Boondocking RV Life

Go Boondocking!

March 2, 2017

Forgive us for being a bit preachy, but we wanted to talk today about something we are passionate about and literally how we define our lifestyle. Boondocking. Dry camping. Free camping. Wild camping. Roughin’ it. Whatever you want to call it, it all basically means the same thing: driving our RV on a dirt road to the middle of nowhere and being completely self sufficient, for two weeks at least.

When we want to experience a new landscape or a new environment, boondocking is how we do it. We’ve stayed in county parks, state parks, national parks, RV parks, and driveways and our favorite way to live is still boondocking. There’s nothing that beats waking up and looking at a million dollar view from your bedroom window. And your back window. And your kitchen window.

Oh and did I mention that boondocking is 100% free? That’s right, zero dollars. Even if you’re not an American citizen, you can enjoy America’s public lands. You’re welcome, Canadians! Thank you Teddy Roosevelt for creating such a wonderful public lands system in America!

Here’s tidbits from what we’ve learned boondocking for the past year.

Sights while hiking the Arizona Trail

How we find and scout boondocking spots

  1. When we’re heading to a new area, we start our search on Campendium. In most states, you can find lots of options for free camping. The user reviews are super helpful and will help us narrow down a couple spots to dig deeper into.
  2. Next, we’ll look at Google Maps Satellite view to try to check out road conditions or find individual spots. Usually, this doesn’t lead to anything too helpful because there’s nothing like seeing it in person.
  3. If we’ve never been to an area before, we’ll find an RV park to crash that night after the drive to relocate.
  4. Also at the RV park, we’ll do some cleaning, take a nice long shower, fill up our water tanks, and charge our house battery and every electronic we own.
  5. The next morning, we’ll wake up early to scout out specific boondocking spots with just our truck and leave our fifth wheel behind. Usually, we’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed excited to go boondocking, so no alarm clock is necessary.
  6. We’ll enjoy the drive and star our favorite spot on the Google Maps app.
  7. I’ll usually drive us down a road we would never take the trailer on just for kicks. Mandy will berate me until I turn around, but I know she likes getting the truck stuck.
  8. After that, we head back to the trailer, hitch up, dump our waste tanks, and leave the RV park in the dust.

With our current set up, we can last 10 days easily, although lately, we’ve been lasting a full 14. The limiting factor for us has been the black tank. We used to fill up our grey tanks first, but lately, Mandy has gotten really good at military showers. I’m taking some credit though, because I finally fixed that blast of cold water you’d get after pausing the water to lather up.

How we get Internet in the middle of nowhere

I can’t recommend Verizon enough. We’ve heard AT&T has great coverage too, but we’ve never been without Verizon coverage and most of the time, it’s 4G. Sometimes the network gets crowded, but usually it’s not a problem for us. We can do most of our work without super fast internet.

We use a Verizon Jetpack AC791L  and recommend it highly. We’ve blown up the battery in a couple cheaper “hockey puck” hotspots. 500 GB a month will do that. For our cellular plan, we rent an unlimited Verizon SIM card off of a rando on eBay, in the most sketchy way possible. We pay $150 a month for unlimited Verizon 4G plan and send our monthly bill to an Asian market in Richmond, VA. If you do go for an unlimited plan on eBay, buy just a SIM card. That way, when the plan goes belly up and you have to find a new one (that’s happened to us once so far), you aren’t stuck with a Jetpack you’ll never use. You just pop your old SIM out and put in your new one.

Marfa Lights viewing center

Boondocking 101

There are three systems you have to think about and conserve while boondocking:

Fresh Water

We use about 5 gallons of fresh water each day, between showering, watering the pets, and the dishes. We don’t actually drink out of our faucets because the water comes from our fresh water tank, which you can’t clean and therefore hasn’t been cleaned in 15 years. Yuck. We refill some gallon jugs for drinking water when we go into town.

During our stay, we’ll fill up some 5 gallon jugs at those Glacier water machines that are at almost every gas station, usually 5 gallons is $1.25. It’s the perfect way to grab some bulk drinking water and top off our fifth wheel’s fresh water tank.

With occasional refilling, we almost never run out of fresh water and could go on indefinitely.

Waste Water

This is our gray and black tank: gray for shower/sink water and black for the toilet. We rarely fill up our grey tanks (80 gallons) and our black tank is usually first to fill up (45 gallons). That may or may not have something to do with our grey tanks having a “leak” feature when they get too full…

To conserve here, we take quick military showers and flush the toilet using the least water possible to still get a full flush.

Electricity

There’s two kinds of electricity in an RV. AC and DC. DC comes from the house 12 volt battery and powers the lights, furnace fan, and the cigarette lighter plugs like in your car. AC powers everything else and it probably what you think of as “electricity.” It’s those three prong outlets in every house and it’s what charges our laptops, phones, and powers every other gadget. An inverter converts DC power from the battery into usable AC power.

We run a WEN 2000W inverter-type generator for a few hours every other day to charge our house battery. We recently wired a BESTEK 300W modified sine wave inverter directly to our house battery to charge our laptops even while our generator isn’t running. This inverter has been a lifesaver for us and helps us run the generator even less. Don’t put too much faith in this cheap inverter though. I wouldn’t plug anything except a laptop charger into it, and even then, it’s risky because it’s not a pure sine wave inverter.

To conserve electricity, we use LED lightbulbs and a very small inverter, mostly just to charge our laptops. Our house battery (205 amp hours) will last us two days just recharging laptops. If we run the furnace overnight, our battery will last one day and we’ll be running our generator to recharge that battery every evening.

