By now, you all know that I am hoping to purchase an RV and travel the country while working from the road. I previously wrote about Six of my Favorite Travel Campers. There are many people who want to live this kind of lifestyle, but, feel they can’t afford it. So, I researched that further and found that it is actually cheaper to live as an RVer than it is to live in an apt or house, paying rent or mortgage. Here’s my post on RV Budgeting That Won’t Break the Bank. What Can the RV Life Cost? This post is about finding a location for a free RV campsite.
One of the best ways of keeping your budget down? Boondocking! What is boondocking you ask? Well, I’m glad you did 🙂 Boondocking is parking your RV/Camper at set locations that do not cost you anything. There are many locations across the country. Boondocking suits your gypsy heart because you are not set to hook up at a campsite or an RV Park. While you can’t just boondock anywhere, it sometimes feels like you can. You can set your camper on any public land. Public land is owned by US Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Each agency or bureau have different agendas, but most allow “dispersed camping” aka “boondocking” on their land. In short, you can camp wherever you find a spot that seems suitable and accessible. First, the agenda as while they are government offices, their missions are not the same.
The US Forest Service (USFS) is part of the Department of Agriculture, while the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) is part of the Department of the Interior.
Per their sites, both have a mission “to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.”
As a result, both of these agencies manage two kinds of activities on their land: recreational use (camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, biking) and productive use (cattle grazing, mining, logging, etc.).
In stark contrast to the USFS and BLM, the mission of the National Park Service is to preserve America’s natural and historical treasures. For this reason, the whole notion of dispersed camping runs contrary to their charter, which is preservation. As in, don’t touch, keep your hands off. You get the idea.
Now for the rules. The rules for boondocking and are usually very simple and nonnegotiable:
- You can stay at a location that there is evidence of a campfire ring or other signs of being a campsite. Do not park and build your own. These are set already for safety
- Observe fire restrictions. Some locations it is easier for a wildfire to start. I wouldn’t want to be on the losing end of that lawsuit!
- Clean up after yourself. Any trash in, must go out. Common courtesy basically
- Bury any human waste under at least 6″ of dirt. Keep a hand shovel handy
- Depending on the location, you can stay a total of 14 – 16 days. Then, as any full time gypsy RVer, time to move on to your next destination
If camping is not allowed, there will be a sign stating “No Overnight Parking” in an easy to see location when you enter the park. So, in other words, even living a gypsy lifestyle, you will still want to make sure you know where you can and can’t park yourself for the night.
The reasoning for the 14 – 16 day time limit is understandable. They don’t want people to set up and call the land their home and have to go through an eviction process. As much as we may love the idea of the early 1800’s, wagon trails and the Gold Rush and setting up where you want and calling it home? We’re not in the wild west any longer. We are a civilized society, for the most part and we don’t want to ruin this lifestyle for others by having gun shy agencies say it’s too much trouble. We want to be able to enjoy nature at it’s finest. Even if it’s two weeks at a time.
In some locations, Rangers will monitor how long you’ve stayed. And if there aren’t, let’s still make sure to be respectful of the rules :). If you want to stay somewhere longer, it’s best for you to either set up at an RV park. For shorter stays, just passing through an area that may not have a boondocking area, you can join a community of RVer’s (that I just recently heard about!) who have land and don’t mind allowing you to set up on their land.
Check out Boondockers Welcome for a list of host locations throughout the United States. If you are an RVer and haven’t joined Boondockers Welcome, you can join by clicking here: Boondockers Welcome – Be My Guest RV Parking. They have memberships available for Hosts as well as Guests only. (Please note, I’ve edited this information at the request of the Boondockers Welcome site owner. I misunderstood the purpose. They are a short term community. Not a long term community.)
Speaking of Rangers. There will be offices at various regions. They are a great source of information. See if they have maps and ideas of what to do in that area. Get to know them. If you particularly like a specific spot, ask how long you have to be gone before you can come back again.
You CANNOT camp at American National Parks. Grand Canyon and Yosemite are off limits. The only exception is at Big Bend National Park in TX. Check out the Tips & Tricks of Boondocking at Big Bend.
Giving a shout out to RoadsLessTraveled.us for being such a great resource! I love their site as they’ve been doing this since 2007. They are in my bookmarks :).
As you can see from the information provided, being a full time RVer is doable on a budget. You get to see places you normally wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Don’t have the misconception that you have to do something at every location. Sometimes, there is nothing wrong with sitting back for two weeks and enjoy the location in front of you. Set up your awning, pull out your chairs, light a fire and enjoy the view.
I will be posting more about boondocking as well as RVing in general. I have a great blog series coming in the next year as well. Make sure you stay tuned!
Disclosure: I am an Affiliate with Amazon and Boondockers Welcome. There are affiliate links included in this post.