We all change and evolve over time, including fulltime RVers. While Terry and I have reached the point where we prefer the comforts of a full hookup RV park, we are no strangers to dry camping. In fact, we probably have a lot more experience at it than most folks we know.
There was a time a few years ago when we spent more time boondocking than we did in RV parks. In fact, our longest continuous time spent off the grid was over seven months. During that time we had a residential refrigerator and we (mostly Terry) built the cabinets in our MCI bus conversion using power saws, a sander, and other tools you would normally expect to find in a woodshop. All power was supplied by our generator and solar panels. I’m telling you this to explain that, with a little bit of pre-planning and effort, you can live just as well off the grid as you can when plugged in to a full hookup RV site.
With so many folks headed for the big RV gathering in Quartzsite, Arizona this month, I thought I’d share some tips for living well off the grid.
The first thing to do is to define boondocking and dry camping, which I consider to be the same thing. It is spending a day, a week, a month or however long you care to not be plugged in to a campground’s utilities. Even if you don’t plan to boondock out in the middle of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land or at Slab City in California, some day you still may find yourself in a situation where you need to be off the grid for a day or two! You may be stuck in a repair shop’s parking lot over the weekend waiting for parts to arrive, or sitting in a rest area or truck stop waiting for bad weather to pass, or parked in a relative’s driveway for a visit, dry camping at an RV rally, or in a hospital parking lot during a medical emergency. Knowing how to get the most out of your RV’s systems will make the experience much more comfortable.
Serious boondockers equip their RVs with solar panels, generators, large battery banks, and inverters to make it possible to stay out in the middle of nowhere for extended periods. We found that Absorbed Glassmat (AGM) batteries last longer, can be pulled down further, and provide overall better performance than typical wet cell deep cycle RV batteries. But no matter how it is equipped, any RV can be used for dry camping for a short period of time.
Power conservation is the first consideration for dry camping. The longer you have power, the longer you can stay put. Beware of phantom loads! Television sets, satellite TV receivers, DVD players and other electronic goodies draw power even when turned off. Plug them into power strips with an Of/Off switch and leave them off when not in use. Use a percolator stove top coffee pot. Switch your RV refrigerator and water heater to propane. Consider replacing your incandescent and fluorescent lights with LEDs, which use much less power. Be aware that any heat source (hair dryers, curling irons, coffee pots, etc,) draws down your battery bank. Do heavy load chores while running your generator to charge your batteries. If you’re not using it, turn it off.
Get a good 12 volt battery monitor. This little LED Digital Voltmeter only costs a few bucks on Amazon, can be installed in minutes, and tells us the state of our house battery bank at a glance.
The next factor in how long you can dry camp is water conservation. Take Navy showers, turning on the water just long enough to get wet, then soap up and turn the water back on to rinse. You don’t have to wash your hair every day. We used a pump up water mister jug like you find in the garden center at home improvement stores for hand washing, which saved a lot of water. Waterless hand soap and paper plates are invaluable to dry campers. Many use a small plastic dish pan to catch gray water, and use it to flush the toilet. Keep a bottle of 50/50 water and vinegar solution to spray toilet bowl before use. Don’t waste water letting it run down the drain while waiting for it to warm up when you can catch it for other use. This helps conserve your water supply and extends the time you can stay out before you have to find a dump station.
Climate control is also important. To keep things cool inside the RV, use awnings to keep the sun away, close windows and blinds on the sunny side, open the windows on the shady side and use roof vent fans to create an airflow. For keeping warm, an Olympian Catalytic Heater is much more efficient than an RV furnace, which wastes a lot of propane and draws down your battery bank to operate the fan. Cover windshield and skylights with foil bubble wrap or RV solar screening and you’ll be surprised at the difference in temperature inside your RV.
None of this is rocket science, and a lot of it is just a matter of forming the proper habits for boondocking. With just a little effort and the right mindset, you can live just as comfortably parked out in the middle of the desert as you can in any RV park.
So far, over 140 readers have entered this week’s Free Drawing for an audiobook of Judy Howard’s Going Home With A Cat And A Ghost, the sequel to her excellent COAST TO COAST WITH A CAT AND A GHOST. Ride along as Judy, her cat Sportster, and a life-sized stuffed doll called Cowboy Jack take a journey into her past, encountering the ghosts of her teenage years. This is a book you won’t forget soon! All you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. The winner will be chosen at random on Sunday evening. The winner will be drawn at random Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – It’s not about how bad you want it, it’s about how hard you are willing to work to get it.