On our winter adventure to Texas, we had two opportunities to try out boondocking. This common practice in the RVing community had intrigued us for some time, and our trip to Texas was the perfect time to experiment. We learned a number of things from the experience, including what not to do when boondocking.
What is boondocking anyways?
Great question! Boondocking, which is sometimes also called dry camping, is when you camp someplace without any hook ups–whether that be in a store’s parking lot or in a federal campground. Sometimes you boondock because you are passing through an area and you simply need a place, close to the highway, to pull over and sleep for the night. Other times you boondock in a federal park or wildlife area where you want to experience the wonders of nature apart from a congested campground.
For this post, we’re going to focus on overnight boondocking in an urban setting, such as a store parking lot. Stay tuned for Part 2, however, where we’ll talk about our humorous experience boondocking in a national park.
Where can I boondock?
At the start of our Texas adventure, we had two very long drive days back-to-back. Since we did not need to unhook the camper from the van, it seemed silly to pay to park the camper in a campground while we slept for a few hours. So instead we decided to spend the night boondocking. Before we left on our trip, we did some research about the places where we could potentially boondock, and we have compiled this list thus far:
- Cracker Barrel
- Bass Pro Shop
- Flying J
- Camping World
If you are a full-timer who frequently is looking for boondocking locations, it might be helpful to subscribe to a service like Overnight RV Parking or participate in the Harvest Hosts program (we have not used either service).
How not to boondock
So now that we’ve talked about some of the places where you can boondock, let’s talk a little bit about how NOT to boondock:
- Don’t show up unannounced. You should always, always call ahead to make sure the location allows boondocking. Some store locations may not permit overnight parking due to local ordinances. When you call, it’s also best to ask to speak with the store manager to make sure you get a clear answer.
- Don’t park in high traffic areas. Park your rig out of the way. Some locations will even specify where you should park so as not to disrupt other shoppers or overnight store stocking. Cracker Barrels have RV/bus parking where you can pull in, but if your rig, like ours, is too long to fit you may need to park along the perimeter of the parking lot instead. In our case, the Cracker Barrel didn’t have anyone else expected that night, and the RV/bus lanes had already emptied out for the night. So to fit our rig in the RV/bus area, Jarrett positioned the camper at an angle across two of the RV/bus lanes.
- Don’t fully set up your camper like you would at a campground. Be discerning about how much you set up for the night. Some boondockers say you should refrain from putting out slide outs, using levelers, or setting down jacks. In our travel trailer it’s very difficult to walk through the camper with the slide-out in. On our night of boondocking at Cracker Barrel, Jarrett parked the camper strategically so that the slide-out opened above a landscaping divider and did not impede any traffic or block any additional parking spots. We also needed to put levelers on one side because the RV parking area was pretty sloped. The key is to be courteous and respectful of others and the property.
- Don’t be a moochdocker. The common courtesy–or unspoken rule of boondocking–is that you use your wallet to support that location, whether buying a meal or making a purchase in the store. It’s a small way to say thank you and hopefully encourage the location to continue allowing boondocking.
- Don’t assume all locations are a good place to stay. Be strategic about what boondocking spot you pick.
- How congested is the area? Will there be a lot of overnight noise from trucks coming in and out of the gas station next door, or from trucks making deliveries to the restaurant across the street? The Cracker Barrel where we stayed was surrounded by other restaurants, and during the night we were awoken several times to the beeping of trucks backing up and deliveries sliding off the back of loading ramps. In hindsight we should have stayed at the first Cracker Barrel we passed, which was located in a less busy area.
- How safe is the location? Is it well-lit? Are others boondocking there as well (safety in numbers!)? Trust your instincts when selecting a spot: If you don’t feel comfortable, keep driving until you find a better location.
So after our first experience with urban boondocking, some have wondered whether we would consider doing it again, and the short answer is yes, especially if we have back-to-back long drive days. But I’m not sure it really saved us any money spending the night at a Cracker Barrel–by the time we fed a family of five and perused the store area, we probably spent more than we do camping one night at state parks. Of course, it was a cinch to hop back on the road the next morning since the Cracker Barrel was located right off the freeway. Thus, I suppose it’s a trade-off.
So those are some of our boondocking tips for newbies. Stay tuned for Part 2 where you can laugh and learn from our adventures boondocking on Padre Island National Seashore. Let’s just say, that this next boondocking experience was an epic fail.