We’ve covered boondocking in our previous articles, but another of our favorite forms of free camping is moochdocking, aka camping on the property of friends and family. Since we are full-time RVers, we don’t just bring all the comforts of home when we visit, we bring our home. This has a lot of benefits, but also its own set of best practices to consider.
In addition to saving money, moochdocking is a great way to connect and spend time with people you care about, without having to pack a bag. (Not to mention, this is a great time to catch up on laundry). Another perk is that it also lets you have your own space. You have more privacy and it keeps the guest clutter from overwhelming your host. You know what they say about house guests and fish, right? We like to think that staying in our home while moochdocking makes us better house guests, and maybe even lets us mooch a little longer.
Things to keep in mind while moochdocking:
Make sure the place is a good fit. Not everyone’s home is set up to handle a larger motorhome or trailer. Your friends and family might not be familiar with just how big your rig really is. They may tell you, “Sure, you will totally fit in our driveway,” only to arrive and find it might be fine for their Prius, but will in no way accommodate your width and length. It’s a good idea to check Google Satellite View and Google Earth, just to make sure.
Know the rules. If your host’s driveway or property won’t accommodate your size, you might be able to park on the street. Increasingly, cities are cracking down on RVs left overnight on public streets. Be sure to check local regulations and city ordinances before you do it. If it’s fine with the city, you might also ask your host to let their neighbors know you’ll be staying.
Pay attention to electricity. If you need to hookup to an electrical connection, most homes will only have a standard 10 or 15 amp. You can quickly overload the connection causing serious damage if you try to run electric-hungry appliances like air conditioners and convection ovens. However, we have family members who have provided us with 30amp and even 50amp service. They get 5 stars in our personal moochdocking rating system.
Think of the tanks. Plan to arrive with empty holding tanks. You don’t want to be cousin Eddy from National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation” and drain your black tank in the curb sewer. A longer term solution could be equipping your RV with a macerator that can pump the black tank contents into a clean out drain or a portable waste tank you can take to a dump station. Using the inside house restroom and shower can extend the tanks as well. In a rural area, it also might be acceptable to drain the grey tank next to your rig in someone’s gravel driveway, lawn or field.
Be a good guest! Of course, this goes without saying. Help out around the house, share the grocery shopping and cooking, host a meal out, arrive stocked with you and your host’s beverage of choice, leave a little hostess gift. Maybe even send a thank you card, and you’ll be sure to be invited back!
Hopefully, with these tips, you’ll be a successful moochdocker as well!
Our first RV was a travel trailer we bought for an extended sabbatical where we traveled and visited the National Parks west of Denver. During that trip, we stayed in established campgrounds and RV parks, averaging around $30 per night to camp. As we approached our decision to retire early and live full time in The Bago, we knew we would have to stretch our budget and lower our per night camping average.
Thankfully, one of our preferred ways to camp is free camping, also known as boondocking. Don’t get us wrong, we love a full hook-up campsite, but when you’re watching your monthly spend, free is a huge budget saver. We’ve learned that we appreciate the balance. Boondocking feels more like camping to us and we love spending time away from crowds on undeveloped land. It also allows us to appreciate a luxurious few days at an RV park with full hook up, laundry and maybe even a pool and spa.
Here’s how we find our boodocking spots:
Campendium is definitely our go-to site for free camping. The founders are full-time, working RVers who love to boondock. Many of the reviews are written by similar folks who leave details on getting into remote sites, site size, road conditions, Internet connectivity, amenities and local attractions. The interface is well designed and it’s easy to filter by free. You can also add spots to your Favorites to save for later. They also have an iOS app, with android coming soon.
Freecampsites is not quite as user friendly as Campendium, but still a useful place to look. Sometimes the reviews lack photos and details on things like what kind of rig can fit.
Rockhouse Road, Borrego Springs, California. Located in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
The satellite view on Google Maps is great for previewing spots and roads into them. Sometimes you can even see RVs. There also seems to be an increasing number of reviews for sites. The street view, if available, can be very handy to preview the roads in. For example, this one in Saddle Mountain outside of Tonopah, Arizona. Note that many of the public land management agencies label boondocking as dispersed camping.
Public Land Management Websites
These agencies include the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service, Forest Service, and individual states. As an example, Googling “Joshua Tree dispersed camping” returns a handy guide with a couple of options on this site.
