Updated: Dec 1, 2019
RV boondocking is our favorite way to camp as well as how we afford the RV lifestyle full-time. We have been enjoying boondocking for two years now as we travel full time in our RV. It has allowed us to camp for free right outside National Parks, along scenic waterfronts, on the beach, in a canyon and more!
What is boondocking? For us, it’s camping out in nature without hookups. "Dry camping" or "dispersed camping" are other names you will often hear, referring to the same activity. These types of free RV camping sites are usually found on government land such as National Forests or Bureau of Land Management properties. We pay for the care of this land through our taxes so I suppose technically it is not "free". Either way you can go and camp on most of these lands for up to two weeks in each spot for free. These lands were designated specifically for public use. It is one of the true benefits as an American.
For some people, boondocking is any “free camping near me”. There are RVers who overnight at Walmarts or Cracker Barrels and even those who tailgate. There are lots of ways RVers enjoy free camping or boondocking. Just as there are all kinds of RVers there are all kinds of boondockers or those who like to camp for free.
The question many people have after asking themselves “What is boondocking?’ is whether or not RV boondocking is safe. We believe RV boondocking is safe and the facts support that. But there are things you can do to help ensure your safety as you are out there enjoying RV boondocking and free camping.
Because there are so many types of RVers and ways they camp for free or boondock I wanted to get a variety of insight on how those RVers are staying safe while boondocking. While many I asked on social media had answers like “get a dog” (we have cats) and “pack a gun” I knew there had to more one could do.
So here are some fellow RVers with some examples of the ways they stay safe while boondocking.
Cass- Solo Full-time RVer
"Boondocking safety is something I was very worried about when starting out RVing as a full time solo female traveler. The thought of being completely alone in the middle of nowhere was quite intimidating. Thankfully along the way I have picked up tips from fellow campers and found tricks to help me feel safe.
Two items are physical products I purchased. The first was adding a motion sensor light above my doorway. This way if anything approaches my RV at night, the light will alert me. The second item I added to the RV is a can of bear spray. While camping up in Montana, I felt much safer walking around grizzly country with the spray. Knowing how powerful it is, I now store it by my RV door.
Another aspect that makes me feel safe is my dog, who is a German Shepherd mix. If anything comes within a certain distance of us or the RV, he quickly alerts me. Although we’ve never had any bad encounters, it’s just nice to know when a neighbor is approaching to say hi, so I can assess the situation before they arrive.
As for social media, I do post about my travels. However, my rule of thumb is to avoid posting my exact location while I am there. I typically wait a week or two before uploading photos. My exception to this rule is when I’m in a large group of people, or traveling a long distance and will be hundreds of miles from a location the next day.
The final piece to my boondocking preparations is researching a spot before I arrive. I rely on the Campendium app, and thoroughly read the reviews for each spot. Some reviews do outline that the RVers felt unsafe. That instantly sends me looking for another location.
Fellow RVers and travelers can also recommend spots where they had great experiences. Or if your schedules line up, boondocking with friends can provide a fun and safe community.
With some minor preparations and a bit of research, you can set yourself up for success while boondocking. Two years into full-timing, and boondocking is still my favorite way to camp!"
Dan & Lisa Brown - RV Couple
"As former waterside Search and Rescue First Responders, we stressed the importance to boaters to always have a float plan. The plan gives your family a point of reference of where to search for you and/or your RV in case of emergency or loss of contact. Whether you're only going for an afternoon or a more lengthy excursion, your plan can be a lifesaver.
Now as RVers traveling landslide, it's equally important to have a similar plan each time you get in the driver's seat. And, as boondocking RVers, it's even more important if you're headed to remote areas.
A simple email, text or social media message to your loved one(s) alerting them with the following information can be crucial in case of emergency:
How many in your travel party
Departure location and coordinates
Destination location and coordinates
Estimated time of arrival
Duration of your stay"
Kimberly - RV Tailgater
"As tailgaters, we take a different spin on boondocking. We are typically in cities, parking lots with others, and not so worried about not having cell phone coverage.
But lots of schools and stadiums are in areas of cities that we normally wouldn't go through, especially with a giant expensive RV. And some of these tailgating RVs are rolling mansions.
My best recommendation is to always trust your gut. And don't be afraid to call in backup.
If there are people that are pinging your danger radar, definitely keep an eye on them. Let other RVers near you know and tell them specifically what alerted you to them.
Since tailgating happens around events, there is usually a pretty good police presence around. Call them to do a drive through or to confront anyone that you see as a danger. They can remove them from a location without you needing to confront them directly.
For the most part, we don't have problems with crime beyond petty theft (a cooler will walk off, especially if it is loaded with cold beer - imagine that). But it is still wise to lock your stuff down and to pack up before leaving for a game. Especially a road game, as opposing fans may be more likely to do something than your home fans.
