Boondocking or Dry Camping in an RV

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 The “Exit Authority” book is most helpful at advising what’s really available at interchanges — but is soon outdated.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:

  • You travel with a full fresh water tank and empty holding tanks (insofar as possible). You dump often (so when you find a good place you can stay awhile). You keep fresh tank full for the same reason and so you can put out a fire or fill a radiator after a hose bursts. You have an exterior water outlet or, at least, a garden hose adapter at inside faucet.
  • Faucets have handles for a reason. It’s not to leave them open/running while you screw around.
  • You only need about a half-cup of water to brush your teeth (not much more to shave).
  • You do NOT need to have a water heater running constantly. A quart of hot water heated on stove will wash dishes and they can be rinsed in cold water. You only need a few suds in a bowl, not a sink full.
  • Toilet Paper is the RoVers friend. You use it for small spills, prewiping pots and dishes before washing, napkins, blowing noses, etc. (On a boat, we kept a roll on the dining table — crude, but effective.)
  • Do NOT fall asleep with TV on. Outdoor lights are turned on only when needed, almost never. Interior lights are used as needed, not for decoration. Patio lights just take up space, attract insects and use electricity. Vent fans are used when needed only, opening windows isn’t difficult. Stinky toilets mean you’ve a sewage vent problem or are using the wrong stuff in tank.
  • Human waste is something we all produce and not shameful. Flushing a toilet doesn’t require copious amounts of water (if you use a spray hose or spray bottle with just a bit of detergent mixed in). Dish water saved in a gallon jug works well also. Toilet paper is biodegradable and will turn into nothing if you use small quantities of the “right stuff.” (No scented household stuff, but RV type — which is nothing more than cheap, generic single ply at a higher price — “Scotts” is even better.)
  • Used TP can, if used properly and in quantity, be wadded into a plastic sandwich bag, twist tied and put in trash. Don’t just put used TP in a big bag or coffee can. Opening it to put in more is anything but “air freshening.”  Don’t try (especially with black water tank) to save so much water that you end up with a solid mass of “UNOWAT” in the tank. Many RVing men go wee-wee in one-liter soft drink bottles (as do truck drivers). Truck drivers usually toss them out the window. RoVers usually put them in trash receptacles.
  • Trash is put in small kitchen garbage bags or supermarket plastic bags. It’s easily (frequently) stuffed into receptacles at rest areas, shopping centers, service stations, etc. Large bags just make you look stupid as you try to cram them in. In some states, large trash bags are considered “household” trash and the authorities will search them for an address. Then they’ll issue you a ticket with a fine up to about $500. Do not put anything in the trash with your address on it (especially credit card receipts, etc.). People that collect aluminum cans and such often do dumpster and trash can “diving” — ripping open trash bags — and there’s your “stuff” all over the place. One old RV trick is to place trash in a cardboard box, gift wrap it and leave it in the back of the truck when going to a mall. Someone almost always steals it.
  • Fresh Water is a really dicey proposition. Most commercial campgrounds have water tested regularly per local ordinances & regulations. Other places don’t have to and you can get some nasty stuff. Your own hose and fresh water tank can easily be the cause. Lots of RoVers with a case of the trots or the toss ups attribute it to a “bug I must have picked up” and don’t realize it’s from their own water.

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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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