In our YouTube episode on Baby League yesterday we showed a typical breakdown/travel day and night, including pulling our RV into the parking lot of a Walmart Super Center and spending the night. You can watch it here:
Yes, it was free. Yes, it was legal. Yes, we called to see if it was ok.
I explained this process a bit in our Instagram stories last week, but since those are fleeting and hardly seen by everyone who follows us (though it’s our favorite way to update you every day so you should follow us there!) I thought I’d write out a more detailed explanation here.
The short answer is boondocking is parking your RV off-the-grid. So no hookups needed, just parking somewhere and having your battery provide the electricity. Sometimes boondocking is really cool and people do it for days or weeks at a time in fields and parks and deserts. In this case? It’s just us parking our RV in a parking lot while we’re on our way to another destination.
I must give credit to the RVers who have come before us and offered us advice and written posts about this very thing. This is how we became comfortable with the idea in the first place.
Ditching Suburbia is an incredible resource for anyone looking to set out as full time families. They were one of the first blogs I found last year when my late night Google searches fueled my enthusiasm that we COULD do this. I think one of the first posts I read of theirs was How To Boondock At Walmart.
(Also, I was on the Ditching Suburbia podcast right after our announcement video went viral last spring. You can listen to it here.)
Knowing all we learned from that blog post and others we’ve read, we were still unsure about it. I mean, it’s a little daunting! You just… what? Roll into Walmart and, like, go to sleep? In your RV? Listen, the same questions and concerns you probably have right now- we had them even when we launched back at the beginning of January.
In fact, we paid about $280 for hotels on our way from Texas to Disney World the first week in Jan, just because we were too scared to try to boondock and didn’t want to bother finding RV parks for quick 8 hour stays.
It was only after we talked to Ben and Becca of The Family Fulfillment Project in New Orleans when we were on a Dad 2.0 Summit panel together (about fulltime travel and family balance) that we finally felt comfortable enough to give it a try.
We’ve done it a few times now, and while it has always been in Walmart parking lots, that’s not the only place for RVs to boondock while on the road. You can usually stay at Cracker Barrels and truck stops, too. The Allstays Camp and RV app has been recommended to us by every single RVer we know, and it hasn’t let us down yet. Not only does it let us know where the nearest truck stop with diesel is or the next Cracker Barrel, but it also lists Walmarts and has detailed feedback from other RVers about whether or not that location is boondocking friendly.
Not all Walmarts are, and they, of course, don’t have to be. So it’s important to figure that out before you roll up at 11:59 pm exhausted and ready to crawl into bed.
We’ve had luck just calling ahead as we approach. What I like about calling ahead, even if it’s really clear that they accept boondockers, is they tell us where the best place to park is. Then we don’t have to stress when we get to the store about which direction to head.
Like Ditching Suburbia, we put our slides out when we park, so we look for a spot where we can park along the edge of a parking lot, if we can. That way you can’t see the slides are out when you are looking at us from the store or the parking lot. We only put 3 of the 4 slides out, all along the driver’s side of the trailer.
I realize I also need to stop here and explain what slides are to some of you. These are the parts of our RV that slide out to expand the width of our trailer. We have 4- living, kitchen, kids bunk room, our master bedroom.
As DS mentioned in their post, it can be a bit controversial to put your slides out at Walmart because we need to not appear to be taking advantage and setting up a camping home there, according to many inferred “rules” in the RV community. That said, we literally can not get our kids into their room if we don’t at least slide two of the 3 out. And I’m not about to have all of us sleeping in a trailer that would be next to impossible to get out of in case of a fire.
So that’s why we try to park it the way we do.
We have rolled in between 9:30 and 11:30 pm each time and have left by 8:30 am every time. We head into the store when we get there and stock up on whatever essentials we need, and also get the kids some quick snacks, like their pre-cut fruit and veggies.
We try not to do drives longer than 4 or 5 hours a stretch, so this has been key to getting to places farther away without having to do the hotel thing again. The longer we live in our RV, the more I despise getting a family of 6 into a hotel room. Ha!
A couple of you have asked if we feel unsafe, but we honestly don’t. The lots are well-lit and have security patrolling them. In fact, the first one we pulled into we were welcomed by the security guard who assured us he’d keep an eye on us until he left at 6 the next morning. That said, I’m sure there may be some along the way that we don’t feel safe at, and that will just have to be a gut-check thing. We can always pull back onto the highway and move on.
So what do we do about electricity, water, and sewer? So far, our battery has been enough to get us through the night. Of course, we’re conservative. We’re not turning on every light, and Scott usually switches off the refrigerator and we keep it shut. It stays cold enough overnight. We are able to run our heater because it runs off propane. This will be a very different situation in the summertime when we need AC, so we’re hoping to invest in better batteries and a generator by then.
We could fill our fresh water tank before we take off from a park in anticipation of boondocking that night, but we haven’t yet. We get by with bottled water, wipes, and using Walmart’s bathrooms. (I’m not saying we smell good when we get where we’re going!)
That’s the long answer to the questions you all have been sending me about boondocking, and I hope it clears up any confusion! It’s a bizarre concept to grasp if you’re not use to it, I think. It was for us!