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If you’re new to boondocking you probably don’t know the “ins and outs” to parking. Finding solid parking locations while living in your vehicle can be rather tricky at times. There are many different factors to consider when seeking that perfect parking spot whether it’s just for one night or 2 weeks. Here are a few parking tips for boondocking that we would like to share with you.
Business establishment parking
Several businesses will allow people to park overnight in their parking lots, including Walmart, Cabela’s, Cracker Barrel, Camping World, Truck Stops, Casinos, and Home Depot. Not every store allows it though so it is recommended to call the store manager first to see if it is allowed. Keep in mind that as a token of their generosity you should perhaps consider spending some money at the business to show your appreciation.
Where not to park
If you’re new to boondocking then you may not know where not to park. It takes a bit of time and experience before you start to realize what places aren’t great to park in. If you’re parking out on public lands make sure that you don’t park in washes. They tend to flood from time to time and you could find yourself in an unpleasant situation if it just happened to flood while you were sleeping at 2am. Stay clear of locations that have high homeless populations or areas with high crime rates. Getting your vehicle broken into isn’t uncommon so be careful where you park.
Using the sun to your advantage
Before you park it’s best to take advantage of the sun. If you’re in colder climates you’ll want to park in areas where you have the most sunlight available to provide warmth. If you’re in warmer climates it may be a good idea to park in areas with the least sun. Always remember that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Using a tactical approach could have beneficial factors. If you’re a person that uses solar panels to provide power throughout your vehicle then you’ll certainly want to park accordingly.
Keep an eye out for no parking signs
You can prevent the late night police officer knock or avoid getting parking tickets by keeping a lookout for no parking signs. If you’re driving late and your tired and you just want to pull over in a residential area for sleep make sure you read the signs. Many street parking signs only allow parking during designated times. Parking tickets can be pricey unless you don’t mind paying $20-$100 for an overnight parking spot. It can be annoying having the police knock on your door at 2am and asking you to leave as well. It’s not fun driving around aimlessly at 2am trying to find a parking spot.
Analyze the noise factor
Some parking areas can get really noisy at times and if you’re a light sleeper you’ll want to analyze the area a bit prior to parking. Keep an eye out for trains, planes, and automobiles. A busy highway can get pretty loud. If you’re near an airport then you can expect planes flying over you ever hour or so. Trains can be extremely loud depending on how close you are. They’ll definitely wake you up multiple times throughout the night.
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An ongoing question that gets asked in the nomadic community is “is living life on the road safe?” There are obviously horror stories that you may have heard through the grapevine and from my experience it’s all dependent on how prepared and aware you are. Many non-nomads associate the nomad lifestyle with homelessness and sometimes even criminal activity. The social stigma that surrounds vanlife, skoolielife, or just nomadlife in general isn’t always hunky dory.
Over the past 3 years that I have been living life on the road I have certainly learned a few things. Most of the negative experiences that I have had were always in big cities. I’ve had people try to break into my vehicle while I was in there. I’ve had a guy once ram my vehicle with his vehicle at 3am while I was sleeping. I’ve had several vehicle break-downs which resulted in me being stranded. I’ve had a guy dump BBQ sauce outside of my vehicle in the hopes that I would step into it as I exited my vehicle.
I don’t want to discourage people from jumping into the nomadic lifestyle with these odd encounters because I firmly believe nomadlife can be safer than city life and it’s more rewarding. All of the bad experiences that I have had all took place in large cities. As most nomads know it can be tricky finding overnight parking in large cities. I usually resorted to parking in ghettos or industrial areas because it seemed like cops didn’t patrol those areas as much. When you park in locations like that something unexpected is bound to happen. This brings me to my first recommendation which is to stay away from big cities.
Avoid Big Cities
Bigger cities means more crime so if you’re travelling through a larger city be careful where you park. Some businesses will allow you to overnight park in there parking lots, like Walmart, but from my experience bigger cities are more strict with overnight parking. Security guards are pretty common patrolling the parking lots of businesses. I would recommend avoiding cities as much as possible. It’s safer to find parking on the outskirts or if you have a friend that will allow you to park at there place that would be better.
Use Your Intuition
Be smart and use your intuition. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation or if you’re parked somewhere where you feel unsafe then move somewhere else. It’s pretty easy to move your vehicle so DO IT!
It’s a good idea to carry protection in your vehicle because you never know what could happen at any given moment. I’m not saying you should carry a gun because laws are different from state to state but any type of device that you can use to defend yourself is a good thing to have. Other devices could include a stun gun, pepper spray, bb gun, a bat, a knife, or even a crossbow. Just kidding. Don’t get a crossbow. Make sure you check with states on the laws and regulations on specific weapons.
