If you’re thinking about how to save a little money and still enjoy the RV, then consider your routing plans. Instead of lugging your trailer hither and yon, rolling up the miles (and the plastic-card bill) why not find a nice spot and just set a spell? It may require adjusting your thinking—and your RV lifestyle—a bit, but what some folks refer to as “boondocking” may be just the ticket for enjoying the outdoors, while not going bust at the gas station. This month we roll out a few tips that may make your adventure a bit easier.
What About Water and Waste?
Sitting still in one place with the RV, particularly in an area without hookups (remember—you’re saving money—free camping in a national forest means staying away from developed campgrounds) does make for a few changes in habits. First, if you don’t want to have to yank the trailer or drive the motorhome away from your campsite, you’ll need to rethink water. Water, as in fresh water and wastewater.
How can you get fresh water to your RV without moving the RV? There are several methods. If you’re adventuresome and want to go “cheap,” we’ve found that using a collection of gallon water jugs to transport water works. Back at the RV we use about a two-foot chuck of garden hose with the “faucet end” still attached to it. We slide the “free” end of the hose into our water fill port, and then upturn the plastic bottle over the mouth of the hose fitting. By quickly using a hand to clamp down where the two meet, we spill very little of the fluid and can regulate the “vacuum” that builds up in the jug.
Others go in for water bladders. They look a lot like a waterbed mattress, but are made of drinking-water-quality PVC. One, sold by Camping World, holds 45 gallons, and you simply fill it while it sits atop your vehicle roof. Back at camp, a hose from the bladder to the RV has gravity feed the water into the rig. Flying down the highway with a full water bladder could cause some problems, so others use a 12-volt water pump to transfer the contents from the water bladder they lay in the bed of their tow vehicle for transport. We even met one fellow who uses an oversize “air bed” for his water bladder—I don’t think I’d use the water from his rig for drinking however!
But what goes in must come out. So how do you dispose of wastewater? DON’T even think of dumping it out on the ground, not even gray water. In many places that’s illegal, and doesn’t exactly make for good relations with the neighbors. A portable waste tank or “blue boy” is a better idea. The blue boy is a wheel-equipped tank that you dump your holding tank into, and then tow to the nearest dump station for disposal. Here again, if you’ll need to go a distance to a dump station (particularly over a public road) towing your blue boy may present some problems. What to do? When using a pickup truck, some folks fill their blue boy, then ramp it up onto the bed of the truck. Once at the dump station they simply leave it in the truck bed and use a long sewer hose to dump.
You’ve Got the Power
Keeping the old RV happy will also require keeping sufficient electrical power. If your rig is equipped with solar panels, you’re miles ahead of the game. But what if solar panels aren’t up there, and you’re not ready to go that route? Don’t despair, power is there.
First, remember that your RV “house battery”—the one that supplies lighting and operates your RV water pump—must be taken care of. That means don’t run it down until nothing works and figure you can charge it up. RV deep-cycle batteries should never be run below half of their capacity. Have you got a digital voltmeter? Then check your RV battery—frequently. The “full up” voltage on the typical lead-acid battery is 12.63 volts. The “half” mark is 12.18 volts. But how can you keep the battery charged?
You can use your tow vehicle alternator to charge your RV batteries. But bear in mind, if you’re using the “pig tail” connector for the charge line, it’ll take a LONG time to bring up your battery voltage because the wiring is so small. We added a separate charge wire from our truck alternator (through a battery isolator) to our RV battery using eight-gauge wire for the “hot” side, and the frame of the truck for the “return.”
If you have a generator, don’t imagine that the “12-volt battery charging” side of the generator will do you much good; the typical output is so low it takes forever. Better you should bring a battery charger with a good output—you’ll annoy yourself less with the noise and use less generator fuel.
It’ll take a little experimentation to figure out how long you’ll need to charge your batteries. Immediately after charging, the battery will “read” much higher than its real charge. This is because of the “surface charge” effect. To get over that, you’ll need to “load up” the battery as best you’re able—turn on lights and other battery users for several minutes, then turn them off and retest the voltage.
Remember too, that as you get closer to a fully charged battery, the slower the battery will accept a charge—that’s because the resistance to current flow increases as that point is reached. Because of this, one expert in the field suggests charging your batteries from the 50 percent point up to about 80 percent, or a voltage reading of about 12.45 volts. His thinking is the last 20 percent will take a long time to “fill,” and it’s not worth listening to the noise of the generator. Your own experience will help you weigh this one out.
Finally, keep in mind that the less juice you use, the less you’ll need to put back. Turn off lights when not in use. Avoid heating with your RV furnace—the blower system uses huge amounts of power. If you use an inverter to provide “shore power,” be sure to turn it off when not actively using it—“idle current” can add up in a hurry.
Yes, at this point there’s no relief in sight from high fuel prices. But don’t let the situation get you down—drive a little less but enjoy your RV experience just as much or more.
Russ and Tiña De Maris are authors of RV Boondocking Basics—A Guide to Living Without Hookups, which covers a full range of dry camping topics. They also provide great resources in their book, Camp Hosting USA—Your Guide to State Park Volunteering. Visit www.icanrv.com for more information.