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The response to opening things up for reader questions has been great, and I am really enjoying this. I will say in this particular case I am not sure we are the best people to ask. We have boondocked for extended periods in Glacier, City of Rocks, and Quartzsite but by no means are we “hard core” boondockers. So please keep this in mind as you read our answers. And thanks Julie for taking the time to ask!
First, let me say how I love this idea of answering questions!!!! Mark had great questions as did the previous submitter. Your information is soo helpful and helps all of us who follow behind you consider things we may have overlooked. I really appreciate that and thanks for giving me something constructive to do on a very rainy day in the middle of Montana! – Trace
So my questions revolve around boondocking…
When you are considering boondocking, what resources do you use to locate a spot and how hard is it finding a spot with an rv of your size? I think yours is in the 40 ft (ish) range. Do you find having a rig of this size limits your ability to find remote locations? We don’t specifically start out looking for a spot where we can boondock. As a matter of fact, all things being equal I would always take having services over not having any. That’s not everyone though. There are many people who are “hard-core” boondockers who would almost always make that their first choice. We use Ultimate Public Campground when looking for campsites, and many of the choices listed have limited or no services. Other resources I have heard about, but personally never use are www.freecampsites.net and www.boondockerswelcome.com. I also highly recommend looking at Technomadia’s website as they boondock frequently and have some great resources
To answer the other part of your question though,in general the size of our rig is less of an issue out west than in the east, but it really varies from place to place. Our friends Deb and Steve boondock frequently in a 40 foot rig and they are always finding great spots they can squeeze into. Squeeze is the operative word though, as Steve is pretty good at maneuvering into tight spaces. Google maps is definitely your friend in these cases because the descriptions around size requirements are not always accurate. We tend to be extremely conservative, but that’s just us. – Tracy
With your current set up, how many days can you go before you need to dump tanks or gain full hook-ups? The short answer is about three days. When we’re on full hookups we only dump the tanks when they’re full. For the gray tank, that’s about every three days, that’s with zero conservation. (The black tank is a non-issue, we’ve gone 15 days without having to empty that.)
That’s our non-boondocking tank usage. Here’s the long answer: If you’re asking how long we can go before we have to dump any tanks, the answer is about six days, with what I would call moderate conservation, which is navy showers, which just means only using the water to get wet and rinse off. It also means not running the water while brushing our teeth, and minimizing any dish washing. I know it’s possible to go further, and there are LOTS of ways people avoid putting water in their gray tank. We just don’t do those things. Our rig has an 85 gallon fresh water tank, a 57 gallon gray water tank, and a 41 gallon black water tank. We also have a 45 gallon portable freshwater tank so we can drive to a water source to get fresh water without having to hitch up. And we have a 40 gallon portable waste tank so we can empty our gray and/or blank tank without having to hitch up. So while we can go about six days without needing to dump, we never do, because we can dump the tanks using the portable as often as we want. I would rather make a trip to the dump station every other day with the portable tanks than bother with all the aggressive conservation. Technically we could boondock indefinitely, because we have a generator, ample solar and battery, portable tanks, and four propane tanks that we can remove and take to get refilled. – Lee
Do you have solar or are you considering solar in the future? What are some of the key considerations there? We do have solar and it was installed by our friend Greg who owns RV Solar Solutions. We have 4 panels and 4 batteries because that is what we could afford. If money was no object I would have gone with 6 and 6, but we did put in a system that we can expand over time. The specific system you would buy depends completely on what you can afford and what you are trying to accomplish. A good tech will work with you to understand your needs prior to ever designing a system. That being said, here’s why we bought solar. Our friend Deb went to a place called City of Rocks and posted some amazing pictures. While we were waiting to sell our house, that image of her rig in that amazing place stuck with me as a representative image of what the lifestyle could be. We didn’t buy a system right away though. Both of us felt we just didn’t know enough about how we would travel to make that large of an investment and it was about 6 months before we felt we knew enough to take the plunge. I don’t regret taking that time at all, because it helped us understand what solar would and would not do for us. – Tracy
It’s also worth mentioning that we have a 5500 watt propane generator, which we had installed when we ordered the rig. The generator is like a drunk uncle,for me. I really love it, and I really hate it. I love it when we are traveling and we can flip it on to use the microwave to heat up some food. I love it because as long as we have propane, we have power. This came up when we were boondocking for a few weeks near Glacier and it was cloudy and rainy the entire time and the solar just wasn’t doing us any good. But I hate it because it gobbles propane like crazy, so the whole time it’s running, I am thinking, “Awwww, geeeez, I’m gonna have to take the propane tanks to get filled sooner.” (I hate getting the propane tanks filled.) And I hate it because it’s noisy. And I hate it because it’s heavy. And I hate it because it cost a damn fortune. Part of me wants to be able to just park in the middle of nowhere and live like a caveman, and part of me wants to know where the nearest Ritz Carlton is. – Lee
Hindsight 20-20, what would advise to us newbies to consider who really want to boondock quite a bit?
