Everyone loves a bargain and some of us are more willing to sacrifice for discounts than others. Take for instance the many free and cheap RV parks and boondocking sites that are still available to RVers around this country. From the Upper Midwest’s large array of city-sponsored RV parks to free desert camping in the Southwest, these bargain RV accommodations are great places to save money when you’re on the road to somewhere else or fleeing winter’s wrath. However while the parks might look good on the surface, once you arrive you’ll often uncover the truth about free camping: the smell.
As my momma said, there’s no free lunch in this world and everything comes at a price. In the case of free campgrounds, the price is often an assault on your olfactory senses. For example, the Texas Panhandle is lined with quaint city parks located up and down the I-27 corridor. Most are shady respites from a long day’s driving and some even offer free water and electric hookups with a central dump station for overnighters. I’m so grateful for these spots, since they’re perfect places to stay when you’re ready to get off the highway for a day or two. For example, the city park in Denver City, Texas, has a nice view of a golf course, a pond, and wide open fields that make any dog’s day. Unfortunately, this park is situated smack dab in the heart of oil country. Although the locals are immune to the sour smell of petroleum production, visitors like us haven’t become numb to its effects and after 24 hours of sucking in the fumes, you’ll want to flee.
Many free camping areas are located in rural agricultural areas which have other interesting odors coming from nearby businesses – like CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations). For instance, a few free campsites near Southern California’s Salton Sea are located within close proximity to a large CAFO with sad cows who do nothing but eat and poop in one place until they’re sent to the slaughterhouse. The result of their confinement is a noxious air assault that gets worse with every degree the temperature rises.
Hand-in-hand with many of these air assaults near free campsites is the stinky local ground water that bubbles up right into our freshwater tanks and local laundromats. Try as you might, even the best RV water filters can’t remove all of the sulfur smell that goes into your morning coffee or permeates into our clothing when we do the laundry. Many RVers with large coaches will carry bottled water but for campers with small rigs like mine, we’re forced to learn how to drink water while simultaneously pinching our nostrils and holding our breath.
Finally, there’s one smell that will travel with you no matter where you park free for the night, and that’s your smell that gets worse with each passing day you avoid showering in order to conserve water while boondocking. Travel to a popular dry camping spot like Quartzsite or Slab City and your body odor can blend in with others who are boondocking but once you head to town, all bets are off. Your sheets, your clothing and your rig will be offensive until you decide to go hook up and take a 15 minute hot shower in a full hookup campground.
Free places to camp are a blessing that comes with a price. While you can’t help but be thankful for the many municipalities who are kind enough to provide free places for RVers to stay, you won’t be disappointed if you remember that everything comes with a price. The good news is that if you can tolerate the onslaught of offensive odors that often accompany these freebies, you can definitely save a ton of money on the road.