When we started this adventure, we romanticized parking the camper in areas off back roads on public land where we could live off the grid. In the RV world, this is called boondocking. And we loved the sound of that. That means no electric hook-ups or water sources, including no bathroom or shower facilities. It means being self-sufficient and ultra conservative with our energy and water usage. And it means following the laws of ‘Leaving No Trace’ held sacred by the camping and hiking world. This all sounded wonderfully rustic. Who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to live like our pioneering ancestors? Not that our glamper even comes close to that, but here’s what it is like to live off the grid, even if for just a week at time.
The view: Anything beats waking up in a gravel-filled parking lot with the sounds of coming and going campers outside your window, which is often the case at private campgrounds. And when else in your life can you wake up next to a rushing river or in proximity to a towering mountain?
The feeling of being unplugged: That nagging feeling you get when you haven’t glanced at your phone in a while can bring about unnecessary and even embarrassing anxiety. So when you have zero cell service for days on end, it can be quite refreshing.
Near or complete isolation: When your nearest neighbors are also hiding out in their nook or cranny in the forest, you can take advantage of the kind of privacy it allows, including drinking your morning cup of joe outdoors wearing nothing but a self-satisfied smile.
The freedom: You wouldn’t believe the crazy rules private RV campgrounds come up with. No liquor or wine! No noise after 10! No guests! No dog walking outside given parameters. Just forget about having a good time! We might have had a stern talking to once or twice so far…
It’s free: Enough said.
Of course, the advantages of boondocking also have their difficulties, some of which are on the flip side of the advantages.
The view: The breathtaking locations are often tough to get to, particularly when hauling a long camper that doesn’t always fit into isolated areas. Our camper already bears scars from attempts at parking in prime corners of forests. Read more about these contributing adventures in our upcoming post “Moving Day is the Worst“.
Being unplugged: As we said, while this can be liberating, it can also make life complicated when you rely on your phone’s Internet for learning about each new location.
Near or complete isolation: It’s both a blessing and a booger. Sometimes isolation means hours from town and luxuries like water or food for when we’re running low. It’s times like those that we feel the closest to our ancestors and understand the excitement that comes with ‘a trip into town’.
Fulfilling our basic human need for water:
- Stocking up on water: Without a potable water source, we have to fill up our camper’s fresh water tank and cross our fingers that we can make it last during the entire boondocking stay. This also means that when we’re traveling to a boondocking spot we’re hauling 500 pounds of sloshing water through mountain passes.
- Getting more water: Because we do sometimes run low on water, we must search areas in town that have potable water. While it can be as easy as paying to refill jugs at the grocery store, it might also look like wandering around town parks for faucets to fill up on free water. Other thoughts include sneaking into campsites at night, but we’re always open to new ideas.
- Washing dishes: Life without a dishwasher is rough, especially when your own two hands become the dishwasher. This chore is all about watching how much water you use so that you don’t deplete your fresh water source, and it’s also about watching how much water you allow down the drain so you don’t overfill your gray water tank. Times like these make licking your plate clean much more acceptable.
- Washing your hands and brushing your teeth: Forget singing the birthday song during these tasks. These hygienic necessities are now less about sufficiency and more about efficiency.
- Taking a shower: It’s just not in the water usage budget. Just kidding, although showers have taken on a new meaning. They are less about relaxation and more about strictly getting clean in the least amount of time. You have to get really good at making the best of a couple minutes of rinsing yourself. When we’re lucky, nearby towns or paid campgrounds offer coin-operated showers. We can time it down to the minute for how long it takes each of us to lather and rinse.
- When it’s not a shower day: For us, it’s not practical to shower every day, but we try to plan activities on the ‘off-shower days’ that won’t leave us as sweaty or soiled. Our feet don’t cooperate with this plan though, and they always seem to be covered in dirt and grime and bug spray. Sometimes we use the unused shower water that gets caught in a bucket to soak before bed. And sometimes Kristin uses the same bucket for other grooming purposes.
Taking care of basic human waste: We mean quite literally taking care of our basic human waste, both numbers 1 and 2. We have to limit the amount of waste that accumulates in our camper’s black tank so that we don’t reach our sh*tter’s capacity before the end of our boondocking stay. While it’s perfectly easy to urinate in the woods, the other kind of waste requires a using a shovel to dig a 6- to 8-inch cat hole in the ground. We just hope we don’t one day go digging and end up finding the other person’s buried treasure.
On our energy usage: We took for granted our daily uses in a house when we had them. We would hold open the doors to the refrigerator or freezer for countless seconds while searching for items. We wouldn’t think twice about cooking on the stovetop or in the oven or microwave. We wouldn’t worry that we were overusing a room’s lights. Each of those mundane tasks now must be guarded with careful attention so that we don’t consume our utilities quickly.
- The Lights: We switched out all the original bulbs with LEDs. Even though they’re about 80% more energy efficient, we still live in the dark as much as possible.
- Heating & Cooling: To regulate the camper temperature, it normally requires firing up the generator. But to limit our usage, we try to pick our locations carefully and use the general principles of air flow we learned from our grandparents. The more obvious yet underutilized methods include opening ceiling vents and windows to cool off or piling on layers for warmth.
- Gas: Our propane tasks run our water heater, stove, oven and refrigerator, so we’re conservative with our usage. For example, we keep our refrigerator at a higher temperature to keep from burning all our gas.
With all that said, the places we have boondocked so far have been our favorites because of their rarities as home bases. We don’t weigh the difficulties and advantages against each other like a teetering seesaw, but instead we understand them as all part of the beauty of boondocking.