Boondocking and Free Campsites
It surprises people when we tell them we rarely stay at campgrounds overnight. A lot of people assume that with an RV, we must be booking at RV Parks and campgrounds every night. There is nothing wrong with doing this, except for us that would really condense the amount of time we can travel for which is why we prefer boondocking.
We’ve seen campgrounds run anywhere from $10-$250 a night (French Quarter RV Park in downtown New Orleans was $250/night with a 3 night minimum over New Years!), with most RV parks averaging around $40-$60 a night. Even if we only paid $40 a night, for a year that would be over $14,000.00! That’s far too expensive and the value isn’t there for us.
Instead of budgeting over $14K for accommodations, we spent around $1500 to set up our solar system. We have a 250 watt solar panel on the roof, and 2 deep cycle AGM batteries in the house part of the RV. We use this to power our lights, fans, cell phones, laptops, etc…Other RVer’s will use a generator for power when boondocking or dry-camping, we just prefer this arrangement. There are things we cannot use with just solar. Our electric induction burner and toaster oven are too powerful for our solar set up so we primarily use propane and/or butane for cooking. We’ll use the induction and toaster oven when hooked up to shore power.
Instead, we do a bit of research and find free places to camp 95% of the time. These are the resources we use most often.
This is the app we go to first. It’s a free app with a map in it. Other travellers input GPS coordinates of camp spots that range from:
Business parking lots (Free): Walmart, Cabelas, Home Depot, etc..
Other parking lots (Free): baseball fields, boat launch sites, beach parking lots, etc…
Free locations: Off a dirt road, in a park, beside a beach, public lands, etc…
Paid locations: Campgrounds, RV Parks, National Parks, etc…
Our preference is non-parking lot, free locations. We’ve found some incredible free places ranging from private beachfront to remote forests. Occasionally a place will be listed and when you arrive, it’s no longer free, or it isn’t available. This has happened to us from time to time and is just part of the experience. We always make sure to update the location in the app to prevent this from happening to others.
This website has a lot more listings in the East Coast than iOverlander. We use this one if I haven’t found anything on iOverlander. The formatting is not as great, but the information is pretty reliable.
This is another app. Similar to iOverlander in that it has a map with geo-tags. It also enables route planning and will tell you if there are low clearances to be aware of on your path. It’s a great app that we’ve just started to use more.
Similar to the other apps, it lists free and paid spots. We don’t use this one as often but really should as it looks promising.
These are the main apps that we use for finding campsites. Other than that, there are 2 other apps that I use frequently for our trip planning.
GasBuddy is a game changer when it comes to finding places to fuel up. In Canada, gas prices vary slightly by gas station but in the US, it varies A LOT! We learned this the hard way when we paid 2.86 a gallon right off the highway, and saw a place a mile up the road for 2.06. When we’re starting to get low, we pull up GasBuddy and search for the cheapest gas near us. It shows nearly all the gas stations around you and when we arrive, we double check that the price is accurate. By updating GasBuddy we get points that can be redeemed for chances to win free fuel.
There is no doubt that we’ve saved hundreds of dollars so far just by using GasBuddy.
We’ve only been using these apps for the last few weeks but I’m impressed so far. BringFido is great because you can check for places that are pet friendly. Restaurant patios, beaches, parks, etc.. You can also find pet services like the nearest pet food store, groomer, etc…We’ve only struggled with finding pet friendly places in Florida and these apps helped us when we were at our wits end to try to find a park.
What about the other 5% of the time?
We do occasionally stay in campgrounds. We typically will look for a campground or RV Park when we need to dump our black and grey tanks or when there is a campground that offers amenities we want to use. For example, in New Orleans we couldn’t find a free place to dump our tanks. The cheapest we could find was $10 for a dump station. The campground at Bayou Senegette State Park is $25 a night, plus a $6 admin fee. So for $31 dollars we got to use the dump station for free, plug into shore power to charge up all our batteries AND they offer free laundry services. Our last laundry visit cost $25 (including blankets, towels, etc…)! We needed to do laundry again and if we only paid for the dump station and cost of laundry we’d be looking at $35 total. So for a $4 savings we also got all the other benefits of staying in a campground!
Well, there you have it! Basically all of the tools I use to help us navigate. There are plenty of other apps and tools out there, but these are the ones we prefer when it comes to trip planning. Do you use any of these? Do you use others that I should know about? Let us know in the comments!
Happy trip planning!