Road's End Workshop, with Paige and Corey: Travel Log No. 6

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For the past six months, Paige and Corey have traveled across the country. Here are some of their key tips, takeaways, and travel lessons. 

What is boon-docking?

Boon-docking typically refers to off-grid camping, most commonly done in a vehicle or trailer. When boon-docking, you have few common luxuries, live respectfully off the land and pack out anything you brought with you. You have no electric hookups, no plumbing, and usually no Wi-Fi or cellular service. Boon-docking locations vary, some being easier to access than others, so always plan ahead! 

How do you find free campsites?

There are dozens of ways to locate free campsites, established boon-docking locations, and campgrounds. BLM campgrounds (Bureau of Land Management, or dispersed campsites, are always free and typically lack the luxury of other established campgrounds (no toilets or Wi-Fi service). National Parks and National Forests will all have ranger stations you can contact—just ask for a map of their dispersed camping sites! If you’re looking for online or mobile resources, we suggest using websites like www.freecampsites.net and phone apps like Park Advisor or iOverlander to narrow down your choices. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that the majority of BLM sites are not listed online, on apps, or in blog posts. Keep your eyes open and looking for the BLM icon on passing signs! Some of the most incredible campsites are undocumented, and still protected from the destructive hands of the outside world. As for parks and forest land, we always make sure to contact local officials beforehand, not only to get verbal permission, but to also confirm that the Airstream will fit at the campground and make it down the unmaintained roads. All dispersed campgrounds are marked by campfire rings—don’t build your own and only use established locations.

Arrive early but not too early

We started to understand the rhythm of campgrounds and the schedules of a typical RVer. If you’re planning a weekend getaway, we recommend locations with reservations, or aiming for a Thursday arrival versus showing up on a Friday. We were fortunate to secure incredible free campsites all the time because we worked to avoid crowds and busy travel days. Our goal was to be at our destination by Wednesday afternoon. Didn’t matter what week, month or state... Wednesdays were our goal. Tuesday and Thursday also worked to our benefit but Wednesdays were golden for us. Two things you need to consider: what days and times most people arrive/depart.

If we wanted a free campsite at a popular location, we tried to get there around 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday. By arriving in the early afternoon, we avoided people leaving the campground, which allowed us the chance to take their spot. It’s also early enough to find a site before the majority of travelers arrive, even though Wednesday tends to be the slowest day. If you’re arriving on a Friday or Saturday, we recommend the earliest possible arrival time. People already camping will be there for the entire weekend and there’s no point in waiting to see if they leave. Be aware of other campsites around yours. It may be empty on a Wednesday but be prepared for a full campsite during the weekend. The majority of off-grid campers will arrive on a Friday afternoon and pack out on Sunday or early Monday.

Scout ahead

Your vehicle doesn’t matter, or whether you’re towing something... always scout ahead. The road ahead could be flooded, too muddy, or not wide enough for easy turns. We found ourselves stuck in sand once, and never allowed for that to happen again. One of us always stays with our vehicle and Airstream, while the other walks ahead and takes note of the road conditions, low hanging branches, turn radius, and promising campsites.

Busy seasons?

It’s good to know what, or who, you’re up against when planning your camping adventure. You could be facing a handful of neighbors or dozens, but one thing we noticed: campsites were always filling up on weekends. We admittedly chased good weather across the country, so we rarely were completely alone. More people are converting to a nomadic lifestyle, many already were full-timers, and then there are all the weekend campers. The southwest sees a lot of travelers in the spring, and the northwest was busy during the summer season. The northeast had lots of people coming in to see the colors of fall and of course, Florida in the winter is jam-packed with RVers and nomads. If you plan accordingly and avoid busy travel days, you can still have an incredible experience during the busy seasons.

Camping: know the rules

Be the example. Don’t make assumptions, outstay your welcome, or leave a trace. Always call ahead, do online research and read all camp signs. Boon-docking locations will have information provided regarding how many days you can stay, fire conditions, local wildlife, and other necessities. Most of our experiences were incredible, but our ongoing issue was other campers having little to no respect for personal space. In Alabama Hills, our campsite became a parking lot for people shooting a commercial, and we even got blocked in one morning by young people who decided to illegally fly their drone around our Airstream. We went to all this trouble to escape overcrowded cities, and ended up in uncomfortable situations that placed us awkwardly close to other people.

Allow for privacy and be sure to park your van or pitch your tent a good distance away from your neighbor, especially if you plan to run a generator all night. Another big one we feel is necessary to mention: put out your fires! Completely. No embers should be active and the ground should be cool to the touch. The best method we found was to have a small gardening shovel and a gallon of water available. Soak the fire and then stir your embers with dirt until they’re completely out. Add more water, and more dirt, until the ground is completely cool. It doesn’t matter if you think there are only a few embers left or it’s not dry out. You are responsible for keeping nature, yourself, and other people safe. Make Smokey proud.