These offices are great sources of information with maps and brochures. We’ve also found rangers to be amazing sources of information.
Klondike Bluffs outside of Moab, Utah.
Say what you will about social media, but when we see pictures of a great camping spot, an interesting landmark or even an awesome meal, we’ll often reach out to whomever posted to get more information about the spot and make a note of it for later. (Read more on using Instagram as a resource here).
And then, of course, there is just good old fashioned driving around! What better way to find a camp site than having a look around for yourself? We love scoping out spots with our Jeep where we can boondock in our Winnebago Journey.
These are our resources. How do you find your boondocking spots?
Scott had been wanting to RV in Baja since long before we got The Bago, but having watched El Chapo and The Cartel, read the Don Winslow books, and heard the Mexico travel warnings, Jaime was pretty sure we’d get kidnapped and decapitated. She was a bit reluctant, to say the least. But, we found a safe compromise when Scott proposed San Felipe, with it’s easy two-hour drive from the border. When we managed to convince our friends Denny and Veronica (RV Outlawz) to join us for two weeks of fun in the sun, BajaLite was a go!
Important Logistics & Preparation for Baja
Driving to San Felipe doesn’t take a whole lot of planning, but you do need Mexican liability insurance on all vehicles and a tourist visa (Forma Migratoria Multiple or FMM) for stays longer than seven days. Both can easily be purchased online. Our U.S. insurance policy extended comprehensive coverage on The Bago and we bought Mexican Liability coverage for our travel days only as we planned to spend our entire time in one campground. We decided to roll the dice with our Jeep and went down with Mexican Liability only. After printing our proofs of insurance in both English and Spanish, we crossed that off the list.
Completing the FMM form and paying online was quick and painless. Getting the FMM stamped took a little more effort. We’d hoped to avoid having to find parking for The Bago at the border crossing by getting our FMMs stamped ahead of time, so we met Denny and Veronica in Algadones a few days before our planned crossing. Unfortunately, both immigration officials we spoke with explained that the FMM was good for only one entrance and one exit and would not stamp the forms. The trip wasn’t a total waste though as we practiced Baja-ing with tacos and cervezas and decided we’d just figure the FMM stamp out at the border in Mexicali.
The last piece of pre-crossing business was making sure we’d be able to bring our dog Crosby back into the U.S. We found conflicting information online. Some websites stated that all we’d need was proof of rabies, while others said that a Unites States Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals (APHIS Form 7001) was required.
Since this was our first time, we chose to get the Health Certificate and made an appointment with a vet in El Centro, CA. The receptionist basically laughed at us and the vet spent less than five minutes to look at Crosby’s rabies vaccination certificate, take his temperature, confirm he was a dog and sign the Health Certificate. And at no point did anyone coming in or out of either country ask to see the Health Certificate, but better safe than sorry.
Getting Across the Border
On the morning of our crossing, we met up with Denny and Veronica in El Centro and drove together to Mexicali East. We left early and found the border crossing at 9 a.m. to be nearly empty. The crossing was pretty effortless. After a brief inspection of a couple of the basement storage bins and a quick look inside the RV, the border agents closed a lane of traffic, so we could run inside to get our passports and FMMs stamped.
First Impressions of Mexico & Getting to San Felipe
Highway 5 to San Felipe doesn’t start until you get out of town. Navigating the city with a population of 800,000 definitely exposes you quickly to Mexican driving habits!
Once you’re through Mexicali, it’s pretty much a straight shot to San Felipe. The highway itself is nicely paved with wide shoulders and passing lanes in many places. It’s actually a nice drive following the Colorado River, through a giant dry lake bed and over a small mountain pass.
There is one military checkpoint manned by what Scott’s mom calls “Boy Scouts with big guns.” They took a quick look at our passports and FMMs, asked where we were headed and waved us through. Shortly after that, we got our first glimpse of the Sea of Cortez and then the Arcos de San Felipe!
Where to Stay
We stayed at Victor’s RV Park, just South of town. Victor’s is an older park, as are most in the area as new development is happening on the other side of the sea in Puerto Penasco. We scored a full hook-up oceanfront spot next to our friends. Electrical connections in Mexico can be a little on the sketchy side, but we didn’t have any problems. The spot itself was small for our 36-foot Class A with slides, but Victor’s let us park perpendicular in front of the space which really expanded our ocean front living space!
