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Does a bad boondocking trip kill the concept for new RVers?

March 17, 2012 by Bob Difley · 40 Comments  
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By Bob Difley
boondocking_coloradoIn last week’s post,  A boondocker’s bag of tricks, among the many responses was one that got me thinking about how RVers view boondocking–especially those that don’t.  ”Bobbie” wrote:

I don’t know why everyone raves about how great boondocking is. We went to Quartzsite, AZ to boondock with some friends who have gone there the last 4 years in January. The RVs were almost bumper to bumper, or side to side, just as close or closer than many campgrounds I have stayed in. The nights were cold, and we had to use our propane heater. We used about two- one lb. propane tanks per day. We were told we could not run our generators after a certain hour at night or until a certain hour in the morning out of respect for our neighbors. We got no tv service, even with the antenna. We took full showers every other day, with wash ups on alternate days. I like my long hot showers and missed not being able to have one.

My friends went into town daily to Mesa RV for the free lunch, which would be great if it was close by but, it was about 8 to 10 miles into town and the same back to the rv. I figure it was at least 1/2 to 1 gallon of gas per day into town not counting all the gas we spent in getting the rig and tow car down to AZ from our town in central CA. For the $1000 or more the trip cost us, to my way of thinking was not worth it at all.

Give me full hook ups and long showers, and electricity, and WIFI, and cable tv any day. I will gladly pay the nightly, weekly fee to have my aminities. Thank you very much. I know this is not the kind of post you were expecting, but this is the other side of the coin and I am sure there are many people just like me.

I suspect that if a poll were taken of random RVers, there would be a much greater percentage of those with Bobbie’s view than with a pro-boondocker’s view. And it makes me wonder that had those RVers that tried boondocking for the first time had a more positive experience, whether there would be more who would enjoy the experience than be turned off by it.

boondocking_overlooking_lakeFor instance what if Bobbie had taken her first boondocking trip with friends who didn’t squeeze her into a camping spot as crowded as a campground. The definition of boondocking includes camping out in the boonies, away from civilization, immersed in nature. A crowded LTVA in Quartzsite hardly qualifies as boondocking, it is what I would call dry-camping–camping without hook-ups. But dry-camping, though it how boonndockers camp, is not the total definition.

And what if Bobbie’s friends had been more interested things boondockers do–hiking, visiting scenic vistas, learning more about the uniqueness of the desert, taking wildflower walks, and visiting historic sites, rather than heading for the free lunch at Mesa RV. I know few boondockers who are more interested in watching TV than all the other opportunities boondocking has to offer.

Many first time boondockers, such as Bobbie, also don’t realize what changes or additions to their rig would make their boondocking trips more pleasureable, no matter what one’s pleasures might be.  Take heat for instance. Bobbie mentions using two 1-pound canisters of propane per day. Does she realize that her forced air furnace uses a lot more? Dedicated boondockers have learned to install a catalytic heater that requires no electrical power that drains the batteries (like a forced air furnace) and that they can plumb into their main propane system, rather than use expensive 1-pound bottles.

And how about those long hot showers. That could be remedied by carrying extra Jerry jugs of water or a water bladder, as well as by practicing water conservation (such as Navy showers). An abundance of electricity would be possible by installing solar panels, and wifi with a satellite internet system.

None of the disappointments, or grievances, with her boondocking trip were insurmountable from a technical standpoint. Not that boondocking requires all those goodies, it just makes it more comfortable and therefore enjoyable. Most boondockers do not boondock just to save campground fees, though that is an important perk, but rather to camp out in nature, no crowded campgrounds, peace and quiet, solitude, more freedom to camp where you choose–not just where someone built a campground or RV resort–and all the other wonderful pleasures that go with “true” boondocking.

