Boondocking is an inexpensive and freeing way to travel the country. For many RVers, it’s their primary mode of travel. Instead of staying at expensive RV parks and campgrounds, many ditch the luxury of full hook-ups to explore wide-open spaces and meet like-minded travelers.
But boondocking can be intimidating, especially for the uninitiated. Even if you haven’t boondocked before, numerous RVers have. Many have shared their experiences on YouTube.
Let’s take a look at what you can expect from boondocking when you set out on your next adventure and see some RVers’ first times boondocking!
What Is Boondocking?
Boondocking is camping without hookups or amenities on public lands. You have to be self-sufficient. You can’t rely on a power pole, water line, or sewage connection.
That means utilizing solar power or a generator for electricity, bringing your own freshwater, and storing and responsibly disposing of your wastewater and sewage.
People boondock on public lands such as a national forest or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. However, some folks also boondock in a Walmart or Cracker Barrel parking lot, at a winery or brewery, or at a designated campground that may have toilets and trash receptacles but no RV hook-ups.
Why Boondocking for the First Time Can Be Intimidating
Most people have at least some level of anxiety when it comes to their first boondocking experience. It can be intimidating, especially if you’re traveling to a remote location.
Even if you have all the necessary equipment, what happens when something breaks down? Do you have the wherewithal to fix things?
Boondocking also means knowing that you can’t just call ahead and make a reservation. It’s a first-come, first-served situation. This can be a little disconcerting until you’ve learned how to scout out locations.
5 RV Youtubers Go Boondocking for the First Time
Here are some actual boondocking experiences from five different YouTubers. They show a wide variety of ways to boondock, from different types of vehicles to a variety of locations.
1. Getaway Couple: We Were KICKED OUT Our First Time Boondocking!
Getaway Couple is Rae and Jason, a couple that ditched their three-bedroom Los Angeles apartment in 2017 and moved into a 400-square-foot fifth wheel to travel the U.S. For their first time boondocking, they joined some friends who had experience. They chose Quartzite, Ariz., for their maiden voyage.
The group missed a sign that prohibited camping in the area where they set up. After going out and about the next day, they returned to find warning notices telling them they had to leave.
Rae and Jason moved on, returning to their home state of California, but continued boondocking. There was a bit of a learning curve for dumping their tanks and finding freshwater, but they quickly figured it out.
Jason learned how to change the oil in their generator to keep it running smoothly. And they both learned how to conserve water to extend their boondocking time.
Despite getting evicted from their first site, Getaway Couple came away from their first foray into boondocking feeling happy about the experience and much more knowledgeable about how to do it safely.
2. Wanderlocal: Our Crazy First Dry Camping Experience
Wanderlocal is Lauren and Daniel, a couple that built their own healthcare communications firm. After watching a film on minimalism, they sold most of their belongings and took their business on the road in an Airstream trailer.
Wanderlocal stayed at a vineyard on the first night and spent the second at a brewery. Though they had the luxury of enjoying fine wine and beer and a live band, Lauren and Daniel still had to adapt to no hook-ups. It got a little cold the first night, and they didn’t know how to use their propane-powered furnace.
They also had trouble conserving water while doing dishes. Having used a significant amount of their water, they skipped showering. Lauren and Daniel also realized they hadn’t prepared well for cooking off-grid but found a way to make what they had work before moving on.
3. Rich and Kirsten: First Time Boondocking/Stealth Camping in our Minivan Camper
Rich and Kirsten are travel lovers who packed up and headed out to see the world. When the pandemic hit, they returned home to Canada, converted a minivan into a camper, and hit the road.
As part of their road trip across Canada, Rich and Kristen decided to try boondocking for the first time. Driving their converted minivan made it easy to check out three different possible sites on crown land (public land) before settling on a quiet lakeside boat launch.
The second night was the opposite. After driving all day, they camped overnight in a Walmart parking lot.
Though their vehicle was small, it had the advantage of making it easy to explore some of the places larger vehicles would find more difficult. And even though they spent a night in a parking lot, they also had a lovely riverside dinner on a picnic blanket before heading off to sleep.
4. Reset Your Journey: Our First Time Boondocking!
Reset Your Journey is a family of four that had it all. They had a successful fitness business, a dream home, and all the things that are supposed to make you feel fulfilled.
Only they weren’t. The Willards had been talking about traveling in an RV for a couple of years before 2020’s pandemic restrictions shuttered their business. They sold everything, bought an RV, and hit the reset button.
Their first boondocking experience was Forest Road 525 outside Sedona, Ariz. There were a lot of campers in this popular boondocking area, so they took one of the first spots they found. They unhooked, drove their truck up the road a bit farther, found a better spot, then re-hooked their trailer and moved.
Right away, they had trouble with one of their two generators. After some trial and error, they fixed the generators. That was the only major issue they faced.
With rather large holding tanks, they didn’t alter their water usage much. They explored the nearby trails and enjoyed the company of neighbors.
5. Mila & Tim: First Time Boondocking in the Desert | Scary Experience, Random Guy with a Rifle
Mila and Tim are a couple like many others who were dutifully toiling away at life but who had always wanted to travel. When they finally decided to do it, Mila quit her job as an Occupational Therapist Assistant, and Tim left his role as an AT&T Wire Technician. They bought an RV, started an e-commerce business, and hit the road.
Like Reset Your Journey, Mila and Tim’s boondocking expedition sent them down Forest Road 525. They even brought their friend Jenny along to try RVing before purchasing her own rig.
Mila and Tim enjoyed their first boondocking experience with no reports of any problems. They even found a place with a free dump station and potable water before they left the Sedona/Cottonwood area.
They made friends with several neighbors. One couple even had ATVs that they shared, so Mila and Tim got to take advantage of the numerous off-road trails that wrap around the FR 525 area.
Tips for Your First Time Out Boondocking
There are a few things to know before setting out on your first boondocking trip. First and foremost, be sure you have the essentials. Bring plenty of food and water, a source of power, and a way to go to the bathroom.
Always look ahead at the location where you plan to boondock. Check the weather for the area to plan for adverse conditions.
And use apps like Campendium and AllStays to find good boondocking locations, dump sites, water sources, etc. Both of these apps have loads of helpful information, as well as reviews.
Be sure that you have some backup options. If your initial location doesn’t pan out when you arrive, pivot to another spot or head to a Walmart, truck stop, or rest area for the night.
While boondocking, minimize your electricity and water usage as much as possible. Also, keep tabs on how much food and water you have and the levels in your storage tanks.
Make sure you factor in a place to drain your wastewater and sewage responsibly. Follow the golden rule of boondocking: Always clean up after yourself and leave any site better than you found it.
Is Boondocking Worth It?
There is definitely a learning curve to boondocking, but it’s a hill that’s worth the climb. Take it in baby steps. Learn your vehicle first. Take it to a place where you don’t have to be fully self-sufficient but still have to do some things differently. Maybe make your first boondocking experience alongside friends who already have the know-how.
Once you get the hang of it, boondocking is one of the best ways to travel. It’s less expensive and less crowded than most RV parks and developed campgrounds. There are fewer rules and restrictions. Packing up to move on can be a little less time-consuming. Best of all, you’re bound to come across any number of wonderful, like-minded people in your travels.
Have you ever tried boondocking? How did your first time go?
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