By: Bob Gummersall
Tom posted an article on campground Etiquette and that caused me to think about the changing camping habits that my wife and I seem to be experiencing. When we first started motorhoming we found ourselves looking for a campground almost every night for the conveniences, safety, and TV hook up for the night. We used private, public, and membership campgrounds and about time to quit driving we were pouring over the directories to find a place to stop. Once in a great while we would dry camp or boondock on public land, truck stop, rest area or parking lot. Our touring has always been spending a two to four days getting somewhere, spending several days enjoying the new area, then a couple of days getting to a new place and a few days there. After about four weeks my bride of 42 years had that motherly desire to get back to the nest and the Grandkids. Then it was time to get home in the fewest number of days possible. We still travel that way, to places, rallies, races, relatives, reunions etc. We always planned a place to park or camp at our destinations. What has changed, because we now have a Satellite Dish and a cell phone with email capability, is that we almost always boondock getting to and from our destinations. It is not that we cant afford the cost of a campground, we just dont want to take the time and trouble to find and get parked at a campground. We would really not even like to disconnect our toad just to get parked at a site that might have soft ground, etc. This description fits many motorhomers today. It fits fewer travel trailer RVers. We are typical of many people that tour and dont stay too long in any place. I will try to tell you the things that are important about boondocking and the proper etiquette to use.
Picking a suitable place to dry camp has several aspects. Safety, convenience, location, permission possibilities and noise are important considerations. Safety is paramount in our minds and we do some things to make sure we pick a safe place based on our experience. We travel with three electronic devices that provide additional safety. A Cell Phone, a good Alarm System, and the new MayDay System from Alpine add significantly to our safety while we are in our coach. The MayDay system is a GPS based monitoring system that has a dedicated cell phone and can connect us to a real person monitoring our condition in the time it takes to make a call. It is activated if the alarm goes off, if we press the emergency button and when the coach batteries go down. Since they know exactly where we are they can immediately dispatch the proper service. The Alarm System sounds a siren and flashes lights if someone tries to break into our coach. It also allows us to sound the alarm from a key fob in the bedroom if we hear things we dont like outside. The siren and lights flashing will probably scare people with bad intent away from our coach.
Not all rest stops are good places to park over night. If you are near a big city where the crime rate is high or in a State that has a bad reputation then do not pick Rest Stops. Similarly, I wont pick a Truck Stop if the area has a bad reputation. Both of these types of area are shared with over the road truckers and call for special etiquette. I will always look for a way to my small rig tucked into a place that an 18 wheeler cant get into. At truck stops like Flying J and TA centers, there are usually areas designated for RVers. At rest stops, I always try to find a place that is legal but would be very hard for a truck to use. If two of us are traveling together, we will take one long spot that would normally be used by one truck. I will always pull up in back of a small Class C that has decided to stop so that we take just one spot. I am able to back up my rig enough to get out, even with the toad attached (takes practice). Truck Stop and Rest Stops are choices that are extremely noisy especially in the summer when we want to leave the windows open. We find a few nights a year when it is real hot when we want to run the generator to run the air conditioners. So in this case we just get in there and add to the already noisy environment but with the windows closed it is possible to sleep even with the noise. Running the generator where there is already a lot of noise is OK in my book. Even though we share the space with truckers we feel it is all right since we pay highway taxes and buy fuel. We just try to be as considerate as possible in sharing this space.
Parking overnight in parking lots is one of our first choices. WalMart, K-Mart, Costco, Grocery Stores, Cracker Barrel and other businesses allow overnight parking in their lots, which are generally not highly used after 8pm. First and foremost, we always ask permission from the Manager of the appropriate business. Recently at a Cracker Barrel, we had stopped for dinner at about 6pm and it was about 7:30pm when we asked the manager if he wanted some RVers for an early breakfast. The parking lot was already almost empty, so he said sure. Four of us from two rigs, had a nice breakfast at 7 am and went on our way after a night in a quiet parking lot. Other businesses do not allow overnight parking, so look for signs and ask permission. Many times we have been watched over by the night security guard which added more safety to our stay. In this type of parking we never open the awnings, get the barbecue and chairs out or otherwise "camp". We just park for a quiet sleep. We find the smaller towns with local businesses are also receptive to use of their parking lot at night. It is always better to park where there is more than one rig parking, because there is safety in numbers. In some small towns, we have gotten permission from the local law enforcement to use one of the citys parking lots and hence gotten added security. When others are parked with you, it is only common courtesy to keep the noise down like not running the generator until after 7am. On occasion we have used Church Parking Lots to spend the night. Especially on Saturday night, since we are Catholic, we look for a church that has a 5pm vigil Mass, then ask the pastor to spend the night in his empty parking lot. Some of the times, they have even offered to let us plug into electricity. We have also parked at Elks halls, some even have hook ups, and other service/social club parking lots of course after getting permission.
When visiting relatives we normally park in their driveway, if there is room. If local regulation allow we will also park on the street in front of their house. A quick call to the local police station will tell you if this is legal. Otherwise we find a campground that is close.
Again while making miles getting to a destination, we look for the convenience of a large flat place that is close to the highway in a safe environment. Common sense is important when selecting a place to stop. Trust your intuition and drive on if the environment does not "feel" safe. If you are on private property, ask permission. If you are on public property, ask permission. If you dont know, ask permission. Dont camp, just park and get some rest. Dont make any extra noise. Be quiet when getting started in the morning. Dont idle your diesel for 30 minutes because thats not good for the engine anyway. Limit the time you spend to times when the space is not needed by the business. If you leave the rig while it is parked, leave a note with your cell phone number on it, so that owners or authorities can reach you if there is a problem. Dont leave pets in the rig.
Boondocking for multiple days in one location is another etiquette story to tell in another article. Maybe someone who has spent a month on BLM land in Quartzite will contribute an articIs anyone out there willing?