Boondock Camping: How to RV Cheaply
This picture was taken a few miles outside of Sedona, AZ a few years ago while we were boondock camping in our RV. It was one of the most freeing experiences you can have as you start to travel in your RV.
When we started camping we spent a lot on camping fees. Every night we felt like we had to stay and pay at an RV park or at a state park.
Even if we arrived late at night and planned on leaving early in the morning, we were forking over $20-40 a night.
After a while you realize this is crazy expensive and start looking for cheaper ways to cut down on your monthly expenses.
When we found out about boondocking it was like this different world opened up since you can stay somewhere and not pay for the night. Despite the fact that boondocking is quite legal, as long as you follow the rules, it still feels like you’re being a bit of a rebel.
You’ll want to make sure you’ve done all your RV maintenance before boondocking, including caulking your RV exterior to prevent leaks.
What is Boondock Camping or Boondocking
To write this article, I wanted to find out where the original word came from. Google has this great site, called Ngram, that you can type in the words that you’re researching and it will show a graph of popularity from all the books that Google has indexed. Here’s the graph for “boondock” and “boondocking”.
Boondock became popular in the early 1950s.
Initially, In the 1910s the Tagolog word bundok which means mountain was adopted by American soldiers to mean when they went off trail or out in the woods.
It’s where the terms lost in the boondocks or the boonies comes from.
Beginning in the 50s and 60s you started seeing boondocking to mean motorbiking off the beaten path.
Then we started using boondocking with boondock camping and RV’ing to mean going off trail and off the beaten path. Now when you are rv boondocking you typically are camping on undeveloped land and everything you need to camp is contained within your RV.
You’ll hear things like self contained RV, dry camping, and, of course, boondocking.
Best RV For Boondocking
When looking for best RV for boondocking you really just need to look at the best types of RVs. No single brand is better over others but you have some items that you want to look for to make sure that your RV works well in boondocking situations.
To go boondocking you want to make sure your RV is equipped to handle longer days without the need for a water source, electricity source, or sewer.
The types of RVs that can handle boondocking usually have larger tanks for sewage, greywater, and fresh water. This is also where having a great generator and battery come in. You also want to have solar panels to replenish your batteries while camping.
Ideally any tanks that range from 40-60 gallons for grey water and sewer and 100 gallons for freshwater.
We ended up with the Lazy Daze RV rear bath and the propane is probably the smallest capacity that we have but everything else is large enough for at least five to seven days for two people.
Our freshwater is 60 gallons. They say you need 1/2 to 1 gallon per person per day for drinking and sanitation so the fresh water will last quite a while. Our grey water tanks holds 35 gallons and our sewer holds 24 gallons.
With those tanks, we just need to go into town in the every once in awhile to dump and add more water.
In 2012 we went to the Phoenix International Raceway for the NASCAR race. We’d never been to one so boondocked in the parking lot with several hundred other RV’ers and we were able to make it through the 7 days with no problem.
When looking at an RV for boondocking, look with those types of requirements rather than looking at any specific RV model that will do the job.
Best RV Battery for Boondocking
We’ve done quite a bit of boondocking in the last 4 years. Our favorite battery for boondocking is the Trojan T-105. It’s not AGM so you’ll need to check the water levels monthly.
BLM is Bureau of Land Management and most of this land is out west. This land is public land and is maintained by the BLM but many people can use it to camp for free.
Since it’s just land you don’t have any amenities or facilities so boondock camping is what you do.
Aside from BLM you can usually find great boondocking land if you look at the National Forest areas as well.
The easiest areas to find boondocking are in Southwest area of the United States more than in the east part of the United States.
You can save a lot of money in camping fees when you’re boondocking out west, but that your fees will increase while traveling the east coast.
Fellow RV’ers, Watson Wander shared their expense difference between the two coasts in 2015.
We’ve noticed the increase when visiting the East Coast, so we’ve started volunteering at State Parks to save on money.
The states where boondocking is the easiest are: Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah. You can find a few resources for boondocking:
Another great resource is called Harvest Host.
With Harvest Host you can find more than 500 great little farms, wineries, or distilleries around the US where you can camp for free.
The neat thing about them is you’ll often get a tour of the working farm or the winery and see how these small businesses run.
With Harvest Host boondocking in states like Florida and Texas, is easy.
Boondocking in Parking Lots
While traveling, you can stay overnight in several parking lots throughout the US.
Many of the truck stops will also have a few RV spots to use.
Usually you can stay overnight in a WalMart parking lot, but call the manager to verify and see where they prefer you to park or check for signs around the parking lot.
If they don’t want you to stay overnight, they usually have signs stating so.
Look for Cabella’s as well.
We boondocked for 5 nights at Cabella’s just outside of Salt Lake City and loved it.
The location was great for site seeing and the Cabella’s has a dump station. Of course, we shopped at Cabella’s to get some needed supplies for the RV and that’s probably what they’re banking on.
Boondocking at Casino Parking Lots
Some of our favorite places to park are casinos parking lots. They will let you boondock in their parking lot and many have a set amount of days that you can stay.
Our first casino boondocking at Inn of the Mountain Gods was great since the scenery was beautiful but we realized as we were leaving that we were parked in the wrong spot. After that we always asked the casino where they wanted us to park.
We stayed at Double Diamond for 7 days while enjoying the casino and the Tuscon area. You have no amenities whatsoever so having the right kind of RV to handle it helps.
Our other favorite casino is Couschatta in Louisiana.
They have a great RV park, but you can also boondock in their parking lot while you check out the table games or the sports bar.
With any of the casinos you just want to contact their security team to let them know how long you plan to stay. It’s usually a formality so they know not to come knocking on your rig at midnight.
Beginning in 2007 the idea of urban camping became popular. This is also know as urban boondocking, stealth boondocking, or stealth camping.
It’s the idea of living in parking lots and street areas around the city for free.
You can do better if you convert a van to live in so it’s less noticeable than a 35 foot RV parked out in the parking lot.
From the chart, you can see that it’s popularity has been pretty stable with the rise of home prices and the desire to live in big cities on the cheap.
A recent article featured a Google employee who lives in a boxed truck in the Google parking lot where he works to save on rent in the bay area.
You can read more from his blog here
I also just read an article from Gone with the Wynns about staying in the heart of Chicago at McCormick Place convention center parking lot. They paid $30 a night to stay within 1 mile of Grant Park. We love Chicago and will totally be doing this when we go back and the greatest takeaway from the article was to search “bus parking in (insert big city name)” when you’re traveling to major cities that have large convention center or music events to see if they allow overnight RV parking.
When you start traveling and finding spots to explore, boondocking becomes one of many options to choose from during your travels.
What are you favorite places to boondock?