Boondocking: RVing Across America for $50

We're 22 days into our full-time travel lifestyle and we already feel like boondocking pros. Although we were stationary in an RV for over a year, it didn't do much to prepare us for life on the road or life as a minimalist. One of the most shocking things we've learned is that you don't have to pay expensive campground rates. In fact, we've only paid a total of $50 to camp and we've traveled from Georgia to California!

 

The Cost of Full-Time RVing

If you're researching the minimalist or RV lifestyle, it's important that you understand the cost. Most people drastically underestimate the cost of full-time RVing. We did too. 

We bought a big RV with little knowledge about electricity. We thought, "Our house is on wheels. We can go anywhere." In theory I guess that's true, but we were pretty uncomfortable trying to run a 50 amp RV off a 15 amp house outlet.

If "amperage" (amp) doesn't mean anything to you and you're still researching the nomadic lifestyle and your tiny home options, you're not ready to buy (trust me).

In short, amperage (amp) is the cumulative electrical pull from a circuit. A/C units pull about 12 amps. If you have 2 A/C units (24 amps), you need a 30 amp circuit just to handle the load of your A/C units.

If you were on a 30 amp circuit and you were running 2 A/C units (24 amps) plus, let's say, a microwave, you'd probably be pulling more than 30 amps, which would cause the breaker to trip. In other words, when you're running a 50 amp RV on a 30 amp circuit, you'd likely have to turn some things off so you don't exceed the maximum allowable amperage draw (30 amps).

I can't express this enough --- if you're considering the nomad lifestyle, you MUST learn the basics of electricity.

 

Off-Grid Living (our electrical set up)

After living in a big RV and learning about both the size and electrical limitations, we decided to build a bus that was designed for off-grid living.

We've got a 27 foot school bus from bumper to bumper. The flat nosed school buses have a tight turning radius, so we're able to get in and out of tight spots and park in small parking lots. We also designed a (nearly) self-sufficient electrical system that can run on a regular house outlet (15 amps).

We have a HUGE battery bank --- 600Ah for the electrical folks out there. This is enough power to run our lights and water pump for several weeks as long as we don't use the batteries for high amp appliances.

We have 3 appliances that require quite a bit of amperage. The following are links to the appliances we use, which were some of the more energy efficient that we found: Wynter portable A/C unit, NuWave induction stove top, and Danby 3.8 cf fridge/freezer. To conserve battery power, we use this 2,000 watt generator for these appliances.

We've also got a 65 gallon fresh/grey water tank and a composting toilet. We can dump compost nearly anywhere. Because we're boondocking most of the time, we can bury solids. Urine, a natural cleaner, is normally poured down our drain. We use chemical free soaps, which allows us to empty our grey tank anywhere (yes, it's illegal but this is one of those cases...).

 

How to Camp for FREE

The U.S federal government owns 640 million acres of land. Most of that land is open for public use. We pay taxes to help pay for national forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) upkeep. These are federally owned properties that are there for us to enjoy and in most cases, RV camping is allowed, it's free (or cheap), and you can stay there for up to 14 days without moving. Some of these federally owned properties even have campgrounds with full-hookups and hot showers!

www.freecampsites.net is the only resource you need. This is a user submitted database of public land that has been and can be used for RV camping and/or boondocking. You simply type in your location, wave a wand, and boom, you've got a free place to stay (and it's almost that easy).

This style of camping isn't for everyone but before you say "it's not for me," I want to strongly encourage you to be open-minded about trying it. We have found some of the most beautiful pieces of land boondocking; it's a fun, rewarding adventure, and it's free!

Resupplying

When you're boondocoking, you have to make sure you're prepared for the worst. Your body can only survive for 6-10 days without water. After 3 days without water, your body will start to perish. But you can survive for several weeks without food. That said, you ALWAYS have to be thinking about a water source. Fill up when you can and always be aware of where the nearest water source is.

We have a 65 gallon tank; we can use it in two days or we can stretch it out to a week and a half if we need to. We freeze (4) 1 gallon milk jugs of water. They help keep our fridge cool, which also conserves energy, and they also serve as an emergency water supply. We need to refill water about 3x more often than we need to recharge our batteries. 

When we recharge our batteries, we also "recharge our batteries". We don't have a hot water heater, so this is our time to enjoy hot showers and relax a little. We plug in, hook up to city water, and we enjoy the finer things in life 🙂 

We stay in campgrounds about once every 15 days. We often stay in national forests for a small fee (fees are normally on an honor system). We research cheap campgrounds and make sure they have showers and full hookups.

 

Appreciating the little things

We decided to hit the road even though our bus wasn't completely finished. We weren't sure if we were ready or not but we were worried that if we didn't hit the road soon, we'd never hit the road.

After we hit the road, we quickly realized that we had more than enough to thoroughly enjoy life on the road. No hot water makes you appreciate hot water. Boondocking makes you appreciate the small amenities that come with a full-hookup campground.

We're more conscious of how much energy and water we waste every day. We throw away less and conserve more. We're more efficient, we've learned to utilize the many free resources that are available, and we've learned to rely on each other more than we ever have before! 

When you don't have much, you appreciate more. You slow down and spend your time intentionally --- and it is absolutely amazing!

  • Alexay Merculief

    I’m looking into installing an on demand hot water heater. This only runs when there is demand for hot water. Of course it needs to be hooked into the rv propane line. Just a thought.

    • We’re planning on doing the same…just haven’t found one yet. Any recommendations?

  • Robbin Martin

    We hope to do some boondocking in the future!