The Ins and Outs of RV “Boondocking” – What You Need to Know About Rules & Etiquette
We’ve covered some of the best RV parks and destinations around the country in past blog posts, but we haven’t really talked about where RVers stay in between destinations. Some people call this dry camping, others call it overnight parking, but for the sake of this post, I’m going to refer to it as boondocking. Now I’m not talking about setting up camp for long periods of time, I’m talking about staying for a few hours to a couple of days in a relatively safe location with little accommodations. We have criss-crossed the country several times in our motorhome, often dragging a 25’ trailer along with us, going to and from various RV shows and Rallies. Most of the time we have a long way to go, and a short time to get there. We simply don’t have time and luxury to go into a campground and set up for the night, in order to get some much needed sleep. Boondocking becomes a much needed place to sleep and rest up for the next 750 mile day, and also re-stock the kitchen as needed.
Some RV travelers are looking to be more thrifty in their adventures while others may just need to briefly catch some shut-eye. While the reasons for boondocking vary, the logistics of it remain the same, and there are “rules” of boondocking, just as there are “rules” of the road. Here’s what you need to know about good places to stay and how to go about boondocking.
FIRST OF ALL, THERE ARE RULES
As with many things, I’ve found that being polite and courteous will go a long way. It is also good to note that many boondocking sites require a little discretion. Free overnight parking and dry camping is offered as a courtesy by some businesses, camp sites, and lodges. These venues certainly don’t have to offer free services. You should always ask the manager for permission before settling in for the night. Not only is this polite, but it also makes your intentions known so that the manager and staff are at ease with your presence.
While boondocking, you should consider yourself a guest, and be courteous to your host. Don’t cause a big, obnoxious scene by rolling out your awning, setting up your lawn chairs, and firing up the barbecue in their parking lot – it’s rude. Not only will it reflect poorly on you, it could very well ruin it for other RVers. Show appreciation to a business by offering patronage – if they have a gas station, fill your tank. If you are low on toiletries or groceries, restock in their store. Before heading on down the road to your next destination, be sure to leave your site free of garbage or debris, even cleaning up after other folks…..
NOW, WHERE CAN I STAY FOR FREE?
RETAIL PARKING LOTS
Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club have a welcoming corporate policy toward RV travelers, and it seems many RVers have taken advantage of their hospitality. The most popular and well-known overnight parking is offered by Wal-Marts across the nation, but it is important to check with store managers as policy can change from state-to-state and store-to-store. Some locations even offer extra peace of mind with security guards who patrol the parking lot. Many Wal-Mart locations are open 24-hours and have ample parking, making the destination easy to navigate, convenient, and price-savvy.
Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shop, and Outdoor World have been known to allow overnight RV parking. Many Cabela’s locations have a dedicated RV area with dump stations and (occasionally) hookups, although more amenities are sometimes offered at a price. Some Cabelas also offer a place to unload, feed and water horses… ( I know, not that many RVers haul their horses along. Buy hey, it happens.) Some RVers steer clear of these retailers simply because (like kids in a candy store) a free night’s stay ends up costing a lot more in merchandise!
Since we traveled the same Interstate routes a lot, we even keep a log of every boondock stop, making notes about ease of access, noise, and other factors which help us find our favorite sleeping spots on future trips.
TRUCK STOPS AND REST STOPS
While not always ideal (and sometimes not even safe), there are many truck stops and rest areas that allow overnight parking. Some Pilot travel centers and all Flying J locations welcome RV travelers and offer RV dumps, bulk propane, dedicated RV fuel lanes and even free overnight parking. These locations are great stopping points on a long journey, if you can sleep through the bustling of trucks and other vehicles coming and going. If you plan on staying at another truck stop, be mindful of the truckers coming and going and be sure to ask permission from the business manager. Remember, those trucks are there because it is their livelihood. Please give them the right of way, and try to stay out of their way.
As a rule, I recommend avoiding overnight stays in public rest stops. If you are unfamiliar with the area and there isn’t a lot of highway traffic, you can easily become a sitting target. Busy rest areas are sometimes okay, as they tend to be patrolled by police officers. Be mindful of the posted rules and regulations if you feel you must stay in a rest area.
Plenty of information about boondocking, dry camping and overnight parking is available online. RV forums are full of travel enthusiasts willing to share their experiences and advice on the subject, so don’t be afraid to ask around! Here are three great links to more information:
Remember to be courteous and always stay safe in your travels!