How Much Money Do We Save By Dry Camping?

Dry Camping (A.K.A.) Boondocking VS. Full Hookup RV Park

We have been out exploring the desert of Southern California and Arizona this winter and for the last month of January done it without hooking up at an RV Park once. So a solid month spent dry camping, providing for our own services like water, electricity and waste disposal. I thought this would be good opportunity to compare costs between dry camping on our own and using a full hookup RV park or campground. This will be a rough comparison based on our unique needs and lifestyle, but hopefully it will give folks wanting to tryout some dry camping an idea of how much money we save by dry camping.
Dry Camping Versus RV Park

Where We Spent the Last Month

The first few days of the month were spent boondocking with no camp fees in Anza-Borrego State Park. We then had a free RV parking overnight stop at the Red Earth Casino (just south of Palms Springs) on our way to two nights dry camping, at 10 dollars per night, on Corvina Beach in the Salton Sea State Recreation Area. Next it was up to Joshua Tree National Park for 5 days also at a cost of 10 dollars per night (no hookups) campground fees. The rest of the month has been split between the Plomosa Road free BLM in Quartzsite and another BLM called Ogilby Road about 10 miles west of Yuma, Arizona. So 31 days of camping cost total of 70 dollars in fees.

Dry Camping Spots

Our Dry Camping Spots – January 2014

Cost of Generator Fuel and Propane for the RV

Fuel is the biggest cost for our dry camping. We run a generator daily for several hours to recharge our battery bank and intermittently provide for any heavy electrical loads like the microwave oven, toaster or extended TV viewing time. Over the course of the month we consumed on average one gallon of gasoline per day at a median price paid of $3.50 per gallon. The other fuel consumed by the RV is LP Gas (propane). Because we are on no hookups we run our refrigerator, hot water tank and furnace all on LP Gas and use the stove more for cooking rather than the microwave. Over the month we refilled a 30 lb. cylinder 4 times at an average cost of $20 dollars per fill. So the total money spent on fuel was $108.50 Gas and $80 Propane.

Fuel

Fuels Used – Propane and Gasoline

Fresh Water Fill and Waste Tank Dump Fees

Unlike in the full hookup RV parks we are responsible for locating water fill-up taps and dump stations. There are many free places to get water and dispose of waste, like for instance the Red Earth Casino had complimentary fresh water and several free Sani-Dumps. Other places it is easier and likely more cost efficient to use the pay locations rather than burn diesel dragging the rig all over the place to find a free tap. We ended up paying 4 times to dump the tanks at 10 dollars a dump and paid twice for fresh water at 5 dollars a crack for a total of 50 dollars spent.

Fresh Water Fill UP

Getting Free Water at a Rest Stop Tap

What Would it Have Cost for RV Parks

Considering we visited these areas in high snowbird season I would say the average price for a full hookup spot would run around $30 dollars per night. Some savings may have been gleaned  by paying weekly rates or using Passport America but frankly at this time of year the parks are loaded and the deals are few and far between. So lets say to travel around like we did to the same areas you would shell out $200 per week in camp fees.  We would still use LP gas as well. Granted, it would not be as much but at least two tanks worth for a cost of $40 dollars.

Total Costs

Dry camping

  • Camp Fees – $70
  • Fuel – $188.50
  • Water/Dump – $50

Total = $308.50

RV Parks w/Hookups

  • Camp Fees – $800
  • Fuel – $40

Total = $840

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Conclusion

How Much Money Do We Save By Dry Camping? Last month we were able to save $531.50 by dry camping. I realize that RV Parks offer quite a few amenities and entertainment options but for us the freedom and scenic beauty we enjoy by boondocking more than makes up for those. Check out the dry camping spots enjoyed this last month in the photos below and I think you will agree.

Anza Borrego

Anza-Borrego SP – Free

Red Earth Casino

Red Earth Casino – Free

Corvina Beach

Salton Sea SP – 10 Bucks

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree NP – 10 bucks

Quartzsite

Quartzsite Plomosa BLM – Free

Ogilby Road

Ogilby Rd near Yuma – Free

Check out my post RV Boondocking in Arizona eBook Review to find for a great resource to easily find spots like these.

Follow our RV adventures! Sign up for the free monthly Love Your RV Newsletter – Receive the eBook “Tips for the RV Life” as a gift. Also head on over to the RV Happy Hour and chat with me and other RVers about all things RV. – Cheers Ray

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  • Hey Ray,

    My Husband Roger and I are working toward becoming fulltimers as of May 1, 2015. We have started a blog I would love to have you comment on, recommend and follow (once I can figure out how to make it followable…) but mostly would love you thoughts, encouragement, insight etc as we plan and prepare. I am a little more relaxed moneywise but my husband who has had steady 9-5 jobs his whole life is a little worried about the entrepreneurial scene, which is what I have done most of my life. Your feedback and support would be much appreciated!! I would love to have you check out our website/blog and again, anything would be appreciated! Look forward to hearing from you soon!