Cell Phone Coverage
As all us nomads know sometimes we park in areas where we have no cell phone service. Cell phone service is good to have if you’re in a bad situation. When you are overnight parking try and find a location where you have cell coverage just in case you need it. If you need to you can purchase a cell phone booster which can help out tremendously in areas with minimal cell service.
Get a Dog
Dogs can be great pets to have to ward off intruders. Dogs can sense things that we humans cannot and most criminals won’t invade your space if there is a dog present. Dogs can give us a sense of security and they’re great companions to have on the road. Cats are cool pets too but they’re a bit more lazier when it comes to alerting you of an intruder.
Lock Your Doors
Keep your doors locked at all times. I lock my doors during the day and at night when I’m in my vehicle. If you wanted to add an extra layer of protection you could use something to hold the doors shut just in case someone smashed out your window they still wouldn’t be able to open the door. I’ve also heard of nomad folks installing window alarms on their vehicle.
Road Side Assistance
Road side assistance can be a lifesaver. I’ve had to use it a couple times over the years and I’m glad I had it when I did. Many insurance agencies offer road side assistance but if your insurance doesn’t offer that I would recommend looking into AAA. With a premiere AAA membership it offers:
- One tow up to 200 miles; remaining tows up to 100 miles
- Car Travel Interruption up to $1,500
- Vehicle Locksmith service up to $150
- 24-Hour Emergency Travel and Medical Assistance
- Free Mobile Battery service
It never hurts to have a little extra fuel just in case you run out driving down those long, lonely roads. Keeping a spare jerry can of gas mounted to the outside of your vehicle can save you someday.
Portable Car Jumper
We’ve all left something on in our vehicle at some point that resulted in a dead battery. You don’t want to be stranded somewhere in the middle of the desert so having a portable car jumper is a great thing to have. If not a car jumper then at least carry some jumper cables with you.
Hide Your Valuables
Always make sure that your valuables are hidden from view. Many of us nomads have cameras, drones, laptops, and other expensive gadgetry. If you have them in an area where people can see them through the window then that increases the chances of a break-in. Using window blinds or blackout curtains can be beneficial as well to prevent people from peaking into your vehicle.
Buy one of those fireproof safes that you can hide somewhere in your vehicle. This would be great to have for storing passports, birth certificates, social security cards, and emergency cash. Having a fireproof safe ensures that you important documents stay safe even if your vehicle somehow caught fire.
Let People Know Where You Are
Just in case something unexpected happens it’s always good to let friends and family know where you are. Lets say you go out hiking, mountain climbing, or mountain biking and something bad happens. Perhaps you break your leg or get hurt which prevents you from getting back to your vehicle safely. If you let people know where you are they can at least search for you if you turn up missing.
Always have a fire extinguisher handy if you are living in your vehicle. You never know what can happen out there on the road so being prepared is the best way to go.
Security cameras can be a great tool to have in your arsenal. Most security cameras nowadays can be monitored right from your cell phone which makes it extremely convenient. Many security cameras have motion sensor lights as well which are great for warding off intruders.
Vehicles get stolen and although it may not happen very often to nomads it can still happen. Hiding a small gps tracker somewhere on your rig can be a fantastic device to have if your vehicle just happens to get stolen.
Display Something “Manly”
For you solo female travelers it can be beneficial to place something somewhere inside or outside your rig that shows that a man occupies the vehicle. For example if you leave a big hefty pair of boots outside your vehicle it might give the impression that a big, burly man lives in the vehicle.
Travel With Other Nomads
It’s obviously much safer if you’re traveling with other nomads. Most criminals aren’t going to mess with a traveling group of nomads so make friends and caravan.
Stickers can be a great way to discourage people from breaking into your vehicle. Security system stickers or dog stickers are just an example.
Make Copies Of Important Documents
Taking photos of important documents and emailing them to yourself can be helpful if you happen to get into a sticky situation where you loose your documents. Taking photos of your vehicle insurance, passport, social security card, or any other important documents is great to have for backup.
The Bottom Line
Use your brain and your instinct when you’re living life on the road. Be smart and take necessary precautions just in case something bad happens. Living in a vehicle doesn’t have to be dangerous if you’re smart about it.
Of the 245 million surface acres of BLM public land in America, it can be frustrating not being able to find the best parking locations for boondocking. Heck, you might not even know where to find public lands at all. You can obviously do a map search on your cell phone but you may not find the desired results. After reading this post you should have a good understanding on how to find BLM public land camping locations.
