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Boondocking Review

saddle-mountain-blm-az-1While 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.

finding-a-boondocking-rhythm (5)

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:

alabama-hills-lone-pine-ca (9)

  • 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.

craters-of-the-moon (1)

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.

up-all-night-stanley-id (1)

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.

Related Links:

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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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

56 Comments

  1. Meg on November 12, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    Becky, are there forums, message boards, etc. (not just articles or blogs — although yours has tons of information, thank you!) where people can post questions and get into conversations with other people who’ve done this?

    I just got back from a four-month van trip across North America, and I’ve about decided I want to make this a full-time thing, but I’m finding the logistics (everything from getting rid of possessions to dealing with getting internet on the road without having to rely on public wifi) completely overwhelming. It would be so nice to be able to just chat with other people who’ve been there done that.



    • Becky on November 12, 2016 at 6:59 pm

      Heya Meg,

      RV.net and the Escapees forum (http://www.rvnetwork.com/) are the two I visited frequently when I was preparing to hit the road, just keep in mind that everyone full-times differently so not all the advice you get will be applicable to your situation. For instance, everyone told me I needed an RV larger than 17′ for full-timing and I’m glad I didn’t listen to that advice! You’ll have to sift through things to find what works for you.

      Best of luck to you and I hope your transition to full-timing goes smoothly, keep us updated!



  2. Phillip Moore on November 10, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    I can relate to saving money and only buying things you want. You have double duty with it though because you must also decide what you can fit in your RV.



    • Becky on November 12, 2016 at 6:55 pm

      Yeah Phillip. Most full-timers I’ve talked to said they took too much with them when they hit the road and realized later that they really didn’t need as much stuff as they thought.



  3. Mark leonard on November 9, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    Hi John,

    My name is Mark and I am also a full timer. While everyone does it differently you have to look at it this way. There is always someone looking to hire full timers whether it be Amazon or at a National Park somewhere. The hardest part is getting on the road. Most things seem to work out. A little about me I have been on the road for a little over a year now with a wife and 4 kids so you can imagine how difficult that is.

    Just my two cents.
    Mark



    • Becky on November 10, 2016 at 8:35 am

      Thanks for sharing Mark.



  4. John on November 8, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    Shoots… I’m going to be honest Becky. I’m a little disappointed at the average of 1,308$. Im going to be setting out in June and living on a tight budget. I thought nomad life would be a little cheaper… To make 1300$, I would prob need a full time job or close to it… I know we all have different expenses and such, so prices vary. But still… I’m going to be honest… I’m scared of sailing out like this. Working for the past 10 years at the same job just to take off to try something new is ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING!

    Could you do a breakdown of expenses or would that be prying to much on your personal space??? Either way, thank you so much for the information.

    John



    • Becky on November 9, 2016 at 9:08 pm

      You answered yourself John, we all use money differently and part of the reason why I don’t advertise my cost of living all over the place is because it really does vary so much from person to person. Consider my number as a single point of data, to get the full picture you need to look at other full-timer’s numbers.

      I knew vandwellers out at the RTR last winter who live on less than $1,000 per month, it’s certainly possible if you never eat out, buy cheap food in bulk, don’t travel much, and don’t pay for entertainment. Bob Wells has a simple $1,000 budget plan listed on the home page of his website, http://www.cheaprvliving.com/

      Hope this helps. Also, every full-timer I’ve ever talked to has experienced serious anxiety regarding the decision as the time approaches and the whole thing “gets real”. That doesn’t mean that you should ignore that fear, it may be trying to tell you something important, but don’t let it make your decisions for you. Best of luck!



      • DIANE on November 10, 2016 at 12:43 am

        Ron on the “cheap food” subject, I like the book “Eat Vegan on $4 a day” by Ellen Jaffe Jones, and the food is really healthy and simple to make.

        Becky, I’m new to your blog (and am loving it!). Do you talk anywhere about what you do for health insurance? I’m curious how (or if) that is handled.



