If you read our blog often, you’ve probably seen us use the phrase “boondocking” from time to time. Well, we’ve been asked about it often enough by friends and family that it seems some explaining is in order.
What is Boondocking?
As we’ve come to understand the term, boondocking simply refers to staying for free overnight in a location without any power or water hookups. Typically the location will be in a remote or wilderness area… i.e. somewhere out in the “boondocks”. However, there are definitely variations on the term – for instance you might see RVers use the term “blacktop boondocking” to describe a free stay at a public location in an urban setting. Wherever it takes place, the main element of boondocking is that you’re off-grid, meaning you’re relying on your own power and water supplies for the creature comforts.
Where can you do it?
One of the truly wonderful things about this country is our extensive system of public lands that are maintained for, and made accessible to everyone. That’s right fellow Americans, together we’re the collective owners of over 640 million acres of public land! And guess what, you can visit and stay for free on a LOT of it.
Many of the boondocking opportunities can be found on land managed by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service such as national forests, national recreation areas, and national monuments. Other abundant opportunities can be found on lands operated by the Bureau of Land Management (the BLM) and the Army Corps of Engineers. In most of these places, you can typically stay for up to 14 days out of a given 30-day period. The quality and nature of the camping opportunities will vary considerably by location. Sometimes there are “developed” campground areas that are maintained for visitors, whilst other times you can do what is known as “dispersed camping” and simply pull off the road to set-up your campsite. Using a campground review site can help you figure out where you might like to visit.
You can also use these maps to find potential camping spots while on public lands:
What supplies do you need?
This varies a bit depending on the demands of each location as well as by personal preference. When planning to boondock, the main thing to keep in mind is that you will be off-grid and away from the typical amenities ubiquitous in modern day-to-day living.
The most obvious consideration is to ensure that you have an adequate supply of food and water on hand for the duration of your stay. RV’s and travel trailers almost always have a fresh water tank installed on-board as well as tanks for waste water. Getting a sense of your water usage before you head out to a remote area will help you determine how long you can go between fill-ups. (For our part, we have a 40 gallon fresh water tank that usually lasts a week between fill-ups.)
Boondocking has yet to cause us to alter our diet and we typically make it a point to shop for groceries before visiting a remote area. By using a lot of canned and dried goods, we’re able to prepare healthy meals and get the most out of our pantry while off-grid. To keep fresh veggies and other perishables, we use a combination of an old fashioned cooler and using an inverter to run our refrigerator.
Next, you’ll need to consider a power supply. How much electricity you’ll want or need will be completely up to you. Traveling has become the back-drop to our day-to-day lives, meaning that we’re not roughing it – even when boondocking off-grid. Instead, we’ve figured out how to perform our daily activities with the power systems installed on the bus. This means being able to work and entertain ourselves primarily off of our 300W solar panel system from Renogy.
If you plan to frequently run major appliances, such as a refrigerator or an air conditioner, while boondocking, you’ll probably want a portable generator. In addition to our solar system, we also have two generators that we occasionally use whenever we need additional power while off-grid.
If you’re planning to spend time in colder weather, heating is definitely something to consider. While boondocking, we use a portable propane heater to heat the bus whenever the thermometer dips too low for comfort. We’ve made it through some pretty low temperatures with this little guy, though we prefer to use our wheels to avoid serious winter weather because, well, we just don’t like the cold. If you have a standard, factory-made RV or trailer, chances are you already have a propane heating system built-in.
Many other school-bus conversions (or “skoolies”) have wood-burning stoves installed as an off-grid heat source. We think this is awesome! There are a range of stoves available – from the imposing cast-iron ones you might find in a traditional older house, to small, modern ones designed for boats and tiny homes.
Is it safe to Boondock?
Safety is always something to take seriously when in a remote area – whether we’re hiking a difficult trail or comfortably camping for a few days in our cozy school bus. To make sure we’re prepared for emergencies, we travel with first-aid supplies and keep a robust set of tools on-hand in case mechanical issues occur. We also maintain a membership with a road-side assistance program should anything ever happen to the bus that we can’t handle.
So far we’ve had good experiences with boondocking and haven’t felt unsafe. We do our best to prevent issues by researching potential destinations before arriving. That being said, if we do ever get a bad vibe from a place or just don’t feel comfortable in a location, we can drive away and find somewhere else. Our home is on wheels after all.
Why do it?
First and foremost, boondocking is free. For us, this is an awesome means of making travel affordable and sustainable in the long term. Another important reason why we like boondocking is that it often means staying in really interesting places that we might not otherwise have explored. It’s lead us to discover some truly beautiful locations and expanded our appreciation of the landscape. Additionally, the privacy and peacefulness of this type of camping (it’s in the boonies, remember?) is something we really enjoy. Having the freedom to swap the sound of traffic for birdsong is something that we love about our lifestyle!