Keep in mind that BLM land can only be located in 12 states that include:
- New Mexico
Using a map can be a great way to pinpoint where BLM land is located. Some people are old-fashioned and can’t stand using technology to navigate so maps are the way to go. You can download maps on the blm.gov website. They have a variety of maps to choose from depending on what state you’re in.
Nowadays everyone uses their cell phones for everything, especially for navigation. We’re transitioning into a digital world which makes it very convenient for us nomads. There are several apps that one can use to find BLM public lands camping locations. I use apps to find my campsites all the time. Actually, I completely rely on apps. Most apps that help users find BLM camp spots have filters so that you can find exactly what you’re looking for. There are a lot of good apps out there to use but the one’s that we recommend include:
iOverlander is a great app to use because most all of the locations are submitted by fellow nomads. It enables users to submit, amend, and find information and opinions about essential and secondary-essential places of interest. The great thing about it is that there are even reviews on locations left by other users. You can read reviews to get a better idea on what the location is like. Many reviews will let you know if the road to the campsite is bumpy, if it’s rowdy from late-nighters, if the area has good cell signal, or how busy it is. It’s a well established app so it has plenty of boondocking sites pinned on the map.
Campendium is an app mainly targeted toward apple users but you can easily navigate their website if you need to for android users. They are pretty similar to iOverlander but they seem to have a more targeted filter system. You can find specific locations based on cell service, how big your rig is, elevation, and many other different things. There is a paid version of Campendium that unlocks other perks.
Sekr is a newer app that launched just a few years ago. It was originally called The Vanlife App but they recently changed their name to reach a wider audience rather than just being associated with people living and traveling in vans. The great thing about this app is that it’s more of a social networking app for nomads. You can create a profile, add friends, message friends, add locations, save locations, and you can even find people nearby. Since it’s a newer app there aren’t as many locations added but as more and more people start to use it, the more locations are added.
There are other apps out there to use but we just listed the 3 that we enjoy using. Feel free to do some research and you’ll find the app that’s best suited for you.
There are obviously a ton of websites out there that you can visit to help you find BLM camping locations. Websites may not provide an intuitive interface like an app does but it can still do the trick. The best place to start would be recreation.gov. They have an abundant of information related to public lands. Another great website to check out is freecampsites.net.
For many nomads, snowbirds, boondockers, or travelers BLM land can be a whole new experience. BLM public lands are available for us to enjoy, explore, and make amazing memories for many years to come. Keep in mind that these are wide open spaces and wildlands so be aware of your surroundings and plan ahead. Taking necessary steps to reduce the chances of becoming injured or lost are the responsibility of everyone visiting America’s public lands and waters.
Here you will find information on what you need to know before visiting BLM public lands. It is recommended to check in with the closest BLM office for more information about local regulations and recreational resources.
Cell Phone Coverage
Much of America’s public lands are outside of established towns which means cell coverage may be poor or non-existent. Don’t rely on your cell phone for emergencies. Take necessary precautions and follow other recommendations to ensure a safe experience out on public lands.
It is best to avoid bears whenever possible and you can safely do this by keeping your camp clean and following proper bear safety advice.
Don’t Feed Bears
- Bears are constantly looking for food since they only have a few months to build up fat reserves before they go into hibernation. Don’t let bears think that scrounging for human food is an easy meal.
- Be sure that you avoid smelly and greasy foods like fish or bacon.
- Keep your camp clean by washing your dishes, properly disposing of all trash and leftover food, and by keeping food smells off your clothes.
- Store your food in airtight containers and away from your camp. Don’t cook food near your camp and try to keep all food out of reach of bears.
- Any other items you have that produce a scent should be stored away so bears can’t access it.
- Keep in mind that if you have a pet it could attract bears so take precautionary measures.
Never Approach Bears
- Bears can become aggressive if you invade their space, especially female bears if they have cubs with them so keep your distance.
- If you plan on photographing bears then make sure you use a zoom lens to avoid getting too close.
- Avoid setting up camp near trails and roads since bears tend to use them just as we do.
- If you see or smell carcasses then plan on camping elsewhere. A bear or other scavengers could be nearby.
Don’t Fish Near Bears
- Bears will return to fishing locations if it learns it can easily obtain it from a fisherman so don’t catch fish for the bears.
- If you spot a bear while you are fishing, stop fishing.
- If you happen to have a fish on the line when a bear approaches then give the line some slack to prevent it from splashing or if you need to, cut your line.
