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We learned a lot during our first boondocking experience in Arizona which took us to Yuma, Quartzsite and Lake Havasu City over 9 days. So we pulled together 29 tips and tricks that helped us, working with what we had.
That means… no solar, no composting toilet, no fancy stuff. We just made the most of our RV “as is” from the manufacturer. Of course, we know solar and all the other fancy gadgets are awesome for so many reasons. But it’s not cheap and we don’t have any of that stuff at the time of writing this, and we didn’t want that to hold us back.
As it turns out, none of this is essential. Especially for newbies like us who are trying boondocking on for size to see how we like it first. So don’t be scared off. Give it a try!
No doubt there are many more tips we could add to this list. These are just the main ones we followed on our February trip. As we learn more, we’ll continue to share those learnings as well. So feel free to add your best tips in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!
29 tips for successful boondocking
- Pre-plan your meals. Preparing and freezing meals or making salads ahead of time means there are less dishes to wash up, making it easier and allowing more time to relax and enjoy while reducing the need to go to the store – which is not always close by. As a bonus, this also keeps your trash to a minimum.
- Cook with gas. When you warm your meals in a saucepan on the propane stove or cook on the BBQ, it also means no noisy generator!
- Buy or take separate jugs of drinking water to save the water in your fresh tank for washing and showering.
- Pre-wash fruits and vegetables while still at a campground (with water hookups) just before you leave for your boondocking adventure.
- Use paper towels to wipe dirty plates and dishes down first after using. This make them much easier to wash and uses less water.
- Limit your dishwashing to once per day. One sink load of dirty dishes per day is more water efficient.
- Keep a bucket in the shower to catch excess water and use that to ‘flush’ the toilet. This reduces water usage from the fresh tank and also helps reduce grey tank water.
- Consider letting the yellow mellow for your number ones to reduce the number of toilet flushes.
- Take quick “navy showers”. That is, jump in, get wet, turn off water, lather up, turn water back on, rinse off, jump out. Or shower only every other day or have a ‘sponge bath’.
- Track your water usage with Post-it Note markings on the side of your fresh water tank (assuming it is visible). It is a handy way to gauge how much water you are using and estimate how many days your water will last so you can make adjustments as needed, or simply relax about it a bit more!
- Be sure to park a respectable distance from other RVers so as not to invade their space or views and also ensure your generator noise (if you use one) won’t bother them. This is especially important if you need to start your generator early in the morning (whether for work or coffee!). Be especially mindful of RVers with solar panels and park way well away from them (minimum 300 feet as a guide). They will appreciate being sheltered from your generator noise, so they can continue to enjoy the peace and quiet out there. Being respectful of your neighbors will ensure a pleasant stay for everyone.
- Park your RV in a direction that makes the most of the weather and sun location. For example, if hot and sunny weather is predicted and your RV has a lot of windows on one side, park so the window side is on the shady side. You might also be able to use the RV as a wind block if winds are common in the area.
- Find a place that creates a natural boundary around your RV so you feel more comfortable, safe and nestled in your space. (thanks Technomadia for that one!)
- Don’t use heavy battery drain items like the microwave or watch TV when you aren’t running your generator.
- Use a portable power inverter/charger to charge small electronic devices using the 12V DC socket on the coach dashboard when driving and/or when the generator is off.
- Limit your use of un-needed lights or electrical items when the generator isn’t running. LED lights use much less power, so consider upgrading to LED for commonly used lights if they are not already LED.
- Keep your night shades down during the hottest parts of the day to deflect the sun and help keep your RV cooler. If you have external window covers, those will be even better – put them on!
- When staying in a hot climate, open your windows in the evening and make the most of the cool night air to cool down your RV.
- Only use the air conditioner intermittently, not continuously, to keep the coach at a comfortable temperature and to reduce the drain on the generator. Generators get better fuel economy when not powering as many items.
- Put a windshield cover on the front of your RV to help protect it from the heat and put tire covers on your wheels to reduce sun damage to the tires.
- Track your generator hours to estimate your boondocking costs and work out a daily average. It will help you weigh the potential cost benefits of adding solar power.
- Look up BLM or other public land apps or websites ahead of time to get directions and any other information you need to know about the area, such as fees and where to get permits.
- Use the satellite view on Google Maps or Google Earth to get a better sense of the terrain before you arrive.
- As a safety precaution, send your location details with GPS coordinates to a family member or friend so someone knows where you are.
- Pull in your awning and slides if it gets really windy. It helps reduce the surface area for the wind to catch, minimizes the rocking of your RV and will prevent potential awning damage.
- Check for sufficient cellular/internet coverage ahead of time using the Coverage map for your cell phone provider or use the Coverage App.