From my perspective, decide what you care about, and then don’t compromise. If you really want to boondock a lot, make sure you’re equipped for how you will want to live. If you’re going to want to use power, then absolutely take the time to do a power survey, so you can get the right solar setup. We cannot recommend RV Solar Solutions highly enough. If you don’t want to have to hitch up to get water or dump tanks, then get a portable fresh water tank and a spare water pump for transferring the water from that to the rig, and a portable waste water tank, and possibly a macerator pump. The thing to keep in mind about those portable waste tanks is that while they are designed to be pulled behind like a little trailer, that’s not always practical. If your boondocking spot is 20 miles from the nearest dump station, then you won’t be able to pull it that distance. They’re designed to be pulled at about 5mph. I never want to pull mine, and once you fill them they’re too heavy to lift, so it lives in the bed of the pickup, between the gate and the hitch. Then I use a macerator pump to pump the waste into it, and then I use gravity to dump it at the dump station. It’s light enough that any time I want or need the bed space in my truck I can just take it out and roll it under the rig. – Lee
I would recommend checking out an RV-Dreams Boondocking Rally if you would like some practical experience surrounded by a fun group of people. It’s a great way to get your feet wet in a safe and supportive environment. Unfortunately we were not able to attend, but many of our friends did and I think it really helped them ease into it. We on the other hand jumped into the deep end of the pool and consequently there was a lot of flailing.
I knew intellectually there would be compromises, but I definitely wasn’t prepared emotionally for how they would make me feel. Many people absolutely adore the challenge, but I was way outside my comfort zone. Plus, I made the HUGE mistake of viewing it as a competition. I thought in the beginning that there was one right way to boondock and anything else was a failure. Seriously, I put a ton of pressure on myself to “succeed” and it ultimately made me miserable and resentful about the whole thing. Thankfully a couple of things helped me stop doing that. First, when we were in Quartzsite we saw an amazing amount of variation in how people boondock. Secondly, I realized it never was an apples to apples comparison. All tank sizes, solar systems, and/or generator setups are different. More importantly people are different.
Let me give you an example. We shower every day. It may be a 3 minute shower, but we are both taking one, and this is pretty unusual when boondocking. Most people I know are fine with showering every other day, but we aren’t and it’s important to us. That one choice impacts how how much propane we use and how frequently we empty the grey tanks. If I compare myself to someone who showers less frequently, (normalizing for various tanks sizes) I will always “lose” (where losing is defined by emptying a tank). That may sound crazy, but people spend a whole lot of time talking about that kind of stuff when boondocking and it was hard for me not to feel like I was failing when my experience didn’t match theirs. What put me over the edge was when we had a discussion once about turning on the heat. It gets cold in the desert at night and we were burning through propane using our furnace. Other people were saying they “never turned on their heat” and I started feeling like a failure. After some investigation though it turned out that they did have a heat source, (a propane space heater) which for a variety of reasons we didn’t want to use. Based on all of this, my number one piece of advice is don’t compare yourself to anyone. Gather information and tweak based upon what you learn, but at the end of the day do what is comfortable and works for you.
My second piece of advice is the understand that boondocking in remote areas is often amazingly beautiful, but in many cases you also have limited wifi/cell connectivity. We have often rejected a site, not because of the lack of services but because there is no internet or phone. I have three grown children and am still not comfortable with being unreachable for days at a time. I’m not alone in that by any means, and really try to minimize the amount of consecutive days people can’t reach me in case there is an emergency. Full timers who have elderly parents often have the same issue and for many of us it is a major factor in where we choose to camp. To be clear you can boondock extensively and still have internet/cell, but those really remote, beautiful places generally don’t have it.
In a nutshell some folks boondock to keeps costs down and/or for the challenge and others like myself do it to be someplace they couldn’t otherwise be. It’s like scuba diving. Some people love diving in and of itself. I just did it to see the pretty fish! – Tracy
We have been following your blog for quite some time and LOOOVVVEEEE your honest accounts of life on the road. Keep up the great work! Thank you , much appreciated!!
Hope to be out the door and on the road the summer of 2018! Hope to see you out there!
Again, really am having fun doing this and appreciate the opportunity to answer reader questions. If you have any you would like answered please send an email to camperchronicles -at- gmail.com and I promise either Lee or I will email you back or make a blog post out of it.