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Free Van Camping 101


There’s nothing quite like open road traveling in your van. One of the things that makes the adventure exciting is finding and exploring new destinations. With a van as your travel companion, free camping, also known as boondocking, is an ideal way to expand your travel horizons free of charge. Check out our tips to free camping below.

Everything You Need to Know About Free Van Camping

When choosing boondocking for your RV travel itinerary, a few tips to consider will help enhance your time on accessing traveled and not so well traveled highways, byways, and off the beaten track roads.

1. Finding Free Sites

There are a variety of resources to help find free boondocking camping sites, from websites and apps to maps and public land held by the government.

Websites to consider include Campendium, which also has an IOS app for finding campsites. The site provides a helpful tutorial to get you started on finding the ideal free location for your next trip.

Camping on public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offers a golden opportunity to park your RV for free on public land across the nation. BLM locations usually allow stays of no more than 14 days in a 28-day period. Keep in mind, each state may have its own rules, regulations, requirements, and restrictions for their campsites.

iOverlander is another option for finding boondocking camp sites around the world. The map allows you to select areas in a specific country, city, using GPS coordinates. Once the area is displayed, accessing the legend tab describes the different icons on the map, including designated informal campsites.

2. Etiquette

Just because you’re not setting up camp in a traditional campground doesn’t mean good manners regarding other campers should be ignored. Following a few etiquette tips ensure a peaceful stay among fellow boondockers.

  • Get permission from the appropriate person to ensure you aren’t trespassing or the area requires registering, such as a national or state forest.
  • Know what the stay limit is for the location and be sure to abide by it.
  • When boondocking in a parking lot, such as a major retail store, arrive late in the day and leave early before the store opens for business. Don’t broadcast that you’re camping, so future boondockers can also use the businesses’ parking lot and only camp there if boondocking is allowed.
  • As noted above, leave no trace behind. The campsite should look the same when you leave as when you arrived. Always have more than enough trash bags. Then pack up your trash and dispose of it in dumpsters elsewhere if there are no available trashcans at the campsite.
  • Keep the noise level to a minimum. This is especially important if camping in a parking lot where customers are coming and going. Keep it quiet so customers aren’t distracted or disturbed, which could have a negative impact on business. This could result in the company not allowing the lot to be used for free camping.
  • Use blackout curtains to block out interior light. You don’t want your RV to be lit up like a Christmas tree.
  • If camping in a business parking lot where dumpsters are handy, don’t assume items sitting outside near or around the dumpster are free to take. You’re on private property; nothing on it belongs to you unless you ask the owners for permission.
  • Leave nature as it is. Enjoy the beauty of the area, but don’t collect souvenirs to take home. If enough boondockers do this, there won’t be anything of beauty left to enjoy.
  • Keep pets on a leash at all times for their own safety as well as to prevent them from visiting nearby campers. Always clean up any messes they make and dispose of properly.
  • Don’t crowd other campers. Leave space between your camp and theirs. You can be considerate and still have fun.
3. Solar Resources

When boondocking, you don’t have the convenience of electricity. To eliminate the problem, solar panels keep electronics, appliances, etc. powered so you have all the conveniences of home. Depending on how many items need to be powered, determine how many solar panels are necessary to generate adequate wattage.

4. Fuel Needs

How much propane you’ll need is dependent on the type of RV and the size of the tank. Top off your propane tank before heading to off the grid locations. Whether your van is fitted with ASME or DOT propane tanks, extra propane cylinders as a precaution. Top of the vans fuel tank before heading out to remote areas and have extra fuel for generators.

5. Food Supplies

Keeping food choices simple and easy is recommended. Pack instant foods that require minimal preparation, such as noodles and oatmeal. Dehydrated meals also provide tasty dishes. Pack frozen fruit, dried fruit, beef jerky, instant soup, crackers, assorted snacks, tail mix, and energy bars.

6. General Safety Tips

A check list of safety items to have when dry camping:
– Emergency first aid kit
– Weather radio
– Complete tool kit
– Extra fuel
– Emergency snacks and water
– Additional blankets for warmth in case you have no power/electricity
– LED candles, flashlights, and extra batteries
– Solar charging capabilities
– Charged cell phone

7. Know Before You Go

Several things to know before you go can ensure a positive experience. While the majority of boondocking sites are free to camp, there may be an occasion where you will come across one that does charge a fee.

Some sites have a set limit on how long you can stay. This can vary from a few days to a couple of weeks, or longer. Be sure to know what the restrictions are, if any, for your choice of campsite.

Because of overuse and other factors affecting the environment of campsites negatively, there are areas where stricter rules and regulations are in place, designated campsites are in place versus camping where you want, and in some areas, parts of an area closed off to assure the land is not being overused.

8. Leave No Trace

Whether this is your first or fiftieth boondocking adventure, it is important to be aware of, understand, and follow the seven principles of Leave No Trace. These well-established principles, which are updated frequently, are vital to maintaining positive interactions between campers and the camping areas.

The principles covered under Leave No Trace include:
– Plan Ahead and Prepare
– Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
– Dispose of Waste Properly
– Leave What You Find
– Minimize Campfire Impacts
– Respect Wildlife
– Be Considerate of Other Visitors

For detailed information about each principle, visit the Leave No Trace website.

9. Boondocking with Pets

It has already been mentioned to keep your pet on a leash, so they don’t disturb other campers and to keep them safe, especially if you’re in a remote forested area inhabited by wildlife. Keep your pet’s vocals under control. Don’t leave any uneaten food or treats outside that could attract unwanted guests. Dispose of as though it were waste. Pack extra food and water per pet.

10. Be Prepared

Last, but not least, be prepared before you roll out onto the highway. This means having sufficient food, fuel, power options, and fresh water supplies available before embarking on your trip. Create a checklist so you don’t forget anything.

Do plenty of research for the area(s) where you want to boondocks and enjoy nature and scenic views. Be familiar with how to find remote boondocking locations using Google maps. It’s also a good idea to check the reviews of places you anticipate staying to get an overview of what to expect, as well as any issues previous van enthusiasts may have encountered.

Looking for the right rig for your lifestyle to set off on your boondocking adventures? Check out our inventory at Rec Van.