Boondocking Recap: Usage and Costs

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Now that we’ve completed our first big boondocking trip, let’s look at our usage and overall costs as we finally get the answers to many of the questions we had before we started! Questions like…How many gallons of water did we use? How many days did it last us? How many hours did we put on the generator? What did it cost to run the generator? What did we pay to dump our tanks? What was our average daily cost? Were there any unexpected expenses?

Now that we have all of this data, we can compare the costs of boondocking with how we’ve been living to date – that is, mostly staying in campgrounds with full (or at least partial) hookups.

Here’s how it all went down.

Our Itinerary

Days 1–5: Yuma area, AZ

Day 6–7: Quarzsite, AZ

Days 8–9: Lake Havasu City, AZ

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Weather Conditions:

Mostly hot, days the 80-90 degree F range (26–32C). Nights in the 50s F (10–12C). Sometimes very windy

Water Usage

Fresh Water Tank – capacity 70 gallons

Here’s an overview of much water we started and ended with the trip with, plus costs:

Day 1: Arrived at the Quechan Casino near Yuma, AZ with about 10 gallons of water on board, enough to get us through the first night = free

Day 2: Completely filled our 70 gallon water tank at a Love’s Travel Stop in Yuma, Arizona = free

Day 2: Bought 5 gallons of spring water from the supermarket as we’d been warned that the Arizona water is not good for drinking. Cost = $6

Days 3 – 9: Tracked our water usage on a daily basis with a post-it note marking on the side of the water tank each morning – this gave us a good gauge of rate and volume we were using so we could modify as needed

Day 9: We estimate we still had about 15 gallons of fresh water left in the tank when we finished our boondocking adventure in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, so we could have comfortably gone another couple of days (Say 10 in total – remember we started with some fresh water on Day 1 and filled the water tank on Day 2)

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Daily average water consumption

Here’s a summary of how we used our water:

  • Took quick showers at least every other day
  • Washed dishes only once a day
  • Brushed teeth, washed face before bed
  • Washed hands
Note: We did NOT use the fresh water for drinking (we used the store-bought spring water) nor for flushing the toilet – more on that in a moment.
 

How much water did we use?

Based on 8 full days (Days 2–9) we estimate that we used about 6.875 gallons per day – let’s round up and call it 7 gallons! Cost = Free

Drinking Water

We bought 5 gallons of spring water for drinking at the supermarket. Cost = $6
 
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Grey Tank – capacity 65 gallons

With a 70 gallon fresh water tank and 65 gallon grey tank on board, we knew we wouldn’t run into the issue of filling up our grey tank and needing to dump it too soon. But, we didn’t want to waste fresh water unnecessarily either, so here’s what we did:

  • Kept a bucket in the shower to catch as much of the shower water as possible for the purpose of flushing the toilet
  • The first couple of days we scooped some of the less dirty dish water from the sink with a bottle and transported it to the bucket in the shower
  • We stopped transferring dish water to the shower bucket on day 3 as we didn’t want things to get stinky! We figured dish water was likely much ‘dirtier’ than shower water

The grey tank didn’t completely fill but it was definitely ready to be dumped on Day 7! That stuff gets really stinky after 7 days in the 80+ degree desert temperatures!

We poured some “TST Grey Water Odor Control” down the sink to help keep any smell neutralized, which worked pretty well, right up until the drive to the actual dump station! More on that under the “Dump” section below.

Black Tank – capacity 50 gallons

We definitely knew we weren’t going to fill our black tank with 50 gallons of waste in 9 days either (OMG – can you even imagine!?) We wanted to minimize our usage of fresh water for toilet flushing, so here’s what we did:

  • Let the yellow mellow – we did not always flush after going number one
  • Used the bucket of grey ‘shower water’ to flush the toilet after going number two

We think this strategy really helped extend our fresh water supply throughout the 9 days and still have some left over.

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Power – electricity and generator usage

We don’t have solar and aren’t sure whether we’ll get it or not – hence this boondocking test run – so we were reliant on our 7000 Watt Onan generator for power. Because we have to work during the week, our biggest need for power is keeping our computers running.

