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The Frugal RV Traveler Newsletter, Issue #006---New Boondocking Guide
January 21, 2012

A lot of you have been waiting for it and it's finally ready. I'm talking about The Frugal Shunpiker's Guide for California Boonodocking which I promised I would announce via this newsletter. After months of writing, re-writing, verifying, and triple-checking facts and directions, this week I finally finshed the fifth guide in the Frugal Shunpiker Guide series, California Boondocking: The Deserts and Eastern Sierra.

This prompts the question that led us to travel many extra miles, shunpiking our way through California this past summer: In such a densely-populated state and desired destination where everything (definitely fuel and campgrounds) is more expensive than anywhere in the contiguous United States......

How Much California Boondocking Can There Actually Be?

You would be surprised. We found far more than I could fit into one guide. This guide covers California's deserts and the region east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains - everything from the Mexican border to Lake Tahoe and identifies 95 unique boondocking areas. We actually found more but only those I personally recommend and suitable for most RVs are mentioned. California's coastal and mountain regions will be covered in a second guide that is currently underway. It will be ready by May (in time for your summer travels). I expect the number of unique boondocking locations will be close to equal in both guides.

We did spend more on camping on our 6-month California trip than we have on any of our other trips to the southwest but more than 50% of that expense occurred along the coast where we managed a few free nights but not many. We can't find free camping if there isn't any to be found. We even tried using tactics like asking for permission to park overnight from private business owners. I guess in high tourist-traffic areas they've been approached a few times too often. In any case, we resorted to paid campgrounds more often than not and the search now focused on finding campgrounds with the best nightly rate.

Get away from the popular areas of the coast however and everything changes. We did indeed do a lot of boondocking on the trip - all but 18 nights out of 5 months - generally on public land in either dispersed situations or free campgrounds. And we were often very pleasantly surprised by what we found.

Sometimes persistent searching (driving down probable roads) paid off better than asking questions at visitor centers. In fact, more and more visitor centers are staffed with volunteers. Well-intentioned and friendly, they could suggest every local restaurant option but had obviously never been to various parts of the areas they were representing.

Nevertheless, we ended up in exceptional, free, legal overnight locations. For instance, we camped minutes outside National Parks like Joshua Tree and Death Valley as well as just outside three of the four entrance gates to Yosemite National Park. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks also offered excellent free boondocking - some sites had scenic views so outstanding that we were tempted to spend the day in camp rather than explore the park itself.

Finding a Campsite When None are Available

We don't make reservations - they're just too restrictive for us so, traveling in peak season, we learned a thing or two. Most campgrounds along the coast were booked solid but a select few keep a handful for walk-ins and others offer overflow parking for self-contained RVs.

In popular parks like Yosemite, getting a campsite seemed impossible without a reservation. We arrived in Yosemite Valley early in the morning, got our name on a waiting list, then had to return in the early afternoon (killing any ideas we had about a long day-hike) hoping there would be enough cancellations that we'd get a campsite. Even if we did, it was for one night only. On our first day we were lucky but the real luck was that we now knew how the system worked. By the second day, we repeated the process but weren't as lucky. We did, however, spend the night camped in the valley. How? We are friendly and I guess we don't look like rapists or thieves because we easily talked our way into a shared site situation. Of couse, it was also a good deal for the couple who welcomed us: we paid the camping fee so they camped for free, introduced them to the Frugal Shunpiker's Guides and gave them copies of all four, plus they enjoyed the (dubious) pleasure of our company.

The following week in Yosemite's high country when we lucked into a first-come, first-served campsite, it was our turn to pay it forward. After the campground was full we saw several vehicles circling the grounds. The first couple to stop and ask were rewarded, we shared our site with great company, and it made for a fun couple of days. Most campgrounds allow two vehicles and up to six people without any additional fee. The same advantages that allow us to boondock whenever we can (we don't need the facilities that campgrounds offer) also mean that, when we share a campsite, we can be very non-intrusive. We don't need to share the picnic table or grill and can keep nicely to ourselves if that's what's called for.

