By Chuck Woodbury
To me, boondocking means staying in a beautiful place, away from a designated campground. There are no utility hookups and the nearest neighbor is a mile or more away.
When I think of boondocking I think of the desert Southwest — mostly Southern California and Arizona. There are millions of acres of land just waiting for anyone in a self-contained RV. With an adequate water supply and a couple of solar panels, a person or couple can easily stay a week or two (or longer) in wonderful solitude, never bothered by all the issues that come with holing up in a crowded RV park. And in most cases, it’s free.
Boondocking, according to most definitions, is not about staying at Walmart. It’s not staying at truck stops or in casino parking lots. That’s “pavement camping.”
I love to boondock but rarely do it. I stay in RV parks. I do it because my RV is my home, not a “camper” that I use to have a meaningful experience with nature. I like to take a shower every morning, and on a hot day I like to use my air conditioner to stay cool. I also like to be close to civilization and cellular service. I am not a nature writer. I’m a guy who travels from place to place and writes about what he experiences, always looking for the RVing angle.
If I wanted to write about being “one” with nature, like Edward Abbey and his wonderful book Desert Solitaire, then I would boondock, probably for months on end. But I like to be around people, to observe them. And lately, with the huge influx of new RVers and the crowding that’s bringing, I need to be where I can better observe what’s happening. I can’t do that alone in the desert.
Yet every time I write about staying in RV parks, the boondocking crowd pounces. “Why do you even stay in those places?” they write. I understand what they mean. The state of RV parks in America is terrible. Twenty percent are nice places. Sixty percent are okay. Twenty percent are dumps. And increasingly, the decent ones are booked solid most of the year, or at least in the busy tourist season.
And the fact is, many of the 11,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day are buying RVs to travel with, even live in full-time. Only a fraction want to camp off the grid. Just look at the RVs they’re buying — monster motorhomes and fifth wheels with every convenience — king-sized beds, washer/dryers, sophisticated entertainment systems, heated floors, wine coolers — some even have two bathrooms. They’re homes, for Pete’s sake! And they need 50-amp power to run everything!
Many of the newest models, perhaps even most of the high-end models, now come with residential refrigerators. They don’t even operate on propane like traditional RV refrigerators. These RVs are meant for living, not camping in the middle of nowhere.
I cannot boondock on public lands except for brief times, and still do my work. And I love my work. It’s what I do. I’d be lost without it. So I stay in RV parks and put up with noise, the occasional rude neighbor and RVs lit up like sleazy motels with their built-in outdoor lighting systems.
I think of myself as an unofficial cultural anthropologist studying the North American RV subculture.
That’s why I don’t routinely boondock. So hold your letters, those of you who cannot fathom why anyone would stay in an RV park. Some of us, me included, have our reasons.