I also encourage you to leave your dash cam on. I can set mine so that it only records if there is movement in the field of view, so as to not waste the recording space. And while a camera won't stop someone from doing wrong, there will be video evidence that can be used to prosecute them. More information on my dash cam."
Emma Riggs- RVer
"The biggest tip I can give with staying safe while boondocking is to make sure you’ve got your resources sorted. Without the vital essentials for human survival, boondocking in the wilderness is not only stressful, but can become life-threatening.
Here are some essential resources to consider:
Make sure you not only take enough food with you for your expected stay in the bush, but take extra. Sometimes we stumble across a really fantastic place and end up staying longer than expected. Other times, things just happen and you don’t end up leaving when you thought you would (bushfire, road blockage, natural disaster etc.).
As with the food, I cannot stress enough how important it is to have more than enough water for your boondocking stay. Water is an essential substance, which our human bodies cannot function without. We always carry a spare 20L container on the back of our van filled with water and an additional 10L in the car. Things can happen and you don’t want to be caught out. We once pulled into a remote town to fill up our water tanks to find that the town was in drought and all of the public taps were shut off. We did find water, but at least we had spare drinking water just in case we couldn’t get any.
Another absolute essential for boondocking safety is First Aid. Make sure you’ve got at least one comprehensive First Aid Kit and make sure you know how to use what’s in it. We actually stock a few different kits of different sizes. We’ve got the biggest one in the back of the car (easily accessible), plus we’ve got a basic one in the passenger door pocket (with band aids and bandages). In addition to that we’ve got a whole little cupboard in the van dedicated to first aid and medical stuff. Lastly, we’ve got a smaller First Aid Kit in our hiking bag. Let’s hope you never need to use them, but it’s better to be safe than sorry."
Kyle Brady- Family RVers
We’re big believers in trusting our gut. To put it simply, if we don’t like the “vibe” of a boondocking site upon arrival…we won’t camp there. There’s never a reason for us to power through an unsettling location.
There are many personal defense items that can give you peace of mind while camping at a free campsite. However, there’s not much that can ease your mind when leaving your RV unattended at a boondocking spot while you explore the local area. This is even more reason to only camp at places that feel good.
Despite sounding fluffy, this rule helps us experience the freedom that inspired us to become RVers. Wasting mental energy by worrying about our (or our RVs) safety, is exactly opposite of freedom we seek.
Jason Miller - Full Time RV Couple
When we first started boondocking, we felt a little uncomfortable. It was a new experience to not be in a campground surrounded by people.
Since we are from Los Angeles and skeptical of anyone near our “things”, we purchased an Arlo wireless security camera kit. The one we purchased came with 2 cameras which allow us to place one monitoring each side of our RV. They have motion and sound detection which triggers alerts or you can access them directly for a live view.
Since they attach via magnets, we move them around based on what we want to see each week. Sometimes one even makes its way inside to watch our dog and talk to her through the speaker.
The Arlo cameras also give us a little more peace of mind when we leave the RV to go exploring when boondocking that we will be alerted if someone is close to our RV.
As The Penny Pinching Globetrotter we say, as a couple who travels full time and camps for free 90% of the time, we have never felt unsafe. But that doesn't stop us from employing several of the tips suggested already. Like reading reviews from various sites and carrying a weapon, be it bear spray, a knife, a baseball bat or a gun; whatever gives you a sense of safety.
When we are boondocking we always try to arrive several hours before it gets dark to get the lay of the land and ask ourselves a few questions. Does the area look respected? Do you see lots of broken beer bottles and trash around? Shotgun shells lying about? Some of these things you will learn from reading the reviews but does this mean an area is unsafe ? No, just that people use the area to party or fire guns. You just trust your gut.
The best part about RV boondocking is that if you come across an area where you don’t feel comfortable or if your "Spidey senses" are tingling you can leave. If it feels bad, roll on. Which is one advantage to getting there early as you will still have time to move on to plan B.
Plan B- Always have two or even three boondocking options in an area. Several times we have arrived at the spot to find it blocked or closed or our RV didn't fit when we thought it would so we rolled on to the next option.
One last thing I would add is that you need RV roadside assistance. It's not a matter of if you break down, its when. So when you break down you can easily call for help. And trust me we learned the hard way an RV tow can be very expensive without roadside assistance.
Keep in mind that most people are out there to enjoy the RV life and camp for free just like you. Just remember to be smart about your surroundings and get out there and enjoy life. Almost everything we do in life can and will have some sort of unsafe element to it but you cannot live your life in fear. You might just find (like us) boondocking is the only way you will RV and never look at campgrounds again and soon, you too will be googling “free camping near me".
Penny Pinching Globetrotters