Marc has a laptop for work which can run on battery, but he requires power to run the external monitor and maximize productivity. Although Julie has a Mac laptop, it’s getting so old now (2008!) that it won’t run on battery alone so it needs to be plugged into a power source to work. Julie mainly works from her newer iMac desktop anyway, which also requires power. Most of the lights in our coach are LED which don’t have a huge power draw, whether we’re running on generator or battery power. The days did get hot – up to 90 degrees F (32C) so we did need to run the air conditioner(s) at times during the day.

Here’s how we used power from the generator when it was running:

  • Powered two computers and one external monitor for work, on weekdays only
  • In the mornings, we ran the blender to make green smoothies and/or the electric kettle to make tea
  • Only used the microwave a couple of times, always during the day
  • Marc used the electric griddle and kettle to make us a ‘hearty breakfast’ on the weekends
  • Used electric water heater for showers/dishes only
  • On working week days, we ran one air conditioner to keep a comfortable temperature inside the coach – occasionally we ran both to cool it faster
  • Turned off two of the three main coach lights so only one light came on with the switch
  • We didn’t watch TV or play the stereo at all (we aren’t big TV watchers anyway)
  • Recharged coach batteries
  • Ran the refrigerator/freezer during day (but we mostly ran it on propane)

We generally ran the generator from 6.15am until 4pm Monday to Friday and only an hour or so on weekend days.

We put a total of 51.1 hours on the generator and, according to our research, our particular coach generator uses between 0.5 to 0.75 gallons of gas per hour… we think probably closer to 0.75.

So based on 0.75 gallons per hour, we used around 38.32 gallons of fuel which, at the local price at that time of around $2.25/gal added up to about $86 over the 9 days – an average of about $9.55 per day (4.26 gallons a day).

Batteries

When the generator was turned off, we were able to run the house lights and recharge small electronic devices using our 12 volt power inverter/charger. This was a minimal drain on our batteries.

Propane

We use propane for our furnace, water heater, fridge and RV oven/burners. We also have a BBQ with a separate propane tank. Because the temperatures were mild in the evenings and hot during the days, we didn’t need to run the furnace to heat the coach at all.

Here’s how we used propane during our boondocking week, when we were not running the generator:

  • Ran the propane water heater to heat shower/kitchen sink water
  • Warmed up pre-prepared meals (eg. chili, curry, soup) in a saucepan on the RV stovetop burner
  • Cooked a chicken pot pie (from the famous Julian Pie Shop, CA – mmmmm) in the RV oven
  • Barbecued some meals on our portable Weber BBQ Grill
  • Kept the refrigerator/freezer running

We don’t really have an accurate way to measure how much propane we used, but Marc guessed it would be no more than a gallon or two. At about $3/gallon, we’re going to estimate this cost = $6.

Cell Coverage & Internet

Because this is so critical to us during the working week, we had researched this ahead of time using the Verizon Coverage Map to select our boondocking location. We’re pleased to report that it IS indeed possible to dry camp in the middle of the desert and still get decent cell/internet coverage! So no nasty surprises there 🙂 All good!

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Dumping the Tanks

We were able to go a week before having to dump the black and grey tanks and we found a place called the RV Pit Stop to do the dumping duty as we left Quartzsite for Lake Havasu City.

IMG_4173_dumpstatinfees_Rvpitstop_rfwWe were very lucky to arrive just 15 minutes before they closed at 4.30 on a Friday afternoon. Lucky not only because we didn’t want to carry the extra weight of the grey and black tanks all the way to Lake Havasu, but mostly because while driving the coach from Dome Rock to the RV Pit Stop (I followed in the MINI) Marc was overcome by the acrid stench of the lovely cocktail brewing inside our tanks – one week old grey and black waste that had been nicely baking in the Arizona sun – that was sloshing around on the drive.

Marc jumped out of the coach, took a deep breath of the clean air as he announced, before dumping:

“There’s a smell in this coach that will outlast religion!”

