Thursday, January 29, 2015

Free Boondocking Not So Free

Recently an anonymous comment was posted on my blog January 20, 2015:

Maybe you should consider boondocking more? There is so much wide open FREE places to camp.

Ironically I am working on a lengthy article about long term boondocking and the true hidden costs. I am going to try to nail down a short article on this now to explain it in a nutshell. (Famous last words...)

Assuming they meant I could boondock for FREE  long term,  let's look at the hidden costs. First off boondocking has to be done during fair weather because heating and cooling is going to cost propane or electricity. That's not free. My generator can make electricity but it also consumes gasoline. My furnace consumes electricity or propane. Propane isn't being handed out for free on the street corner either.


In my research, boondocking is not near as free as one would think. Sure it reduces the outlay of camping fees or RV park fees, but other costs go up substantially. In my case, from my research with my existing equipment (not outlaying to buy more) I would be settling for a vastly different quality of life and not saving any money. 

There may come a time when I am stronger, able to chuck it all and go live in these wild open spaces, but it won't compare at all the type of lifestyle I prefer to live at this point and time. 

My rig doesn't have a rain catcher or solar panels. It does have a generator fired up by gasoline and a 40 gallon fresh water tank. 

While "free" boondocking does indeed sound wonderful, I did my own research and found out that in my case with my current motorhome with it's current equipment, that SURPRISE SURPRISE (remember Gomer Pyle?) boondocking would cost me MORE than paying reasonable campground or RV park fees that include the luxury of utilities and other benefits, like being able to legally dispose of my garbage and running my little washing machine for clean laundry. The campgrounds I stay in provide electric and water, very often sewer hookups or a convenient dumping station. Some include internet access, otherwise I pay monthly for that on a no contract plan. 

Many of these "wide open spaces" will not accommodate my cell phone or internet. I prefer having a cell phone for security and convenience, even though mine is an idiot phone that only makes and receives calls. It doesn't take pics or text or play videos or any of that fancy stuff. About the internet, well I use it for managing my budget, paying bills, and writing this blog. I also use it for other reasons like research and sometimes plain fun reading. My computer phone is vastly cheaper than any cell phone plan, so that is a huge bonus allowing me to keep my cell phone cheap. But what the heck, that cell phone and internet is likely not going to work in these wide open spaces of free boondocking. Besides both will require recharging, the batteries on the cell phone and the laptop computer only last so long. 

Living fulltime in an RV is a combination of expenses including campground rents, fuel costs, maintenance and so on. Add to that there are the personal living expenses such as food and laundry etc.

I can only assume the "wide open free places" are probably out west. I am on the east coast, so heading west, about 2,500 miles for these wide open free places would cost about $1200 in gasoline at the current prices. Some of the wide open places do require a permit to be bought  to legally boondock. I don't want to be out breaking the law or waiting for that 4am knock on the door with authorities telling me to shuffle along. I would rather sleep peacefully. Also, while I do have a doggy f

Now in these wide open spaces of free boondocking with no utilities, let's get down to nuts and bolts. My current rig holds 40 gallons of water for flushing, drinking and cooking. I use a water purifier to convert tap water to drinking water. I don't have room in my tiny rig to store gallons and gallons of bottled water. I use about 2 gallons a day of purified water for drinking, making coffee, tea and cooking. Plus my toilet requires a little bit of water for flushing and then there is bathing and washing dishes. So 40 gallons of water might last me 10 days if I keep my usage super tight and I can power the water pump required to extract the water from the tank. 

Where to put garbage in these wide open spaces? I don't wish to litter up the land. My rig is small, I currently carry out my garbage at least once a day and often twice. Campgrounds include dumpsters. There is just no where for me to store garbage. I use the tiny grocery bags and I fill one a day, sometimes two. OK, if I flattened everything, maybe I could compact it better but I'd rather just walk it out daily to the dumpster provided by the campground or RV park. 

Speaking of cooking...
If I eat out, then pile up those costs on top of the fuel costs of moving every day. If I cook at home, it's cheaper, but you need water to wash the dishes. Ok, if I use paper plates and paper bowls and paper cups, I have to store all that somewhere while it's clean and store it again as garbage. Even so, if I cook in a pan, then water is needed to wash the pan. OK, if I simplify the menu and never cook I am either washing dirty dishes or piling up even more garbage.