    Shayne~

  • Jack Mann

    Hello fellow travelers in the USA. May name is Jack, and my wife and I have lived full time in our motor home for the last 4 years In Australia. You call it boondocking or dry camping. We call it freedom camping. We do not stay in caravan parks. I can’t say how much we have saved by not doing so, but can say that it can cost from $35.00 to $70.00 plus per night for an all services overnight stay.

    We have never had a security problem or felt threatened for our safety to date. In Australia there are plenty of places to get water and dump black and grey water. We have covered any spare area on the roof with solar panels, so do not start the generator very often. By changing our three way fridge to a 12 volt compressor fridge we have gone from using a 9Kg gas bottle every two weeks to now going 2 to 3 months on a bottle. The gas we use is for cooking and hot water. We have a diesel heater for warmth.

    Get out of the cities into the bush. Enjoy the peace, forget TV then you don’t have to watch news items you don’t need to know about. Go for long walks instead.

    Jack

    • Great comment Jack, sounds like you have a nice setup and are living the good life. 🙂

  • Dave’n’Kim

    GREAT article Ray! Nicely compacts all the relevent data into one convenient source! Just the sort of stuff we need, Thanks!
    So I wanted to ask, if one is real mean and wants to save the maximum $$$, (a) how long can one stay at any one free site, and (b) what are the factors that make one move on, perhaps to a fee-paying site, or another free one sooner than the max stay limit?
    And did you ever find ‘that ideal spot’ that’s free, ‘out of the way’ yet conveniently close to a town with food and RV supplies?!

    • Thanks! Dave’n’Kim, most of the BLM free sites you have to leave after 14 days and move at least 25 miles. The busy ones usually have a camp host registering you and enforcing the limit. Lesser used areas it’s an honor system and I’ve seen rigs stay longer. There are some private land areas here and there where the owner allows dispersed camping with no limit, one is just west of Yuma and I’ve talked to guys who winter there for months.

      The best free area I have found and like is just east of Borrego Springs, there is the boondocking near Clarke Dry Lake, not sure if it is private land or belongs to the State Park I don’t believe there is any limit there and it is close to the little town of Borrego Springs for basic supplies and maybe an hour or so from Palm Springs.

      We find 2 weeks is plenty for us in one area and we are ready to move on and see new country. 🙂

  • Charles Lloyd

    Ray,

    Have you done any analysis on security Boondocking vs. RV Parks?

    • My feeling is it’s a wash, just as much crime can happen at either location, which generally compared to most city environments is pretty low. We have been living in the rig for nearly three years now and boondocked and stayed at RV Parks and in that time the only thief was a gas can swiped form the back of the pick up. Most boondockers I’ve talked to report very few problems especially in the more remote locations away from cities. Criminals are lazy they would rather stay in an area that is full of opportunity and places to hide and multiple escape routes, like a city, not a few scattered RV’s in the open desert.

  • John Benson

    Thank you for the informative price comparison. Adding the photos and the map helped clarify the comparison.

    Another area of comparison – Internet and TV. Were you able to access either while boondocking?

    • We could get internet everywhere but Joshua Tree National Park with our Verizon HotSpot device, most of the places had 4g very fast speeds. Same with TV. We usually get several channels though the antenna for free. Like today we are watching the Superbowl in HD with the antenna picking up the FOX Yuma station. We are not big TV watchers so don’t have satellite. We tend to download a few favorite TV shows from Itunes when we are near free internet sources, then watch them on the Ipad to save electricity when dry camping.

      • Hi Ray!
        Great Blog! I’m a full-time RVer and have been out and about for 8 months. I’ve done a bit of mooching off of friends for space and did the Casino thing, found myself moving up the coast of California and stopped to go fishing at a nice lake. Decided to stay for the $600. a month snowbird price back in November. Then they offered me a job as a camp host. It’s a pretty sweet gig…I look after the boat launch 3 days a week for 20 hours and get free space and utilities in the county park. Others help with park maintenance and kid programs. I’ve enjoyed my stay here, but am getting itchy feet as summer nears. I will be heading north to Oregon, Idaho and Montana for the summer and have been reading all the tips I can about doing it cheaply. Your blog has helped immensely!!!

        I do have a question. Since I don’t have to be thrifty with my electricity right now (and I use it for everything, save on buying LP), do you know the difference between using your laptop for entertainment verses a TV for power usage? I use my laptop for everything… I don’t have a generator, and hope that I can live without one. I do have two brand new marine batteries that recharge when I’m moving.

        Big hugs and keep blogging!
        Annie

        • Thanks Annie. 🙂 That does sound like a sweet gig. It would depend on how big the TV is, but generally it will be better to use the laptop as it likely draws less energy unless you have a really small TV. Our 32″ LCD TV is rated at 110 Watts vs my 17″ laptop is rated for 45 Watts, the less watts the less power used. You shold be able to find the wattage rating for your devices on a tag somewhere.
          We have an Ipad so that is what we use, even tho it is small it has a very clear screen, we just huddle close, it uses very very little power to run.