work on it.
At some places, especially in the east, there is no such thing as "inexpensive" and the campgrounds are usually booked solid anyway ( RV hell). Go elsewhere is the easy answer. But if you can't (working or selling a house or ?) check the Mobile Home Parks. County fair grounds can be nice. Many (but not all) charge far less than camp grounds for electric, water and dump -- sometimes have full hook ups. They can be a real fun place to park. If you'll be there a while, check for paid work or free camping for minimal work with management or jobs with vendors at special events. Parking amidst a bunch of carnival people can be a real treat (like the night the guy with all the lizards left the cage door open).
Military people (active and retired) can park at "Fam[ily] Camps" on many bases. This used to be a good deal (cheap or free) but isn't anymore in most places. The Gov't decided that recreational stuff had to pay its own way -- no more taxpayer subsidies (which is fair enough). You'll see this same thing at Corps of Engineer places, National Forests and Parks, etc. However, some military bases have rod and gun clubs and similar recreational facilities out in the maneuver (boonies) areas where you can park. These are usually not publicized. Some National Guard training bases also have recreational facilities. They can be VERY nice.
Native American [Indian] Lands can be great places. Some have full-fledged RV parks with reasonable fees, entertaining cultural programs and tours. It's possible, if you know what you're doing, to park on a Native American's private turf. This can be complicated but can be a great experience.
Equipment for Long Term Parking -- is the big difference between that and overnights, weekends or rallies. Some of us have elaborate setups that cost so much we could pay camp ground fees for many years. But there's more to it than that. There's freedom! We decide where we'll go and for how long.
You can boondock for extended periods with little more than standard RV equipment. Ways to transport water, dispose of sewage, beef up battery bank and charge batteries can be simple or elaborate. Below are some simple ones.
Sophisticated Long Term Parking -- The High-Priced (sometimes) Spread
Tools. Many of us carry an abundance of tools. Some boonie rats can weld things and rebuild engines in the middle of nowhere. You don't need to do this, but you do need to do simple repairs and you need the tools to do it. Start with a simple set of sockets and combination open end/box end wrenches ("metwrench" is good and fits both U.S. and metric). Get a second set of standard U.S. combo wrenches up to about an inch or so. Get really good screwdrivers (as well as wrenches above) from Sears or similar and get offset and close quarter types as well. Get some decent pliers, a hammer, etc.
Ideally, you'll never use
the tire changing tools. You'll subscribe to a top-of-the-line
Emergency Road Service (NO, not AAA, or some gasoline company --
that's just silly) as furnished by Escapees Club (same one -- but a bit
cheaper -- as used by Good Sam -- and both are now Camping World
affiliates). However, if you're a serious boondocker, even the best road
service might not be able to find you (or you be able to call it). You do,
really, need to be able to take care of yourself sometimes.
NOTES: I often refer to replacing standard
junk with better stuff, but if your appliances are working OK, use them if
necessary. Get info on the better things so you'll know what to get when
the time comes.
TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). Boondocking isn't "free." You'll pay for it by helping and sharing, be it in money, picking up trash or any number of other ways -- not the least of them being political activism to insure we don't lose it all. When your RV club or other organization requests that you write your congressman, DO IT! Don't assume that other people will. They won't.
phred Tinseth © 1999-2002 Reproduction Permitted
Legends' boondocks at Amboy Crater, February 2015.
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