BY MARIANNE EDWARDS
When not on the road, Marianne Edwards and her spouse, Randy, make their home in southern Ontario. Marianne is the author of a series of guidebooks: The Frugal Shunpiker?s Guides To RV Boondocking.
She can be reached at www.frugal-rv-travel.com.
Over the 10 years my hubby Randy and I have been RVing, I can count on one hand the number of times we?ve actually had a campsite with a hook-up, but we realize this isn?t ?the norm? for many RVers.
Although RVs were built for boondocking, (why else do they have those deep cycle batteries and holding tanks?) most RVers don?t spend more than a night at a time without the benefit of hook-ups ? perhaps at a National Park campground that doesn?t offer hook-ups, or in a truck stop or Walmart parking lot ? a quick overnight while on route to the next destination.
Boondocking in one location for longer periods requires some education, a bit of preparation and, if you?re still addicted to all the comforts of a brick and mortar home, a slight lifestyle adjustment. Those who have figured it out – love it. As all boondockers quickly learn – how long you can stay (without having to move your RV) will be determined by how well you conserve your resources – battery power, water, propane, and waste tanks.
We have a small Class B (Roadtrek van conversion), and our home is always with us and moving on is as simple as making the decision: rolling in the awning, folding up and storing the lawn chairs, and driving away. We like to be equally impromptu about staying longer than planned if we come across an exceptional campsite, wonderful people, or a ?must-do hike.?
Since it?s more work to hitch up and move, those of you traveling in larger motorhomes, fifth wheels, or trailers usually explore an area on day trips from a ?home base.?? This makes conserving those resources even more important.
In response to a fair number of questions about how we manage to live without hook-ups, I?ve compiled a list of conservation tips.
1. Find alternatives to electrical appliances. Old-fashioned tools such as a manual coffee grinder, stovetop coffeperk, hand-turned eggbeater, crank radio, and wind-up alarm clock are good examples.
2. Mount a few battery LED touchlights (dollar store item) in strategic positions ? inside the entrance door, over the bed, over the sink, and in the bathroom, for all the tasks where you only need a little bit of light. Use rechargeable batteries in the LED lights.
3. Replace incandescent with florescent bulbs. Some have tried replacement with LED bulbs but we find that they just don?t provide enough light to work by.
4. Do your reading and activities that require more light in daylight hours. Save activities that can be done by candlelight (i.e. knitting or a game of chess) for later. Sit by the campfire or go to bed when it gets dark and get up when the sun rises.
5. Turn the pump switch on and off as you need it because it still uses a small amount of power when left on. Unless flushing solids, don?t turn it on for toilet use. Instead, flush without the pump (no water) and clean the bowl with a toilet brush and a disinfectant once or twice daily.
6. To use regular household appliances in the RV, you?ll need an inverter (sometimes comes with the RV) to convert to 12-volt service. To conserve power, turn the inverter off when not in use and unplug appliances when not in use. Like the pump, many of them draw a small amount of power even when not being used.
7. Your furnace fan is a big draw. Dress warmly, use extra blankets, and wear a sleeping hat and wool socks to bed. If your head and feet are warm, you will be too. If needed, turn the furnace on only for a few minutes in the morning while you wash and get dressed. A small space warms up fast.
8. Install a catalytic heater (runs on propane without a fan) but follow all safety instructions and don?t forget to open a window just a touch when you use it.
9. Unless you run a generator, you won?t be using an air conditioner. An inexpensive 12-volt fan mounted over the bed is great for hot nights. Mount the fan?s control switch within reach so you can turn it on and off as needed.
10. With reasonable conservation, expect to get two to four days from your house battery before it needs recharging. Never let it drain below 50%. If your needs are greater, if possible increase your batteries in number, size, and capacity.
11. If you have a separate exploring vehicle (toad or truck), every time you drive, take along and charge your spare house battery.
12. Charge cellphone, camera, and other small rechargeable batteries in the car while you?re driving.
13. Park in the sun in cold weather and in the shade on hot days. Use your awnings to help shade your RV from the sun.
14. Open the windows to get a breeze instead of always turning on the roof vent fan.
15. You won?t likely be using your microwave, but know that it?s a great storage place for non-refrigerated fruits and vegetables ? the tight seal keeps fruit flies out.
CONSERVING WATER AND WASTE TANKS
1. When you fill your tanks with water, even at a reputable source, you can?t always be sure of the water quality or if it tastes good. Carry a separate container (ours is seven gallons) for ?good? drinking water. It has a spout with a tap at the bottom and we keep it fastened in place with a strong bungee cord. When we find water that?s potable but doesn?t taste very good, we fill our main RV tank, which we use only for washing and flushing. Then we purchase filtered water to fill our drinking water container. It?s cheap – $2 fills our 7-gallon tank at most water filtration kiosks.
2. Use paper towels (Viva brand is strong, absorbent, and cheaper than other comparable brands) to wipe all debris from your dishes before washing them.
3. Try to conserve water when rinsing your dishes. Use a safe, vegetable-based dish soap, (Simplicity is one brand – available at Walmart) so that rinsing is not as important.
