"Boondocking" is just another way of saying "camping without hookups." No convenient water and sewer connection, no electricity from the campground power plug. Unlike on Gilligan's Island, however, there will be phones and lights and a motor car (of course), and more than a few luxuries.
But I can hear some of you thinking to yourselves in horror, "just camping without hookups? But how will I have air conditioning? How long will the batteries last? What if we run out of water? Why would anyone want to do that?"
There are a number of good reasons you need to try boondocking. But before we get into those, let's clear up a major misconception: Boondocking is not about deprivation. It's actually quite the opposite.
Boondocking is about freedom from crowded RV parks and the ability to enjoy peace and quiet in a more natural environment.
Remember, you've got an Airstream, not a tent or a pop-up camper. Even without umbilical cords from a campground you have lights, hot and cold water, heat, a refrigerator, cooking, a comfy bed, and storage for all of your clothes and toiletries. Even without hookups you'll be able to enjoy a breeze from the fans, take a hot shower, watch a movie, have coffee in the morning, and make all of your meals in the comfort of your Airstream.
The morning after spending a night camped by an apple orchard in Connecticut. No neighbors!
Tothie and I can boondock for up to three nights and still take daily showers (including hair washing) and make several meals a day.
The only things you can't do without shore power is run the air conditioner, microwave, and blow dryer (and even those can be run if you have a generator), or take an endless shower.
Now that you understand that boondocking will not deprive you of most travel comforts, here are the top reasons why you should you try it:
If you're tired of being 10 feet from your neighbor when you're "getting away from it all", boondocking is for you.
Once you've learned the skill of water and power conservation, you can start hunting out lesser-known and much more beautiful places to camp. Our National Forests, for example, are riddled with camping opportunities—some developed, some completely informal— and most of them lack hookups entirely. You'll find similar opportunities on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and other public lands that permit overnight stays.
Try camping next to a dry lake in California, along a waterway managed by the Corps of Engineers in Florida, in a peaceful, wooded spot with a spectacular view of Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming, or in the midst of a pine forest in heartland. If not complete solitude, you can at least find privacy, quiet, and room to stretch out, when you start to camp away from the crowds.
Rockstar view while boondocking at Devils Tower National Monument. Because the campground is inside the gate, you can beat the crowds and hike around the tower before the park opens.
We just returned from Organ Pipe Cactus National Park where the desert wildflower bloom was stunning. Each campsite at this no-hookups park is thick with desert vegetation and has a concrete pull-through pad. The dark skies, spectacular landscape, and peacefulness far outweigh the need for the microwave or gala-ready hair. Plus, the park's modern and clean bathhouses offer solar heated water for showers on a first come, first served basis.
More choice of campsites
When you boondock, you don't have to sweat making a reservation. Generally you just identify the place you want to go, and park there. Only a few spots are so popular that you might get shut out at peak times. You can find suggestions of great places in many online forums and social media sites.
With boondocking skills, a world of camping opportunities opens up. I've camped on a fishing pier, under a bridge, alone in peaceful county parks, in an apple orchard, and next to a hot spring. You can park overnight anywhere that the ground is reasonably level and firm, and it's not prohibited or unsafe. That leaves quite a bit of North America available to you. And as a bonus, many of these hidden gems are free or very cheap!
A very very quiet night spent at the remote Spencer Hot Springs in Nevada, off Route 50.
If you want to ease into camping without hookups, consider a night or two at a Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome site. Not only are many of these located in interesting and beautiful places, you typically have easy access to the host if you run into problems. Which makes camping without hookups less daunting than parking out on BLM land.
More "analog" time
One of the big trends in RV'ing is the idea that "you can work from anywhere". I've been guilty of that for a long time, but in recent years I've recognized how much I want to disconnect when I'm traveling. More often than not, my laptop computer stays in its travel case for days—and I regard that as a "win".
