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The Frugal RV Traveler Newsletter, Issue #005---California Boondocking
November 05, 2011

We're back! After six months on the road (mostly touring California), we're home for a rest and ready to report on some of the major discoveries of this trip.

Boondocking In California - Is It Still Safe?

You may recall that before we left someone had asked us, "How safe will it be to find boondocking in California since the recent economic situation has forced many homeowners onto the streets and, perhaps, to live in tents on public land?" I promised we'd feel it out first-hand and report back.

We did indeed do a lot of boondocking - in even more individual locations than on previous trips in the southwest. Generally we were camped on public land in either dispersed situations or free campgrounds.

In two cases at established no-fee National Forest campgrounds, we found ourselves camped alongside RVers who were probably full-timers by circumstance, not by choice. Although they might have lost homes and jobs, it was evident that they had not lost their dignity. They kept quietly to themselves, busied themselves with normal campground chores, and didn't approach us at all. In fact, this was the thing that set them apart from other campers who often look for any excuse to start a conversation.

By contrast, at the campsite on the other side of us, a troop of local youths arrived, set up two tents, built a giant fire, and started their weekend drink-fest. Their loud music and extremely vulgar language kept us awake until 5:00 am. As we were packing up to leave the next morning (a day earlier than intended), one of them had the nerve to come over and ask Randy, "Hey man, can I borrow a couple of smokes?" - (You've got to be kidding, right?) Sorry, don't smoke. "Okay man, how about a beer?" Sorry, all out.

We happened to see a forest ranger's truck at our next stop so we reported the rowdy youths and the ranger assured us he'd go immediately and have a chat with them. It sounded as though he knew them. We then asked the ranger if homeless people posed any problems. Our original observations were confirmed as correct - mostly these folks just want to stay below the radar. They play by the rules and rarely need to be reminded of the 14-day-stay limit. They don't want trouble so they don't make any.

During 11 years of boondocking travel in the southwest we've seen our share of every type of "full-timer". For some it was a lifestyle choice, for others, the only option. After the warnings about California, we expected to see more of the latter. This was certainly not the case in the boondocking areas where we landed. We spent very little time near the big cities however.

The only real evidence we found of a bigger-than-usual concentration of "forced full-timers" was along the coast in one of California's most manicured, upscale, resort-centered cities, Santa Barbara. Perhaps twenty or more old, beat-up motorhomes were parked between other, newer RVs and rental units, lining famous Cabrillo Blvd along the beach where parking is free all day. By evening, these all moved to a local church parking lot.

Of course, we saw other signs, too, of the economic strife that's rampant across the country, however, to answer the original question, it seems most of the homeless population prefers to remain near the cities where charities, social services, and supplies are within easy reach. In the places we boondocked we didn't notice the impact or sense any extra risk or problem.

I think any one who decides to camp in nature as a means of survival has usually chosen this INSTEAD of turning to crime and is not generally someone to fear. Like everywhere else, of course, boondocking in California requires a common sense approach about safety.

Challenging the California Dream

So What were our major challenges on this trip? They were mainly ones we had expected.

We found many great boondocking locations - some surprising ones - in and around the most scenic trails and parks and we were happy to see that some of our favorites from 11 years ago still exist.

We knew we'd have a lot of driving to do - the Sierra Nevada Range doesn't offer bypass routes or short cuts across it. Limited by the mountains and the seasons, we still wanted to cover as much territory as we could. Despite planning our route to include the least amount of backtracking, we ended up going north, then back south, west, then back east, and south, then back north. Gas prices in California are the highest of any state in the country. If we were going to see this state, we just had to grin and bear it.

Speaking of budgets, this trip's expenses are now posted for all to see.

We paid more for campgrounds than we ever have on an extended trip. Why is that? Especially, since we found plenty of free legal boondocking? Of 184 nights, we only paid for camping 23 nights. Sometimes we had no option and other times it was less costly than driving to the nearest "free" camping. Our camping expense over six months totaled $366.00. The highest price we paid for a campsite was $28.00 (on the coast). This was quite a feat in itself, since we were there in peak season and the going rate at all the state park campgrounds is $36.00.