Don’t Surprise a Bear
- Its always best to let bears know that you are there. They tend to avoid humans so make noise, talk loudly, or sing if you need to.
- It can be hard to see if you’re in thick brush so try to avoid that. If you can’t avoid thick brush then make extra noise.
- Bears trust their noses more than their eyes or ears so walk with the wind at your back.
- If you can, hike in a group since groups are easier for bears to detect.
- Bears are much faster than we are and they are much like dogs, they will chase a fleeing animal.
When you’re in an area where snakes could be make sure you prepare and wear high-top boots, be alert, and use a walking stick to check under brush or around crevices. Be careful when moving logs or piles of brush. Usually about 20% of all snake bites inject venom. If you have been bitten the best thing to do is to get transported to a hospital as soon as possible.
Ticks can spread Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever so it’s best to promptly remove any tick. Both males and females feed on blood. They’re external parasites that live on birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Wear appropriate clothing and regularly inspect exposed skin.
You may come across abandoned mines in the desert and although they seem mysterious and your curiosity might tempt you to check them out it’s best to stay away from them. Many deaths have been reported from abandoned mines. Stay out and you’ll live to see another day.
Caves are a great way to cure curiosity but they can also be very dangerous, especially if you’re inexperienced.
Follow these caving safety tips:
- Before entering a cave make sure you let someone know where you are
- Dress appropriately
- Bring water
- Bring multiple sources of light and backup batteries
- Always wear protection such as a helmet and gloves
- Maintain contact with everyone in your group
- Be careful of loose rocks
- Follow paths and never remove rocks, formations, or creatures
- Leave No Trace = Pack it in, Pack it out
Public lands in the summertime can reach over 100 degrees so follow these tips to prevent heatstroke:
- Stay hydrated
- Avoid strenuous activity during the middle of the day when it’s the hottest
- Wear appropriate clothing such as a hat, long sleeved shirt, and sunglasses
- Use sun screen
Rivers can be dangerous so always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. If you plan on kayaking or boating then make sure you know the water and your limits since rivers can get pretty choppy. Always use appropriate gear when boating and know how to recognize river hazards. Make sure you carry a first aid kit as well.
Fire safety is extremely important out on BLM public lands. Many forest fires are human-created so it’s best to do your part to protect against this from happening. Make sure you check with the Bureau of Land Management for campfire restrictions, regulations, and permit requirements.
Keep these things in mind if you create your own campfire:
- Keep the fire small
- Don’t leave your fire unattended
- Don’t burn foil, plastic, or other trash
- Make sure no burnable material is within a 5-foot radius of the fire
- Build your campfire away from meadows, leaves, overhanging branches, logs, and steep slopes
- Always put out your fire
Flash floods are more common in July, August, and September but they can occur at any time of the year. Always check in with the local weather to ensure no flash floods will take place. Avoid washes, narrow canyons, and know your escape routes.
Prolonged exposure to the cold can lead to hypothermia which is a rapidly progressive mental & physical collapse due to the chilling of the body’s core. Cold weather protection in the desert is vital in preventing hypothermia.
Poison Oak and Poison Ivy
Both Poison Oak and Poison Ivy are pretty common. They both carry an oil that causes a rash to develop when a person’s skin comes in contact with it. Learn to recognize what they look like and protect yourself by wearing long pants and long sleeves. If you think you have it make sure you don’t spread it to others and wash your skin as soon as possible. Calamine lotion and creams containing Benadryl or Cortisone can help relieve rash symptoms.
Don’t bring your own firewood from home to burn at another location. Trees and forests are threatened by non-native insects and diseases. Invasive insects can survive while being transported so it’s best to buy local firewood, heat treated firewood, or gather firewood on site if it is allowed.
For many years camping has been a means to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature. Some of us go camping to revitalize our relationships and others consider it a tradition that’s passed on down from generation to generation. Camping is a way for us to explore nature, improve our health, and develop life skills.
Unfortunately with the growing number of campers and boondockers there is also an increasing amount of trash that is produced. In order to keep our lands clean and accessible to future generations we need to properly dispose of our trash. Campground or boondocking etiquette should always be utilized.
‘Pack it in. Pack it out’ is key when it comes to backcountry travel. This common saying simply means that nothing should be left behind. Boondocking or camping areas should be left cleaner than how you found them.
This simple guide should be used to educate fellow boondockers and campers on the ways to properly dispose of trash and waste.
Prepare Before You Go
Before you set off on your trip it’s highly recommended to plan and prepare. Removing wrappers and tags from food and gear can eliminate a good deal of waste. Using your creativity when it comes to food storage can be very beneficial in the long run.
