In 2018 we challenged ourselves to spend less than $100 in camping fees for the whole year. But wait … lets go back a bit.
When we bought our 39′ Grand Design 5th wheel and started prepping to leave on our journey, we were diving into the research and asking lots of questions. We were a sponge and wanted to learn everything we could about this boondocking thing. We were not new to RVing, but we were new to full-time RVing and boondocking. I had all the same questions all of you have repeated back to me in the last 2 years. “Is it scary?”, “Do you leave your rig unattended?”, “How do you find the places?”, “How do you know if you’ll fit?”, “Where do I start”, “How do you dump your tanks?”. So back when I was doing my research and trying to learn everything, I was sadly met with things like “give it up, you’ll never boondock in that thing”, and “boondocking in a rig like that isn’t possible.” and “no, we don’t share our information.” To say I was deflated was an understatement. We were told on several occasions we’d never be able to boondock in a Grand Design because it was too fru-fru and too big. Wait … What? Ha! Yes, we were actually told that. So I set out on a mission to prove we could absolutely do this in our size rig.
And with that, I decided I was going to help everyone who asked. I was going to do the research, and answer questions, and always share what I knew. I would mentor people and get them to their goals if need be. And, that’s what we’ve done!
YES! Yes, you can boondock in epic, amazing, places in a 39′ (apparently Fru-Fru) 5th Wheel.
Our 1st year of boondocking we did not have solar, and we had a small lead-acid battery bank. Yes, you can boondock with just that. We ran our generators, but we still did it. If you want to see some of the places we boondocked in 2017, check out our tips for boondocking here
At the end of 2017, we saved enough to buy some solar panels. Justin did all the installation himself, and it gave us even more freedom. We decided since it was the end of the year, we would see if we could go all of 2018 under $100. And that we did!
So here’s why you came to read this! You want to know how we did it. I’m going to give you some tips, and then the steps we take to find our places, and then I’m going to give you some helpful items that we did not have in the beginning, but we absolutely couldn’t live without now that we are all in!
- Don’t be afraid! Don’t live your life afraid. Leave your RV. Explore. Live! If there is anything in your rig that is not replaceable then take it with you. We personally have nothing in our rig (other than our pup) that can’t be replaced. The only priceless thing I have, I wear on my finger.
- Always have a plan B. Always! This is something that has saved us a few times. There is only so much research you can do online.
- Ask friends for tips on places in the area you’re going to.
- Be flexible. Our hardest times finding boondocking places is when we “have to” be in a certain area. We’re either lucky or not. And we don’t stress about it. If the cost of fuel is going to be more getting to/from our certain destination every day, then we find a low-cost RV park and go in. No biggie!
- My last tip is … if you have never boondocked and you start doing it, you’re going to be hooked. You’re going to love it.
Read our Boondocking Myths Debunked – It’s important to rule out these doubts!
HOW WE FIND OUR BOONDOCKING AREAS
We first have a destination. That’s a chore in itself for us sometimes. Ha! There are days we have no idea what we’re having for dinner, let alone where we want to go next. But once we find our destination, we then start jumping on our favorite websites to find free boondocking locations. Our top 3 favorite websites are:
Here is a list of all the websites/apps we use. But the above are our go to’s first.
Below is an example of what came up when I went into Free Campsites [dot] net and searched Moab, Utah. It shows me where Moab is by the STAR in the middle, and then all those green squares are all free areas to camp. If you click on them you can get all the details, reviews, pictures, etc. Please look at all the websites/apps. They are all different with different information. Even if you find the same place on 2 or 3 websites, the reviews and information might be different and more beneficial on one vs. the other. Sometimes you’ll find an amazing place on one website, and it won’t even be listed on the other.
So once we find the location we like, and according to the reviews, we think we can fit, and all looks good. We then take it to Google Maps, and we look at the area from above, the road going in, etc.
Again, we always have a plan B. (I can’t stress this enough) We find more than one in the same-ish area and then our 3rd option is a Walmart, or Cracker Barrel in the area as a last resort. We really do not stay at WM or CB often unless we are literally passing through and just need a few hours of sleep to get up and drive again. You don’t want to arrive at a boondocking location that might have ended up being closed due to maintenance, flooding, or yes, even a government shut down, and not have a plan of somewhere else to go.
This process takes us about 20 minutes now. It can take us longer if we’re looking for something specific, or in a very specific area that we aren’t flexible with, but typically doesn’t take us too long to find locations.
And that’s that! We head out to our next destination!
OUR BEST BOONDOCKING GEAR
Through the years we have found a few things we consider priceless for our boondocking. Everyone is different, but we don’t mind spending the money if it makes our boondocking more comfortable.
