It is almost always cheaper to boondock than to stay in RV parks. However, there are some RV parks located in remote towns where the monthly rate is so low, that it can be cheaper to stay there instead. If you prefer to remain stationary in a RV park for a month or more, you may find it cheaper overall to stay in RV parks. However if you prefer a change of scenery every couple of weeks, boondocking is cheaper. The expense of boondocking versus RV parks is usually based on how long you prefer to remain stationary.
Is It Cheaper to Boondock Than Staying in RV Parks?
In most cases, the answer is “yes”, it’s cheaper to boondock than to stay in RV parks. But it depends on what RV park you’re comparing it to.
Some RV parks located in remote areas will offer monthly rates so low that you can save more money staying there than by boondocking. It’s common for some of these parks to offer monthly rates as low as $150.00 a month, and still offer you electrical, water, and sewage hookups. However, these parks will charge you separately for the electricity. But, electrical costs generally work out to $75.00 to $125.00 a month on average usage.
However, these RV parks tend to be unkempt, dirty, or populated with undesirable folks.
The Cost of Staying in RV Parks
Most all RV parks offer deep discounts for staying an entire month. Where an RV park will charge $45.00 for one night, it may instead charge $600.00 for an entire month’s stay. That rate goes higher in more desirable locations, particularly closer to national parks and other tourist destinations.
But RV parks will also charge separately for the electricity, if you are staying an entire month. For guests paying the higher nightly rate, or the higher weekly rate, the electricity will be bundled in. Electricity is charged by how much you use, and each RV park gets to decide what it’s per KwH rate is. It’s common for electricity charges to run between $100.00 to $150.00 a month.
The Cost of Running Air Conditioning in the Summer
Boondockers could end up paying between $100.00 to $300.00 a month in gasoline to power a generator just to run one or two air conditioning units. Meanwhile, those who remain in RV parks can still run their air conditioners from the park’s electrical grid, and yet pay $100.00 to $150.00 a month to run the same air conditioning units.
Even though some boondockers have lots of solar panels on their RVs, it’s not enough electricity to run air conditioning units for more than 3-6 hours a day.
Most boondockers move to higher elevation in the summer to avoid having to run air conditioning units so frequently.
The Cost of Moving an RV
The cost of gasoline and diesel involved in traveling 200 miles every two weeks can be expensive. A 40 foot motorhome can get 3-5 miles per gallon. A pickup truck towing a 25 to 35 foot trailer could get 5-7 miles per gallon. Boondockers could expect to pay $200.00 to $300.00 a month moving their RV from one campsite to another, maybe more depending on how many miles they travel. That expense will go higher, perhaps as much as $1,000.00 if they move their RV to newer campsites 4 to 5 times per month.
Boondocking is Cheaper if You Move Your RV Less Often
While boondockers don’t have to pay to camp, they still have to pay to move their RV. By contrast, those who remain stationary in RV parks don’t have to move, but they have to pay to stay and consume electricity.
Hence, the key to saving money while boondocking is to remain stationary as long as possible. This often means conserving your water and making your sewage tanks last longer (see, “Can I Dump my Gray Water on the Ground?“)
By contrast, boondockers who pay money to dry camp in national forests and parks seems counter-productive. By the same token, RVers who move to new RV parks every few days seems like grossly expensive. But, many of these people tend to have larger incomes and are capable of doing so.
How Much Does it Cost to Outfit an RV for Boondocking?
It’s not uncommon for some boondockers to spend $20,000.00 outfitting their rigs with solar panels, batteries, and more energy efficient appliances. However, the average boondocker spends much less than that, usually closer to $2,000.00.
Most RV manufacturers do not design motorhomes and trailers for boondocking, and certainly do not design them for full time use either. An RV would cost three to four times more if they were built to the higher standards necessary to withstand rugged roads, off-grid camping, and year-round use.
RVs that come with solar panels as standard equipment usually only have a single panel ranging between 100 to 150 watts. That will not generate enough electricity to run anything at all. It’s only enough to send a trickle charge of power to maintain an RV’s house batteries. In order to generate enough electricity to run kitchen appliances and personal electronics, you will need a minimum of 600 watts of solar panels (4-6 panels), and a minimum of 200 amp hours in batteries (two 12v or two 6v units). Read our other article, “How Many Solar Panels Do I Need for Boondocking?”
The tires that RVs come with are always cheap, Chinese-made productions. Most boondockers will change them out for more rugged, US-made tires.