Airstreaming Unplugged

Lessons From Our First Boondocking Experience
Karen Blue's Airstream boondocking out in the mountains

When we picked up our Airstream Flying Cloud in November 2018, we had zero experience towing a travel trailer. Though we were avid travelers, we had never owned an RV before, let alone spent an extensive amount of time in one. Despite our lack of experience, we decided to jump head-first into the lifestyle and hit the road just one week after our purchase. We spent the first few months exploring state parks and traditional campgrounds, but once we reached the Western United States, we knew it was time to try our hand at boondocking.

A More Authentic, Immersive Camping Experience

Boondocking, also called dry camping, is RVing without any amenities or hookups. It typically involves finding a spot on public lands and setting up camp with no access to electricity, water or sewers. For us, the real appeal of boondocking was in the freedom and solitude it could offer. We had grown tired of crowded campgrounds and longed for a more authentic and immersive camping experience. We wanted to test our self-sufficiency and see if we could manage off the grid, even if just for a few days.

After practicing our water and power conservation skills at a few state parks, we decided to give boondocking a try. We did take some extra precautions to ensure we would have a successful trip. For instance, we already had a basic solar set-up but we went ahead and purchased a backup generator as well. We also scouted the area we were thinking of boondocking at, and made note of nearby RV parks in case we needed anything or decided we wanted to leave. Lastly, we stocked the fridge with plenty of food and water, filled our propane and freshwater tanks, and emptied the gray and black tanks.

Surrounded By Beauty And New Friends

As we left the paved road and ventured into boondocking territory, we couldn’t help but feel a mix of anxiety and excitement. We saw a handful of other RVers and truck campers, which only amplified our feelings of apprehension. We were determined to appear confident, blend in and not draw any attention to ourselves. But as we drove farther and farther down the dirt road, we quickly realized we didn’t really know where to go. Could we pull over anywhere? How far away from other RVers did we have to be? Was this still technically public land?

Right at that moment, a man walking his dog waved us down. He introduced himself, shared that he was a fellow Airstream owner, let us know that he and a few other Airstreams were parked nearby, and asked if we wanted to join. We happily accepted his invitation, and made our way around a large dirt field until we found the perfect place to park. We had a stunning view of the mountains on one side and the vast expanse of the desert on the other. As we unhitched and settled in, our initial apprehension about being out here began to dissipate. Not only were we surrounded by a beautiful landscape but we were meeting a group of friendly RVers who wanted to share their knowledge and advice. The camaraderie we experienced on that trip, surrounded by other Airstreams and fellow travelers, was incredible and we left with new friends and a greater appreciation for boondocking.

Our Best Boondocking Tips

Since that first adventure, we've become boondocking enthusiasts and it’s now our preferred way to camp. Over the past four years, we've gained a wealth of knowledge on how to score the most epic boondocking spots, keep our water usage under control, reduce our power consumption, and minimize our impact on the environment. Here are a few of our best boondocking tips so you, too, can get out there and give it a try.

  1. Leave It Better Than You Found It

    The first and most important tip is to learn and practice the Seven Leave No Trace Principles. This includes packing out all trash and recycling, properly managing your wastewater, avoiding disturbing any vegetation and wildlife, and leaving your campsite better than you found it. Whenever we boondock, we bring a five gallon bucket for our recyclables and keep it locked in the back of our truck or inside the RV until we can find a place to properly dispose of it. However, if you’re boondocking in bear country, we recommend putting your trash and perishables in designated waste containers or bear bins, if available. Just remember that public lands are a treasure, and it is everyone’s responsibility to take care of them so they can stay pristine and healthy for years to come.

    Karen Blue's daughter recycling at a campground

  2. Prioritize Safety And Security

    Truthfully, we were a bit apprehensive about boondocking when we first started RVing. It can feel intimidating, even scary, to be out in the middle of nowhere without any power and, oftentimes, without any service. Luckily, in all of our years of boondocking, we’ve never felt unsafe but there are still some essential precautions to keep in mind. First, if you have a towable RV, make sure you have a good hitch lock. This will give you peace of mind knowing that you can leave your RV for a few hours and it’ll still be there when you get back. Second, use a heavy-duty lock on your generator or store it in a safe, locked place when you’re not using it. Third, don’t leave any valuables outside of your RV or even visible through the windows. The same goes for any valuables inside your tow vehicle. And lastly, you can always install motion lights or cameras on the outside of your RV for extra security. If you ever feel unsafe or uncomfortable, trust your instincts and leave immediately.

  3. Be Mindful Of Your Water Usage

    Installing low-flow shower heads or water-saving faucets is a great way to reduce your water usage. While waiting for your shower to get hot, you can always capture that water and reuse it for flushing the toilet or washing dishes. While boondocking, we like to carry several collapsible water containers that can help supplement our fresh water and drain some of our gray water. We mark the gray water container with a large X to avoid any mix-ups. Some people will also travel with a portable waste tank, often called a blue boy or honey wagon, which can hold your black and gray water until you’re able to find a dump station.

    Karen Blue's husband Lenny holding a bag of water

  4. Practice Power Management

    At our boondocking site, we’ll often use portable solar lights instead of our Airstream’s exterior lights to help save on battery usage. We also have a few small, solar-powered lanterns that can be brought inside. We do have upgraded lithium batteries and extra solar panels but we still carry a backup generator just in case. Just don’t forget to bring extra gas for your generator. We have a five-gallon gas tank that attaches and locks to the side of our truck rack, which also helps save space in the bed of the truck.

  5. Always Be Aware Of Weather

    Recent rain or snow can greatly affect the road conditions of a boondocking area. Plus, colder temperatures might require an extra power source and more propane in order to run the furnace. The same goes for warm weather—you might need to run your air conditioner more than expected so be sure you come prepared with the proper power. We have a smaller generator but the initial power load required to start our air conditioner supersedes our generator’s capability. To help, we installed a soft start that lowers the initial power draw.

    Karen Blue's truck

  6. Research The Location

    There are numerous apps and websites that can help you find a great boondocking site on public lands. And while the information on these apps and websites can be really useful, we always recommend reading any comments or user-submitted posts. The comments section is a great place to find out about road conditions or knowing what size of RV can fit into the site. Satellite maps, like Google Earth, are another great option for scouring the roads and checking out the terrain for a particular area. However, if you’re able to scout the exact location, we always suggest doing so. And if you have a towable RV, we recommend dropping your RV somewhere safe before you start scouting so you don’t find yourself in a tight or tricky spot.

Trust us when we say that boondocking is one of the best ways to experience true freedom and solitude. Our first time boondocking was daunting, but we quickly discovered that the best way to figure something out is to get out there, try it, learn from others, and learn from your own mistakes. We hope that by following some of our tips and tricks, you’ll have an awesome experience as well. Happy boondocking!

Karen Blue's Airstream with bikes attached to the back and boondocking at dusk

Travel Trailers

Travel trailers are the most popular type of non-motorized RV. No doubt you’ve seen one pulled down the highway hitched to a car or pickup. Travel trailers come in all sizes including tiny jellybean-shaped models with a chuckwagon kitchen in the rear to the massive house-on-wheels with picture windows and a sliding glass patio door.

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