Last Updated on 11/22/2023 by Glynn Willard
Should you boondock or stay in campgrounds?
What’s better, boondocking or campgrounds?
These are really important questions applicable to both fulltime RV living and RV vacations.
We live on our RV and boondock almost exclusively, but we still have to use campgrounds on occasion.
Let’s take a realistic look at both options whether you camp alone or with your whole family and help you decide if you should use campgrounds, boondock exclusively or use a hybrid model.
Pros And Cons Of Staying In Campgrounds Fulltime
Campgrounds have their place. Let’s look at the pro’s and con’s for campgrounds.
What Are The Pro’s Of Staying In Campgrounds?
Access To Electricity, Water & Dump Station
You Have A Guaranteed Place To Stay
It’s Easy To Meet New Friends
Most Of The Spots Are Fairly Level In Campgrounds
Trash Dumpsters Are Walking Distance From Your RV
This is perhaps the most relevant item to discuss. Some individuals don’t want to worry about rationing water (read “longer showers”), electricity or their waste storage tanks.
And this is understandable. Using a campground with full hook ups is a lot like living in a normal house.
Those individuals who only desire such a set up will not be interested in boondocking.
But if you’re on the fence about whether to boondock or stay in campgrounds, continue reading.
Another benefit that fits in this section is the fact that you don’t have to search for dump stations and safe potable water.
When we move to a new boonocking location, we have a plan A, plan B and plan C.
There’s never a guarantee of a site being available or even accessible with our rig.
Yes, we’ve been in a situation once when plans A through C failed.
Fortunately, someone was kind enough to share their spot after we disclosed that we had been on the road for over ten hours.
But when you have a reservation, it’s as easy as just showing up, checking in and setting up at your site.
This is one way to reduce anxiety levels if your an individual who might be anxious about finding safe places for your family to camp overnight.
It’s so easy to strike up a conversation in campgrounds.
You’re surrounded by like minded people who are always happy to talk about camping, RV’s, tow vehicles and cool locations.
If you have kids, you’re almost guaranteed to find other kids around for them to play with.
Maybe that’s good for you, maybe it’s not so good. Purely subjective.
Private campgrounds require little to no effort to level your rig. State parks usually require some effort, but not too much.
If you have an automated system, this may not be an issue one way or the other for you.
We’re used to more work leveling on USFS and BLM land, so minimal work is a treat for us.
Trash management while living on the road is always something that requires planning.
Where to safely store it and where to dispose of it legally is constantly on the forefront of our planning.
We usually use Walmart’s and fuel stations that we patron. Otherwise, rest stops are our alternatives.
At a campground, it’s just a short walk away. It’s a luxury taken for granted by most recreational campers.
What Are The Cons Of Staying In Campgrounds?
You’re WAY Too Close To Your Neighbor
It Can Get Really Loud In Campgrounds
It’s Almost Always “Party Time” in Campgrounds
Overwhelming Amounts Of Campfire Smoke
It Can Be Difficult To Book Popular Areas
We Don’t Always Feel Safe In Campgrounds
This is easy to figure out and there are a few campgrounds that are a little more spacious.
But we’ve been exposed to a few that with your slides out, you can reach out the window and touch your neighbor’s rig.
That’s way too close for comfort. You can give up any concept of privacy or respect of your property.
We’ll never forget the time we had to divert last minute and stay at a “low class” campground.
It was occupied mostly by fulltime renters, not campers. It was just for one night. How bad could it be?
I should have known when I noticed the home built motorcycle with very short tail pipes by our neighbors trailer.
We went to bed around 9PM and at 12:30AM, he fired up the bike, warmed it and revved hard before tearing out of the park.
We all about had a heart attack! Once we finally fell asleep, around 3AM, he returned and was not quiet about his return. We gave up on sleep.
There have been many other circumstances where people close to the trailer are partying and being loud.
It’s difficult to drown them out when they’re close. A noise machine and the air conditioner is not always enough.
This is something that is a personal issue for me. If you enjoy being submerged in the drinking and party world, than it may be a pro for you.
But we live in our rig, exercise daily and eat very healthy 95% of the time.
Saturdays are our break day to eat whatever and have a few beers. Not everyday of the week.
When so many people are drinking, it’s more challenging to abstain. By no means impossible though.
Just something for you to consider if you prefer not to drink or do so in real moderation.
This corresponds with the party atmosphere and is more prevalent in state park campgrounds than private campgrounds.
If you’re sensitive to smoke, keep this in mind when booking state park campgrounds.
It can be a real downer when it’s beautiful out in the evening and you can’t even sit out and enjoy the weather because there’s too much smoke.
We have to shut our windows and run the air conditioning regardless of the temperature, just so we can breath comfortably when in this situation.
I see this as a common complaint of individuals trying to go fulltime.
They want to stay near all the great national parks and popular attractions.
