5 Essential Boondocking Tips For First-Timers

Boondocking, also known as wild-camping or freedom camping, allows you to head out into the wilderness and find a spot of peace and tranquility away from the crowded tourist spots.

This lifestyle, while immensely rewarding, has a few things to consider before you get started. Today, I am excited to be sharing with you what we learned from boondocking around Europe for 30 months and visiting 30 countries.

There are some essential ingredients associated with boondocking, and people often ask us about these logistical aspects. They want to know — amongst other things — where you find water, how you cope without electricity, and whether it’s possible to dump your toilet cassette easily.

Below, I’ve explained how to take care of these very practical matters for first-time boondockers. Just knowing a few of these tips will ensure you can make the most of your time out in the boondocks while connecting with nature.

1. Prioritize Fresh Water

Water is thought about differently when traveling in an RV. No longer can you just turn the tap on and let it run without considering the consequences. However, with just a little bit of forethought, you can stretch your water out longer than you ever thought possible. We survive for up to five days on our 24-gallon tank — and we shower daily. We do have the help of our back-up water containers if need be.

My top tip here is to fill up regularly. When purchasing gas at the service station, we often ask if there is water available. Sometimes it’s not the best quality, so we always taste the water before filling our tanks. However, some people prefer to drink bottled water, so if you cannot guarantee the quality of tank water, using bottles is the way to go (and will help you make the water in your tank last longer).

If we are struggling for water, our fallback position is to visit a cemetery or graveyard. If there is a custodian nearby, we will have a chat, explain our situation, and ask if it is okay for us to fill up with enough to get by for a couple of days.

We have asked and paid for water at a local cafe in the past, too. While paying is a last resort for us, it is an option when water is difficult to come by — and usually cheaper than having to visit a campsite.

I have seen people purchase large bottles of water from the supermarket to fill their tanks. While this is an expensive exercise, it could be a solution to a very dry predicament.

Wash dishes once a day only. Before washing, “rinse” your plates by licking them (in my case this job is left for my husband — you can also make sure you really clean your plate by the end of your meal) and wiping excess food off with paper towels. We place a bucket in the sink and wash the dishes in it. Then the bucket gets tipped outside around thirsty trees or tipped down a drainpipe. This helps to manage your gray water dispensing — more on that later.

We shower every day, which may sound excessive, but it is possible to stay clean with minimal water usage. We stand under the shower just long enough to get wet, turn the shower off, lather up with soap, then turn on to rinse off. At home, I would normally shampoo and condition my hair and rinse that out. But on the road, I use a leave-in conditioner — helping to reduce shower times.

We use hand sanitizer to wash our hands rather than turning on the tap to use soap and water.

I use face wipes to remove makeup or sunblock at the end of the day.

Where possible, use laundromats if you need to wash your clothes while on the road.

There may be apps to help you locate water. We use Maps.me, which has helped us find accessible taps all over Europe.

2. Know What Gray Water Is

Gray water is the name for used water that ends up being stored in its own tank under the RV. Your used shower, bathroom, and kitchen water goes into this tank. If you don’t empty your tank regularly or put food scraps down the drain, this can get quite smelly (which you notice when you leave a plug out). Putting a bottle of cheap cola down your drains then driving around before emptying is a cheap trick for getting rid of the smell.

It’s interesting how resourceful you can become when RVing, and you will soon learn to notice opportunities for dumping your gray water. Some of the most common places to dump include RV parks and camping grounds (even if you haven’t stayed there).

5 Essential Boondocking Tips For First-Timers

Gas stations, truck stops, or bus dumping areas sometimes have a grate in the ground, and you can dump gray water over that. If you are near an RV dealership, they may offer for you to use their facilities (in the hope you will browse and buy from their shop).

Also check out what the national parks offer. Likewise, if you are staying on or near a marina, they often have dumping facilities.

Apps or websites like rvdumpstations.info provide areas to dump, as does sanidumps.com, which allows you to search by postal code.

