Boondocking or Dry Camping in an RV

Legends’ first adventure in a trailer, and our first night of camping. Boy was Dave excited! The dogs, maybe not so much yet. 

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.)

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2 thoughts on “Boondocking or Dry Camping in an RV”

  1. Great article. However I have never heard a single person use the term independent parking. I’ve always heard it called boondocking or dry camping… 30 years rving, and I’ve only ever heard these two terms talking about it.

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