A few years back when we lived in Redondo Beach, one of the beach cities near Los Angeles, we started to notice an increasing number of people on stand up paddle boards (SUPs) gracefully cruising around the harbor and ocean. Having never surfed or gotten into board sports, we weren’t sure how hard it would be to learn. On vacation, Jaime saw a woman paddleboarding with her dog on the Sea of Cortez and decided we would learn when we got back home. It turned out it wasn’t as hard as we thought it might be and we didn’t end up going swimming during our first lesson! It has also been a great activity to do while RVing.
While SUPing started in Hawaii as another way to surf, the popularity has grown as people have discovered that large and stable boards are great for paddling lakes and rivers as well as the ocean.
Our first boards were 11-foot fiberglass epoxy and perfect to strap onto the top of our SUV and drive down to the beach, but not exactly travel-friendly. So, we added two inflatable boards (iSUPs) that fold up and fit into a backpack carrying case we could fly with. Flash forward to the present as full-time RVers, we sold the fiberglass boards and keep the iSUPs in a storage bin and have enjoyed using them in places from the Puget Sound to Baja, Mexico.
Of course, the inflatables have to be blown up and came with a manual pump that can be quite a workout in and of itself to get the 12’6” boards up to a rock-solid 15psi. Fortunately, we have an advantage with our Bago’s onboard air compressor that allows us to pump them up without breaking a sweat.
How to Test it Out
If you are thinking about getting started with SUPs, there are more and more places where you can rent and take a lesson. Many board shops will also let you demo boards before buying. With a little research, you can also purchase a board you think will work well for you (Costco and Isle online have great return policies, in case you decide it’s not for you), then just learn the basics from reading articles and watching videos. For example, check out this beginners guide to SUPing.
We prefer a longer touring style board as they are more stable and track better, but there are many shapes and sizes to suit your personal preference and boarding style. We have family members in their 70s who easily stood up on our boards on their first outings.
A Few Safety Tips
It is also important to note that the US Coast Guard considers SUPs to be “vessels” and require you have a PFD (personal flotation device) and a sound producing device (whistle) on board. We wear a waist PFD that deploys a life jacket with the pull of a cord and a C02 cartridge to inflate that is comfortable to wear and compact.
A leash that connects you to your board is another important piece of safety gear, especially in open water. Our boards are very buoyant, but if we get knocked off in waves and high winds, we don’t want to lose them.
Speaking of winds, we always try to check the wind and weather conditions. SUPing in the wind is not easy and it’s much better to paddle into the wind and let it push you back home when you’re done. It’s also a good idea to check the local water rules to make sure you’re in compliance. For example, Oregon requires an Invasive Species Permit for all boats.
Favorite Places to Camp & Paddle
Lake Powell, Utah
We camped at the beautiful Lone Rock Beach Campground and paddled out past the rock into the nearby canyons. The lake is huge and there are a lot of canyons we would like to explore more of next time we visit.
We’ve enjoyed paddling in Baja California and Baja California Sur. On our trip last year to Gonzaga Bay, we heard whales breathing before we spotted them surfacing a mile away. This year we have loved the postcard-perfect waters of Bahia Concepcion, launching from Playa Santispac – a beach you can camp on.
Lake Mead, Nevada
Our free camping spot at Stewarts Point was a stone’s throw from some great paddling.
The Pacific Northwest
With all the lakes, bays, and rivers, there’s not enough time in the short summers to enjoy all the places to paddle here. Some of our favorites are Waldo Lake in Oregon, La Conner, Washington, and The Deschutes River in Central Oregon.
Do you SUP? Where is your favorite place to paddle?
Moab, Utah, is the epicenter of the Southwest for the active RVers who enjoy hiking, mountain biking, and off-road adventures. We have visited Moab three times and spent a collective time of six weeks there, but still haven’t begun to run out of things to do and see. The town is adjacent to two National Parks (Canyonlands and Arches), as well as vast public lands offering free camping and almost unlimited outdoor recreation.
The one downside to Moab is its extreme high desert weather with hot summers and cold winters that concentrate visitors to fall and spring, with March and October being the peak months. Here are some of our recommendations for where to camp, play, eat, and drink.
Where to Camp
For free dry camping (aka boondocking) just outside of Arches National Park, Willow Springs Trail is ranked #8 on the Campendium.com 2018 Best Overall camping list. One reviewer commented, “This was our first true boondocking experience. We are absolutely hooked. Friendly people, great scenery, and FREE.” We have also stayed at the nearby Klondike Bluff Road area and enjoyed the trails.