4. Use less dish soap so you won?t have to rinse as much.
5. Cook in easy-to-clean pots and pans (Teflon coated).
6. Steam your veggies (in about an inch of water) instead of boiling them.
7. Wash dishes in a separate tub (that fits inside your sink); dump used dishwater outside or down the toilet since the black tank always holds way more than the gray. If you don?t flush with water every time you use the toilet, it?s a good way to add more water to the black tank.
8. Showers are a luxury for when you have easy water access. Otherwise, for daily hygiene, a sponge bath or ?bird bath? as some call it, does the trick quite well.
9. If you insist on a shower, ?Navy Style? is the only way. (Wet down, turn water off, lather up and wash, then turn water back on for a quick rinse.) Showering in cold (or tepid) water is a good way to resist the temptation of drawing it out (more true to actual Navy Style?).
10. Shower outdoors whenever possible to save on waste tank capacity.
11. Install an on-off controlled showerhead (a dishwashing spray nozzle is great) to replace your RV showerhead – it gives far greater control.
12. Wash your hair using a non-shampoo method. (We?ve been using Dr. Hulda Clark?s recommendation of a Borax solution followed by a citric acid rinse for 12 years). This won?t require as much rinsing and won?t harm the environment when you wash outdoors.
13. Wear your hair short – it takes less shampoo and water to wash and rinse it.
14. While waiting for hot water from the tap, catch the running water in a clean jug and reuse it. If you?re about to do the dishes, you could put the first (cooler) water in the rinse tub.
15. Turn off the pump and don?t use water to flush the toilet after every use. When you need to flush with water, keep the pump turned off, and keep a jug of (already used once) water by the toilet. Catch water when you shower, or from dishwashing for this.
16. Don?t run the tap while brushing your teeth. To wet your toothbrush, shave, or wash your face or hands, turn the tap on to just a slow dribble, or better still use a spritzer bottle.
17. Use public toilets when available. In the desert or forest, unless local regulations don?t allow it, go for a walk with a small camper?s shovel in your pocket. Bury your waste at least six inches deep. (Tent-campers manage this way.) Don?t bury toilet paper because animals will dig it up.
18. Even when you use your RV toilet, don?t flush toilet paper. Instead seal it in plastic (keep used sandwich baggies or bread bags in the bathroom) and put it in the garbage. This also reduces the amount of chemicals you need to add to your tank.
19. Here?s a novel idea: buy reusable plastic ice cubes – they conserve water by reusing the same water again and again and have an added bonus – chilling your drinks without diluting them.
20. If parked near a creek or lake, conserve water by using clear stream water to flush your toilet. (I include this hint with a caution…you don?t want any unseen, unknown ?critters? invading your tanks.)
21. Don?t ignore a water drip or leak – repair it immediately.
22. Laundry – small items like socks or underwear can be soaked (the longer the better) in a 5-gallon pail, and then use your toilet plunger to churn them until clean. Otherwise laundry requires too much water and is best saved for a laundromat.
23. Carry some (collapsible) water containers in your travel (toad) vehicle at all times. You may run across a water fill location where you least expect it.
GENERATING YOUR OWN POWER
Of course, you won?t need to be as concerned about conserving power if you have the means to generate it. While your first thought may be a gas-powered generator, it isn?t the only alternative and not the preferred choice of those who prefer a quieter outdoor experience. If you plan to do a lot of boondocking, solar panels are definitely a good investment.
There are several well-written articles on this by Bob Shearer at http://handybobsolar.wordpress.com. ?Handy Bob? is an electrical engineer, veteran boondocker, and self-taught solar panel expert.
WATER: BLACK and GRAY,
a BLUE BOY, and a GREEEN APPROACH
So, now you?re generating enough power to keep your batteries charged, and you don?t mind hauling fresh water to your motorhome, but how are you going to deal with your holding tanks when they fill up? One way is by using a blue boy – a generic term for a portable tank that you can pump black water into – then take it to an RV sanitary dump without moving your rig.
A macerator pump is another way to deal with your black water. A great resource for this is http://fulltime.hitchitch.com and other technical information for boondockers.
Although it may seem ?way out there,? another interesting concept is recycling your gray water. Unique Solutions Inc (http://www.usi-rv.com) offers e-books, e-products and parts kits for those who wish to try this innovative ?green? approach. Brad Ideas (http://ideas.4brad.com/node/246) is another source of commentary and suggestions for gray water recycling.
BUILDING a BETTER BOONDOCKING RV
Thousands of RVers are spending more time ?unplugged.? The RV industry is beginning to listen now to the needs of those who prefer boondocking. Some generators are now built-in, and more manufacturers are beginning to offer some boondocking-friendly options direct from the factory. Roadtrek now has a model with an awning that includes a flexible solar panel! Instead of? ?adapting? our RVs after-market for extended boondocking, wouldn?t it make sense, particularly when all RV manufacturers are seeking ?an edge? in tough economic times, to include options such as built-in solar panels straight from the factory? Why not start requesting it at the next RV Trade Show you attend?
Boondockers see first-hand how each small step taken to conserve resources adds up quickly – a great example to remind us that for the bigger picture (globally) – it really does work the same way.