National Parks Dos and Don’ts

If we don’t treat our National Parks with respect, we’ll lose them forever. No matter which park you’re in, you are absolutely not allowed to fly your drone. If you see someone breaking that rule, feel free to take it upon yourself to educate them about the law. We also write down license plates and report illegal drone activity to the nearest ranger station. All it takes is one crash into a 65-million year old arch to destroy it, and it only takes one spark to start a wildfire. We also do our best to stay on the trail at all times. Some parks allow back-country hiking without a permit but, otherwise, we aim to be on the established trail. Fragile ecosystems exist off-trail and deserve to remain protected. Injuries frequently occur at Yellowstone because of people walking off trail and falling into boiling geysers or acidic hot springs. If there’s a fence built, please stay on the right side of the fence and avoid putting yourself, and nature, at risk for a photo or any other reason. 

Don’t forget to purchase your park pass. It’s $80 for the year and grants you access to all national parks. For perspective, a day rate for entering Yellowstone and Grand Teton (they’re practically connected) was $90. Or, for $10 less, you have access to every park! We recommend doing this because it also allows us early access into parks, before the ticket booths are open. You could always sneak into the park early to avoid paying, but then you’re part of the problem and not the solution. Support our parks! And while you’re there, take all the photos you possibly can. The sights are always outstanding and they want you to love the land and share that love! But if you plan to shoot for any commercial purpose, even your own portfolio, be sure to check with the rangers regarding permits. Each park is different and will have varying rules, but it never hurts to check. If you’re adventuring with your own passenger vehicle, please be aware of your chosen parking spot. The “RV Only” spots look large and spacious, but if they’re all taken by smaller cars, RVers can’t park there and, therefore, miss out on experiencing that part of the park.

Traveling with pets

Our pets are a large part of our lives, so there was no doubt they were coming on this adventure with us. With two cats and a small dog, we wanted to be sure we did everything in our power to keep them comfortable and safe. The first step was getting everyone reflective collars with bells, in the case of an emergency or an escapee cat. We make sure to stock up on pet supplies and food, and will often use the company Chewy because they can send what we need to any address. We had friends across the country who acted as our mailbox, and let us send pet food so we could pick it up as we passed through. But it’s not just about comfort in the Airstream. The cats and dog rode in the truck with us, for almost 20,000 miles, and their safety was our biggest concern. The dog has a “Pug Life” harness that came with a clip that clips into any normal release buckle. We keep it relatively tight so we can still roll down our window for her and know she’s limited in regard to how far she can stick her head out the window.

Protecting the cats was the hardest task. Typical cat carriers simply wouldn’t do because one of our two cats enjoys violently sticking his arm through the front grate and performing alligator death rolls. It was only a matter of time until he broke his arm. Plus, the crates are not crash safe. We found our favorite alternative by purchasing each cat a “Cat Bag.” These are basically tough canvas bags with an adjustable Velcro opening for their heads. The rest of the bag zips up around them, but gives them enough room so they can stretch and adjust their bodies without feeling cramped. The bags also have multiple loops on the back, one longer loop to put over one’s shoulder as we carry them to and from the car, and a shorter loop that we run a seat belt through before securing it in the release buckle. And yes, the cat bags are successfully crash-test rated! So at the end of the day, each of our pets is buckled in for safety.

Be bear-aware

Not only were we protecting ourselves, but also our pets and students. We needed to be aware of the predators in the area, and create habits that will keep us safe. If you’re tent camping, make sure to keep your tent clear of food and snacks, don’t leave anything out, and hang your food/trash from the trees (at least 12 feet in the air and 200 feet away from your camp). If you’re in a soft trailer like a pop up, avoid leaving food out in the open or visible inside your trailer. Bears have been known to rip through soft campers to get access to food. Hard trailers like our Airstream have less to worry about, but we still avoided leaving food out on tables, and made sure to clean our campfire thoroughly if we cooked on it. Black bears are more curious than dangerous, but could still harm a human if desperate enough. When you get into grizzly territory, you need to take all the bear-aware rules to heart. They’ve even been known to break into cabins for food!

When hiking, try to go in groups of at least three. That way, if anyone becomes injured, one person can stay with the injured friend while the other seeks help. Always carry bear spray and make plenty of noise when you walk. You can rent bear spray at many visitor centers and ranger stations! Never turn your back on a bear, and avoid running away. Back away slowly and use the bear spray to create a wall between you and the bear.