Boondocking requires some effort to conserve electricity, so use that to your advantage. Leave the electronics and the social media distractions in a box somewhere. Make coffee with a stove-top percolator or pour-over (anything that doesn't plug in). Write a note to a friend in longhand and stick a stamp on it. Play a game that involves cards, dice, pegs, or little plastic hotels. Read a book. Take pictures with your camera and don't worry about uploading or posting them to social media immediately.
All of this gives your brain a chance to relax and wash away the stresses of our fast, politicized, tribal, challenging days.
You've probably read articles about "how to do a 'digital detox'." It's easier when you remember that you're living off a pair of batteries. What do you value more: browsing Facebook on a computer, or being able to run the furnace tonight?
More flexibility when traveling
If you're inexperienced at boondocking you might feel like you absolutely must get to a campground before you can stop for the night. But if you're prepared to boondock, you can stop wherever you like. That means you can camp in a friend's driveway, at a Wal-Mart or any quiet spot you find.
It also means you won't have "get-there-itis"—a disease that can be dangerous or even fatal if you feel compelled to drive too long when you're tired. Pull over, sleep a few hours, take a refreshing shower and have something to eat. You don't need to set up camp to make use of your boondocking skills.
It's a great feeling to know you can use your Airstream in nearly any situation. An emergency might force you to evacuate your home (or campground), like a wildfire or hurricane. With your Airstream and some skills, you're ready to bug out in comfort and style. There's a reason we named our Airstream "The Fort."
Interested in learning more? Check out these blogs we've written:
Tothie's first experience boondocking
Power conservation tips and tricks
Why you need an amp-hour meter
Which is better, solar or generator?
And for members of the Airstream International Club there’s Courtesy Parking.
Rich, thanks for this informative article. As new owners of an Airstream Interstate we are chopping at the bit to get on the road. But when we looked at how booked up the reservation sites are we became disillusioned. So this points us in the direction of a new skill set and opportunities we hadn’t thought of before.
Any boondocking advice for those of us that live in New England? Unfortunately, there isn’t the amount of BLM land and wide open spaces that are out West. There is Harvest Host, but sometimes those aren’t exactly removed from the crowds (think breweries).
Ken, it’s definitely tougher in the crowded Northeast states, but there are plenty of boondocking opportunities. Instead of BLM land, look for state parks that lack hookups, US Forest Service locations (https://www.fs.usda.gov/visit), and privately-owned land that might allow “overnight parking”. For example, I remember spending a night at a marina on a river in Connecticut (after asking for permission, of course). In Maine, the northern half of the state is largely owned by timber companies and certain parts are open to camping.
Once you tune your eyes to seeking out possible camping spots, you’ll start to find them everywhere. Ask friends, too. Our orchard stay, for example, was arranged by a friend who simply called another friend that owned the orchard, and asked if we could park overnight. Most of the time you’ll find that people have never considered the idea of letting someone park an Airstream on their land, but once they wrap their head around the idea (and are reassured that you’ll treat the land with respect), they’re usually receptive.
With a 30 foot Airstream (nickname Big Curtis) we have found that while the true boondocking spots might be very nice when you get to them, GETTING TO THEM is often problematic……uneven dirt roads causing “bottom drag” or overhead tree limbs risking damage to the Airstream. Even though we are glampers, we still “get out there” to fly fish or hike or just sit and relax. (Usually Jenn sits and reads while I’m fishing, after finding a spot far “from the maddening crowd.)
Boondocking for us would also mean lots more difficulty cleaning the trout I catch. 🎣🧭. But, as they say, “to each his own.”
Hey Rich V-O:
I hear you on the tree and bottom scraping issue. Remember, I towed a 30-footer for 15 years, so I did my share of tree-trimming. But keep in mind that boondocking isn’t usually about off-roading. Most of the places I visited were easily accessible spots like driveways, bridges, parking lots, lawns, and state parks without hookups.
Cleaning fish—now, that’s a whole other story! ;-) And of course, there’s no shame in being a “glamper” but I seem to remember seeing you two at a boondocking rally in Pasadena just a couple of months ago … and you were having a fine time!