If you need hookups or prefer an RV park, Arch View is outside of town and boasts views of Arches. There are also many options in town and smaller rigs might be able to snag a last-minute spot in the RV parks. The Visitor’s Bureau also has a pretty good list of all the camping options on their website.
Moab is probably most well-know for its Jeep and mountain bike trails that combine spectacular views with extreme difficulty. Experienced mountain bikers might want to try out the Slickrock Trail, while the Moab Brands Trail System is a better option for beginners and intermediate riders. Outfitters and bike shops in town can provide rentals and trail shuttles.
You can also tackle some of the slickrock trails with a well-equipped 4×4 in the Sand Flats Recreation Area. If you are looking for something a little more sedate than trails with names like “Hell’s Revenge,” a drive into Canyonlands on Shafer Trail might be an easier option. Always check trail conditions prior to starting out.
Drinks & Eats
After a fun day on the trails, head into town to fuel back up. Moab Brewery is an old favorite with great pub food and beer. The tap beer in Utah will probably be weaker than you find back home. But the freshly canned beer is the real deal. The FMU double IPA was excellent. We scored a great deal on burgers during Thursday local’s night starting at 5 p.m. Get there early as it gets crowded. It’s always a good idea to have a designated driver, especially in Utah where the DUI limit is now .05%.
Eddie McStiff’s is another option for casual eats and drinks. During our first visit in 2009, we had to buy a membership for the bar which was good towards a few bucks off a t-shirt. Membership is no longer necessary, but we wish we still had our membership card.
When the weather is good and you feel like alfresco dining, Moab also has a food truck park that gets good reviews on Google Maps.
How about you? Have you been to Moab? What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below.
In our GoGear segment, contributors share one of their favorite products for life on the road and tips for using it. These are items they have tested out during their own travels and enjoyed enough to recommend to others.
Shortly after we started full-time RVing, Amazon Prime Day came around and the Internet was buzzing about a smokin’ deal on what sounded like a kitchen miracle – the Instant Pot. It’s a multi-function, electric pressure cooker. After some quick research and reading of the reviews, I decided to pull the trigger and join the ‘pot heads’ (as Instant Pot fans are known).
Jaime thought it was crazy to be adding a bulky kitchen appliance after we had just downsized and purged most of our belongings to fit into The Bago. Where was it going to ride? Would we even use it? You know, the same way we rarely used the Crock-Pot and Sous Vide that we had just donated? Well, it arrived, found a home in the dinette storage bin and quickly became our most-loved kitchen gadget. Why didn’t we have this when we were working full time?!?
The Initial Instant Pot Test
The first thing we tried were baby back ribs. When we had a house, ribs were slow cooked for a couple of hours, then wrapped in aluminum foil in the oven, and finished on the grill. The Instant Pot recipe promised similar results in 20 minutes and was super simple. Season the ribs, add one cup of BBQ sauce, manual high pressure for 20 minutes, natural release, and finish on the grill. They turned out fall-off-the bone amazing! So good that we were hooked and spent the next few weeks cooking everything we could think of in the Instant Pot.
How We Use It While RVing
There are tons of recipes available online. Serious Eats and NomNomPaleo are two reliable sources. If you prefer to have a hard copy recipe book, Melissa Clark’s “Dinner In An Instant” is a good one. Costco also sells a paperback cookbook published by Instant Pot. We hear Kait Russo of ‘We’re the Russos’ fame, loves her Instant Pot so much that they made room for it when they downsized to a van and is even working on a cookbook.
When we have an electric hook up, we’ll dig out the Instant Pot and cook ahead to prepare for boondocking. Carnitas, taco soup and Chile Verde are a few go-to recipes. We freeze the soup and Chile Verde flat in gallon Ziplock freezer bags for quick defrost on travel – or for we-don’t-feel-like-cooking days. We’ve even pulled the Instant Pot out when the solar is cranking! The only downside to Instant Potting while boondocking is the liquid left over in the pot. But pouring it into a doubled grocery bag usually doesn’t make a mess.
A Few Favorite Recipes
Once you understand how foods cook in the Instant Pot, you can basically modify any recipe to work under pressure. Crock pot recipes translate well to cooking under pressure and, in our experience, have more flavor in the Instant Pot.