Camping Tip: Bears adapt to their surroundings and become quite cunning and aware of travelers and their food habits. Don’t leave food at picnic areas and try cooking away from your campground when possible. Did you boil pasta? Don’t dump that water on your fire! It will attract wildlife.

Transfer stations. Go compost.

It’s not as difficult as it seems. We have a bear-proof bin for trash, if we need it, and it always stays in the back of our truck. Sometimes we’re not in an area with dumpsters, and although we try to produce as little trash as possible, we still accumulate quite a bit with our pets (one is on medicated wet food) and cooking needs when we’re hosting our workshops inside the Airstream. We also create waste because of our compost toilet. I won’t pretend like it’s not something we have to think about. We dump our compost toilet every couple of weeks to ensure it stays clean. We use coconut fibers in our compost toilet, and that helps with odor and eases the gross factor. We keep an eye out for available dumpsters, but that’s never a promised thing. Instead, we look for the nearest Transfer Station and take our trash, compost, and recycling directly there. We highly suggest this method because then you can sort your own items and make sure they’re properly disposed of. It’s typically $1 or $2 per bag, and recycling is free.

Conserve energy. Go Solar.

Not only did we outfit the Airstream with a compost toilet, we also have five solar panels secured to our roof. The combination of compost and solar means we can be completely off-grid and not require expensive campgrounds or modern luxuries. We enjoy being able to disconnect and live thoughtfully with the land. Here are some things for you to consider if you want to go solar. For what do you need electricity? We have our fridge and a running cat water fountain (this entices them to drink the proper amount of water and stay hydrated even when in desert-like terrain). We also had to consider how much our oven, cooktop, and laptops require, but those don’t need to be on and constantly running. This will help you to plan how large of a battery bank and power inverter you will need to not only power all of your devices, but also keep your batteries charged. We have 500 watts of solar panels, 304AH of battery capacity, and a 3,000-watt inverter (with a 6,000-watt peak rating) to convert our 12v battery power to normal 110v.

The next thing to consider is the placement of the sun. Trees can block solar rays drastically, which we found out firsthand when we got to the Pacific Northwest. The axis of the sun will also change throughout the year, depending on month and location. Summer offers a higher sun and better solar capabilities. The winter sun is low in the sky and creates minimal solar power. We also have to be aware of which way our Airstream is facing. We always want to be facing the south because of the orientation of our solar panels. This ensures we get the largest amount of sun possible. We also usually have ice on hand in case power runs low, and we need to move items from our fridge to our cooler.   

Showering: Don’t be afraid of truck stops.

Personal hygiene is important to us, and we needed to learn how to manage it properly while living on the road full time. Most campsites will have running water and provide showers, laundry services, etc. But we found ourselves out in nature more than in a campground, so we had to learn some new techniques. Large truck stops (the kind for semi-trucks) came in handy. They usually have showers and only cost a few dollars. Traveling with your significant other? Share a shower! It saves money, time, and water. In a pickle? Bathe in a river! But if you choose to do that, please take the time to source biodegradable, Leave No Trace approved shampoo/conditioner/body wash. We found ours at a camping supply store in Wyoming, and even used it to clean our dog. 

No campsite? No worries.

We don’t always have access to campgrounds or established boon-docking sites. A lot of the time, we’re just passing through and need a place to stay for the night or to temporarily unhitch while we get errands done or work on the truck. Most Walmart stores allow for overnight parking, but please, call ahead! It’s on a case-by-case basis and some stores will wake you up in the middle of the night and ask you to leave. In that case, other options include Lowes, REI, Cabela’s, Costco, Sam’s Club, Bass Pro Shop, and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Always call ahead, but these could be good options if you’re in a pinch and just need a place to rest. We want to give a shout out to Cracker Barrel, because they typically have RV parking spots in the back and allow you stay for a couple of nights, without issue. If we need to unhitch for any reason, we always do that at a Cracker Barrel. Walmart may allow overnight parking, but you should never make it your campsite. Don’t run your generator, don’t put down your jacks, don’t activate your slide-outs, keep your awnings closed and be respectful of the rules. Don’t be the person who ruins it for the rest of us!

And be sure to check back every month for a new episode of the Road’s End Workshop, with Paige and Corey

Have questions? We have answers!

We’ll be taking questions over the next couple months and addressing them in a special blog post! Send us your question at this link and check back to see if your inquiry is picked for our blog post!

1 Comments

We recently dropped the anchor after 18 years fulltiming on our 40' motorhome. Your ideas and suggestions are excellent. We visited almost every place you have mentioned and it was like living them again. Thanks. P.S. I didn't believe the Marfa lights existed until we saw them!

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