I have a compact washer and I air dry my clothes. It's a small rig, I don't own many clothes, but I also use sheets and towels which I wash in my little washer. If I am boondocking without electricity and water hookups, then I can't run the washer anyhow, it requires electricity. Oh sure I could run the generator, but it uses gasoline. Add that cost to the free boondocking. If I use a laundromat to wash my clothes, then I have to travel to do the laundry, so that's more driving. More money into the fuel tank, money into the commercial washers because I can't use my washer. 

My rig is set up with a very small house battery and a generator. The generator needs gasoline to run. Add that cost to the free boondocking. The house battery will run lights, water pump and a fan for about a day or two before it needs recharging. Yepper, it's a tiny battery. I guess it can charge up while I am doing all that driving every day searching for the next free boondocking spot. 

I would prefer not to break the law, so I am only factoring in "legal" boondocking where one has permission to boondock. Walmart and Flying J are popular places for boondocking and while these may work for an overnighter hither and yonder, I seriously don't want to live in a commercial parking lot on a day to day basis. I want grass, sand or soft earth under my feet, not a paved parking lot. I have a doggy who needs his exercise. I love the outdoors, but frankly sitting in my rocking chair, soaking up car fumes in the Walmart parking lot trying to enjoy the outdoors doesn't seem very appealing to me. 

Most legal free places, want you to shuffle along after 24 hours, so boondocking will very often involve moving every single day to a new "free place". My fuel tanks requires gasoline and they aren't giving that away free, so I would have to factor in the extra cost of gas of traveling every single day.

The next free (legal) boondocking spot might be 10 miles away or 100 miles away. Even if I am in that wide open free boondocking spot, I am piling up garbage and dirty laundry.

I don't like traffic, I don't even like driving, but *ahem* I drive because it gets me places I want to be which in my case is living in places with grass or dirt and trees but with utilities (aka a campground!). So if I am boondocking and moving every single day, I am driving and putting money into the gas tank to go to the next spot. 

I spent over 10 years of my life living on a sailboat without a marina, without a generator, without electricity and catching rainwater for my drinking, cooking and showering. Luckily I could send my laundry out, but I had to row it ashore. Later I bought a small dinghy engine, so that was a huge treat to commute to shore with an engine. For a few years my sailboat had no engine of its own or mast, but luckily I had a small solar panel and that did power my lights, fan and water pump plus my ship to shore radio that ran my business. 

I loved it, and had a blast. In those days and times in the areas of the Caribbean where I was, anchoring was still free. Now those same places I so happily lived now require expensive mooring permits or marinas have built right on top of the old free anchoring spots. I didn't have to worry much with heating and cooling. It rarely dropped below 70F degrees and never below 60F so I could throw a sarong around my shoulders and I had cotton blankets on board. If it was hot, I relied mostly on the tradewinds to keep me cool or I went swimming to cool off. 

Living in my little old motorhome for me these days,  is much different. With my complicated medical issues, it's far better and cheaper for me to have access to electricity and water. The big BONUS is I don't have to drive every day either. 

Maybe at some point I will be in great health, convert to camper van and go camp with nature in the wide open spaces, eating beans out of a can, peeing under bushes and wearing dirty clothes, but for now... Life is goof!


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  1. i think you have to take care of your medical issues first. your arithmetic is skewed, but i think you like where and how you are living. why change?

    i've done the math and it is cheaper for me to live in a small (tiny home) than a van. maybe a storage container. way cheaper than a class c.

    another thing. how many 2000 or 3000 mile trips does your class c have in it? i've read where you have taken all day to drive 60 or 80 miles. and you were lost. not picking on you, i remember. i don't want to think about the time and miles for you to get to arizona.

    out west you will be on interstates or go 100's of miles out of your way. a lot of dirt roads, also.

    ice cream raz

  2. Like the old saying "Different strokes for different folks!" I don't think I would care much for boondocking, even though I like the idea of being able to do it if I wanted. I never thought about the economics of it before, but in your case I'd say you are doing well the way you're doing it!

  3. Most areas of BLM and National Forest lands allow you to stay in one spot for 14 days. Then you have to move, but usually 25 miles or more away. Admittedly the the majority of the available land is in the west.

  4. I think your camping spots look very nice, near water with grass. I, personally would never want to park in the desert because of the dust, snakes, dirt. I think the desert has it's beauty, for sure, especially when the flowers are blooming but to stay there, no thanks. To each their own.



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