The more you travel in your RV, the more likely you will end up in some place or situation where you are forced to boondock (spend the night with no hookups)—sometimes for several days. While this may, at first, seem strange, it happens frequently. So, the more comfortable and practiced you are with boondocking, the less frustration or anxiety you will face when you are forced to boondock.
Boondocking isn’t hard to do and you will find lots of other articles under this topic to help you learn what to do and how to do it. Plus, you may find that it is fun because you will have a freedom that only RVers who do boondock, actually realize.
Staying a night or two or a week is entirely possible and is based on three things. The first is your RV’s fresh water/holding tanks capacities. Second, is your battery power or ability to generate electricity. Third, are your daily functions (while staying in your RV) and your ability to conserve. All of these are discussed in other articles on the website.
Why Would I Be “Forced” to Boondock?
Why, you ask, would you ever be forced to boondock? After all, you have the choice to go where you want when you want and with that, it should be your decision to boondock or not. This is perfectly good, but flawed, logic.
There are a number of situations where you will be forced to boondock including…
- getting service or work done on your RV that requires you to stay overnight or longer
- some RV rallies are held at places with partial or no hookups
- wanting to stay in campgrounds that are full but will let you park (boondock) until a hook-up site opens up
- ending up in a campground with partial hookups—you have to do without something at the site.
- closed campgrounds—common in winter up north—where you can park but all utilities are turned off.
[Author note: I will use the term “dealer” in the article to mean both service centers operated by the RV manufacturer and true RV dealers—both offer service.]
Getting Service… is a common situation where you may need to park overnight. The usual situation is that the work takes more than one day due to quitting time, waiting for a part, or there is simply a lot of work to do. So, the dealer pulls your coach out of their facility just before quitting time, and parks you (A) just outside the service bay door, (B) in the back of their lot, or (C) sends you down the street to a Wal-Mart or empty lot of some type. (It should be noted here the dealer will typically not send you to a campground as they want you back in for the rest of the service usually early, early the next morning and on time—so they want you close by.)
If you are parked just outside the service bay door, you may be able to plug in to a 50-amp (if you are lucky, the dealer may even have an extension cord), a 30-amp (less lucky), or just a 20-amp (plain, old extension cord—no luck at all). This all depends how the dealer is set up to accommodate coaches overnight. Dealers and factory service centers are accustomed to fulltimers needing to stay in their coach overnight and it is very rare you would be required to get a motel—but more on this later. Occasionally, you will find a service center or dealer with a campground attached.
If they park you in the back of the lot, the potential for an electrical connection is even more rare. They usually do not want extension cords stretched across their lots as they could be driven over and easily cut.
Some dealers have an agreement with an unrelated but close-by business where they can park a coach-in-service overnight. Typically, the coach arrives at the external parking lot after the local business is closed and is gone in the morning (back into RV service) before the local business opens for their customers.
A Personal Story… Recently, we had a new boondocking experience due to service. Our coach was in a service bay. They had replaced some silicone to prevent a water leak on our coach and it was time-consuming. Then it started to rain.
It was time for the place to close so the owner gave me a spare set of keys and told us to lock the building if we went out for dinner. They turned on the building heat, plugged us in to 20-amp, and left for the night. We went out for dinner (and locked the door), came back, and spent a comfortable night in a strange location. We slept in our RV while it was parked inside their building. The only “bad” thing was that TV reception was nonexistent. It was certainly quiet and dark and a new experience for us.
While electricity is available (based on my personal experience) maybe about 60% of the time at dealers, water and sewer are rare. We have been offered water to fill our tank if needed but have not stayed hooked up to water overnight while parked outside a dealer service bay.
Sewer access is nearly nonexistent. The dealership often has a place to dump but it may be a single hookup inside a service bay. They use this dump in preparation for maintenance on the RV sewer systems and generally, not for the overnight guests such as yourself.
