Note: This is an updated repost of a blog from January, 2014 and is based on the seminar by the same name that I have presented at RV rallies coast to coast.
We all change and evolve over time, including fulltime RVers. While Terry and I reached the point where we preferred the comforts of a full hookup RV park toward the end of our fulltiming adventure, 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 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. Today 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 in Arizona or at Slab City in California, some day you 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, sitting in a rest area or truck stop waiting for bad weather to pass, 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 On/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 you the state of your 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 the 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 uses. 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 your windshield and skylights with foil bubble wrap or RV solar screening and you’ll be surprised at the difference in the 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 an RV park.
You still have a few days left to take advantage of our special offer of digital back issues of the Gypsy Journal for the years 2003 through 2017. They are in PDF format on a USB thumb drive and will provide you with weeks of great reading about places to visit from coast to coast and our adventures as fulltime RVers. The normal cost of the back issue collection is $75, but we are running a special through the end of April for just $65, which includes shipping. Don’t miss out on this great deal. If interested, you can log onto www.paypal.com and make payment to firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your mailing address for fast delivery.
Thought For The Day – Don’t put a coin in the jukebox if you can’t dance to the tune.