- Keep your trash stored securely inside and don’t leave food outside to prevent attracting unwanted natural visitors to your campsite.
- Be respectful of the environment and your fellow campers and leave no trace when you depart.
- Take time to sit outdoors and look up at the clear night skies. After all, that is one of main reasons you are camping out in the middle of nowhere – to truly become one with nature 🙂
We hope you found these tips useful and that they help you conserve water, energy and ensure a smooth, enjoyable experience out in the boonies!
Remember to share your own tips below – we’re sure there are hundreds more we could add to this list! With your help, we can make it even better 🙂
32 thoughts on “29 Tips for Successful Boondocking”
I tried to find a map of all the TT sites. What I found was that there were no sites in the mountains in states like CO, WY, ID, MT. Did I miss the map?
You are correct. That is the biggest challenge with Thousand Trails too, especially since we love that region so much. There are currently no TT parks in those states.
Now I can’t find the email but I recently saw that Thousand Trails added Thousand Trails Blue Mesa Recreational Ranch in Gunnison, CO
I too am disappointed that they don’t have more TT campgrounds in the southwest. The MAIN reason I won’t join. I don’t like campgrounds and I don’t like the East Coast.
Hi there, yes Blue Mesa Recreational Ranch in Gunnison is now in the Thousand Trails network in the south west. We have stayed at several TT parks in the south west, plus the Trails Collection optional add-on, there are many more in Arizona, and several in California too. I’m a bit confused though, you said you are disappointed TT does not have more campgrounds in the SW and that’s the main reason you won’t join… but then you said you don’t like campgrounds? There are lots of great boondocking options in the southwest too! But they are starting to get more crowded with more RVers on the road. Cheers
Hi. I read through your article and all the comments. Very helpful ideas. Thank u!
I use my propane stove, either inside my camper or my portable Coleman, to prepare my coffee. I have a stainless steel percolator which can be used for hot water or coffee. If hot water, then I can make oatmeal, hot chocolate and have hot water for dishwashing. Many times I use paper plates since they are disposable and biodegradable. Use of these methods means my genny is not used very much.
Great tips – thank you for sharing!
Great info!!! Thank you!
Wenn es mir schmeckt, lasse ich mir auch gerne den Mund pissen.
I have a question. Hi, my name is Bob & we have some interesting things in common. I just finished reading your article on dolly towing & it appears we have similar rigs. Though my camper is smaller I have just purchased a red Mini Cooper roadster S as well as an ACME car dolly, How bout that?
My wife Donna & I are eager to get started on our first camping adventure but we are unable to learn how to configure the ignition key, steering wheel & battery during towing. My mini ihas an auto matic transmission. Do you have any advice for us so that we do not damage our beautiful little red adorable sports car. We’ve never owned a sports car b/f & so far we love a sports car before, only motorcycles & we think it will work beautifully behind our camper! OR would you have the name of a resource where I could research this valuable concern. Thanks & who knows perhaps we can meet up on the road some day. Bye for now.
Hi Bob and Donna, Oh the MINI Cooper S is a FUN car, we LOVE ours and the Acme tow dolly still works well for us and keeps that low car off the ground. Things in common indeed! Honestly, we would recommend you take a look at this guide http://www.motorhome.com/download-dinghy-guides and also contact MINI, do some google searches on advice from people with AUTO MINIs as ours is manual… We have heard that towing a MINI will void the warranty (presuming it’s newer, still under warranty) but ours being a 2006 was not. But towing on a dolly might be OK…Technomadia also tows a MINI but not sure if it’s a manual or auto… hope that’s a good starting point for you! We just wouldn’t want to give advice we weren’t 100% sure about, so check with the guide and the manufacturer first – and even Acme. Good luck! See you down the road.
Also good to sort all your garbage. Plastic and cardboard etc will keep until you find proper disposal. Keep a compost bucket which you can bury the contents away from any rv’ers. As we only have one waste tank we use dish cleaning water for flushing and cleaning bath. Catch shower water as you wait for warm water to arrive for later use.
Great suggestions, thanks for sharing! Yes we used our dishwater for flushing as well, caught it in a bucket so it ended up in black tank instead of grey
Thanks for sharing this very helpful information! I am so happy to read this tips.
You’re welcome – glad you found them useful!
You’ve been nominated for an award on our blog 🙂
Awesome! Thanks you guys. We e noted learning about you and will get onto this ASAP. Let’s aim to catch up in CO before you take off!
Wow you covered a lot of angles, good job!
These are great tips but could you please discourage people from using their generators out there unless absolutely necessary? If a RVer must use it, please go park far away from anyone who has solar panels on the roof. We didn’t invest in a solar electric system to listen to the drone of someone running the genny all day and night.