A favorite quick recipe is chicken thighs that can be cooked fresh, or frozen if we haven’t planned ahead. Simply season the chicken, add one cup of salsa, manual pressure 20 minutes (25 if frozen), and natural release. The chicken is great for tacos, enchiladas, over rice or riced cauliflower.
Here is a short list of some Instant Pot foods we keep coming back to:
- Sweet potatoes: 10 to 13 minutes depending on the size, high manual pressure, natural release.
- Spaghetti squash: 6 to 8 minutes depending on size, high manual pressure, natural release.
- Mashed cauliflower (whole head): 4 minutes, high manual pressure, 5 minute natural release.
- Hard boiled eggs: 4 minutes high manual pressure, 5 minute natural release, 10 minute ice water bath.
- Poached eggs (in silicon egg cups): 2 minutes steam, immediate release.
- Short ribs: 50 minutes high manual pressure, 15 minute natural release.
- Pinto beans: 15 minutes high manual pressure after a pre-cook, 10 minute natural release.
We know space is limited in your RV and the Instant Pot may not change your life, but it definitely makes dinner easier and, we think, that makes it completely worth the space.
What about you – are you a ‘Pot Head’? What are you cooking up?
We’ve been fortunate to take two trips to Mexico in the last 12 months. The first was a trip by plane to meet up with family in Cabo San Lucas and the second was an extended RV trip around Northern Baja in our Winnebago. The trips, although not identical, emphasized what we love about RV travel.
Come Fly Away
For our first trip, we put the Bago in storage, left our dog Crosby with Jaime’s Mom, and did something we don’t do very often now – we caught a flight. Air travel is definitely faster than driving, but comes with the price of tickets, the hassle of navigating airports, long TSA security lines, the anxiety inducing secondary screening red light/green light at the Cabo airport and strip searches when returning to the U.S. (kidding … that last one did not happen).
But when traveling by RV, getting there is so much more enjoyable – as it is not so much about the destination, but also the journey and getting to explore places as you go. Plus, the added bonus was that Crosby also got to enjoy Mexico on the RV trip.
Home is Where You Park it
In Cabo, we stayed at a very nice four-star resort with our own suite. The suite came with a big king-size bed with a feather topper and down comforter, but we actually missed our own bed and pillows. There’s also the kind of ick factor of hotels no matter how clean they seem, knowing many people have used the bed, bedding, and room.
Eating out all the time can be a real budget killer – especially if dining at the resort property. Our Cabo suite had a full-size kitchen and we did hit up Walmart and a market to stock up on groceries and beer to save money. But, we missed our knives, spices, and appliances like the Instant Pot. Our double-sided refrigerator/freezer in The Bago also allowed us to bring a good supply of meat to Baja. While produce in Mexico is excellent and inexpensive, meat is more expensive, and cuts can be a little strange to us.
Beachfront on the Cheap
Cabo is definitely one of the most expensive places with beachfront accommodations in Mexico and choosing a different area or staying inland might have saved us some money. However, having an RV allowed us to find a beautiful and secluded spot – like the one we stayed at with a palapa on Gonzaga Bay for less than $15 per night.
Bringing the Toys
Flying really limits the number of fun toys you can bring. But when we went to Northern Baja in the motorhome, we had our Jeep to explore off-road areas, our SUP boards to enjoy the Sea of Cortez, and all of my video/photo gear to record the adventure. Sure, you can rent some of those, but it’s expensive and not always the nicest equipment.
On our fly-in trip, our resort was about eight kilometers from Cabo’s marina district. After a few days, we felt a little trapped and limited by the cost of shuttles to town, so we found the least expensive rental car we could – a tiny sub-compacto for $70 a day with insurance. We drove it to a beautiful remote beach down a dirt road and only bottomed out a few times, but definitely missed our four-wheel drive and the freedom to come and go as we pleased.
While we had a great vacation in Cabo and enjoyed the high-end experience, at the end of the day, Baja in the Bago is the way to go for us. We’re looking forward to our next trip!
What do you think – vacation by RV or plane?
This summer marked our second year of full-time RVing in The Bago, our 2007 Winnebago Journey. We have traveled as far North as the Canadian border and as far South as Baja in Mexico. We have enjoyed, for the most part, not having any elaborate plans or long-term reservations. We do have a bit of a routine where we spend summers in Oregon and the Northwest connecting with family and spending time in some favorite spots on the coast and Central Oregon. And when the weather turns damp and gray, we head South.
