The Long Way Back to Boondocking


I was burning out on travel.

Our manifesto of take it slow, take it easy was harder and harder to live by as we came across RV park after RV park, place after place that was just not holding my attention long enough.

Part of it was the mechanical stuff. Our Airstream, a nearly forty year old trailer, needs daily maintenance, and I do mean that literally. What you don’t do today means a backlog that you’ll never accomplish tomorrow.

But I also enjoy working on the Airstream. So that wasn’t it.

Some of it was the weather. We left Pennsylvania in September, and we’re just outpacing freezing cold temps even as we got as far south as Georgia. But we were deliberately chasing the autumn leaves, so that really wasn’t it either.

I guess it could be blamed on the east. State parks are beautiful from Vermont to West Virginia to Florida, but there’s just so much crap in between. Strip malls, stop lights, and god the billboards. It makes you want to just buy all of the billboards and put pictures of nature all over them, there’s so little of it left back there.

But the east is full of family and if you look hard enough and in the right places, you’ll find beauty and plenty to do.

What it was, I’m just now discovering, was a combination of them all that was leading me to believe the world was just plain old fake. The signage, the same restaurants in the same towns, the expensive, packed in RV and even state parks that felt less like we were getting out into the world and more like we’d traded a life of adventure for one of gravel parking lot motorhome dealerships.

And then we decided to go for it.

I don’t know what held us back for so long. Fear, I guess, a fear of inconvenience, of not being able to work, of just the new (yes, travelers can fear new things too!)

But we made the leap. First we gave up sewage. That’s the big one, because you can’t really replicate a sewage hookup, at least not in our setup. Sure, they’ve got portable dump buckets that you can then wheel to a dump station, but as we live in both our van and trailer, we’ve got nowhere to store something that has previously contained poop comfortably.

But we quickly found that even our small blackwater tank could hold strong for a week, sometimes more if we had access to any type of toilet.

Disconnecting from water and electric is then a breeze. It’s more work–lugging 6 gallon jugs of water from not always nearby spigots or trips to towns to find more water to do similarly–but it’s worth every penny. Two of those jugs easily lasts us a day in the wild. That means we’re consuming less than 12 gallons of water per day while boondocking.

The EPA reports that the average family of four in the U.S. uses 400 gallons per day. And we’re a family of six.

We learned to shower less, two to four times per week depending on who it is, and what the available resources are.

For electricity, we find that our single marine 12v battery will last us a full daytime period easily, sometimes an entire 24 hour cycle. I turn it on two or three times a day, for between an hour to three hours each time, so that I can work on my laptop and Tristan, our oldest son, can have juice of his own for his school work. We primarily charge our phones in the car, and everything else requiring electricity–namely our lights and water pump–run off the 12v battery.

It’s nice to also run a fan during those hours of generator use, or a heater for a few hours before bed on particularly cold nights, but otherwise we have little use for constant electricity creation. iPads, phones and computers are great in the way they come with a built in rechargeable battery.

But I digress.

All of this is just explaining a means to an end. And that end is finding a whole new world of freedom. Free camping, or very cheap at the least. And vast, beautiful views. Solitude. Perfection.

It’s funny because this is much closer to how we began; no electricity much of the time, water from spigots, finding beautiful not convenient places.

I’m no longer sour on traveling. I mean, I never was, I just needed to find a new method. And so life helped me do just that.