Our time in San Felipe flew by quickly with days filled with stand-up paddle boarding, hanging out at the beach, exploring the areas to the south, and some serious hammock time. Denny and Veronica had fun, but working remotely in Margaritaville on East Coast time can be a bit of a challenge, so they opted to leave after our two weeks.
The big San Felipe 250 off-road race, and ensuing madness, was coming to town so we had also planned to hit the road before things got crazy, but then Lily at Victor’s let us know we could keep our spot and stay to enjoy what she said was the biggest event of the year. We couldn’t come up with a reason to leave, so we didn’t!
Our friends were replaced a few days later by the Bevly Wilson race team and their awesome trophy trucks. The town was packed and by Friday the Malecon was closed off for the pre-race festivities which included all the race vehicles and hundreds of fans from the U.S. and Mexico enjoying food and beer while soaking in the carnival-like atmosphere.
We ended up actually enjoying all the madness. This was our first motorsports event and we had a front row seat at Victor’s and the sand dunes behind the park. The Bevly Wilson Team were a great group of guys and after our time with them, we consider ourselves minor league race groupies!
After our two weeks turned into a month, we figured we had better head back before The Bago grew roots. San Felipe has seen better days as evidenced from the abandoned condo projects and shuttered businesses, but still has a lot of charm. We found awesome inexpensive food and drinks, a lively and festive malecon to stroll along and people watch, sand and sea with its extreme tides, as well as warm and friendly people. And while there were definitely gringos hanging out in town, San Felipe still feels authentically Mexican, something we’ve found missing in other Baja tourist towns.
We had the best time and can’t wait to get back. Hasta pronto, San Felipe!
After years of sitting in a windowless cubicle, dreaming about being outside and trying to work out how to make it happen full time, a gently used 2007 Winnebago Journey 36G Class A diesel motorhome became available. It was definitely larger and much more grown up than we thought we wanted, but with the ability to tow a Jeep for off-road exploring, room for bikes and our inflatable stand up paddle boards, an on-board air compressor for inflating the boards, solar panels and giant holding tanks, we jumped at the chance to ditch the rat race, bought The Bago and haven’t looked back.
In the nearly two years that we’ve been on the road, it’s become impossible to not notice the explosion of #vanlife on social media and draw the conclusion that a van is the ultimate adventure mobile. While my wife and I do admit to a little van envy at times – especially the 4×4 models like the new Winnebago Revel – we have found that The Bago doesn’t have to be confined to pavement, RV parks and campgrounds. With some planning, spot scouting and the occasional nail biting, we can get fairly far out there and then stay longer.
Boondocking in Remote Places
Our go-to for researching spots is Campendium. We’ve found great free camping areas through the site and mobile app. Reviews are written by fellow travelers that often include the dreaded phrase “Not Suitable for Big Rigs.” In the beginning, we’d rule those spots out, assuming that if people had trouble getting their 30-foot trailer down a dirt road, there would be no way The Bago would manage.
We’ve since figured out that we may have a higher threshold for a bumpy, rutted, rocky road than others, and the patience to find a way in. When there is somewhere we want to get to, we take the time to disconnect the Jeep, scout the road in, plan how we’re going to get into the spot and then slowly go down the road. Sure, it might take us longer to get settled, but the effort is always worth it.
Most of these remote places are on public land without water, restrooms or electricity. Often, the nearest town is miles away. The Bago allows us to carry ample food and water. With conservation measures, we can also stretch our tanks to max out the 14-day stay limit.
While it’s not necessary and certainly feels decadent while boondocking, we also like to watch a little TV in the evenings. Our four batteries, 300W of solar, and 8500W generator makes that possible, when the sun isn’t cooperating.
One of our favorite spots from the past year was by Lake Powell where we explored the submerged Glen Canyon on our stand-up paddle boards. Moab, Utah, was another highlight with slickrock Jeep trails, mountain biking, and amazing hikes into Arches National Park.
Probably the most scenic campsite was on the rim of a canyon in Virgin, Utah, outside of Zion National Park where I scored a last-minute permit to hike the bucket-list worthy Subway slot canyon.
But, at the end of these adventurous days, it’s so nice to come home to a hot shower, cold beer, and a great meal. Our Bago makes for an extremely comfortable base camp, hasn’t stopped us from getting to remote spots and has allowed us to spend extended time in some pretty amazing places.