  5. Mark leonard on November 7, 2016 at 9:33 pm

    While I love my rig, I envy the places you are able to you. My 37ft TT won’t go most places you can but I sure do love my life. 🙂



    • Becky on November 9, 2016 at 8:32 pm

      That’s the most important thing! I’ve known RVers to take tenting gear with them for more “out there” style camping. Maybe when the kids are a bit older that would be an option.



  6. John K on November 7, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    I prefer “Happiness per dollar”. More descriptive. Emotion based. “Value living” sounds like something from an infomercial. Sorry Old Fat Man. 😉



  7. Marilyn in Dania Beach on November 7, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Becky, The lighting in your images is wonderful.

    Keep shooting and posting.



    • Becky on November 7, 2016 at 7:26 pm

      Thanks Marilyn, I do try to pay attention to lighting and composition when I’m taking photos.



  8. Mary on November 7, 2016 at 8:38 am

    Thank you for your updates and articles. I enjoy reading them each time. Your photos are wonderful!! I am also from Wisconsin and don’t mind it cooler either. Do you ever get homesick?? I am sure I would.



    • Becky on November 7, 2016 at 7:25 pm

      Glad you’re enjoying them Mary. On occasion I do, I do see my family on average once a year, I usually drive back to Wisconsin every other year for an extended stay. It’s a good system, usually by the time the stay is over I’m ready to move on, haha.



  9. Don on November 6, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    Love your site, Becky! And from all of us holiday Amazon shoppers: “Thanks for your hard work as one of Santa’s helpers!”
    Your comments on solar – do you adjust your panel during the day? If you keep it so the sun is perpendicular to the panel, readjusting it every hour or two on days when you are at Cas, would give you a little more power (10 -15% maybe). If you have a PWM charge controller (most of the portable folding solar panels come with that built on the back), upgrading to MPPT will increase power to your battery by nearly 20%. If you add a 2nd panel, you’d probably need to change to MPPT anyway and run both panels in parallel.
    Do you plan to attend the RTR in January again?
    Happy Holidays! Don



    • Becky on November 7, 2016 at 7:24 pm

      You’re welcome Don. 🙂

      Yep I move the solar panel usually 3-4 times a day, it makes a huge difference especially in the winter when the sun is lower in the sky.

      And yes, I do intend to be there for part of the RTR, it overlaps with the Xscaper convergence this year so I’ll probably be making it to about a week at each one.

      Take care.



  10. Kim on November 6, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Really enjoy your writing and ability to handle anything that comes your way. Your positive outlook surely contributes to your success.

    And the last 2 pictures you posted are SUPERB! Beautiful places all over the US and you seem to find many of them. Keep up the good work…..



    • Becky on November 7, 2016 at 7:21 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this Kim!



  11. Martha Goudey on November 6, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Becky. I couldn’t find the place to ask a question so thought this might be a good place.
    How do you manage wifi connections so you can post on your blog. You haven’t said anything about stopping at Starbucks or a library, and I know you spend a majority of your time boondocking, which is our intention.
    Thanks
    Martha Goudey recently posted..Hummingbirds and RainbowsMy Profile



  12. Kevin on November 6, 2016 at 9:06 am

    I love the picture with the clouds and purple mountains in the background with your rig set up in the amber fields. Where was that taken? Colorado? Eastern Sierras?

    If money was not an major issue, could you see yourself workamping during the summer just to see the region and to socialize with others?



    • Becky on November 7, 2016 at 7:19 pm

      That pic was taken in the Sawtooth range in central Idaho actually, near Sun Valley. RVers seldom talk about Idaho but I found it to be a fantastic state for boondocking.

      If it was an interesting enough job in a pretty area (and the hours weren’t too high), then yes Kevin. I’m always keeping an eye out for unique opportunities.



  13. Joe Aro on November 6, 2016 at 8:47 am

    You are a fine writer. Have you considered augmenting writing income via fiverr.com or elance.com? Perhaps you do that already.

    I enjoy your posts for basic information. I also enjoy reading them for your pioneer spirit that comes through. Keep it up and continue inspiring us arm chair RVers. I am now on track to try full time within the next 3 – 6 months and learn much from you. Thanks.