Even if they have a sewer hookup inside, almost always, their insurance will not allow you to drive your coach inside their building—they have to drive it. If so, this means that a service tech would have to take the time to stop what they are doing (on the clock and getting paid) to pull your coach in, wait with you while you dump or actually dump for you (you are not allowed to work inside their shop—more insurance requirements), and then pull your coach back out. If they clock in to do this work for you, then estimate about a half-hour on the clock (that’s fair). With a shop labor rate of $100.00 per hour, your dump fee would be $50.00!
[Author note: For specialized service that takes lots of time (several days or even weeks) such as painting, body work, or engine/drive train work, you simply cannot move the RV. Therefore, the dealer would require you to enjoy a few days (or longer) in a motel while the work is completed. We have actually left our coach for service and gone on a 7-day cruise. This gave the dealer lots of flexibility and, of course, the cruise was fun.]
RV Rallies… It is common at many RV rallies (large and small) to have no hookups or just partial hookups. The most common is to have electricity only. The rally organizers typically ask you to show up with a full fresh water tank and empty grey and black tanks. Rallies typically last 3–5 days. At these same rallies, two situations are also common and a third is possible…
First is that the most common electricity offered is 20-amp. Think of this as a simple extension cord. Having a large RV hooked up to a 20-amp circuit will, in fact, keep the coach batteries charged. You live in the coach using the inverter and coach battery power. It’s doable. The one major negative is that you cannot run any high-amp-draw appliances (air conditioners, microwaves, hair dryers, etc.) or it will run the batteries down rapidly.
Second is that you may “share” a water faucet. There will be a common water faucet available to service a number of RVs while they are parked during the rally. You arrive with a full fresh water tank and use out of that. When your on-board water is low, you hook up to the shared water and fill your tank again. One common practice is that midway through the rally, a few RV owners will get together and connect multiple water hoses. By doing this, they can fill many RVs some distance from the shared faucet. The bad news is if RVers use too much water, it will fill their grey and black tanks too fast and they will have to move to dump their tanks. Just because you have plenty of water doesn’t mean you can be wasteful with it.
Third, many rallies will make arrangements for the proverbial “honey wagon” to show up about the third day. This is the tank-truck that can haul away raw sewage. If your black tank is full, you must dump or access the honey wagon (for a fee). However, since the black tank fills much slower than the grey tank, on many RVs, you can easily function normally for a week without needing to dump black.
Full campgrounds… are common especially in a busy tourist season/area but if they have room, they may let you park (boondock) until a hook-up site opens up
A Personal Story… When I was writing this article, we were camped at the FamCamp in MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. I am retired Army and we enjoy that privilege. When we arrived, they parked us in the “overflow” sites (no hookups) for a few days and put our name on the rotation list for a partial-hookup site (water and electric only). Four days later we moved to a partial hookup site. There, we could have chosen to be put on the rotation list for a full-hookup site but we didn’t bother with that since we were only going to be here another week.
Campgrounds with limited or no hookups… are common in many areas. We found this especially true in northern Canada and Alaska. It seems that a campground (yes, a real campground) may not even have a central dump station. However, you can locate lots of dumping places at fuel stops, towns (municipal sites), museums, etc.
Closed campgrounds… are common when traveling in the north during late fall, winter, and early spring. Many northern campgrounds close over the winter and may actually start closing down in October and reopen about April. We were the last RVer in a campground near Grand Forks, North Dakota on October 15th one year. The manager told us we could hang around a few days while he “winterized” the campground but he was not letting anyone else in.
You will find that many of the northern campgrounds are closed from coast to coast. Interestingly, campgrounds on or near the coast may stay open since the weather is often milder there than farther inland.
These closings are not solely limited to the US campgrounds. Many Canadian campgrounds also commonly close in the winter. The only answer for you is to call ahead—maybe even the summer before—because many of them also shut off their phone service for several months.
The Good News
There are common situations where you are forced to boondock for a few days. The good news is that boondocking isn’t hard to do. I’ve had a number of RVers tell me they would never attempt it (I’m not sure why). I don’t know how these same people manage it when they are forced to boondock for a night or longer due to any number of legitimate reasons. Maybe they always go to a motel. That’s not my choice. I want to sit in my own chair and sleep in my own bed—it’s one of the highlights of being an RVer since you don’t have to leave your stuff behind to travel somewhere.