Thank you! We appreciate your feedback and just made an addition to our post to further reinforce the message and “park well away from those with solar” in Tip #11 of our post https://rvlove.com/2015/04/10/29-boondocking-tips – feel free to check out the revision. That is one of the things we were most nervous and mindful of – finding a place to park without bothering others when we used our gennie – which we fortunately managed to do 🙂 Even got the thumbs up on our parking location and respectable distance from Technomadia who were serendipitously the rig parked closest to us – in all of their solar-powered glory of Zephyr 🙂 Hopefully one day we’ll be powered up with solar too – but we sure were grateful we were able to give boondocking a try with “just what we had”… we can likely reduce our gennie usage by using laptops on battery power and iPads and reduce dependency on external monitors and iMac… but we wanted to see what our usage/costs would be camping “fully powered” like we would be if we had hookups – it was a useful experiment and cost comparison! Kind of reinforces the great value we get from our TT membership. On weekends we can camp with little or no need for the gennie at all. Thanks for sharing it with your peeps and glad you found some useful tips in there too 🙂 Happy trails!
Hi RV Lovers! Something we do is keep dishwater in a wash basin in the sink. When it’s time for the wash basin to be dumped we usually empty it into the Black tank (water is needed to break everything down in the tank).
Great tip – we did that the first day too! But were worried about it getting too smelly – do you experience that problem?
No, the more fluid in the black tank the better, as it dilutes the urine and helps solids breakdown. You are using a biodegradable dish soap?
When driving, put your plugs in the sinks, this way, even if the motion of less than favorable roads empties your P traps, the gases can’t enter the coach.
If you really want something foul, let someone who is on antibiotics use your toilet. Kills all the good bacteria in your tank! Found this out the hard way, had to thoroughly clean the black tank to get it back to normal.
Wow great tips Roger! We do use biodegradable soap, and will plug the sinks when driving…. why didn’t we think of that!? LOL The antibiotics tip was a surprise – thank you so much for sharing – sorry you had to learn that the hard way, we will keep this in mind… doesn’t sound like a fun ob to rectify 🙂
Julie, I am new and didn’t know there was biodegradable dish soap. I don’t guess Dawn dish soap is biodegradable; is it?
The soapy water also helps with keeping the sensors in the black tank working correctly.
We still have sensor problems from time to time! Frustrating – we empty the tanks and then it still says 2/3 full! Happens on grey tank too
Julie, go to Walmart and purchase 2-3 bags of ice. Put the ice thru the toilet and go for a “curvy” ride. Be sure there is at least 5-10 gallons of water in the tank before adding ice. The ice will “knock-off” any tissue or residue from the probes…works every time
Thanks Dennis – a good tip! Yes, we’ve done this before.. the PineSol clean works great too to give the tanks a good clean, sensors too. Cheers.
What’s up with pinesol, how much, how often
Most RVs probably don’t need to use pinesol in their waste thanks much, if at all if you are regularly flushing your tanks, and/or using some other type of tank treatment. If you are having trouble with your tank gauges reading wrong, it is something to consider as a remedy. No particular frequency recommendation.
Read all your articles and found them very useful. I truly hope we can be this frugal when we start full timing. Do you still think that having upgraded your TT membership was worth the money? Will you be doing it again next year or will you be going back to the basic membership?
Hi Aurora, not sure if you have read our 2 articles on the Thousand TRails membership options – the Zone Pass and the Upgrade – strongly recommend you do. We upgraded from Zp to Elite level last year for $2,500 and it already paid for itself in our opinion… Our only ongoing expense is $549/year annual membership fee – so there is no basic membership to go back to really, unless we cancelled what we have and got a ZP again – but wouldn’t dream of it. The initial $2500 was a one off cost to buy it – if you do decide to go with TT, be sure to buy a RESALE and not new to literally save yourself thousands of $$$. Chad at Campground Membership Outlet is the guy we bought ours through – his info in the TT membership upgrade article https://rvlove.com/rv-camping/memberships/thousand-trails/upgrades/
… honestly, we couldn’t be happier with it – definitely a worthwhile investment for us… Pretty hard to beat $100 / month (averaged it out over 3 years) for camping with hookups around the country! We like the certainty of knowing what our expenses are in advance… and TT helps us do that. No nasty surprises! Only when we camp outside of the TT system do we incur additional campground expenses. Be sure to create a budget before you get started – we find it costs approx the same as when we lives at home – BUT we have a rig payment… (but now no mortgage or HOA)… will do an article on costs in next month or two. Hope that helps! 🙂