In our ideal world, we’d have solar panels on the roof constantly and quietly recharging our house battery as we use it throughout the day. Our inverter would work overtime charging out laptops and the solar panels would immediately refill that battery power the inverter is using. Our inverter would be a small (600W) pure sine wave inverter to charge our laptops and also safely power every other outlet in our RV. Once the sun goes down, we’d have a fully charged house battery, ready to keep that furnace fan running all night. As soon as the sun comes up and we’re still in bed denying the fact that we have to get up at some point, the solar panels would quietly begin their work again.

We’re definitely dreaming of that ideal setup and slowly budgeting the money for it. I’m only telling you about this ideal setup because what we have is definitely not ideal. We didn’t even have an inverter until a few weeks ago, and even then, it’s a crappy inverter that will only really charge our laptops. You can make due with a less-than-ideal setup.

188sqft-approved first time boondocking spots

  1. Las Cienegas – This is where it all started for us and where we fell in love with boondocking. It’s also our first spot where we lost our b-card. This is the most campground-like of the places we’re going to recommend. You’re only two miles off of a paved road and the dirt road to get here is actually gravel, which makes for easy driving. Any size rig can get back here and you’re never too far from anyone else. You’ll have a neighbor a couple hundred yards away. You’ll have a 360-degree view here. 31.763437, -110.632946
  2. Bolivar Flats – This is boondocking at its finest: on a hard-packed beach right next to the Gulf of Mexico! Where else can you hear the ocean waves all night in your own bed for free. Sand will get everywhere in your RV, but that’s part of the fun. And *ahem* Watch the tide charts29.378801, -94.724940
  3. Harshaw Road – This is where we were staying in the above video, near the cute little town of Patagonia, AZ. This spot is a dirt road that gets washboarded at times, but is passable by any size rig. You’ll be driving in and see a bunch of spots under some trees. Skip those and keep driving another few miles to really unlock the beautiful views. 31.483572, -110.681355
  4. Blair Valley – This one was a recent trip and really surprised us. You park next to a dry lake bed with your back up against a giant mountain of boulders. The hill doesn’t look that big until you start to climb it. It’s unreal. The roads to get here are slightly washboarded, but any rig that can brave the mountain pass to get here can drive on it. And that’s to say any rig. We saw a 45 foot behemoth here towing a 30 foot box trailer! 33.031535,-116.398996
  5. Joshua Tree South – Of all of the boondockers we talk to, this one seems like an all around favorite. The best cellular connection we’ve ever seen (50 Mbps down and 30 up!). Beautiful views of Box Canyon and almost the Salton Sea. You can literally see 30 miles of I-10 from your spot. The roads are in perfect shape and you can park near people or far away from people, depending on your mood. We usually choose the latter. 33.677609, -115.815766
  6. Loy Butte – This is a bonus spot 15 minutes from Sedona (!) and I’d only recommend it if you’re feeling a little frisky. The red dirt road back to our favorite spot (34.8612, -111.9446) can get rutted, especially if it’s been raining. If you brave it, you’ll be rewarded with a 360-degree view: the green mountains of Cottonwood AZ to the south and the red rock cliffs to the north. As if that wasn’t enough, there is constant hot air balloon traffic in the morning to make it even more Instagram-worthy.

If you’re curious to see where else we’ve stayed, our Campendium profile is best for that. We review every place we go.

Whew, I hope that alleviates some of your fears about boondocking and will get you to try it for a couple nights! It’ll give you a new perspective.

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5 Comments

  • Reply Kris March 8, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    Thanks for posting this. We plan on mostly boondocking when we start our adventure in May, and I’m feeling a little anxious about it. My fear: accidentally winding up on someone’s private land and being woken up in the middle of a night to the sound of a shotgun and an angry landowner. I love your advice about staying in a campground/rv park first to get acclimated. Great idea!

    • Reply Kevin March 9, 2017 at 10:54 am

      You’ll have a great time 🙂

      Honestly, mistaking someone’s private land and accidentally staying on it has never been on our radar. If you’re using spots on Campendium or other BLM/federal land spots, all of the private land around there will be posted NO TRESPASSING clearly. I don’t think you’ll have an issue with anyone waking you up like that.

  • Reply Derrick Parker March 24, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Hey, I discovered your really good website today, with help from Facebook and RVAmerica. Yours is the second site that is about a young married couple, getting rid of all or almost all their sfuff and moving into a used fiver that I have come across. The first site is about a couple we met who were camped next to us in a Thousand Trails park in Williamsburg, Virginia. Mortonsonthemove.com is their site. I think you will find you have a lot in common with them. Now about me or us, my wife Diane and I are fulltimers in a forty foot motorhome, the square footage is more than 188, but still less than our stick house was. I too am a blogger/photographer, with a website, hosted by Squarespace. You might find it interesting. It is about the rv life as well as other things that interest me. I look forward to being one of your followers. I prefer to use the phrase, habitual viewer.

  • Reply Annette Mongoven March 26, 2017 at 12:54 am

    I enjoyed reading your posts! My husband and I are preparing for a year-long adventure in an RV, so thanks for paving the way for us. We are veteran campers, but have not boondocked for more than 2 nights. Thanks for operating such an informative blog!

    • Reply Kevin March 27, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      So exciting! You’ll have a great time on the road! You’ll find boondocking to be a challenge sometimes, but definitely worth it. A tiny amount of inconvenience for staying (for free, mostly) in the most beautiful areas of the country.

      We’re dry camping along a beach in Southern California right now. Not free ($40/night), but to park right next to the ocean for a week, it’s absolutely incredible.

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