Emptying food from wrappers or containers into freezer bags can greatly reduce waste and freezer bags can be re-used for trash and scraps afterwards. Another great idea is to pack all ingredients for a meal into a sealed container or bag to eliminate excess waste.
The food that we bring will not all be used or eaten. Sometimes food is accidentally dropped and other times you get too full and decide not to finish it all. There may even be shells or skins leftover from specific foods. Food scraps that are left over should be properly disposed of. Some think that it’s thoughtful to leave food behind for animals but that can disrupt their natural habitat and some may even get sick since it’s not a part of their usual diet.
Food scraps should be placed in sealed containers or bags. While food scraps are biodegradable, it takes a long time for them to break down so they shouldn’t be left behind. Pack out all your food scraps until you reach a dumpster or proper disposal area.
Organic food scraps are great for composting as well. If you know someone that allows the dropping off of composting material then that could be a way to dispose of your food scraps too. A simple online search with your phone could help you locate dumpsters and/or composting drop-off areas.
Spitting toothpaste out on the ground may seem like a harmless act but it can attract animals and insects. Toothpaste isn’t meant to be ingested and could potentially lead to unpleasant situations. You should brush your teeth away from campsites, trails, and water sources. It should be disposed of with your food scraps or other trash in sealed containers or bags.
Wrappers and Containers
It’s best to prepare food items before you head out on your trip to minimize the amount of wrappers and containers you bring with you. Never throw plastic, glass, or foil into a campfire because they do not break down and can cause hazards for future campers and boondockers. Any wrappers or containers that you have leftover should be placed in sealable bags or containers. Freezer bags are great for this purpose because they’re flexible and are less likely to rip or tear.
Paper and Cardboard
Most of us campers and boondockers make fires to keep warm and to cook our food. Luckily, most paper and cardboard products can be disposed of by burning them. Certain products that contain ink or plastic coatings probably aren’t best to burn but all other paper and cardboard materials should be safe to dispose of in the fire.
It’s very important to dispose of human waste properly to protect water sources and other people. If you are at a campground then you may not have to worry so much about bodily waste because some of them have restrooms and RV dump stations.
If your vehicle has a black water tank then you should properly dispose of your waste at designated dump stations. It is never ok to dump your waste into or near any body of water or human activity! You can also check if the dump station has a dumpster for trash removal (some do for your convenience).
Urine is generally considered to be sterile so in most cases it is okay to urinate on the ground away from any water sources, campsites, or trails. Keep in mind that wildlife can be attracted to urine so it’s not recommended to stay in that area after you do your business.
If you have to go “Number Two” then you can either go in a 6 inch dug hole and bury it or you can dispose of it in a plastic bag just like you would with a dog’s feces. An easy way to relieve yourself is “the bucket system”. Simply place a trash bag inside a bucket and use cat litter, sawdust, or wood chips to cover your “business”. Please use a tight fitting lid to keep malodorous fumes at bay. If you plan on burying your waste then make sure you do so away from any campsites, water sources, or areas of human activity.
Remember to properly dispose of your wipes or toilet paper material. Most wipes and toilet paper isn’t biodegradable so dispose of it with the rest of your food scraps or trash. The same goes for feminine hygiene products.
Grey water is considered water leftover from your shower, bathroom sink, kitchen sink, or other sources not going down the toilet. Although it may seem safe to dump grey water wherever it is actually best practice to dispose of it properly. In most cases it is okay to dump grey water in open, public BLM spaces used for dispersed camping but it could be illegal in other areas so make sure you check your local laws and regulations.
RV dump stations are the most common places to dispose of grey water. These can generally be found at RV parks across the nation. Certain parks have designated areas for grey water dumping as well.
Since grey water can contain organic and inorganic particles it’s best to use a filter to separate the particles from the water. The leftover particles can then be disposed of with your food scraps or other trash.
If you have to dump your grey water on the ground make sure that you do it away from trails, campsites, or areas where there is human activity. Keep in mind that your dishwater could contain grease or harmful chemicals from soap and other cleaners. This could be harmful to wildlife, trees, plants, and water sources in the area.
Where Can I Dispose of my Trash?
Depending on where you are you may not have access to landfills or large dumpsters. If you have smaller amounts of trash then it’s normally okay to dispose of it at gas stations or stores but please go in and purchase something to show respect for their efforts of placing trash cans around.
You can easily find places to dispose of your trash by using your phone to search for landfills, parks, RV dump stations, or other disposal sites.