It’s an hilarious quote from an Australian mocku-mentary called “Kenny” about a likable bloke who works for a waste management – aka porta-potty or porta-loo – company. Maybe you have to be Aussie to really “get it” but if you don’t mind a bit of ‘toilet humor’ click here to watch a short video clip. It’s a fun movie.

We paid $15 to dump both the tanks, which we thought was pretty expensive – we usually see it under $10 – but it needed to be done!

Of course, we did have to wonder if the “grey water as a toilet flush”strategy we’d been using was a contributor to the smell, but we later learned that keeping a window open while driving can be a culprit.

Tip: Keep your windows closed while driving as open windows can pull grey and black tank odors into your RV

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The MINI

As you may know, Juice the MINI had an unfortunate encounter with a rock in Lake Havasu City toward the end of our boondocking adventure, which rendered her undrive-able (watch the video). In all honesty, perhaps we pushed our luck with the MINI, having taken her on 3 off-road drives in a single week. The third and final one took her out of action for a week.

The repair bill on the MINI? Cost = $334.

While in fairness, we thought we maybe shouldn’t count this as part of our boondocking expenses as it could have happened anywhere, we ended up deciding to factor the expense into our overall bill, as given the road conditions we took the coach and the MINI on, there is definitely additional wear and tear on the vehicles compared with paved roads and campgrounds.

We know many of you reading this might have trucks, Jeeps or other AWD vehicles more suited to this type of terrain, so perhaps this isn’t a consideration for you – but for us, it’s a real expense and something to take into account. We’re not planning to trade the MINI on anything else any time soon!

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Camping Locations and Fees

Our accommodation was split across 5 locations (3 cities) during the 9 days:

  • Quechan Casino in Winterhaven, CA west of near Yuma, AZ = Free
  • BLM land west of Yuma, AZ = Free
  • BLM land by Dome Rock in Quartzsite, AZ = Free (14 day permit required)
  • BLM land off Highway 95 south of Lake Havasu City, AZ = Free
  • Dirt lot off Highway 95 near I-40 north of Lake Havasu = Free

Camping fees: Zero

Shopping & Savings

We didn’t include our expenses for groceries or eating out as that is about the same whether we’re boondocking or staying in a campground.

However, we did observe one cost saving that’s worth mentioning. Because we didn’t have a physical address out in the boonies, we weren’t able to place or receive any online shopping orders from Amazon or anywhere else! LOL.

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Total Cost of our 9 Day Boondocking Adventure

So, here’s a summary of our boondocking expenses:

  • Camping Fees: $0
  • Water: $6
  • Generator fuel: $86
  • Propane: $6
  • Dump Station: $15
  • MINI repair: $334
  • Total: $447

This averages out at $49.67/day – let’s call it $50 per day.

If we take the MINI repair out of the equation, it would total $113 – an average of $12.55 per day – which we’ll round up to $13/day.

Of course, we can’t accurately estimate the cost of additional wear and tear on the coach and the MINI, but in our experience, boondocking in harsher elements as we did definitely takes more of a toll on your vehicles and equipment over time, which will eventually necessitate additional repairs that you may or may not encounter compared to driving on paved roads and staying in campgrounds. Naturally, your equipment and setup might be designed to better handle more rugged environments than ours is.

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How do our boondocking costs compare with camping at Thousand Trails?

In our article about out our Thousand Trails membership upgrade, we estimated our camping costs to be around $4 per night. That includes electricity, water and sewer/dump station.

But for us, it’s not all about the money. Sure, it’s an important consideration, but ultimately it all comes down to your preferred style of camping. We’ve come to discover that we mostly prefer staying in campgrounds for the most part because of the abundance and convenience of electric, water and sewer (all included), amenities (such as laundry, pool, hot tub), the social aspect, locations and affordability. Yet, we also appreciate and enjoy the flexibility that boondocking offers, so we like knowing that we CAN do it comfortably for a few days at a time – or even up to 10 days – just to mix things up.

Would we invest in solar?