What if Bobbie’s first boondocking experience, rather than turning into a complete turnoff, would have become a window to a whole new world of RVing, another enjoyable way to use her rig with a freedom not possible when requiring hookups to camp. I wonder if Bobbie, and all the other RVers that had a bummer experience on their first boondocking trips, had had a better experience, maybe they would have found the enjoyment that we veteran, dedicated boondockers do.

Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public LandsSnowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.

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40 Responses to “Does a bad boondocking trip kill the concept for new RVers?”

  1. Agesilaus on March 17th, 2012 4:49 pm

    Some people are just too urbanized to enjoy the wilder side of life. Real boondocking for instance. They worry about their clothes, their hair, getting dirty, wild critters, the weather, getting lost and so on. Fortunately my wife and kids are all of the mind set that we love be away from civilization, hiking and exploring new places (to us). But I’d say we are in the minority now days. Not that we aren’t joined by many others, the people reading this column for example.

    We were friends with a couple from NY (we are in Florida) and the woman flatly refused to go swimming in Florida rivers because they are ‘dirty’. Now if you are familiar with the rivers down here they mostly have a brown tint from filtering thru fallen oak leaves. But the water is crystal clear except the tint. And probably considerably cleaner than any river in New York State. But I can bet that she would never enjoy boondocking, away from her TV, no matter how good the experience was. Was to people willing to let themselves enjoy it anyway.

  2. Gale on March 17th, 2012 4:57 pm

    I spent January and February boondocking in the Quartzsite area and had a wonderful time. I spent 10 days at Senator Wash (N of Yuma) and 32 days at La Posa South. To get away from the crowd I made camp 1 1/2 miles from the Welcome station. My nearest neighbor was 120 yards away.
    This was my first experance boondocking but I came perpared with 600 Ah of batteries and 470 watts of solar panels. I also carried a 50 gal. water tank in the back of the truck and a 32 gal blueboy.
    My 30′ 5th wheel proved itself and I found that I love the desert.
    OH ya I had 14 TV stations + my satellite dish + internet by way of my Verizon Mifi card.
    It may be called boondocking but it dowsn’t have to mean roughing it.

  3. B.J. McCord on March 18th, 2012 4:34 pm

    Miss Bobbie, and anyone like her, would never set foot in my RV.

  4. larry on March 18th, 2012 4:48 pm

    Your picture by the stream, where is that. I’m told by the forest service no camping near any open water. They also showed me how to read a national forest map indicating where boon-docking is legal. It wasn’t anywhere near lakes or streams!

  5. P.w.prawl on March 18th, 2012 5:21 pm

    She may as well stay at home on the back porch!

  6. M H Bell on March 18th, 2012 5:35 pm

    If the price of Fuel and Campgrounds goes up anymore a lot of us will be doing a lot more boon docking. Right now we do about 50/50 Boon Docking / Dry Camping and Staying in RV Parks / Camp Grounds. So far this year it has been all Dry Camping 2 weeks at Quartzsite.

  7. Big Bubba on March 18th, 2012 5:42 pm

    Hi, Bob. I don’t think Bonnie is cut out for anything approaching boondocking, not even a night at a Walmart. Some folks aren’t, so they should go to good quality rv parks, of which there are an abundance. I think we are both happier if she is nowhere near me, crammed in or dispersed at Quartzite, or along the north fork of the Boise River, or at Burning Man. We shouldn’t try to sell everyone on boondocking. I would feel ripped off at a $100 per night upscale resort,. She wants all the amenities that come along with it. Good comments, but I think you are being unrealistic about converting folks to boondocking that have no desire for it.

  8. Big Bubba on March 18th, 2012 5:44 pm

    Sorry, I had “Bonnie” on my mind, rather than remembering her name is “Bobbie”.

  9. Thomas on March 18th, 2012 5:50 pm

    Take a few hours and read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” Persig’s riding companions were on a BMW and knew next to nothing about their own bike. There are lots of people for whom the idea of roughing it is a motel with a CRT TV. Some are just not cut out for being inconvenienced. We should leave them alone.

