Assuming you already have a reasonably outfitted vehicle for boondocking, how much it costs to boondock in an RV is almost always cheaper than staying in a hotel, RV park, Airbnb, or even just living at home. The stuff you need to survive while boondocking in the wild is still the same as if your stayed somewhere else.
How Much Does it Cost to Boondock in an RV?
Nothing. Boondocking is totally free. How much it costs to boondock in an RV is largely just whatever it costs you for basic necessities… food, water, clothing, fuel…
There are no camping fees when boondocking on federal lands in the United States. Lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management do not charge camping fees or entrance fees when boondocking on the bulk of their lands. It’s only when you want to camp inside developed campgrounds that they charge fees, and even at that, many of these campgrounds are still free.
Otherwise, the only costs you will incur while boondocking is the purchase of stuff you need to sustain yourself. This is includes propane, gasoline, water, food, toothpaste, toilet paper, medicines, etc.
There are still other “life necessities” to consider, such as health insurance, vehicle insurance, cellphone service, et al.
The bottom line, is that it really does not cost anything to boondock in an RV as long you’re camping on federally managed lands. Your only expenses are to satisfy the basic necessities you need to survive.
Do You Have to Purchase a Permit to Boondock?
Not at all. Because most boondocking is found on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, and because these two agencies do not charge entrance fees to get inside of their lands, a permit is almost never needed.
America the Beautiful Pass – This is also known as a National Parks Pass, Annual Pass, or Interagency Pass. This is a card that works for all federal land management agencies. All it does is waive the entrance fee to get inside of a national park. Many boondockers will still purchase this pass because most national parks have dump stations. Otherwise, boondocking is not allowed in national parks. See, “Is a National Parks Pass Worth Buying for a Boondocker?“
Access Pass, Military Pass, Senior Pass – These three passes are exactly the same as the America the Beautiful Pass, except they are issued for life, and will get you a 50% discount on campground fees.
Campground Fees – These fees apply to developed campgrounds only. This is the usual “per night” fee to stay at a campground. Otherwise, boondocking implies camping away from campgrounds, and thus do not incur such fees.
U.S. Forest Service Day Pass – All national forests and grasslands will issue a Day Pass for certain areas of their lands. All it does is allow you to park your vehicle in these areas. These areas are usually trail heads, picnic grounds, and boat launches. You don’t have to purchase a Day Pass to use these areas if you don’t have a vehicle. Day passes are only for day use activities. They are not needed for camping or boondocking.
Backcountry Camping Fees – This is applicable only to the National Park Service. Most national parks will allow people to camp deep inside the wilderness away from other trafficked areas. They will charge a backcountry camping fee to do this, and it’s usually a flat fee that covers you for a certain number of days. Backcountry camping is almost always limited to hikers, horseback riders, or non-motorized boaters, and is limited to tent camping or sleeping on bare ground. See, “Boondocking in National Parks, How and Where?“
State Recreational Passes – States that still hold “Trust Lands” will often allow recreational activities on these lands including camping. To do so, they will require the purchase of a recreational permit. See, “Camping on State Trust Lands“.
Is Boondocking Cheaper than Staying in an RV Park?
Absolutely it is. We’ve stayed in several RV parks over our years of full time RVing and we’ve compared the costs to boondocking. However, there are some extremely low-rent RV parks that will be cheaper than boondocking, but only if you pay by the month…
We’ve seen RV parks that costs as little as $125.00 a month with full hookups, but charges you extra on how much electricity you use. These RV parks are typically located in places where no wants to go. It could still be cheaper per month, even if you used a reasonable amount of electricity, just because of how much gasoline you save in not having to run a generator, and not having to drive your RV into town to dump and refill.
Will You Save Money by Boondocking?
Of course you will. Each night of boondocking is another night you did not have to pay to stay elsewhere. However, there can be unique costs incurred by boondocking…
- The drive into town for supplies is usually farther away than if staying at an RV park or campground.
- You will have to drive into town to send and receive packages as opposed to dropping them off at an RV park office.
- You will have to drive some distance to find a dump station and trash dumpster.
- You will consume gasoline in running a generator.
- You will use propane to power a heater.
On the other hand, the cost of electricity, water, and sewage is already calculated into the fees for staying at an RV park or campground.
The only time when staying at an RV park is cheaper is when you can stay there permanently, never drive your RV, and get the discounted monthly rate. This is because of the cost of driving an RV around the country is expensive in fuel prices. What’s worse is when you drive around the country and stay in a different RV park each week… that’s when you’re spending the most money possible.
This is why full time boondockers try to remain camped in the same location for as long as they can. The Bureau of Land Management offers the best opportunity because they have fewer officers on patrol and rarely enforce occupancy rules. Boondockers get to enjoy free camping for weeks at a time, sometimes for months, and drive their RV as little as possible.
Drivin’ & Vibin’ has a lengthy article on the costs of boondocking versus paying for camping, “I Hate Paying for Camping and You Should Too”.
How Much Income Do Full Time Boondockers Need?
It’s possible for a full time boondocker to require as little as $500.00 a month. This is just for the cost of buying food, water, gasoline, propane, and the routine maintenance of keeping their RV or vehicle in working order. But we feel that earning a $1,000 a month is the realistic minimum needed to live happily full time boondocking. See, “How Much Money Do I Need to Make to Full Time Boondocking?“