(This post is part of a series. If you’re new to my blog or this is the first you’ve seen of this series, you might look at the introduction first.)
Living in an RV means that home is indeed wherever you choose to park it. But where? The possibilities are virtually endless, limited only by your imagination, resourcefulness, and sense of adventure. Let’s look at some of the options.
RV Parks And Campgrounds
First of all, what’s the difference between a park and a campground? There’s no real rule and sometimes the difference is in name only. Generally speaking, however, an RV park is oriented more toward longer-term residency — months, seasonal, or full-time. Campgrounds tend to be geared more to short-time visitors, and usually allow non-RV camping too.
Hook Me Up
RV Parks will almost always have full hook ups, meaning water, electric, and sewer connections. Cable TV, telephone, and WiFi may also be available. They are a good place to stay for someone who wants or needs the conveniences of “on-grid” living.
Campgrounds are often more rustic, and may offer fewer or different amenities. They may or may not have electricity. There may not be water or sewer hookups at each site, but rather a shared dump station and water spigot for campers to dump and fill as needed. Since campgrounds usually allow all types of camping, including tents, tiny trailers and vehicles without their own facilities, there are often toilets and showers available. You’ll frequently find picnic tables and fire rings. Campsites tend to be spread out more than they are in densely packed RV parks. You are not likely to find cable TV nor telephone hookups, and WiFi is rare, too.
If you like privacy and space, and plan to stay put for a while, a plot of private land, rented or owned, may be a good option. If you are renting, your ability to customize the property might be limited. If you own the land, you are free to do as you please, minding local codes, of course. You have the choice of using available electric, water, and sewer infrastructure, or going off-grid with solar or wind power and your own well and septic system. You could even plant a garden and grow your own food! While you might enjoy a similar lifestyle in a small cabin or “Tiny House,” the advantage of an RV is that you can travel in it whenever you want, knowing you have your own home base to return to.
With the downturn in the economy, some private homeowners rent space to RVers to raise extra cash. Space, hookups, and amenities vary greatly, but it can be a nice alternative to an RV park. Craigslist is a good place to find such opportunities. Look in housing > parking & storage. While many of these private RV spaces are in exurban and rural areas, you can find them in cities and suburbs too.
So far I’ve talked about places that will probably cost money. There are also places you can park and camp for free. You may give up some convenience as well as most amenities, but the price is right. You’ll need a fully self-contained RV for most of the free options.
Parking lots are good for overnight stays. Wal-Mart is a popular spot; most of their stores are RV-friendly, knowing that the occupant is likely to do some shopping while there. Sometimes, however, local laws get in the way – if you’re not sure, check with store management or security. If you arrive late in the evening and leave early in the morning, you can usually get away with overnighting in almost any parking lot. Just use common sense, keep a low profile, and if you’re asked to leave, be polite, apologetic, and compliant.
Truck stops are another place to stop overnight or even for a few days. On the plus side, they have some useful amenities for the traveler: fuel, restaurant, laundry, showers, WiFi, and a store. Many truck stops even cater to RVers by providing a separate RV parking section, water and dump station, and propane. On the minus side, they can be busy and noisy, and some might find the diesel fumes unpleasant.
While parking lots and truck stops may be fine for spending a night or two along the road between where you were and where you’re going, you wouldn’t want to spend too much time there. So what to do when you get where you’re going?
This Land Is Your Land…
Plenty of public land, mostly overseen by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, is available for what is called dispersed camping. This is totally free camping outside of designated improved camping areas. It’s an opportunity to get away from it all, enjoying nature while testing your own self-sufficiency. There are no hookups or amenities of any kind. You bring what you need, and take everything back out when you go, leaving the land exactly as you found it.
While there’s a 14-day limit on dispersed camping, the BLM maintains Long Term Visitor Areas in Arizona and California that allow seasonal camping for up to seven months (September 15th – April 15th). These areas have dump stations, potable water, and trash dumpsters available. LTVA camping is not free, but it’s darn close to it at $40 for two weeks or $180 for the whole season.
Thousands of full-time RVers spend their winters on BLM land near Quartzsite, AZ in either the LTVAs or dispersed camping areas. I spend some time there myself each winter, part of it attending the annual week-long Quartzfest ham radio gathering in January.
Unfortunately there really isn’t a good single source of information regarding camping on public lands — you’ll have to start by going to each agency’s website (BLM or USFS) and then choosing the state you are interested in. A couple of crowd-sourced online databases look interesting — boondocking.org and freecampsites.net — the first allows you to search based on proximity to desired GPS coordinates, while the second lets you browse by state.
Friends and Family
Last but not least, if they have the room, you might be able to camp in a friend or family member’s driveway or yard. It’s a great way to visit loved ones, or to support them in times of need.
Please share your thoughts — comments are open!