First, most of those campgrounds are very expensive and secondly, you sometimes have to book a year in advance.
We don’t even bother trying to stay near popular areas near the east coast.
This is a non issue out west since we don’t use campgrounds.
When we go many months at a time out west and I look at our expense reports, our line item for campgrounds is $0.
Our line item for camping fees (water and dump stations) is around $80. That’s based on the few places that charge.
But when we have to stay in the east with very little boondocking on government land available, our line item for campgrounds is close to $2000.
And that’s usually in a 5-8 week period.
And we spend very little time camping in the east!
So you can see how fast the expenses add up! I can think of much better uses for your money.
We feel safer boondocking. You can read more about this in our article Is Boondocking Safe? Our Scariest Experiences Boondocking.
Pros And Cons Of Boondocking Fulltime
Let’s take a look at some of the pro’s and con’s of boondocking fulltime in an RV, fifth wheel or travel trailer.
Pro’s Of Boondocking Fulltime
You Have A Ton Of Space To Yourself
There’s Plenty Of Privacy
There Are No Check-In or Check-Out Times
There’s Usually A Trailhead Near Boondocking Locations
This is what I like best about boondocking. For the most part, you’ll be really far away from your neighbor if you have a neighbor at all.
This translates to plenty of space to move about.
It also means it’s quiet and really dark at night (great star gazing).
If there is a noisy camper in the vicinity, they’ll likely still be far enough away to not cause you a bother.
If you found a spot with a great view, it won’t be blocked.
You have so much space to yourself, you can sometimes shower outdoors.
That’s a plus when you’re trying to conserve space in the gray tank and use less water.
The kids can play in nature and you can almost always see them from any part of the rig.
Speaking of nature, you’re really immersed in the best of what nature has to offer.
This is something I love! You can arrive and leave whenever it’s convenient for you.
And if weather’s severe on moving day, you can wait it out and move on a different day.
Also, if you’re unhappy with a spot, there’s no financial obligation to stay.
Switch to a different spot within view or move away all together.
Our departure time is solely dependent on the distance we’re driving on that particular moving day.
Need I say more? For the most part, it won’t cost you a dime.
That’s not to say you might spend a few bucks on gas for the generator or an upfront cost on solar.
We usually use five gallons of gas for seven days out boondocking.
This allows us to run our microwave and air conditioner as well as charge our devices.
Even at $5/gallon, that’s inexpensive camping.
We almost always find a trailhead near our sites. I do early morning hikes and we usually hike as a family at random times of the day.
We find it very appealing not having to drive to a trail to get in a quick hike.
Especially since the boys can’t yet hike as far as us.
Cons Of Boondocking Fulltime
You’re At The Mercy Of Your Freshwater And Waste Tank Sizes
Most Spots Are Unlevel
Using High Wattage Appliances For Longer Durations Requires A Generator
Some RV’s are well equipped to boondock long periods of time because they have large fresh and waste water tanks. But most are not.
You have no choice but to pay close attention to your water consumption and the capacity used of your black and gray tanks.
Once you have this information well covered, it becomes less challenging.
But alas, you’re still at the mercy of your fresh water tank.
Once the water runs out, the party’s over.
Yes, you can transport water to your rig in portable tanks and bladders. And sometimes it’s worth such effort.
Learn more about water and boondocking from our article How Much Water Do You Need While Boondocking?
You’ll have lots of opportunities to hone your leveling skills.
This is a great video showing you some tips to leveling on very unlevel surfaces.
It’s super rare when we find a perfectly level spot when boondocking.
Because of the frequency we boondock and move, we’ve gotten really good at leveling quickly.
Even if you have an automated system, you may still have to dig down or use leveling blocks.
This is a small inconvenience if you ask me.
If you love air conditioned air, get used to running a generator.
Even the most robust solar/battery systems can’t keep up with all day air conditioning day after day.
We’ve learned to curb our utility needs and minimize the use of the generators.
Our solar panels and batteries keep our DC based systems (lights, water pump, slide and fan) running indefinitely without issue.
We don’t have an inverter, so if it requires a plug, it requires a generator.
Not a big deal as we feel like we still live a totally normal life.
Benefits Of Using Both Campgrounds And Boondocking
The best option is to sometimes use a campground (once or twice a month).
This way, you save money, enjoy the space boondocking allots, but are still able to enjoy a longer shower several times a month.
It’s also nice to spend time out on the land and know you have a designated place to dump your tanks and grab fresh water.
We know of several boondockers who book campgrounds once a week.
That way they never have to search for dump stations and potable water.
Many campgrounds have laundry, which if used once a week checks another box.
The reality of this lifestyle is that it’s really only possible in the west.
Those in the east will have to spend a predominant amount of time in campgrounds.
Another secret is to book a campground in the region you plan on boondocking and use your time there to scout out locations.
That way, you’re dumped, filled with water, recharged, laundry’s done and you already know where you’re trying to boondock first.