Here's what we know about "boondocking": you're either boondocking kind of people or you're not. For us, it works. It appeals (a lot) to our frugal style of travel and to the flexibility and map-out-the-window way we like to head down the road.
Boondocking is "dry" camping without hookups (no power, no water, no sewer) across a whole spectrum from overnighting in a Walmart parking lot to camping on Bureau of Land Management land in rural New Mexico (across the Southwest and on BLM land it's widely referred to as "dispersed camping"). We love finding quiet spots and some of our best camping experiences have been boondocking. We are fans.
- Low cost (like . . . free).
- Can be quiet and remote (National Forests, BLM land).
- Can be well patrolled or have security on site (large store parking lots).
- Can be close to nature, with great views.
- Flexibility and freedom.
- Feeling of safety and security may be an issue.
- Choose the wrong spot and you may be awakened in the middle of the night and asked to leave.
- Not so comfortable without access to showers or toilets.
- If it doesn't feel safe, don't stay.
- We can get by for several days just on the power of our back-up battery (mind you, we're just running lights and the occasional water pump - no toasters or coffee makers here). It's about moderation. We're attracted to the minimalist lifestyle so boondocking is an easy sell.
- Some boondocking sites are best suited to temporary stops - for example, an overnight while you are in transit. The parking lots of stores and restaurants would fall into this category (Walmart, Cracker Barrel, etc.).
- Always, always, always head into the store/restaurant and ask for permission first. If boondocking is allowed (some city/county ordinances prohibit it) the staff will steer you toward a certain area of the parking lot to set up. Setting up awnings, BBQs, lawn chairs, etc. is frowned upon.
- We try to show some goodwill and fill with gas or buy groceries or a meal at the business.
- Parking lots can be . . . "well lit." We've used black felt fabric to construct simple black-out curtains that do the trick perfectly.
- Pick a quiet spot that's away from the transports or larger motorhomes that may run generators.
- Be respectful of the businesses that are generous enough to allow you to stay. Be respectful of your boondocking neighbours.
Our favourite boondocking choices:
- Camping on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land is especially popular in Southwest states like Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. The BLM administers America's public lands. These remote BLM sites, "away from developed recreation facilities," are referred to as "dispersed camping." Sites are usually undeveloped, and are often not signed as official campsites. Their website has a good interactive map so you can search for specific information by state.
- National Forest land. In many cases, boondocking is allowed on National Forest land in the U.S. within a certain distance of an established road. It's important to minimize the impact of your RV on the land - use spots that have already been used as campsites, don't cut vegetation and stay on authorized roadways. The U.S. Forest Service Travel Management Maps show sites you can use with details on "dispersed camping" and info on limits of stay.
- Cracker Barrel store/restaurants. Often at the exits of major U.S. interstate highways, the staff are always friendly and the parking lots quiet after closing. One of the things we love about Cracker Barrel is their unique Books on Audio program. Buy an audio book on CD at the full price, listen as you travel and - further down the road - when you are done you can return it to another Cracker Barrel and be refunded all but a very modest weekly rental fee ($3.49/week). The selection tops out at 200 different audio books including some from The New York Times Bestsellers list. Search the website for locations.
- We've had great success at Lowe's home improvement centres. Especially love the store's Internet signal that seems to cast a wide net over the expansive parking lot.
- Walmart parking lots seem to be the mainstay of urban boondockers. You'll often find a cluster of motorhomes - and sometimes transport trucks - who have pulled in for the night. Some Walmarts give the green light to boondocking and others do not. You can map which is which at the website.