Tag Archives: travel

Series: 5 Lessons I learned about boondocking: Part 1 of 5

Fiery sunset in the sky and reflected on water.
This portion of St. Mary, MT was right next to two area campgrounds where we boondocked, or dry camped with our RV.

RV boondocking or dry campingDo you know what boondocking is? Did you realize you can camp without being connected to electricity? This way of camping could save you money. Learn from my lessons so you get more enjoyment out of boondocking than I did.

While you may be an experienced RVer, boondocking throws us all for a loop now and then, so I hope every RVer can get something out of this.

According to RV bloggers the Wynns, boondocking is “camping or RV’ing without any hook ups (water, electric or sewer).”

So, here we were in Montana on the outskirts of Glacier National Park, and we also tried this experiment in West Yellowstone.

Campsites were cheaper if you went without electricity, dumping, and water. What awesome locations to explore boondocking, but…

So how did these factors affect us?

Picture of RV parking space with glaccier mountains in the distance.
St. Mary Campground, St. Mary, MT: For this view of Glacier National Park, we didn’t get to use our generator as long we needed to recharge our coach batteries. This caused problems.

Lesson 1. Not being allowed to use your generator as long as you need sucks

Limited Generator Use

When you aren’t connected to electricity, your RV uses a combination of its batteries and your generator.

We also have some solar power that trickle charges our batteries with the sun. At first my husband thought the trickle charge solar was crap. Since then, he’s changed his mind. It keeps the coach batteries from draining out completely.

I want to use newbie-friendly language, so the vehicle part of the RV is called the chassis (pronounced chass ee) and uses one battery, like a car.

The back part of our motorhome, called the coach, has two more of these 12-volt batteries that help run some systems. (When you’re looking into buying an RV, having more than one of these batteries in an out-of-the-way space for it would be a good thing. Ours are under our indoor steps, out of the way.)

Your 12-volt batteries power the light systems among other things and have to be recharged by the generator running and maybe a little bit by a solar charger, if you have one (worth having).

12-volt batteries are charged best by electricity. Since we’re talking about boondocking, that means no electricity, and using the generator, 12-volt batteries, and maybe solar.

One campground we were at limited generator use to a few hours, three times a day. This is the height of suckiness.

A generator takes hours, sometimes a whole day to fully charge your batteries, something that was never going to happen at the campground we were at with limited hours.

During the limited hours we could run our generator, we ran it.

Almost every night, at exactly 7:00 p.m., a ranger would knock loudly on our door and tell us generator use time was over. Maybe we were close to their office, but it was irritating.

Having been RVing full-time around the country for around 8 months, we’d had almost no one knock on our door—at least with bad news—so it was something new and yucky.

We ran the generator to the minute because it charged our batteries, which enabled us to have lights at night and watch some TV before bed.

Every morning, because of the various things that draw from the 12-volt batteries, their charge was gone.

My husband adds that since we used the generator to run the air conditioning because even in Montana during the day it was in the 80’s, that took away from the generator’s ability to charge our 12-volt batteries.

We didn’t get to run the generator long enough to give them juice. We knew this in our motorhome because we have a panel that lets us know how charged our batteries are.

The generator powers much more than our batteries, so we ran our air conditioning during the 6 hours a day we were permitted to use it.

In Montana, July days approached 80+ degrees, and sometimes the RV would get as hot or hotter inside than outside. It retained heat well after the evening cooled.

This problem was worse when we camped next to tent campers

How? Why? Where? RV?!

Let me answer some questions you might have about my RV journey, which is currently a two-year adventure across America. I know you probably want to do the same or are doing so. Either way, knowing my story helps you find yours.

How can you take off and RV that long?

First, I changed my mindset–and a lot of RV books begin with that. Thinking small, like the Tiny movie showed us on Netflix (this movie started a tiny house movement!).

One-story home with sidewalk.
Our former home in Pflugerville, Texas.

Our house wasn’t tiny. It had a 1,463 square foot Ranch home that was built in 1983. It had a five-car driveway and garage, 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. One bedroom was for guests, the other was an office.

Roses along a garden path.
Belinda’s Dream is one of 25 types of roses I planted in our gardens.

 

The front and backyards had .26 acres that I’d landscaped and gardened extensively. Though I adore gardening, I battled city traffic during the last of the sunlight each day.

 

Hot tub with palm tree in background.
Meet our lonely deck and hot tub. We never had time.

We had a hot tub that we never had time to use, and a gorgeous palm tree I had planted as a baby that we hardly ever saw.