  10. Dennis on March 18th, 2012 6:15 pm

    I think that most wilderness boondockers come by their love of it from early experiences camping….in a tent. First you must learn the value of sharing a lake with two or three other campers or, better yet, all by yourself and then you are willing to equip a motorhome with the extras it needs for real camping (odd that you should have to, but…) in comfort.. If your first camping expereience is in a RV resort with all the amenities in a Class A you paid more than $100,000 for then your lifestyle standards have probably excluded you from the tent camping set in your formative years. Though I have travelled through that part of the country, I have never camped at Quartzite, but I understand it is more of a social event destination than a back-to-nature experience, much like boondocking at an outdoor music festival. I am a tent-to-tent trailer-to-motorhome camper who is blessed to live in central British Columbia where there are hundreds of fantastic wilderness boondocking experiences to be had within 500 miles of home. Come up and try it.

  11. Glen Jones on March 18th, 2012 6:17 pm

    Boondocking is going to be a thing of the past, Read the Forest Service Travel Management plan, here in Oregon one National forest has already closed 8000 miles of roads. I have also complained about the restrictions they do not take into
    account disabled, power wheelchairs and disabled scooters are considered
    motor vehicles as far as the Forest Service and ODFW are concerned and not allowed on closed roads. but also the plan even on open roads you cannot pull
    more then the vehicle lenght off the road.

  12. Glen Jones on March 18th, 2012 6:57 pm

    Correction, do not know why I have 8000 miles on my mind this is the 2nd time.
    IT Is only 4000 miles closed on the one forest here in Oregon so far.
    The others are still working on there road plans

  13. James Okvist on March 18th, 2012 8:35 pm

    I am amazed by articles on Boondocking. There are several themes that always show up. The first is that the only way to spend time in an RV is to Boondock. I have boondocked several times and it is not the way I want to spend the four months a year that I spend RVing. I can understand that some people like it and I respect their choice but that does not mean that I have to have the same opinion.
    The second theme is that the reason that people boondock is to commune with nature. Yet every article talks about staying in Walmart parking lots. A Walmart parking lot is about as far away from nature as you can get. This article talked about boondocking at Quartzite. All the articles that I have read about Quartzite make it sound like staying at a huge flea market. Not for me.
    If you want to encourage people to boondock suggest they boondock in a place that has some scenic wonder like Moab Utah.

    Jim

  14. John vanTeylingen on March 18th, 2012 8:43 pm

    Bobbie we have spent the last 2 years boondocking down by Quartizite and it has been very enjoyable. We camp near Bouse and have no real close neibghors. we have solar panels and have no battery problems. Water and sewer dump is about one mile away for a mear $10. Sorry your first time out was near that many people. We’ve been by where you camped and it would not be very enjoyable to stay there. We where in Quartzite during the RV show and there where alot of people but very enjoyable. But my advise would be to move a little farther away from the crowds and you may really enjoy boondocking

  15. Kurt Hammerschmidt on March 18th, 2012 8:44 pm

    To my way of thinking it is like taking a socialite out of NYC and putting her on a dairy farm for a wek, To that socialite it will be the most miserable time of her life. The same is true of boondocking. If you’re not capable of enjoying the simpler way of life without the “conveniences” like 30 minute hot water showers, than you are best to avoid boondocking as you will never be able to understand the joys others get from it. I havea friend that shares many of my values and we get along great but he can not understand what I enjoy about fishing. I took him once in the hope that I could enlighten him. It was a waste of time. The same is true for Bobbie I fear.