After two years on the road, we wanted to reflect on the most important aspects of this journey and show a realistic look at what full-time RVing is like. So, to celebrate our nomadaversy, here are a few thoughts on the occasion.
The Bago: Our Trusty Rolling Home
When considering full-time RV life, it is important to take the size of the RV into account and pick something that will suit your living needs and travel plans.
Our Winnebago Journey has been a comfortable home on wheels. While, I don’t think we would want anything bigger, driving in Mexico has occasionally left us wishing for a smaller rig for south of the border off-road adventures. But, we haven’t been able to come up with a good fit for capability and comfort without busting our budget.
I also really enjoy driving The Bago – it’s a very smooth ride on the interstates and highways. However, navigating gas stations can sometimes be tricky, especially while towing the Jeep and not being able to back-up without unhitching. But overall, it is a great adventure mobile and we’ve even been able to take it off-road when boondocking (read more about that here).
Crosby: Life with an RV Dog
The third member of our crew, our dog Crosby, has definitely adapted to Bago living. When we first started out, he was afraid of every sound – the rumbling of the engine starting up, the leveling jacks, the slides moving, and the air compressor blowing up our paddle boards.
But, after a few months and many treats later, he got into the groove of life and accepted that this strange moving house was now home. We like to think he appreciates a new yard every couple of weeks – lots to sniff!
If planning to hit the road with pets, be prepared for a bit of a transition period for them (read more tips for doing that here).
RV Life: Not All Rainbows, Unicorns & Campfires
Although we no longer own a house and don’t have a yard to mow, it doesn’t mean we are carefree. RVs, and especially Class A diesel pushers, have complicated mechanical, plumbing, and electrical systems that require maintenance and repairs. Many of the systems are tucked into small, awkward spaces and are expensive to repair or replace.
In our blogging and social media, I try to share beautiful and positive images of our travels. But I guess if there was a required truth in advertising, I would include misses at the dump station, crawling into the storage bay to install a new water pump, or the failed toilet repair. However, considering that The Bago is now eleven years old, we’ve been pretty lucky that repairs have been minor so far.
It is important to keep up with maintenance and be ready for the unknown when RVing, and to budget for those things as well. (Read about preventative maintenance tips for outside, as well as inside your motorhome).
Where to Next?
We don’t really have any fixed plans. No upcoming reservations. This can be extremely freeing, but also a little nerve racking. When the footloose and fancy-free thing gets old, we’ll buckle down and make some plans. We might settle down at some point, but haven’t really found the one place that would make us want to stay. The call of the road is strong, so I’m sure we will at least always be part-timers.
Are you a full-timer? How long have you been on the road and what tips would you share with someone considering this lifestyle?
We travel full-time in our Bago, but consider Central Oregon “home.” For the third year in a row, we have spent at least a couple of months here during the summer and have still only scratched the surface of all the things to do and see. Bend is the largest city in Central Oregon and the secret is out that this former lumber town is a world-class destination for beer and outdoor recreation. Here are our current favorites for where to camp, eat, drink, and play.
As Thousand Trails members, our choice is the Bend-Sunriver RV Campground just outside of town next to the Sunriver Resort area. The campground features large spots and access to the nearby Deschutes river and Mt. Bachelor. We might be biased, but we think Oregon has some of the nicest state parks anywhere, and if you get into La Pine State Park or Tumalo State Park, we think you will agree. The Bend area also has plenty of public land where boondocking is allowed. Check Campendium for the details, and get more boondocking tips here.
Drinks & Eats
If you’re a beer lover, you have come to right place as the Bend area boasts one of the highest per capita concentrations of craft breweries. On the Bend Ale Trail, you can visit breweries to get a passport stamp in your map or app to earn a free trophy. Some of our favorites are Crux Fermentation Project, GoodLife, Boneyard, and McMenamin’s Old Saint Francis (Jaime’s former Catholic grade school). Don’t forget to designate a driver or utilize ride-sharing options, which now include Uber.
You can grab a bite at most of the brewpubs, but probably the best happy hour deal is found at the Pine Tavern where $5 scores you a half pound burger and kettle chips. McMenamin’s also has a great daily happy hour. Many cities now have food trucks, but Bend ups the game with fire-pits, seating, and beer on tap at The Lot and The Bite.
