Get out of your KOA rut and try some new ways to camp while saving money. Free (usually dry) camping options include courtesy parking, boondocking, and one-night “blacktop camping”.
Simply put, courtesy parking means docking your Airstream outside someone’s home for the night, or longer. Your host can be a friend, a family member, a Facebook acquaintance, a fellow RV club member, an Airforums.com member, or someone you met on your travels.
Many Wally Byam Airstream Club (WBCCI) members open their homes to other Airstreamers with “Big Red Numbers”, and offer fellowship as well as trailering and travel advice. Addresses across the country and in Canada are listed in the club directory.
Each courtesy parking situation is different. Sometimes your friendly host will open their home, invite you to dinner or to use the shower, act as a tour guide, and provide shore power and water. Sometimes you’ll have ultimate privacy, and you may never even see your host after they guide you to your parking space. Whatever the arrangement, you’ll have a unique experience off the beaten path—and it’s free.
Turning clearance is usually the limitation. Tell your host the length of your rig, and have a “Plan “B” for lodging if your trailer doesn’t fit. You may end up parking on the street—if so, you’ll need to check local restrictions and HOA rules before you commit.
Courtesy parking tips
- Though you don’t have to make a reservation weeks in advance, please contact your host in ample time to obtain permission and let them know when you’re coming
- Bring at least 100 feet of power cord and a water line
- Arrive with with a full water tank and an empty black/gray tank
- Don’t expect your host to accommodate you in any way other than a place to park
- Offer a tour of your trailer
- Small host gifts are always appreciated (but not required)
Those new to the Airstreaming lifestyle may be unfamiliar with the term boondocking, but it’s an important one to know if you want to keep campsite costs down.
Boondocking means to camp without hookups of any kind, usually in a remote location, and the options are abundant. Many great boondock spots are not officially sanctioned as such—but are still completely legal.
Look for boondocking sites at:
- National parks
- State parks
- Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land
- County parks
- Wildlife management areas and National Forests
- Off-Highway Vehicle Areas (mostly out west)
- Private property (with permission)
- Even on a street! Any place with 24-hour parking
Choosing a boondock spot
The best personal safety measure is to be aware of your surroundings, and be mentally prepared to move on if you aren’t comfortable. Look for these before unhitching:
- Are there signs forbidding camping, or other warnings?
- Can you get in—and out? Look for mud, sand, and overhead clearances
- Avoid areas where you see vandalism, graffitti, shotgun shells, and broken glass
- Consider areas where there are other RVs, tent sites, fire rings, routine police patrol
- Can you run a generator? (That may not be permissible due to noise)
- If your Airstream is solar powered, do you have access to plenty of sunshine?
- Is traffic noise a factor?
In some boondocking areas there may be a fee. National forests, Off-Highway Vehicle Areas, National Recreation areas and BLM properties may charge a small amount.
Getting started on boondocking
- Start slow with state park campgrounds that lack hookups
- Get comfortable with conserving resources (water, power)
- Get to know your tank and battery capacities
- Carry a basic tool kit
- Boondock with friends the first time
“Blacktop boondocking” is always an option for one night. You’re probably familiar with the Walmart parking lot option, but you can also discreetly stay (again, for just one night) at private parking lots, gas stations, casinos, Cracker Barrel, Camping World, and truck stops—anywhere with a large lot and permission granted. (Some RVers overnight at highway rest areas, but crime and other sketchy activities there put this option in the “emergency only” category.)
Read more tips on blacktop boondocking in this Outside Interests article