    • Becky on November 7, 2016 at 7:16 pm

      I’ve looked into both Joe, but the pay from those sites isn’t good, not enoughi to justify the time spent. I worked out the dollars per hour and it’s below minimum wage. At that rate I may as well just take a work-camping job.

      Glad you’re enjoying IO and thanks for reading. I hope your transition to full-timing goes smoothly, enjoy!



  14. Pamelab on November 6, 2016 at 8:25 am

    Hi, Becky – interesting recap of your year. So happy for you that you had a good adventure with the boondocking. Great photos, too. Regarding keeping warm – I have read that some folks use two twin sleeping bags opened and zipped together to make a full size sleeping bag. One even suggested bags of different weights – some cold nights might only call for light cover – put that one on top. Other nights that are colder would call for the heavier weight on top. I may try that.
    Thanks for sharing and happy trails.
    Pamelab in Missouri City for a while.



    • Becky on November 7, 2016 at 7:12 pm

      Yeah those are certainly options Pamela, it’s all a matter of preference really. I sleep in a small area on my bed (the bed in the Casita is the largest I’ve had as an adult, haha) so I don’t really need a second one. My sleeping bag is rated down to 40 degrees. When it gets down to 30 (I have yet to boondocking in colder weather than that) is when I pile all my bed covers on top and wear the thermal underwear and I stay warm enough. If it’s warmer I may use sleeping bag without covers, or thermal underwear without sleeping bag, it’s a mix and match kind of deal. Good luck whatever you choose!



  15. Jim on November 6, 2016 at 8:19 am

    Your taste in campsites and the subsequent photos is brilliant! So when you choose one of these boondocking spots, I presume it’s mostly BLM or National Forest, do call rangers or land management people ahead of time to find out exactly where to go and whether the roads are safe to tow the rig over, etc.? Or do you just show up in an area that interests you and then drive around until you hopefully find something acceptable before dark?



    • Becky on November 7, 2016 at 7:08 pm

      Yes it’s mostly BLM and NF land Jim. I find these sites online, where people have left reviews about rules and length of stay, site quality, how easy they are to access, etc. I listed them in the “Boondocking Answers” post but here they are again:

      https://freecampsites.net/
      https://www.campendium.com/



  16. Jim on November 6, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Just wondering if you’ve done any volunteering yet? As a camp host or helper? For private campgrounds or government’s. That saves you the same money boondocking does as most of those jobs come with a free RV site, generally with full hookups, often with WiFi, in return for a few hours easy work a week.

    I’d be interested to know if you’d considered that and rejected the idea and why. Might be interesting to hear your take on it.
    Jim recently posted..Back on the Road…My Profile



  17. wayne thomas on November 6, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Great info. Thanks for sharing, especially financial info. It is very helpful to many.



    • Becky on November 7, 2016 at 6:59 pm

      You’re welcome Wayne.



  18. MnDreamer on November 6, 2016 at 8:02 am

    Hi Becky- Your blog never lets me down- your analysis and concise writing articulate some pretty complex thoughts and decisions in a way that helps me to move forward in my process of becoming a full-timer. You encourage me to think carefully about how I use and will use my resources. You also remind me to appreciate the experiences and things that I already have. Thank you so much!



    • Becky on November 7, 2016 at 6:35 pm

      You’re welcome Mn! I’m glad you’re finding IO so helpful. Not being constantly worried about the money aspect of full-timing makes the whole experience more pleasant, it’s definitely something worth putting thought into.



  19. Jodee Gravel on November 6, 2016 at 7:55 am

    You really embraced the boondocking from the very beginning so I’m not surprised you’re happy with the “experiment”. You were also smart to start out with some other folks as an introduction to the changes in lifestyle. I’m envious of all the wonderful out of the way spots you found – so many beautiful places!!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Chaos Surrounds the SimpleMy Profile



    • Becky on November 7, 2016 at 6:33 pm

      Yeah it’s been a great year Jodee! Hopefully you’ll get to visit some of these yourself someday.