  16. Colleen Boe on March 18th, 2012 9:04 pm

    I think the worst place in the world to break into boondocking would be Quartzite….(or maybe Afghanistan.) I’ve done it….twice….and I almost wanted to give up RVing. Crowds and dust! Like how many people can you squeeze in a VW bug? There are lovely places out there but Qtz. isn’t one of them! Colleen

  17. stephanie on March 18th, 2012 9:50 pm

    I don’t think of boondocking as just Walmart or Quartzite or even just a non-campground. To me boondocking is anywhere, including a campground, where you do not have electricity or other amenities like a pool or laundry. The national park and forest campgrounds are similar to hard-core boondocking and give you a chance to see the wonderful and scenic areas of our great country. If you are going to spend your RVing time in a pricey RV park in the middle of some town–why bother? You are missing out on the whole concept of RVing. Might as well just go to a motel and save money of the high cost of gas for a Class A. To bad, Bobbie, that you are going to miss out on the best part of RVing based on one experience.

  18. Dalton Tamney on March 18th, 2012 11:21 pm

    I don’t know why everyone feels that boondocking equates to RVing. To me RVing is being able to take my home with me when I want to travel and see places around the country. I am capable of boondocking if need be but that is not my objective. I want to visit places that interest me, see and experience the sites without having to pay for very expensive hotels that I have to move into and out of every day and pay through the nose for meals. I like a nice clean campground, with reasonable services so I can continue to keep in touch with my family and handle my monthly finances. I can then use it as a base to visit local attractions. When I have done that I want to move on to my next interesting destination and repeat the process. To me boondocking is part of what RVing is but only a part.

  19. R(O)(O)(O)(O)ger on March 19th, 2012 1:23 am

    Quality of live, healthy active, very active life style that allows one to enjoy the wilderness is always a treat we look forward to as we travel. Visiting family, friends usually requires us to be in state or private camp grounds. So we enjoy both worlds of RVing but our prefered is boondocking to enable hiking, kyaking, biking, skating amoungst our vast wonderful public lands. I will be 70 years young very soon so staying very active is my life style and health plan. Enjoy what we have to explore. “Gone on a Flyer” R(O)(O)(O)(O)ger

  20. Stephen on March 19th, 2012 6:41 am

    I’ve been camping (backpacking, tent, pop-up, and now a 34′ travel trailer) for many years. My wife an I are about to set out on full-time RVing. I must admit that having read all of the previous comments to Bobbie’s camping experience, Kathy and I are most like Dalton in his manner of travel and interests while camping. Isn’t that what it’s all about, that each individual has the opportunity to choose the lifestyle that fits them. So do it the way you like it. BTW…if Dalton reads this I’d like to “chat” with him about his experiences as Kath and I will be newbies to the full-time lifestyle. My email is doctorsteveg@gmail.com.

  21. Curtis McRee on March 19th, 2012 7:41 am

    I love reading all of these interesting comments on here. The likes and dislikes about all things helps others get a better idea what R.Ving is all about.
    Bob, I enjoy reading all of your articles. Keep sending them out.Everyone has
    an opionion. Their opionion matters to them! My moto is Live and let Live.
    So much to see, enjoy and keep moving on.

  22. Jim G on March 19th, 2012 8:11 am

    The wide spectrum of these comments remind me of the old saying about ice cream: That is why they make 28 flavors.
    The point is when it comes to RVing, there is no right or wrong, just the incredible ability to pursue outdoor enjoyment however and wherever one chooses to do so, a great attribute of the RV life (boondocking or not) in my opinion.

  23. Bob Difley on March 19th, 2012 8:43 am

    Larry asked: “I’m told by the forest service no camping near any open water. They also showed me how to read a national forest map indicating where boon-docking is legal. It wasn’t anywhere near lakes or streams!”
    There are many established boondocking campsites near water, though the general rule is that there is no camping within 100 feet of a water source and the FS would rather that you camped nowhere near water. However, they have not yet started a hard enforcement of prohibiting camping in previously established campsites that are near lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers. This will most likely change as the Travel Management Rule is implemented in the forests (which will be happening this year throughout all the national forests) and you will be permitted to camp only in the areas the FS designates as “dispersed camping areas.” I will be writing a blog on what the Travel Management Plan means to boondocking and boondockers soon to further explain what is happening.