In winter, Mt. Bachelor is the big draw for skiers and snowboarders. Ski season can extend well into spring and even summer on a good snow year.
In warmer months, the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, open June through October, offers opportunities for hiking and enjoying alpine lakes.
Outside Magazine also named Bend its “2014 Best SUP Getaway.” The Deschutes River has a range of areas from whitewater to calm, including the Old Mill District where you can float down the river in a tube and catch a ride back on a shuttle in summertime. My favorite mountain bike trail also follows the Deschutes River. It’s just an overall great outdoor place!
Is the Bend area on your RVing bucket list yet?
So, you’ve found that perfect boondocking spot. Maybe it’s on an isolated dirt road, perched above a rushing river or sidled up next to a quiet lake. Whatever your perfect spot is, once you’re there, you probably want to stay as long as possible. For us, that generally means stretching our holding tanks.
Here are some of the ways we make the tanks last:
- Plan meals that won’t use a lot of water. We tend to eat simply when we’re out and are big fans of the one pot wonder.
- Pre-wash produce when you have hook-ups or accessible water to save your fresh water tank, and the usually smaller, gray water tank.
- Pre-cook as much as possible to save time and cut down on dish washing.
- Make ice ahead of time.
- Shower every other day or longer, if you can. (Baby wipes are your friend.)
- When you do shower, take Navy showers – get wet, turn off the water, shampoo & soap up, rinse and done.
- Take solar outdoor showers, if possible.
- Use dry shampoo – great for stretching shower days and absorbing oil.
- While brushing your teeth, spit into the trash rather than sink. This helps avoid that gross build up when you’re not running a lot of water down the drain.
- Wipe dishes with your napkin to make clean up easier.
- Drink out of refillable water jugs rather than the tank. Take those with you when you head to town in case you find water.
- Don’t flush every time you pee, or go outside when possible – isn’t that the beauty of boondocking?
- Don’t flush paper down the toilet. We picked this up in Central America, staying in hotels with older septic systems where instead of flushing paper down the toilet, it goes into the trash, which is then emptied often. In that same respect, toilet paper is often problematic for sensitive RV plumbing.
- Collect cold shower water while you wait for it to get hot. Use that same cold shower water to rinse dishes later.
- Wash and rinse dishes in a tub with environmentally friendly soap, and then toss the water outside rather than down the drain and into the tank.
Hopefully these suggestions will help you stay in your favorite middle-of-nowhere places even more often! Do you have any other boondocking tips and tricks for stretching your tanks?
In our GoGear segment, contributors share one of their favorite products for life on the road and tips for using it. These are items they have tested out during their own travels and enjoyed enough to recommend to others.
We enjoy camping in remote areas and I often hike by myself in off-grid areas with no cell phone reception. One Jeep trip we took in Baja earlier this year was nicknamed as going into the “never, never” because if you got stuck in this remote area, no one was going to come for you and you were never getting rescued. Yikes! With all of that in mind, I started looking at options for off-grid communication options.
Garmin sells three InReach models that all have the same core functions of two-way messaging, SOS with 24/7 monitoring, basic GPS functions like waypoints and the ability to sync via Bluetooth with their Earthmate app. I decided on the Garmin InReach Explorer+ which offers global satellite communication through the Iridium Network and GPS mapping. It also has built-in topographic maps, a barometer, and digital compass.
Setting Up the Explorer+
I’ve been using Garmin GPS products for years, but the Explorer+ took a little getting used to as the InReach models were originally developed by Delorme, which was acquired by Garmin. While Garmin has further developed and released new InReach models, they have yet to integrate with Garmin maps and their Basecamp desktop application.
To get started, once I set up an account and activated my subscription online at inreach.garmin.com, I added my contacts’ email and SMS cellphone numbers, edited my three preset messages, and then synced with a USB cable to my Explorer+. You can also sync via Bluetooth using the Earthmate app.
Using it Out on the Trail
So far, the Explorer+ has worked well out on the trail. I especially like the preset messages and will text/email my wife a “Starting my trip” message at the trailhead, which includes my GPS coordinates and a link to a map. The “Checking in. Everything is OK.” preset message is a great way to show her my progress and let her know I’m doing okay, even if my progress isn’t exactly as planned. There’s a slight delay in sending/receiving messages, but the unit gives a reassuring chirp when it sends/receives with the satellite.