- 60-gallon water bladder – This folds up smaller than a typical book when it’s empty and stored. It’s strong. Great quality. We don’t have to move our rig or carry around jugs to go get water. This has been a game-changer for us.
- Yes, we have solar, but there is still rain. Sometimes for many days. We have had 2 Champion Generators since we left in 2017 and we have nothing bad to say about them. They work like a champ (sorry … that was cheesy).
- Luci Lights – These are great!!! We love these, and now they even come with a USB phone charger. I mean charging your phone with a solar light is genius right? You might think they are a little pricy, but I promise if you buy one, you’ll be buying more.
- Clam Shelter – This has been so fun to sit in with friends on a cooler night with our propane fire pit inside (yes you can) and enjoy a warm, bug-free area. Please don’t buy cheap brands! We have had several people approach us telling us that they regretted buying the cheaper brand and they saved less than $100.
- Propane Firepit – I fought Justin on purchasing this. I mean for free we can gather wood and sit by the fire. I am so glad we have this now and so thankful I gave in on buying it.
- Strongback Chairs – These don’t look like much, but with our bad backs, they are truly lifesavers. Best chairs ever. I wish they would do something with the flimsy cup holder, but that’s really my only complaint. We love these chairs!!
- Buddy Heater – We traveled East for the holidays and I can’t tell you how amazing this little thing is to have!
HOW DO WE FIND OUR RESOURCES WHILE BOONDOCKING?
We wrote a blog about that! Check out How to Find Resources While Boondocking
We are here to tell you this – If you want to boondock, you can absolutely do it. No, you can’t get into every boondocking area, but you can get into millions of them. And you can have the epic views!
And our biggest question in 2018 was ….
HOW DO WE DUMP OUR TANKS?
To that, I always say “the same as everyone else”. Just because we boondock all the time doesn’t mean we don’t move. We consider ourselves Full-Time RV Travelers. We don’t stay in one exact location for months on end. In fact, after about a week or two, maybe even three, we start to get a little antsy and start looking for our next adventure. So to fully answer your question, we go to the dump station. Those are easily found all over the U.S. See our blog above on how we find our resources. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at how easy they are to find! Since we can bring water to our rig with our water bladder (see above link), we really can go about 2 weeks in one location. Yes, we use our bathroom. We didn’t pay all the money for an RV to go outside or use a porta-potty. Our black tank is big enough that we can go a little over 2 weeks before we feel it’s time to go find a dump station. And no, it doesn’t smell. Ever! (I’m a little picky and have been called a bit of a clean freak a time or two, so that would be unacceptable.) And even if we decided we wanted to stay longer than 2 weeks, it’s not hard to hook up, go dump, and come back. We’ve done that before!
HOW DO WE GO MONTHS WITHOUT RUNNING OUR GENERATORS?
This wasn’t always the case! We didn’t always have solar, or lithium batteries. It’s been a work in progress. We’ve saved and installed everything in stages. If you’re interested in seeing our solar set up, check out Justin’s solar blogs starting here. You can also join Justin’s DIY solar group on Facebook. I often refer to Justin as the “RV Solar God”. He’s now up to about 9 installs, but more than the actual install, he’s got the knowledge. I’ve listened to him walk people through a fix 3,000 miles away, while on the phone. Now that’s impressive to a girl who needs help understanding the difference in screwdrivers. Installing your system yourself will save quite a bit of money. Click here to join the DIY Facebook Group.
Whew! If you made it this far ~ Thank you! I hope you learned something. What I can tell you is that like most new things in life, it’s a learning process. I can now say it’s extremely easy to find the sites, get to the sites and I know what I need to look for in the information available. What I can’t tell you is what I’ll find when I get there if that information can’t be obtained online. And that has happened. Last month we arrived at our Plan A spot to discover the entire road was shut down due to construction. We tried to approach from the other side, and it was indeed completely closed from one end to the other. Nowhere online could I have found that. So we had to go to Plan B. But when we first started out, since it was all self-taught, it was not easy. So I encourage you to reach out, we can certainly walk you through it! We can work together to find you your first spot, or just use one of our previous spots. That’s why we share them. You can find our 2018 travel map here and I even learned more about the google maps this year and 2019 will be much more detailed with pictures, and much more information. If you’re interested in boondocking, just do us a favor … you have to do it 7-10 times before you make a decision on if you like it or not. Of course, the very first time we boondocked, we both fell in love with it. But I’m here to tell you that you really need to give it a chance. If your first experience isn’t rainbows and sunshine, and more like mud and rain, please don’t give up! We are here to help!
Reach out! We don’t mind! OptingOutofNormal@gmail.com
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