Maybe. We’d certainly love to have solar, but given the estimated cost of equipment and installation is around $4,000 range (as quoted for the setup we would want/need), dropping that kind of money just isn’t in our budget right now, especially as it would only remove the generator portion of the expenses ($86 in this case). Most of the other costs would stay intact as you still need to fill with water, use propane and find a dump station (which you can sometimes find for free). Update 2017… we purchased a portable solar panel for under $400 that significantly reduces our generator hours but have still not invested in a large solar system because we still stay in campgrounds 80% of the time and can’t justify the weight or financial impact)

Closing comments

Well, we hope this information, facts and figures have been useful for you. We’d love to hear about your boondocking expenses and experiences as well. Being our first trip, there’s still a lot left for us to learn!

Check out our 29 boondocking tips here

© RVLove.com

21 thoughts on “Boondocking Recap: Usage and Costs”

  1. We’enjoyed your videos about your experiences so far. This really helped my wife w/some of her concerns about socializing, etc. Since we’re basically going fulltime to be able to subsist on my retirement we won’t be dealing w/all the issues you two must related to your work. We may do a small “at home” type business which will actually be
    More successful if/as we travel! So we’ll see… 🙂
    Thanks for all your work – cool that you encountered the technomads! 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you! Glad it was helpful. Socializing was one of my (Julie) big concerns when we took off as I am an extrovert and social. Because we travel at a fairly slow pace (2-3 weeks at a time in one campground) and are Thousand Trails members, we do get to meet a lot of people, – some of the same people at TT in several parks. and that’s nice. Conversations have been enjoyable as people are open, friendly, not stressed and in “busy” mode like we experienced so often in our “pre mobile life”, people are generous and helpful. sharing tips for travel, RV and more… We have stayed in contact with quite a few we’ve met. And of course, groups like RVillage and Escapees make it easier to connect and meet up with people who share your interests. Good luck with your small home business – you will likely need good internet for that, so be sure to read out technology article for some tips – Verizon is the best carrier nationwide, hands down. https://rvlove.com/2014/12/12/how-technology-keeps-us-mobile/

      Reply
  2. We limit our Boondocking days to 4 then we go to a RV park for a couple of days before returning to the desert. We run the generator once a day for about an hour to 90 minutes. We also have a 2000 watt inverter that we can use for several hours/ TV/ Computer charging etc. Also we try to scout out our spots ahead of time to make sure our motorhome and chev Malibu can make it ok. If you avoid those 90 degree days you won’t need AC. Just wanted to share how we boondock.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing Ray! It’s always great to see how others boondock! We are still learning 🙂 I am pretty sure we could minimize our genny time to 1-2 hours per day if I wasn’t using my desktop computer – looking at options for using either iPad for buying a newer laptop – that should help!

      Reply
  3. Julie, wonderful series of posts on Boondocking. As non-retired entrepreneurs as you both are, weighing the benefits of boondocking using generator or solar vs. the Thousand Trails route has been instructive to say the least. Your excellent tracking of all the needing resources and the associated costs are so helpful. Thank you. We thought Boondocking would be a far bigger piece of our existance than the zero percent it has been this past year. I could see boondocking as small respites between our normal RV park routine so we can enjoy the natural wonders out there and live the dream we so many blog about. We met some very amazing people when we dropped into Quartzsite for a few hours last January durng the Q-rally to the Montana Owners group and marveled at the solar setups and their ability to spend 2 weeks there. These people were all retired though and that is a totally different paradigm than running a staff of contractors via Skype daily and needong to have 2 dual-monitor setups and full connectivity at all times. I think like you two we will dip our toe in slowly and will incrementally add on to our set up as we go. No complaints at all. We feel fortunate to be able to run our companies from the road. We really are living “our” dream, and are only just getting started.