The onboard topographic maps are fairly detailed and surprisingly include many trails here in Oregon, where we have been enjoying much of the summer. I have thankfully not had to test the SOS function yet, but it’s good to know there’s a third-party monitoring and availability to coordinate rescue or assistance worldwide if needed.
How to Get Your Own
The Garmin InReach Explorer+ retails for $449 and can be purchased directly from Garmin or other retailers including Amazon. All models require a paid subscription to function. I opted for the “Safety” plan with a one-year commitment of $11.95 per month and $19.95 activation fee. The plan includes 10 text messages and unlimited preset messages each month. You can also choose a month-to-month “Freedom” plan. More information is available on Garmin’s Website.
When someone says “Mayberry” what comes to mind? Perfect place to live? Friendly street? Neighbors who could be counted on to keep an eye on your place? Maybe even have an extra key? For me, it’s community. The kind of place where the dads drink a beer together on the sidewalk while the kids host a lemonade stand. Where Instagramming a margarita leads to a lawn party 15 minutes later. Where neighbors stop traffic for a chat rather than a quick wave. The block where our last home sat was like that. It’s a pretty rare find in Los Angeles and I didn’t realize how much I would miss it and our friends when we moved full time in our Winnebago.
We spent our first full-time summer in Oregon and kept busy hanging out with family and their friends. After we left in the fall, we quickly felt the absence of people in our life. We’d read about RVers meeting other RVers at campgrounds, but it wasn’t happening for us. We didn’t fit the typical RVer profile.
In the summer, we were an anomaly because we don’t have kids. And then once the families went back to school, we weren’t the traditional retired-age snow birds. It also didn’t help that our dog isn’t super friendly with other dogs and people, so even he wasn’t a good resource for meeting people. We’re also not the kind of people to crash a stranger’s happy hour. After a few months of just the two of us, we were starting to feel our small space and the need for other conversations. I kept thinking about the community we’d left behind and wasn’t sure how to replicate it with a constantly moving neighborhood.
It took some time (and some courage to break out of our comfort zones), but we did eventually meet people on the road, many of whom have become great friends that we meet up with to co-camp and also miss dearly when we’ve parted.
Here are some ways that we went about building our ‘road community’:
For us, joining the Xscapers group within Escapees RV Club was a game changer. Attending our first Annual Bash felt a lot like speed dating, where you’d have a brief conversation around the campfire or potluck and then likely not see that person again for the rest of the convergence. We did stay in touch with some of those speed dates and it turns out that mobility can work in your favor. Shortly after the convergence, we co-camped with a couple whom we’ve since spent a ton of time with. We heard from another couple that we literally spent 10 minutes with our first night and then ended up traveling to Baja with a few months later. Our neighborhood moves around, but so do we! You can also find other RVing groups and events, but this is one of our favorites.
When we get to a new area, we use Instagram to find places to stay and cool things to do in the area. It also lets us see who might be close by and we can reach out to see if that person wants to hang out. It felt a little weird at first to invite and be invited by virtual strangers, but meeting up for a drink or a hike doesn’t have to be a major commitment and we’ve made real friends out of those first meet ups.
Winnebago Owner Forums, Annual Rally and Facebook Groups
An online search for Winnebago reveals all kinds of avenues for information and meeting people like forums, clubs and groups. I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised to find that Journey owners reach out to each other, but it turns out that living in the same RV model can bring people together. While we haven’t yet been to Winnebago’s Grand National Rally, it seems to be another great place to meet like-minded travelers – and lots of members of the WIT Club. Bonus points: your new friends might have some great tips for upgrading and maintaining your Winnebago. Same goes for Facebook groups.
At the end of the day, meeting people, regardless of where and how you live really comes down to what you put into it. It may not be natural for you, but being friendly and outgoing can lead to lasting relationships and help life on the road not feel so isolated. We have found as full-time RVers that we have a lot in common with other RVers, including a love of the outdoors and travel. Plus, have you ever met an RVer who doesn’t want to talk about amazing camping spots, solar wattage, and black tank management? Us either.
It took some time to find and build our community and now that we have, we miss them the same way we miss our non-RV friends. When we’re apart, we follow our friend’s travels via social media and keep in touch via text, video chats, Facebook Messenger and Facebook Groups interactions. Every once in a while, we’ll even talk on the phone! It’s not quite as satisfying as gathering around a campfire, but such is life as a nomad. And it’s gets us through until we meet again!
How do you meet people on the road?
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!