 

 

Bedroom
We didn’t gain anything by having a spacious bedroom.

Though our house looked lovely by the time we sold it, we hadn’t made it that way until we were ready to sell, like many people. We were so tired from work that home updates were difficult to make.

Kitchen with island table in the middle of floor.
Cleaning was a major problem with busy work schedules.

I hired people to help me clean the house. A heavy workload as a conference planner left me tired and uninspired at home.

People at a conference
Planning this and other statewide conferences meant time was a commodity I was losing.

 

 

 

Finally, I made a big decision–to move on from my big conference planning job and regroup to find peace again.

Life isn’t about things–it’s about people and places.

I wasn’t sure how to do this, but I had some pension from teaching (I had to retire early from teaching due to hearing loss) and a great employer who allows me to work remotely and is supportive.

We also decided that since our house wasn’t where we wanted to live forever and we had no idea where that was, we could sell the house and find the place we want to live indefinitely.

RV and Jeep parked above a hillside.
We didn’t get this RV or this campsite by accident. It was cold, hard research.

Selling the house and buying a used RV, while saving money for a future down payment on a home in Anywhere, USA, provided the cash.

We set some money aside from the house sale (which sold for more than we bought it for) for my husband to adjust to RV living and maintenance.

Since I’m still working, I’ll learn RV systems more slowly because I don’t have the same amount of time. And, sigh, I’m not a techie.

Do you have to quit your job to RV? Maybe. More people are discovering remote work and you could perhaps do as I will do, and camp in your work’s home base town every few months.

There is also the option of work camping, which is working part-time at campgrounds to pay for your camp site, electricity, water, and sewer.

Living in an RV isn’t as expensive as a home, but has different costs that I’ll be covering in future posts.

Chances are, with planning, you can find a way to either live the RV life or purchase an RV for your vacations. One thing I have learned is how to make money on selling a house and save money on purchasing an RV, and I’ll share those tips with you in the future.

Why RVing? Why not just travel?

Like many of the new breed of RVers that some call Xscapers, we’re not retired and decided we don’t have to wait until we retire to live our dreams.

I had planned to retire and travel the country and stay everywhere I wanted without a deadline.  I’m just not waiting to do that anymore. I’m doing it now.

Woman standing in front of pyramid shaped mountain.
Signing I love you to Mt. Grinnell in Glacier National Park, Montana.

No more getting teary-eyed when leaving Glacier National Park or Alaska. Now we can stay there until we get our fill.

Where?

Now you’re asking a tougher question! We initially wanted to stay in Montana first, but we couldn’t sell the house in time, so the cold season had set in and serious snow. Then we thought perhaps Maine, but when I shared that with more experienced RVers and did more research, I learned that there are special considerations for RVs for cold weather. I’d rather arrive their in warmer weather and leave after the first snow.

We like mountains and water and sold our house in November, so I checked out Branson. It had family activities and we wanted family to come visit–my son and mother, alternately.

Our next stop will be Florida to spend Christmas season with my son. I lived in Florida for nine years, so I miss it sometimes, and I have some favorite places. I don’t want to live there forever, either, because I had to throw my coat away after I moved to Miami because I never used it. Going to a warm South Beach for Christmas can be depressing if you live there and it’s not your vacation. No fall, no winter, just spring and summer.

We aren’t quite certain the itinerary to Florida yet (update: it ended up being Pensacola Beach, Melbourne, and Destin, Florida), but will plan it out around 200 or so miles daily, camping en route, until we reach Orlando, spend some time there and then move on to a campsite for a few weeks or a month.

The nomadic life has its appeal, though it’s not a big drain on gas as everyone seems to think. If you drive somewhere and leave the RV parked at camp, and tow a regular vehicle behind, then you don’t have to pay that much for gas because you’re not driving the RV that often, just the car.

Having spontaneity back in our days is a welcome change for us both. There are problems and issues to be addressed too, but we’re happy doing what we’re doing and are finding it better than we imagined.

Well, are you tired of the way you’ve been living your life? Do you want more freedom? More time? More nature? If you’re thinking of an RV lifestyle, whether full or part-time, I can share our experiences so that you enjoy more, fret less.

What would you like to learn next?

Do you have some basic questions about RV’s? I wrote a FAQ with some of my first RV questions that I think will be useful to you!

About travels to Destin, Florida or Branson, Missouri?

Or how about camping with little electricity and water (boondocking) in Montana and Wyoming?

Maybe you’re in the mood for learning about how to make a campfire, how to build an upside-down campfire, or how to build a fire–even when the ground’s wet?