Have you ever heard of boondocking? Some people call it dry camping, some call it freedom camping. Essentially, it’s camping without hookups: no water, no electricity. You may ask why anyone with a camper would want to camp without these “necessities”. Simple really: if your RV is somewhat self-sufficient, you may not need these hookups and it’s much cheaper to camp without them. Why did we choose to boondock as our first camping experience in our ambulance camper conversion, even though we aren’t self-sufficient yet? Because we’re cheap. We didn’t want to pay $30-$40/night and figured this would be the best way to learn what we need for future trips. We succeeded in that aspect! Our vision is to be able to boondock at National Forests or on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. Texas is lacking in this area, so we settled for Walmart.
Destination: Pedernales Falls State Park, Johnson City
Our destination was Pedernales Falls State Park in Johnson City, Texas on Saturday. We wanted to be there as soon as they opened, so we planned to park overnight at the Walmart in Marble Falls on Friday night. Bad choice! Evidently Walmart is THE Place for teens to hang out on Friday nights in Marble Falls… at least until about 2am. So, we started our first boondocking experience listening to honking games, cars coming and going, and a car with a loud muffler racing himself around the parking lot… over and over and over and over and over… I’ll do more research on overnight stays next time. There are multiple apps that list free camping sites which include reviews. Maybe I’ll warn others away from this Walmart, at least on weekends.
#1 Ventilation is a must
Ventilation is key while boondocking. Air movement is an absolute necessity. Sleeping in a box with windows that don’t open doesn’t make for a good night’s sleep. Options: plug in a fan, leave the cab windows open and turn the vent on in the back, install different windows, or install a Maxxair fan. The problem with the last option is that they’re normally installed in the roof. We have limited space in our roof due to the cabinetry, wiring, and future plans for solar panels. The last option is installing an a/c window unit. We do have a cabinet that has both inside and outside access that would be easy to put a window unit in; however, we’d need to run a generator to run the a/c and that defeats the purpose of “stealth camping”. Ok, our camper is an ambulance, so stealth camping is out of the question anyway, but we don’t want to be in a parking lot with a set of cabinets open to the outside or disturb other boondockers by running a generator. Come on, there is a certain etiquette to boondocking, right?
#2 Sleep is good
We threw together a temporary bed so that we could enjoy the ambulance as a camper while we work on it.
There are a few problems with the bed set up. The first issue is that currently the plywood is hinged in the middle and folds on top of itself for “sofa mode”. It’s pretty heavy and an additional hundred pounds from the mattress is going to make it even more cumbersome. We’re thinking of redesigning it using the bed slide-out method and using aluminum to keep it light weight, so we can still access the storage compartment beneath the bed. The second problem is that we haven’t bought the mattress yet, so we used an air mattress. Every movement from the other person is felt, so just when the teens would get quiet enough for sleep to start pulling us in, one of us would move and wake the other back up. Or I’d get cold and need another blanket. Or I’d have to pee, which brings me to the next point…
#3 Potty dances aren’t fun
Some form of a toilet is a must. Some van-lifers opt not to have a toilet or shower because you’re normally nearby public restroom facilities when traveling anyway, and they take up a large percentage of the already tiny space you have to work with. I, on the other hand, choose to have some way to take care of business other than peeing into a funnel over a cup. Not. For. Me. Fortunately, since we were at Walmart, I had no qualms about walking through the parking lot, in my pajamas, to use their restroom (Jeremy walked with me for safety, of course). We’ve looked at multiple options and we’re not quite sure which we’re going with yet. We’ll most likely find some way to fit a Nature’s Head composting toilet in somewhere, but they’re extremely expensive.
#4 Spitting toothpaste out of the front door isn’t smiled upon
Running water would be so nice! We need to have a custom water tank made to fit in the outside cabinet below where the sink is going to go. Once the fresh water tank and a sink is installed, we’ll also have a gray water tank so that we’re not spitting toothpaste (yes, it is eco-friendly) out of our front door.
#5 Solar power
When we make the move to full-time travel, solar power is a must for boondocking. We’ll need a way to charge our electronics, run the Instant Pot, run the water pump, and whatever else we need, without relying on being plugged in at a campground. The ambulance came with an enormous amount of wiring. The truck wiring is mixed in with the house wiring; and to be honest, we just don’t want to mess with it. So we plan on keeping what’s already there separate from the solar set up.
Failure Leads to Success
There’s nothing at all wrong with failing. It’s the best way that we learn. Failure shows us what needs to be improved.
“If you never risk failure, you’ll never learn how to succeed.” -Sandy Robinson
Thank you so much for dropping by! We hope that you enjoyed this post and we’d really love to hear what your experiences are in the comments below!