Vacationing and traveling in an RV can be very enjoyable. Campgrounds and full-hookups resorts often make for great family fun and are popular among full-time RVers and weekend warriors alike. That being said, campgrounds can often be quite pricey, and RVers may want to occasionally stay somewhere for free overnight. These free places can include Walmart parking lots, rest stops, Harvest Host locations, dispersed camping areas, national/state parks, and much more. However, each of these places has one thing in common: they require dry camping. This means that campers will not have access to electricity, fresh water hookups, or sewer hookups for the duration of their stay.
If you are not used to RVing without hookups, dry camping may seem like quite a daunting task. However, with a few considerations and some planning ahead, you can become a dry camping pro in no time. Follow these basic steps for a successful and seamless experience.
1. Conserve water.
This may seem like a basic concept, but it’s one of the most important considerations for dry camping. Without immediate access to fresh water to refill, you will need to self-manage your tanks to ensure you do not run out of water. Start by determining your tank capacity. This may be written on your tank, or it can be found in your specs list, outlined in your RV user manual. Once you know your tank capacity, you will have a better idea of how much water you have to work with.
Be sure to arrive at a dry camping destination with a full fresh water tank. Plan ahead and never assume that your camping location or Harvest Host has somewhere for you to fill your water.
Next, you will need to conserve water for the duration of your dry camping stint. You may need to be more or less conservative, depending on the size of your fresh water tank and the length of time you plan to spend dry camping. Keep showers short and consider turning off the water in between steps to save water. Wash and rinse dishes in a trickle of water, and do not leave the water running while brushing your teeth. These basic tips will help make you tank last longer.
In addition, keep an eye on your tank meters. These will tell you when your tank is three-fourths full, half full, one-fourth full, and empty. Adjust your water usage based on how much water you have used and how much more time you plan to camp before refilling water.
2. Conserve grey tank capacity.
Grey water is waste water from your sinks and shower. The more water you use for showers, brushing teeth, hand washing, and dishes, the faster your gray water tank will fill. Conserving your gray tank capacity is just as important as fresh water conservation. You can find your grey tank capacity information in your RV manual as well. Keep in mind that your grey water tank is typically smaller than your fresh water tank.
Be sure to arrive at a dry camping destination with your grey tank empty. You can empty it at many gas stations and travel centers, state parks, national parks, or private campgrounds (for a small fee). The Sanidumps app will help you find places to dump your tanks before camping. Likewise, you’ll have to find somewhere to dump your tanks before returning home or to your next destination.
Watch your tank meters to monitor your grey tank fill levels. It is never okay to dump grey water, so be sure not to overfill your tanks while dry camping. If the tanks are filling quicker than you expected, cut back on water usage to ensure you have plenty of tank capacity left for the duration of your stay.
3. Manage black tank capacity.
Managing your black tank is similar to managing your grey tank. This tank is filled solely from toilet usage and is typically the smallest of the RV tanks. You can use the same dump stations for both black and grey tanks. Be sure to arrive at a dry camping destination with an empty black tank, and keep an eye on tank capacity throughout your stay. Don’t forget to dump your tanks before returning home or storing your RV.
4. Generate power/electricity.
Power is the trickiest utility to manage while dry camping. Your house batteries store power for your RV, and they can be charged through a variety of methods. Plugging into shore power and driving both charge your house batteries. If you are only planning to dry camp for one night, you may have enough power stored to last until you move onto your next destination. If you need to recharge your batteries while dry camping, there are a variety of methods.
Many motorhomes and toy haulers come equipped with an on-board, gasoline-powered generator. Running this will allow you to charge your devices and batteries. If your RV does not come with a generator, you can purchase one and hook it up to your batteries. Remember to be considerate with generator usage, since they are typically very loud while running. Ask permission from your host, and only run your generator during reasonable hours to avoid disturbing your neighbors.
If you plan to do lots of dry camping, it may be wise to invest in a solar power kit. These can be installed by professionals or self-installed if you have electrical experience. There is typically a large up-front investment, but you will save money over time if you dry camp often.
5. Manage trash disposal.
The last utility to keep in mind is garbage. Since you will not have access to a campground dumpster while dry camping, you will need to find another way to dispose of your waste. Many gas stations allow customers to throw away their garbage if they are filling up. Likewise, some grocery stores do not mind if you throw away a bag of trash when you are buying groceries. Be sure to practice consideration and ask permission when disposing of your trash.
6. Practice with shorter trips, extend gradually.
Dry camping has a bit of a learning curve. If you are new to this, it is best to start by practicing with short trips. A one-night stay at a Walmart or a Harvest Host location may be the best way to start out. You can gradually extend your trips to two or three nights, all whilst practicing conservation of water, grey/black tank capacity, and power. The more you practice, the easier it will become. Many “professional” dry campers are able to last 10-14 days without refilling water or needing to dump their tanks. This may be longer than you ever plan to dry camp, but with practice, most could easily last three or four nights.
Dry camping may seem overwhelming and difficult if you have never tried it before. However, most find it very rewarding to forgo hookups for the opportunity to spend the night at beautiful Harvest Host locations, gorgeous dispersed camping areas, and the occasional, convenient Walmart lot. Practice makes perfect, and if you have never tried dry camping, these tips are sure to help you prepare for your first experience. Money saved, experiences shared, and memories made will have you planning your next dry camping trip sooner rather than later.
Have you ever dry camped in your RV before? How did you like it? Be sure to share tips and experiences below! If you aren’t taking the RV but still want to enjoy camping, make sure to read this guide for 45+ tips for camping for the first time.
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