Once again, what we've often commented on proved to be true: most people barely know their neighbors at home but they will go out of their way to be social and help fellow travelers on the road. I guess there's something about traveling that brings out our better natures as human beings - perhaps it's because we can all imagine ourselves in a similar situation. Could we not do that in every aspect of our lives? It's a good habit and one we're consciously trying to sustain and nurture especially now that we're back in our non-mobile home for the next few months.

Welcoming and Hospitable Hosts

Another tool that came in handy and was even more valuable when reasonably-priced campgrounds were scarce, was our Harvest Host membership. Since we usually found free boondocking, we only used ours a couple of times but that was more than enough to pay for itself. We had thought we might find ourselves feeling pressured or obligated to buy something we would not normally buy - like expensive wines or fancy preserves. This was not the case at all. We did buy wine and produce from our host locations but they were excellent value especially when our only other option was a $35.00 campsite (presuming we could get one). The host members we met seemed to fall into a category that's right up our alley. They own small operations a little off the beaten tourist track and need the extra bit of exposure that belonging to the Harvest Host program gives them. They were super accommodating and after getting to know them, camping in the yard felt as comfortable as if we were on a friend's property. We realized there's no reason to expect anything different at other locations - only those who are welcoming and hospitable to begin with are likely to sign up as hosts.

New - More Boondocking Guides In French

Yes, I'm Canadian but I write mainly about the southern states. That's because my writing follows where we travel, rather than the other way around. And no, Canadians don't all speak French but, since it is one of our official languages, a year ago I began offering a French-text version of the Frugal Shunpiker's Guide to RV Boondocking in Southern Texas. Now, three of my other boondocking guides - Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern Utah - are available "en fran├žais." All have been expertly translated (by a colleague whose French is far better than mine) and can be downloaded as ebooks.

$7.00-Off Coupon for California Boondocking Guide

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

This week, I sent out a $7.00-off coupon for the new California Boondocking Guide to everyone who had previously purchased at least three of my guides. Nineteen people did not receive their coupon because I no longer have their correct email address. If you are among them, please contact me. I also need a current email address to send out future free updates of any Frugal Shunpiker's Guides you have purchased. I promise not to EVER share your email address or email you for any other reason.

Frugal Finds:

RV Service Reviews: Driving an older vehicle we're always afraid of a breakdown and, of course, it's bound to happen when we're in unfamiliar territory. Finding a repair facility that's recommended by other RVers (and avoiding those with a a bad review) just got easier. As of January, 2012, this site lists more than 5000 reviews across the USA and Canada. Make the site even better by contributing your own experiences from your road trips and recommending an honest mechanic in your home town.

We Called it Home: Laurie and Odel who are currently traveling through California give an honest review and rate the campgrounds they're staying in. They have some great observations and advice for choosing campgrounds in California's urban areas. Those traveling in different states will find this site equally helpful - find similar candid reviews for every campground this couple has visited during many years of travel.

Nature Dogs: Your guide to dog-friendly hiking trails (mainly in California).

Inspiring People:

New favorites on my blogroll include:

Searching for Something: Brian, a very likeable young Canadian on a personal RV mission: Savannah or bust! The dream almost "busted" recenlty when the propane tank on his RV blew up. He caught the whole thing on video (posted on his blog). Brian just informed me he has found a replacement RV and his trip is back on track. Following his blog is like an exciting made-for-tv drama series - I can't wait to see what happens next.

Wheeling It: Nina and Paul, a "youngish" couple, seem to have figured out how to be fulltimers on a limited income. They have plenty of great tips and advice.

RV0777 On the other hand, Michael is still figuring it all out. Just retired and determined to make his dream of living on the road both an adventure and the beginning of a simpler life, he shares the ups and downs of his transition.

Until next time, Randy and I wish you all happy and safe travels and hope your winter adventures are unfolding perfectly. Cheers!


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