Boondocking is not really a good term, but has somehow come into common use. Dry Camping (parking anywhere without or with limited amenities) is more accurate. Independent Parking is the preferred term. It means that you are prepared to dry camp but make use of amenities when they're available. Being prepared to live independently is what it's all about, then you're free to do what you want to do.
phred Tinseth © 1999-2002 Reproduction permitted
Web site: http://www.phrannie.org
Note: This poop sheet came from 20 years of boondocking experience in U.S., Mexico and Canada and articles that appeared in Escapees Magazine. Sources and Resources gives capsule descriptions of topics (some of them unfamiliar to inexperienced dry campers) and lists the preferred places to obtain information and equipment.
There's boondocking and then there's boondocking. Overnight stops or a few days at a rally are one thing. Long-term independent parking is another. Here are some tips on both:
In general, the secret is to do it with Discretion. This is Rule #1 to successful boondocking no matter where you do it. This means, when overnighting, you blend in and don't call attention to yourself. No awnings, lawn chairs and such in rest areas and malls. Sometimes you need to be sneaky, sometimes not.
When just going from point A to B and not playing tourist, Rest Areas can be fine (it helps if you're partially deaf). Some states encourage overnights and even have special areas set aside for RVs. Some restrict parking. I've never seen it enforced if RoVers are discreet. I've talked to cops nationwide. All say they've better things to do than roust RoVers unless there's something else wrong. Restrictions are mainly to keep drug dealers, prostitutes and local riff raff from setting up shop, homeless people from setting up camp, etc. If you don't act like riff raff or a homeless person, you won't be treated like one.
Truck stops, malls, restaurants, etc., can be OK. In the big ones, just blend in with the crowd. In smaller ones ask permission. Buy something. Always be discreet! (There's an old RV story about "permission." RoVer asks security guard at mall if it's OK to park overnight. Guard says no. RoVer asks how about all the other RVs parked there. Guard says they didn't ask.)
Places to avoid: Downtown and many other areas that are fine by day can come alive with druggies and thugs after dark. Church lots used to be OK but now often have activities at all hours. Any place off the road that's littered with lots of beer bottles (unless you like to visit with drunken high-school kids and weirdos).
Long Term Independent Parking:
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.
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. (See "Working on the Road -- Workers on Wheels" near the end of this sheet for the best info source.)
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. (See my "Sources" poopsheet.) 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:
NOTES: I often refer to replacing standard RV 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.
Circuit boards on appliances are one of the "things that can drive you nutz" (See "Sources" poopsheet for info on "Dinosaur" brand replacement boards.) Get them now, not when something craps out.
Working on the Road. The BEST source for info is Workers on Wheels. Coleen Sykora. 3213 West Main # 306. Rapid City, SD 57702 http://www.workersonwheels.com
There's great boondocking in Canada and Mexico. See my Getting Along poopsheet and pay attention to how you can really get screwed up if searched at the borders.
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.
One RoVer recently remarked that there is a lot of personal responsibility associated with this lifestyle. We need to take care of ourselves, our rigs and watch out for others as well. Sometimes we need to be our brother's keeper, because anyone can have a momentary "brain phart" and be headed for trouble.
What price freedom?