    Reply
    • Brett and Cheri, Thank you so much! Couldn’t agree more with your comments – I think we are in very similar situations and am glad you found our info and comparisons helpful! Of course, we would ideally LOVE a fancy solar setup like the Wynns, Technomadia and many others… but it is expensive! Besides, our concerns include:
      a) our return on investment when we are not sure how much we would actually end up boondocking and how long we will be doing this in USA (eg. might be 2 or 3 years, 5, 10? who knows!? The world’s a big place and we want to travel the Europe, Australia, NZ too) so don’t want to overcapitalize on our existing investment.
      b) we have high connectivity requirements as you do – dual monitors, full connectivity, guaranteed 4gLTE (can’t always get that in remote boondocking locations and Marc works for a regular company – not self employed – so he must be fully available and highly productive during work hours (typically 8am – 5pm CST). Likewise, I can only run my trading software on my iMac desktop as my old laptop is now not only too old to run the software, but also too old to run only on battery! So… the question is, do I simply spend another $1,000 on a new laptop that runs on battery and re-charge 1-2 times a day? Or spend $4k on solar!? Big difference! Honestly, I think we could save the $3k and just boondock with laptops (no dual monitors though unless we use a small inverter for that) and minimal gennie usage, especially if on weekends when no need to work.
      c) We really do enjoy the social aspect and friendliness of folks in the TT network as many we meet in many parks so get to know one another. We also enjoy the amenities, pool, hot tub, free flowing electricity and water! We do like our creature comforts 🙂 Our lives are so stress-free these days that we don’t feel the need to “get away from it all” in into the wilderness as so many do. We do our explolring in the MINI on weekends. Yes, we appreciate being able to camp in more peaceful remote locations IF there is solid 4g LTE during weekdays at least… otherwise, we’re happy to save the wild camping for weekends, when we don’t need to use power at all (ie. don’t watch TV, no need for computers, don’t use microwave). Don’t think we’d really want to dry camp more than a week or so at a time anyway… so the cost of solar investment becomes a big one for ‘occasional’ boondocking. It really is hard for us to go past the value we get from our TT membership… but we know it’s not for everyone! We just appreciate having the options and choice available that we do…. when we started, I was scared we wouldn’t even be able to boondock – as the Wynns have such a fancy setup and we don’t – I thought we needed all that to be able to do it! I am glad to know that’s not the case, and while solar is the “ideal” it’s also nice to know it’s not essential and you can work your way up to it if that’s how you prefer to camp.
      d) Like you, we are very grateful that technology and our work allows us the opportunity to live, work and travel anywhere we wish. It’s a privilege I know many others wish they could have. You are 100% right – we are truly “living the dream” and the so-called ‘sacrifices’ we have to make are insignificant compared to the alternative of a ‘normal life’ with a commute, office grind and so on… we really are all so very fortunate.

      Hope you are loving your Montana – we have heard nothing but great things about them! Look forward to the day we can meet up in person on the road 🙂

      Reply
      • Hi,my name is Rick. My wife and I bought a 24 foot B+ Dynamax last year. I have run into generator problems, too. Mostly noise and vibration. It’s located right under the sofa/bed Also, CO2 fumes get into the coach. I took an idea from another rv’er and bought a 1200 watt peak 2 – stroke genny from K-Mart. Less of all 3 problems in a 44 pound package. Only real hard part is mixing of gas and oil,but you can buy the oil in containers that accurately mix it at Home Depot or any stores lawn and garden department. Mine works well enough to charge batteries and run lights. No AC, but in NE Ohio,it’s not totally necessary. I really appreciate your experience with long term ring . Have safe travels.

        Reply
  4. You are doing myself and anyone else thinking of full timing a great service. I am thoroughly enjoying your posts and the detail involved in those posts. Each post gives me something to think about that I had not thought about previously.

    I think I am with you……..I would prefer campgrounds most of the time but thankful I have the ability to send a few days without the amenities if I wanted to or had to.

    You have not said much about maintenance of the coach. Evidently, you are not having any problems with it. It has been my experience when talking to individuals who have bought new motor homes, they all seem to say that there is a period of time when a new owner should expect to spend a fair amount of time taking the coach in for warranty repairs. Has your coach really been that trouble free?

    Thanks again!