  24. Dan Rambow on March 19th, 2012 2:55 pm

    Isn’t it great that there is room for all interests in RVing. Mega resorts, KOA’s, little family run rv parks, and out in the wilderness (however one might describe it).

    I think that we can welcome all, and encourage their interests no matter where and how they like to experience the RV lifestyle. I like Bob’s comments to learn about his way of doing things. The comments may, or may not apply to what I want to do right now.

    I have slept on the ground in an open pup tent as a kid, did my share of military camping, lots of tent camping with my kids, VW bus camping across the country, pop-up trailer camping in Alaska, tent camping on the ALCAN. I know how to boondock.

    We did visit Quartsite this year, but other than occasional casino parking lots, for now, I plan on enjoying my full time RV life style with hook-ups as much as I can. Knowing that I can boondock occasionally, is enough.

    I say, Bobby, enjoy your time in an RV, as long as you don’t create problems for your neighbors, have fun, and don’t worry about what others do, there is room for all of us.

  25. Jim Johnson on April 1st, 2012 11:20 pm

    My first time ever in an RV – travel trailer. I arrived at Quartzsite mid-Jan. It’s April 1, and I’m still here… LaPosa South.
    Being new to this sport, I started off my journey in October by staying at full service RV parks. Then I tried state parks which where much better but still a little costly. Then National Parks where you may be lucky to have water and a dump station near by – and still cheaper than the state parks. Finally I went to Quartzsite to try “boondocking”.

    To me it seems the fewer dollars you must spend on fees, the better the scenery. Example: Lost Dutchman State Park, fantastic for $25 per night. Organ Pipe National forest $10 per night is even better scenery – beautiful country, great campground, great campsites, peace and quiet with very few people around.

    Quartzsite is not for everybody. I think of it as a tourist trap. A lot of old people who enjoy the flee market and the free lunches. But these people are gone after only a few hectic weeks. The balance of the time you pretty much have the desert to yourself, with beautiful mountain views and great sunsets. So Quartzsite is a bad example…for just those couple of weeks. Give it a try after the rush. After there are no more free lunches to be had.

    Anyway, I’ve quickly learned how to conserve water, battery power and so on. I still take a quick shower each day, have full internet access and all the over the air TV I can watch. By the way, many people who say they can’t get TV really have not read the instruction manual for the TV. Change the input from cable to antenna people !!!!

    I know I’m rambling but as a newcomer to the RV lifestyle, I will now stay in a full service RV park only as a last resort. Too close, too much gossip, too old, and a waste of money. I don’t want to pay to sit and stare at the side of somebody’s RV.

    RV’s are designed to be self-contained. It’s up to the owners to figure out how to operate the rig to it’s full potential – and that means off the grid.
    If you want to go shopping everyday, stay at an RV park. If you want to enjoy the beauty of the environment then learn how to conserve resources and maximize the potential of the RV.

    Who wants to stay in an RV park ? The fewer the services, the better the surroundings…

  26. Chris on April 3rd, 2012 6:57 am

    Boondocking is not for everyone. You have to love the outdoors and want to get away from everyday life. Saving money should not be the only reason you choose to boondock.

  27. marianj` on April 22nd, 2012 6:30 pm

    Great article about boondocking. We stay north of Quartsite on our way home in March every year one night only. It is beautiful and quiet the stars can be seen like nowhere else. One night is enough for us we stay in R.V parks the rest of the time. To each his own.

  28. Sarif on June 11th, 2012 2:50 pm

    Solvang is such a cool town. Nate and I went to a friends wedindg there and enjoyed exploring! Looks like you guys are having a great time. Welcome to the desert! It is so different from Humboldt! You will get plenty of sunshine and yes it does put a smile on your face! If you guys want to venture to Las Vegas, let us know. You are welcome to pull up the RV along the side of our house! NO HOA (Home Owners Association)here! Take care. Love, Mikkel

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