  20. jimmy on November 6, 2016 at 7:38 am

    you know you are not far from the national grass lands that could be an option for exploring while working, but they do allow hunting on it so be aware of that.

    http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/texas/about-forest/districts/?cid=fswdev3_008440

    Caddo/LBJ National Grasslands
    1400 US HWY 81/287
    P.O. Box 507
    Decatur, Texas 76234
    (940) 627-5475



    • Becky on November 6, 2016 at 9:17 pm

      I’ve seen that on Google maps and thought I should look into it Jimmy, thanks for the info.



  21. Susan jessup on November 6, 2016 at 6:19 am

    I have been reading and following you for a while now. I first found you when I was googling for YouTube videos on solo women rvers. I so admire you. I’m 20 odd years older than you and have never rved but I am determined to try it. I like travelling solo. I also love your frugalness – such discipline! I was wondering – without using your devices for entertainment and no TV, what do you do for just relaxing? Read? Sleep?

    Susan



    • Becky on November 6, 2016 at 9:15 pm

      Glad you decided to come out of the woodwork and comment Susan!

      It’s never too late to get started in my opinion, I know women who hit the road in their 70’s and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. If you want to do it, you’ll find a way. 🙂

      And yes, reading is my primary source of entertainment. I have a Kindle which is easy to take everywhere and as it’s the old black and white style it doesn’t require frequent charging – super easy to deal with while boondocking. I also take walks, take pictures around camp, sit on my “patio” and watch the world go by… it’s a nice life.

      And I get plenty of sleep too, haha.



    • Kit Frost on December 21, 2016 at 7:31 am

      I’ve been solo on and off the road since 2014. I live in my 18.5 foot travel trailer and love it. I mostly boondock, using 100 watts of solar to charge up my devices too. I also am an avid reader and use my kindle for that, and I watch rocks grow old. As a photographer, I love being close to locations for sunrise and sweet light. I am 63 and enjoy this lifestyle. Sometimes too, I stay with friends and get a hot shower and blow dryer!! Happy trails. It’s starting to snow here in Colorado and Utah, so I’m planning a January jaunt to Quartszite and Southern AZ to chase saguaro cactus and sunsets.
      Kit Frost recently posted..Zion National ParkMy Profile



  22. Rhonda Markham on November 6, 2016 at 6:12 am

    What a great post! While I don’t see full time rv’ing in my future…you just never know! How kind and generous of you to share your experiences, tips and advice, and, especially, your adventures, with us armchair readers. Hope you have a great overall experience with your job in the next couple of months and best wishes for an adventure filled 2017…:-)



    • Becky on November 6, 2016 at 9:10 pm

      Thanks Rhonda and I’m glad you enjoyed this little recap. 2016 has been a great year so far!



  23. RGupnorth on November 6, 2016 at 5:06 am

    You had a pretty interesting 9 months and most likely saw and experienced many things that you would never had the chance to do if you worked part of that 9 months.



    • Becky on November 6, 2016 at 9:09 pm

      Sure did RG. No regrets.



  24. lindaandmike on November 6, 2016 at 4:08 am

    hi Becky just wondering how long you plan on camping . 40 more years 50



    • Becky on November 6, 2016 at 9:08 pm

      Until I find something else I want to do more. 🙂



  25. Ron on November 5, 2016 at 10:32 pm

    Replying on my phone above, Sorry for the typos. Auto correct strikes again. Ron



    • Becky on November 6, 2016 at 9:08 pm

      Yeah phone auto correct can be a real pain Ron, but I get what you’re saying.

      My writing income jumped a fair bit this year (average monthly for 2015 was $636 I believe) because I had more time to write without that summer job. In all honesty though, my first 18 months of blogging/writing I didn’t make a dime so it’s really not a get-rich-quick kind of thing. It’s taken literal years to get to this point.

      Glad you enjoyed this year’s boondocks! I’m so glad I tried it, what a fun adventure.



  26. Ron on November 5, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    You did very well with your writing income, I have been curious of the pay off. You really had some great campsites. Thanks again for sharing. No go



  27. Old Fat Man on November 5, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    “Happiness per dollar” is essentially the same concept that I have called “value living” for years. No matter what you call it, it is still a very good way to live.



    • Becky on November 6, 2016 at 9:03 pm

      Oooh, your term way is easier to say though, I’ll have to remember that. Value Living. I like it. 🙂



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