    John

    Reply
    • Hi John, glad to hear the level of detail in our posts is proving to be valuable to you. We really try to share the level of info we would have liked to read when we were starting out too. We soaked up everything we could! And still do 🙂 In answer to your question…. yes it is true that almost all NEW RV owners (of any kind) have to expect some kind of “breaking in period” to iron out any things that may need fixing. We ALMOST bought a brand new Winnebago (Sightseer 33C) but were strongly advised against it by one of the guys in service at Camping World who strongly advised we buy Used. The Wynns said the same thing, when we met up with them, in fact virtually everyone we met had the same recommendation. And we are VERY glad we bought ours used. That said, we have had a few things to fix, but honestly, not too much. I am planning a blog post (or video) on all the things we’ve had to do to “fix/maintain” our coach in the last 12 months…. a few things were “my fault” Ie. i leaned on a drawer and face fell off so Marc had to fix, pulled into a slide on a door not properly closed causing it to bend off its hinge (Marc fixed that too) but as far as repairs – we found a crack in the fiberglass wall under bedroom slide last June but was fixed for free under Tiffin body warranty (note: ours is 2012 and we are 3rd owner but was still covered). We had a propane leak, and a hose plus one of the furnaces needed to be replaced last year (covered under our extended service contract, we only paid the deductible). Marc checks, tops up batteries with distilled water once a month, sprays the jacks, keeps the slides/awning clean and free of debris, we are about to check/replace the anode rod for the first time (way overdue!) so will see how that goes next week am hoping it hasn’t cause any damage to our water tank! We have done the engine service once – cost about $100 for the oil and service (has so much cheaper than diesel!) and that’s about it… Oh, Marc is also very mindful of checking tire pressure, monitoring our coach weight etc… but this is a good point… I think we might do a blog post on regular maintenance – thanks for the tip!

      And yes, I would YES our coach has really been relatively trouble free – which we put down to 4 things:
      1. We thoroughly researched brands, quality, reliability in advance which is why we bought a Tiffin and couldn’t be happier with it and them – their service is outstanding
      2. Bugs were ironed out by previous owners
      3. Coach was well taken care of by previous owners and we are very good about maintenance too (mostly, except for the anode rod! haha)
      4. A good dose of luck!? 🙂

      Oh just thought of one more thing – our main coach door latch broke last year – it had also happened to previous owner who had to replace also – so that particular brand of door latch is obviously inferior quality, hence why they don’t use those anymore….

      Would strongly recommend you consider the additional investment in an extended service warranty on your coach whether you buy new or used – the service guy at Mike Thompson who repaired/replaced our furnace in December says he always recommends them and with the lowest deductible (ours is the highest at $500 unfortunately) as it gives you peace of mind and will pay for itself many times over… no matter how great a coach you buy and how well you look after it! Things just happen and when they do, they aren’t usually cheap.

      But overall, we consider our experience has been pretty painless and not too expensive (so far) fingers crossed.. And good luck!

      Reply
  5. Thank you for sharing. We learned alot…
    Yes i would agree to remove the mini expebse as it really isnt part of the coach expense…

    Regarding solar.
    A portable unit that you set up when you arrive at your destination would be nice if its not to much trouble.
    To keep your cellphones charged and to trickle charge your coach batteries to keep them topped off….
    Thank you Marc & Julie for the awesome posts!
    Ron & T

    Reply
  6. What a grand adventure…and wonderful “on-the-job training” for boondocking in the future! You survived quite well, I think!

    One item I’ve run across in my Interweb travel is a product called the “360 Siphon RV Roof vent” that I came across via The RV Geeks (direct link to video: https://youtu.be/3xX60cCHwlM ) which supposedly eliminates any issues with drawing “aromatic enhancers” into your RV.

    I love your blog and am happily working my way through your travelogue. I envision that my future full-time experience will mimic yours, but for the time being I will need to live vicariously through your blog.

    Happy trails!

    Reply
    • Haha thanks Jim for sharing your tip re the “aromatic enhancer”:) We are glad to have survived out boondocking adventure too – we would do it again, but with many learnings under our belt! LOL. Hope to keep producing content that you find helpful. We always love receiving comments and questions and giving back when so many before us provided much knowledge to give us the confidence to get started 🙂 Happy trails to you too!

      Reply

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