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9 Super Important Boondocking Etiquette Tips for Better Camping

| Updated Nov 15, 2023

Courtesy, grace, and self-control are the key components of Boondocking etiquette. We have 9 tips on how to boondock the right way…

Whether you are spending the night in a paved parking lot or a few days on public lands, some common-sense rules will make your stay less obtrusive, more enjoyable for everyone, and help to protect treasured boondocking locations for future use.

At a time when poor camper behavior is causing local, state, and federal officials to shut down longtime boondocking areas, all RVers need to follow proper boondocking etiquette.

When in doubt about socially accepted protocols, the best approach is to remember the Golden Rule and treat other people’s spaces the same way you would want your own property treated.

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9 Essential Boondocking Etiquette Tips

9 Super Important Boondocking Etiquette Tips for Better Camping 1

Here they are, short and sweet, with lots of bonus suggestions and videos.

1. Get Permission

Even if there are already a dozen RVs in the lot, go inside and talk to the owner or manager before you set up for the night. The location may only allow a limited number of campers, require campers to stay in a specific area of the lot, or have other regulations that campers are expected to adhere to.

State and national forests allow boondocking, but they also require campers to be registered. Failure to do so may result in fines or being asked to leave.

BONUS Resource: How to find Free and CHEAP camping sites!

2. Obey Stay Limits

Asphalt campers should pack it up and vacate the premises every day.

Even if you will be in the area for a few days, don’t treat a parking lot like a paid campsite.

Pack it up in the mornings and come back again in the evening. Parks, forests, and public lands typically have a 2-week stay limit.

Some places will allow you to move to another campsite, but some locations ask that visitors depart after the designated time has passed.

BONUS Resource: Boondocking and Dry Camping Tips Video. Click the player below:

Like what you see in these videos? We'd appreciate it if you would Subscribe to our YouTube Channel (easy to do right here) and consider “ringing the bell icon” to be notified of any new video from us. 🙂 Thanks!

3. Come Late, Leave Early

If you plan to spend the night in a parking lot or other publicly accessed location, don’t attract attention. Pull into the lot after six in the evening and be ready to roll again by the time the sun comes up.

You are an uninvited guest, so showing the courtesy of not broadcasting your lifestyle will go a long way toward keeping that spot available for future travelers.

If you can avoid extending your slideouts, leave them closed.

When you camp in a business parking lot, go inside and buy something. It’s the least you can do for what you are getting.

BONUS Resource: Read our article on how boondocking sites are being shut down because of bad camper behavior

4. Leave No Trace

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This may be the most important courtesy of all, and it applies to boondocking in any location. The Leave No Trace movement is very important.

If trashcans are available, use them for disposing of your trash.

Be reasonable and respectful, though.

You don’t have to clean out your RV using a store’s trash receptacle, and doing so creates more work for the employees, in turn driving up the cost of allowing you to camp for free.

The best boondocking etiquette solution is to carry trash bags and stow your own trash until you can get to a dumpster that you have been given permission to use.

From bubblegum to watermelon rinds, take it with you when you leave, and smokers should take their butts as well.

BONUS Resource: Click the player below to see our video on free boondocking in the desert near Quartzsite, AZ

Like what you see in these videos? We'd appreciate it if you would Subscribe to our YouTube Channel (easy to do right here) and consider “ringing the bell icon” to be notified of any new video from us. 🙂 Thanks!

5. Obey Quiet Times

Most public spaces suggest 10 pm as a respectful time to turn down the sound.

Earlier is better.

For asphalt boondockers, good boondocking etiquette is to make your entire stay a quiet time.

Customers of the business where you are parked don’t want to listen to RV parties, nor are they excited about grilling out, playing outdoor games in the lot, or detailing your RV.

We all get tired of being confined to cramped spaces, but the local supermarket parking lot is not the place to make yourself at home.

BONUS Resource: Read about the two biggest boondocking misconceptions

6. Turn Out The Lights

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Depending on where you are, local laws may prohibit outside lighting, such as places near coastal sea turtle nesting areas.

Logically, good boondocking etiquette would be to keep the outdoor lights on defeats the purpose of getting away from it all anyway.

Never use them in parking lots unless you must.

While you need indoor lighting, the polite boondocking etiquette approach is to install blackout drapes or other methods of blocking the windows.

BONUS Resource: Our list of the most important RV and Camping Resources you need to have

7. Respect Property

If you didn’t bring it with you or buy it on location, boondocking etiquette says it isn’t yours.

We’ve all heard stories about finding great things while dumpster diving, but dumpsters and trash sites are private property and you can be charged with a crime if the local law enforcement chooses to do so.

Items that appear to be abandoned might have other explanations for being there. Unless you are given permission to take it, leave it there.

BONUS Resource: Read Is Boondocking Right for You?

8. Respect Nature

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Similarly, resist the urge to collect souvenirs on public lands.

Every beautiful rock or pretty flower is there for us all to enjoy, and picking up keepsakes means there is less available for others to enjoy.

Take all the photos and videos you wish, but leave the things that catch your eye for the next person to admire as well. Just imagine how barren popular boondocking sites would be if every camper carried a few of the resources home with them.

BONUS Resource: Read about the increasing number of RV-unfriendly Walmarts

9. Pet Protocol

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If you have the only campsite for a mile in any direction, choosing to let your dog run free is an option.

If you are not alone, boondocking etiquette dictates that you keep your pets on a leash.

Keep in mind that your cat may be part of your family, but the neighbors you haven’t even met may not share your love of animals.

No one wants your pet digging through their campsite. Using a leash is only the beginning, and other pet rules to live by include things such as:

  • Clean up behind your pet. Dispose of waste properly.
  • Keep the noise down. Only you enjoy hearing your pet’s bark, squawk, or other sounds.
  • Initial introductions should be for people only. Introduce your pet later. 
  • Old pet food and scraps should be treated like pet waste.

BONUS Resource: Learn about the Bark Ranger Program of the National Parks Service

Following good Boondocking Etiquette makes sense

Boondocking etiquette is not a difficult process, and sticking with these guidelines will make your stay more pleasant for those around you. 

Additionally, showing respect for the property of others makes them more willing to continue allowing people to use the site. Since boondockers depend on having access to places where they can camp, a little courtesy is the best way to keep boondocking sites available.

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Beginners Guide to Boondocking (one of our most popular ebooks) and one of our newest ebooks, The Ultimate Guide to Free and Cheap RV Camping!

ebook #1: Beginners Guide to Boondocking

We created a 65+-page downloadable digital guide to help you understand the nuances that come with boondocking, the most common boondocking problems, and what you need to do to get your rig “boondocking-ready.”

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2021-05-03

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

3 Responses to “9 Super Important Boondocking Etiquette Tips for Better Camping”

February 20, 2022at8:02 am, 7 Top Reasons People Are Quitting The RV Lifestyle (2022) | RV Lifestyle said:

[…] two, so many people jumped into camping without learning (or caring to learn) proper boondocking etiquette. To me, this is even more frustrating than the homeless situation. Leaving a site unclean in these […]

May 06, 2021at1:00 pm, Having to bring to civility kicking and screaming said:

[…] 9 Super Important Boondocking Etiquette Tips for Better Camping. Mike Wendland — “Courtesy, grace, and self-control are the key components of Boondocking etiquette.” There is a broader application of these principles as well. […]

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