I enjoy boondocking in beautiful remote locations without hookups, but it has taken my wife many years to get on board with the idea. We used to primarily go to RV parks, but now we enjoy the freedom and independence of camping almost anywhere without the need for electrical power hookups. This did not happen overnight though. In fact our early dry camping experiences were not fun.
Our First Boondocking Experiences Were Not Fun – So I’ve Been Told
I had high hopes for our first dry camping experience. We planned a trip to the beach in our new RV where we could camp for free and watch the fireworks. It was going to be great. The one caveat – we would be on our own for several days with no power, water or sewer hookups.
This and other early attempts at dry camping (camping without hookups aka “boondocking”) were stressful for both me and my family. In the video (above) you'll see what Melissa really thought of boondocking at the time. They even called me the “Power Nazi” affectionately speaking I’m sure. Yeah, that was me. I was always worried about running out of power and water. This would drive my family crazy as I would follow them around turning off lights. Apparently, my constant hovering and nagging turned the experience of boondocking into one of sacrifice. “Why can’t we use the water, the toilet, the shower, the TV” they would say. I would respond with “go play on the beach, that’s why we’re here”. My family had become accustomed to the ammenities of a full-hookup RV park and were simply frustrated with all of the limitations of dry-camping. It was as if we were out "camping" in an RV.My goal was to make it four to five days without having to dump or refill our tanks. This was difficult given that we typically had 4 to 6 people in the RV (Wife and I, our two kids often with a friend each).
After the third day, I would inevidably have to pack up the RV and go find a dump station to dump the waste water and refill our water tank.
What did we do about our dwindling battery power? Well that was a challenge all its own. Each morning we would run our generator for an hour or so to recharge our batteries, which it would not. Eventually, we would run low on power causing us to run our generator for a while at night as well. We were a bit relieved to realize we were not alone. Our traveling companions also relied on generators for power. In fact, our neighbor's generator firing up each morning became my alarm. Sleeping over...it was time to get up and start my generator.
It could have been better, but somehow we got through it without killing each other. In fact, as summer approached we looked forward to returning year after year. It became our thing -- the thing we would do as a family on the fourth of July.
Getting Serious with More Batteries and Solar
Eventually, I doubled my battery capacity and started learning how to use solar on my RV to charge batteries. I installed 120 watts of flexible solar panels and then doubled it to around 250 watts. I even installed an MPPT solar charge controller and pure-sine power inverter which allowed us to watch movies, power our computers and keep all of our electronics fully charged. I also upgraded all of our lights to use LED bulbs which used 1/10th the power. We could keep our lights on as long as we wanted. This setup really made us feel much more self-sufficient and greatly improved our boondocking experience for several years.
In the years that followed, we continued to put our boondocking skills to the test. We were able to binge watch our favorite Netflix series, use our laptop computers, and even use an electric coffee pot through our power inverter. We were so close. Yet we still needed to run our generator periodically for certain things like using a hair dryer or running the microwave. Nevertheless, we started to slowly pull away from the full-hookup RV park style of RVing. We stopped making reservations and would just take off with no specific destination in mind. It was a great feeling.
Finding the Sweet Spot with Solar
In the last couple years, I again doubled our solar capacity adding three more 100 watt flexible solar panels. I also more than doubled my battery capacity and upgraded to 4 AGM deep-cycle batteries. With 450 amp hours of batteries and roughly 550 watts of solar, we can now power most things we use. My wife can even use her high powered blow dryer without needing to start the generator.
RVing for us now, is a completely different experience that it was when we first started ten years ago. We can now camp off-the-grid without sacrificing comfort and convenience. We rarely ever stay at RV parks and have the freedom to enjoy everything our RV provides wherever we happen to be. As for my wife Melissa, she is totally on board now and enjoys boondocking as much as I do.
So that’s our boondocking story. I hope it inspires you to become self-sufficient in your own RV and enjoy the freedom it provides.