If all else fails, and as a last resort, an area of vacant grass or gravel can be used; however, do not do this near any houses, waterways, or where people are likely to congregate. It can be a little smelly, however this soon dissipates. Gray water is relatively harmless — it’s usually just water with some shampoo, soap, and food residue. Although, if you suspect harmful bacteria may have built up over a period of time, consider your options carefully.

3. Prepare For Black Water Dumping

Invariably, this topic of conversation is raised regularly, often at dinnertime when RV guests join us.

Black water is from your toilet cassette (if your RV has one; if not, you’ll be emptying from a tank using a sewage drain hose). Dumping it is a dirty job, but someone has to do it. It can be a challenge, and you need to continually plan how to manage this necessary activity.

Many of the places where you can dump gray water also provide facilities for dumping black water. Roadside toilet facilities, outdoor toilets at gas stations, or public toilets at open-air shopping malls can provide opportunities for careful dumping.

We don’t use chemicals in our toilet because this limits the number of places where we can dispose of black water. Instead, we use a mixture of vinegar and fabric softener, which works well to keep smells at bay.

When my husband empties our black water in a public toilet, he takes the toilet cassette in a plastic bag — accompanied by fresh water in a bottle to help clean the cassette out. It is imperative that you are careful and clean up any spills — leaving the facilities spotless for the next user.

Top Tip: If possible, purchase a second toilet cassette and leave this as a last resort or for your backup. Ours has been a godsend on more than one occasion. Note that if you’re renting, you’ll want to discuss this option with the RV owner before making a purchase.

Limiting what goes into the black cassette in the first place makes a big difference to the number of times it will require emptying. No toilet paper goes into our toilet — it is placed in a sealed bin beside the toilet.

I have also heard of people doing their “number one” business in a bottle and discretely tipping it amongst the forest trees at night, under the cover of darkness. Another thing people have shared with us is placing a plastic bag into the toilet bowl to capture “number twos” and then disposing of this where they would their dog’s similar business. I don’t have a dog, so I could only imagine where it goes.

Many of the motorway or main road service areas have motorhome service points where you can take care of all these needs. Local tourist information centers can often direct you to services for motorhomes.

I suggest having a plan with your family to use public facilities where possible to avoid filling your black cassette (or tank) too quickly.

4. Minimize Your Electricity Usage

Whether this is a problem depends on how well set up your RV is, how much power you consume, and local factors such as the weather and the time of year. If you run out of power, you will usually need to find an electrical hook-up (EHU), which may be at a campsite or paid motorhome parking.

Some campers receive all the power they need by recharging their batteries while they drive. They will usually run everything off their 12V system and won’t have laptops, a TV, or other power-hungry appliances.

The ideal accessory needed here is one or more solar panels to recharge your leisure batteries. The larger your solar panels and the bigger your leisure batteries, the less you will need to rely on an EHU, and the more independent you will be.

For those new to the RV lifestyle or who are renting an RV for the first time, it is unlikely you will have solar panels. Therefore, take care in your power consumption by keeping an eye on your battery levels, and plug in as often as possible to give your batteries a top-up.

5. Mind Your Rubbish

It is surprising just how much rubbish is generated in an RV. We usually dispose of ours daily to avoid a buildup and to minimize any smell. It is easy to find public rubbish bins near parks, picnic areas, shopping precincts, and beaches. If you are really struggling to find one, then look at shopping malls or supermarkets (after purchasing your groceries, of course).

We make a point of researching and respecting the local recycling efforts and sort our rubbish into the appropriate plastics, glass, and paper bins.

We endeavor to leave a location cleaner than it was when we turned up, so we will pick up other people’s rubbish around us. At least we feel we are giving something back to the wonderful places where we have stayed.

Whilst there are a lot of things to learn about boondocking for the first time, these five tips cover the whys and hows of managing the most important aspects that are discussed amongst RVers. For more inspiration, read up on eight reasons this summer is the best time to try RVing, plus RVing 101: tips for picking the best RV and campground for your trip. Good luck and happy boondocking!

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