Lessons Learned While Boondocking

This summer we spent about 2 weeks total in boondocking mode, meaning we did not have access to any water or electric hook-ups. However, we did not do this all at once, and because of our serious lack of equipment, I don’t believe we could have. Here is what we learned.

Stock Travel Trailer Batteries Suck

Our first boondocking session was done on the way to Florida and was actually just truck stop sleeping, one thing we have done before without a hitch.

Unfortunately, because we had not yet tried this truck stop camping thing for more than one night, we learned the hard way that our trailer battery sucks. How did we learn you ask? Well, we learned when we woke from a deep sleep to a blaring propane alarm. Because we were unsure of the reason for the alarm we got out of the trailer quickly and began researching.

It turns out, this alarm goes off whenever the battery is low. We checked, and sure enough, our battery was nearly completely dead. The dead battery was likely caused by the vent fan running in our bathroom all night for two nights in a row. Something I had no idea would completely drain our battery. I mean, how much electricity can a fan possible use? In any case, our battery was dead and we had to fix it. No problem we thought, we had along drive ahead of us, and the truck would charge the trailer, right? Wrong.

Here’s the thing: as you drive, your truck battery slowly charges your trailer battery. However, this only works if you have a good fuse in the correct slot in your truck. This is something we apparently didn’t have, a fact we learned — once again, the hard way — after pulling in to our campsite with a still beeping alarm. This was one of those times we thanked the stars for our good friend Google.

In conclusion, if you want to run anything besides a couple of lights now and then, boondocking for more than one night is likely not possible on a stock trailer battery. The batteries just drain too quickly. If you do plan to try anyway, you will want to make sure your truck does a good job of charging the battery BEFORE you head out or have access to a good generator.

Propane Refrigerators Don’t Work Without Electricty

This is one of those things I would’ve gone my whole life not knowing had I not headed out this summer. Honestly, I would’ve been okay being ignorant in that respect, but I suppose knowledge is power.

Apparently, even though your RV fridge can run off of propane, it still needs a little bit of electricity in order to get started and keep going. If your trailer battery is dead, your fridge won’t work. Because our trailer battery was dead for a bit, we got the amazing surprise of a refrigerator full of bad food. Lesson learned. We spent the rest of our boondocking days with a good old fashioned ice chest rather than rely on the not-so-great trailer battery to keep our food cool.

AC Isn’t a Requirement

So, we were smart enough to know not to attempt a boondocking session in Florida in the summer. We waited until we got a bit further north and gave it a shot in Washington DC and then NYC. Honestly, we got lucky and the weather was gorgeous. However, when it did get a bit hot — usually it hit 80 or 85 in the day— we discovered that it is still possible to be comfortable despite not having AC.

Before we left for this trip we invested in three battery operated fans from Walmart. They were $15 each, amounting to a total of $45. This was possibly the best $45 I ever spent. In order to keep cool at night, we would open the windows on either side of the bedroom and set one fan up to pull the cool night air in. On particularly hot nights we would use ice packs from the ice chest placed on our heads to help cool us down. The ice packs plus the fan felt just as cool as an air conditioner, and I slept well each and every night of our boondocking trip.

Washing Dishes Uses A Lot of Water

We have camped without a sewer hook-up before, so we knew that washing dishes takes more water than you might think. However, camping without water hook-ups took this knowledge to the next level. Because our battery wasn’t great, we avoided using the water pump. We just used the primitive campground bathrooms for — sometimes uncomfortable — showers and used bottle water for everything else. When suing bottled water, you really see just exactly how much of this precious resource you use when ding something as simple as washing dishes. However, after a couple of loads of dishes, I had become a pro at using the smallest amount of water possible. I am now much more conscious of the amount of water I am using when doing dishes even though we have full hook-ups at the moment.

Electricity is Valuable

After spending some time sitting in your truck charging your tablet so you can work or hanging out in a campground bathroom waiting for your phone to charge, you begin to have a greater appreciation for electricity. I now feel grateful each time I plug my devices in, and I know that for my next boondocking adventure I will be investing in some sort of solar charger.

All in all we had a great time trying our hand at boondocking and would definitely do it all over again. I was glad we decided to try our first round of “dry camping” in actual campgrounds with bathrooms, but I feel I am now brave enough to go out into the wilderness to give it a try. That said, next time we will make sure to be a bit better prepared. For instance, some solar panels or a generator would have made our trip much easier and more comfortable.



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