Being willing to pay didn't mean we could easily find camping - at least not in peak season, on a weekend, without a reservation. As we made our way up the coast (from June 14th through July 6th), we decided that whatever campsite we found on a Thursday night (free or paid), we should hang onto it until Sunday morning.

By traveling in such a popular state in peak season, we learned a lot of other things too:

  • Making reservations is just not an option for us. Being on a schedule would be too much like waking up to an alarm clock - annoying! We learned which campgrounds keep some first-come-first-served sites and what we had to do to get one.

  • We found out that, along the coast, a few State Parks offer overflow parking for RVs in a designated parking lot when the campground is full.

  • On two occasions we even shared a campsite with another couple - once because we asked and another time because we were approached. I'm sure we're not the first and won't be the last to make new friends in this way.

  • Most of all, we were reminded once again, how lucky we are to find remote, scenic boondocking locations and avoid the crowds and hassles of campground reservations most of the time - even on this trip it was only a problem on a few nights.

New Frugal Shunpiker's Guide - RV Boondocking In California

Sorry - still working on it. We found so many great boondocking locations and other suggestions that writing this guide is going to take longer than I thought. I promise it'll be worth the wait.

New - More Boondocking Guides In French

(English translation below)
Il y a un an, la version française de mon livre, Boondocking dans lesud du Texas, fut mise en vente. Il connaît un tel succès que bientôt, mes trois autres livres sur le boondocking, Arizona, Nouveau-Mexique et Utah, seront eux aussi disponibles en Français. La traduction est faite et le tout est présentement entre les mains de l’éditeur. Les livres devraient être disponibles sur ce site web très bientôt (en version électronique seulement) – je l’espère à temps pour Noel.

A year ago, I began offering a French-text version of one of my Frugal Shupiker's Guides, RV Boondocking in Southern Texas. It has been so well-received that, soon, three of my other boondocking guides - Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern Utah - will be available "en français." All have been expertly translated and are currently in the hands of the editor. They will be available through this web site (as e-books only) very soon - hopefully in time for Christmas.

Free Updates of The Frugal Shunpiker’s Guides

A note to all purchasers of The Frugal Shunpiker's Guides: Please remember to notify me if your email address has changed.

Recently, I sent out free updated versions of both my New Mexico and Arizona RV Boondocking Guides. Both updates reflect significant changes, some based on our 2011 travels. If you purchased one or both of these guides at any time and have not received the 2011 updated version, please contact me.

It breaks my heart to know that about 30 people have not received their free update because I no longer have their correct email address.

Do You Like Me?

(I mean my web site.) If so, are you willing to admit it publicly? The Facebook "LIKE" button is now provided at the top of my website and also at the bottom of each page on my site. It's new so the count is still at that embarrassing stage when only a few people have clicked on it. Please like me....please, please, please. Maybe if I wasn't so insecure about it, you'd like me better?

New: I'm Accepting Guest Posts

Do you have a website or blog that you'd like to promote to a larger audience? Write any article of interest to my audience as a guest post, include a link back to your URL and send it to me. Your article will become a permanent page on my web site, reaching hundreds of targeted new viewers daily.

New: RV-Friendly Communities

Perhaps you know of or you live in a community that is particularly RV-friendly. Would you or your local Chamber of Commerce like to attract more RVers to stop in your town?
Tell everyone about it
with a brief comment and, if you like, add a few photos.

Frugal Finds:

Eat With A Local - a brilliant concept and a unique way for travelers to meet new people, immerse themselves in the culture, and try local cuisine without blowing the budget.

Inspiring People:

New favorites on my blogroll include:
rvsue and her canine crew
the gypsy boho freedom express
malia's miles

We met an inspiring family while floating the Merced River through Yosemite Valley this summer. The Eastman Westward Odessey chronicles their trip. For the Eastman kids, the travels are all just part of their home-schooling education.

We'll be home through the winter this year. After such a long and wonderful summer adventure, (with near-perfect weather), I guess we can't complain. I hope your winter travels bring you safe and exciting adventures!


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