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Boondocking Tips

These boondocking tips will help you to enjoy a perfect RV vacation.

Boondock Definition: The term 'BOONDOCKING' usually refers to free (or almost free) overnight camping. In most instances, when you boondock you dry camp, or have limited amenities. You can boondock overnight in a large parking lot where permitted, but if you're up to it, you can also enjoy a fantastic boondocking vacation on government land or at other suitable locations.

Boondock Rationale:  There are two main rationales behind boondocking. The first is as an overnight stop on your way from point A to point B. In huge countries such as the US, Australia or Europe, it might take a lot of driving to reach your destination, and you may want to make one or more overnight stops on the way. On these occasions, your best option is usually a large parking lot such as one you might find at a Wal*Mart or other large shopping center. If you do stop over in a parking lot, please keep your area clean, and maybe buy some supplies as a way of saying 'Thank You'. (Not all shopping centers permit overnight parking. Check with the store manager first – all the locations listed here have phone numbers).

Lately, some websites, official US government websites among them, have come to refer to boondocking as 'dispersed camping'. Defined by the US Forest Service as 'camping outside developed campgrounds', dispersed camping, when you think about it, is actually an advanced form of RV camping. While this method has several advantages over regular camping, it is not for everybody, and a sense of adventure is a prerequisite. If you conduct your research correctly, you will find great camping sites in calm, tranquil environments, far from the madding crowd, but also relatively far from any amenities. If that's what you’re after, the fact that your stay will be free or almost free is just an added bonus.

The boondocking locations on this site include truck stops, Wal*Mart parking lots, state parks and government land.

Read these boondocking tips to ensure a perfect vacation:

General Boondocking TIP #1: Boondock with discretion

Remember, you're overnighting in a public place, so it's best to blend in rather than stick-out. Do not use awnings, lawn chairs and such when in rest areas or malls. Definitely do not set up your barbecue and start preparing a meal.

General Boodocking TIP #2: Boondocking locations

You are just about always welcome at Wal*Mart, and it is a preferred stopover for many RVers. DON'T set up camp for weeks, as others have done. You'll just ruin the welcome for others.

Another convenient overnight boondocking location is casino parking lots, which are almost always OK.

Important: Don't park before entering the Casino to check if overnight parking is permitted or some "coupon" required.

Other large parking lots may be OK too, just check the signs to see if they are limited to daytime parking only.

You can find good boondocking areas in the western USA. Byways abound, just be sure you don't block access to farming fields, or you may have to move your RV at 5 AM when convoys of workers arrive for work. Many Federal and State 'Wild Life Refuges' allow overnight parking.

General Boondocking TIP #3: Places to avoid

Downtown and many other areas that are fine by day can come alive with drug addicts and thugs after dark. Church lots used to be OK but now often have activities at all hours. Any place off the road that's littered with lots of beer bottles (unless you like to visit with drunken high-school kids and weirdos).

Security is a main concern to RVers, especially when boondocking. But it shouldn't spoil your fun if you take a few precautions. Get your outside business, like walking the dog and checking the engine done in daylight.

Exercise Caution: You can't avoid talking to other RVers, and probably don't want to, but be cautious. Don't invite strangers into the RV. Be alert! Watch for people coming up behind you.

If there are two of you, don't just hang out on the sofa while your partner is outside. Keep an eye on him/her.

General Boondocking TIP #4: Caravanning for fun and security

Caravanning, not just for security, but for mutual assistance and companionship works well for some people and many singles do it routinely. You need to be careful in selecting your companions. If nobody in the group has a sense of direction, tools or mechanical skills, the whole gang can end up sitting alongside the road with their finger stuck in their ear -- or someplace else.

Some people feel safer (and are) in a two-RV caravan. (But three or more can be a logistical nightmare when fueling or finding overnight parking.)

Apply common sense in all situations where you are approached by strangers at your stops. Never give anyone a ride! You could be robbed or maybe worse. Some will ask for "some change." Give them a dollar. Not from your wallet, keep a few singles in your pocket. Don't abuse them (it's no fun waking up with a flat tire). Some will have some pretty creative scams (on the way to a job in L.A. and need $20 for gas, here's my business card, I'll repay you). I went along with one of these once just for the hell of it, the guy's wife and kid looked pathetic. But I also gave him my card so he could repay. Most unlikely, thought I, tossed his card and forgot about it. Imagine my surprise a few weeks later when I received the $20 plus a bit more in the mail. You never can tell....

Some people just need a favor (and would do it for you). But be cautious. Maybe they really did forget their lug wrench. But maybe they want to borrow yours and beat your brains out.

Camping at free RV campgrounds can be a lot of fun if you make sure you adhere to these commonsense guidelines. Follow these tips for boondocking and use your own comon sense and you're sure to have a great time.

Read additional boondocking tips and reviews on TripAdvisor.

Enough boondocking tips? Check out our boondocking locations pages.

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