While on the topic of experiments after the dehydrated food update, now feels like a good time to address the bigger experiment I did this year. As longtime readers know, this was the year I finally got solar power and a propane heater and tried boondocking. It was also the first year I didn’t work a summer job – in years past I would volunteer over the winter in exchange for my site, work at a national park in the summer, and do CamperForce in the fall. This year I only did CamperForce. The two events are closely related.
RVing on a budget can be a fun experience, but it requires a discerning attitude about where your funds are going. When people recommend things to do or must-have items for the RV (online and in person), I often cite money as the reason why I’m not interested. It’s not that I don’t necessarily have enough money in my account for that particular thing, it also doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t feel that that item or place would be nice to have or fun to do. It’s more that I assign a value to things based not just on how much they cost but how badly I want them, and only the things I want most do I spend money on. This brings me the most happiness per dollar spent, if that makes sense.
Like most RVers I value experiences over possessions, and so being a full-timer (and getting to experience new things all the time) brings me a lot of happiness, enough that living without some of the finer things in life (like a full-sized shower, a newer car, or an oven) is worth it.
So, the experiment. I really wasn’t sure in January if I’d be able to go nine months out of the year without working a seasonal job and while I was fairly certain I’d enjoy boondocking, I wasn’t positive. In the end, I did make it the whole nine months and less time working meant more time to explore and accrue experiences. Talk about win-win. So here are some numbers and my thoughts:
- From January until the end of September, my average monthly camping costs were about $40, more like $50 if you add dump station costs and water fill-ups too.
- I discovered that I could go three weeks without dumping and taking on water, and often went six weeks without paying for a camp site (I’d pay for just a dump at the three-week mark, and every other dump would seek hookups to fully charge all my electronics and flush my black tank thoroughly).
- 100 watts of solar was enough to meet my power needs, as long as I was frugal. 90% of my computer time was for writing/working on IO – I did not use it as a source of entertainment. I only had to charge my smartphone, laptop, and Kindle, and power my water pump and LED lights. I do not have a TV.
- My RV does not have a furnace, so I bought a small propane heater. I only used it two or maybe three nights the whole year when I discovered I could stay warm enough on the vast majority of nights by putting a sleeping bag underneath the covers on my bed and wearing thermal underwear under my pajamas (I’m from Wisconsin, cold doesn’t bother me like it does some people).
- I have not calculated my exact average gas cost yet, but I already know it was lower than 2015. Instead of taking the truck out sightseeing, I’d take the truck and trailer to an interesting boondocking and park it for two weeks and do more walking to explore the sights near camp – meanwhile the year before work-camping at Yellowstone it took a good deal of driving to get anywhere.
- My average monthly income from writing for those nine months was $1,172 (thank you everyone for the support!). My average monthly cost of living in 2015 was $1,308, so going a whole year without a seasonal job is not feasible yet – hence being back at Amazon now. My average monthly cost of living for 2016 is going to be higher because of all the repair work the truck and trailer needed this year, I’ll do a report on that sometime in January.
And a few takeaways:
- If you need to keep costs down, boondocking is a good way to go. And if you’re primarily boondocking, you’re be spending most your time out west becasue that’s where most boondocking areas are found.
- Yes, boondocking is a lot of fun. For me anyway. Not everyone will enjoy the solitude, lack of modern conveniences, and effort it takes to hunt down (and get to) good spots.
- 100 watts of solar worked, but I’d like to have more leeway. I’ll probably be upgrading to more at some point. Otherwise, I was quite happy with my setup for boondocking. This is where my rig’s small size really shone as I could get into places larger RVs wouldn’t dream of, although I was occasionally envious those 4WD tow vehicles (note: there are still plenty of good spots for 2WD vehicles though).
- Boondocking is so open-ended that I sometimes didn’t get out and do things just because there were so many possibilities that I got analysis paralysis. This is something I’ll be working on next year.
Do I consider this year’s experiment a success? Absolutely. Will I go nine months next year without work-camping? Maybe. It depends on if I earn enough here at Amazon to replenish my emergency fund after the truck repairs. If I do have to work, I’m sure I’ll find an interesting place to do it at.
Boondocking Answers – A detailed rundown of boondocking logistics from how to find good sites to how to handle power (with links to my solar kit), heat, food, and water, to how to stay safe as a solo boondocker plus more.
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I had to rush this post a bit as it’s a work night and it’s possible I’ve forgotten some things that I’ll remember later and realize I wanted to talk about. If you have questions, do ask in the comments section below! All of today’s pictures were boondocks from this year. I’ll be doing a “best camps of 2016” roundup at some point.
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