A Case for the Campground (or, why it’s okay if you don’t plan on boondocking this year)

02Feb
A Case for the Campground (or, why it’s okay if you don’t plan on boondocking this year)

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If you hang out in RV social media circles, you probably have noticed the increase in boondocking, or wild camping, content. You might see an Airstream in the middle of a desert with snow-capped mountains in the distance. Or a Class C sitting at the edge of a rocky shoreline without another RV in sight. Blog posts offer GPS coordinates for remote, wooded locations, and many apps help you find isolated BLM lands on which you can park your rig.

The appeal is obvious. First of all, wild places are beautiful. RVers generally have a healthy appreciation for the natural world, so the more of it, the better. What is more romantic than having a beautiful place all to yourself? Secondly, these spots are free. For people like ourselves who want to camp as much as possible, a free campsite is a very attractive option.

And then there are the photos. In our increasingly visual social media landscape, how awesome is it to get pictures of your RV smack dab in the middle of nowhere, without the clutter of other rigs and people?

As solar energy becomes more ubiquitous, tanks become bigger, WiFi becomes stronger, and generators become cheaper, it is easier for the average RVer to enjoy the comforts of the RV lifestyle without the drag of a campground price tag.

The conversation about boondocking pops up in the RVFTA world on a regular basis. People ask us, when are you going to start boondocking? Why don’t you do it already? Don’t you think you are missing out on an amazing experience? Is what you are doing really authentic?

We have discussed this issue many times on the podcast, and in emails with our listeners. But most of the time, the question is framed in terms of what we are not doing…i.e. boondocking. But we actually look at the issue differently. Instead of believing that we are giving our kids a less authentic camping experience, we actually think we are giving them exposure to a remarkably valuable environment, and one that is difficult to find in our present day culture.

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Many people who boondock want to get away from it all, disconnect, unplug. Most of us feel this pressing need on a daily basis. We crave a break from the busyness, a bit of quiet amidst all the noise. The irony is, of course, that as we have become more connected on social media we have become less connected with our neighbors, our community members, and even our co workers.

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A recent article I read in the New York Times, Friends at Work? Not So Much, was talking about how as a culture we are underestimating the value of forming new friendships at work. When I can stay connected with my old friends on Facebook, why bother going through the hassle of getting to know Bob in the break room?

I, of course, immediately thought of the campground. In our opinion, campgrounds are not a necessary evil, a place to stay now until we can build up our courage to take our children out into the middle of nowhere. Campgrounds are actually places where a lot of things operate according to the pre-technology norms of 20 years ago. You are pretty much expected to wave and say hi to someone as they walk by. It is still considered polite to strike up friendly conversation with a stranger. And kids are constantly forming pick up games with children they met five minutes ago.

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Playdates? Not at a campground. You’ll just see a mob of kids moving from campsite to campsite. Sharing toys, making up games, and getting really dirty.

I understand the desire people have to get away from it all and find some peace and quiet. But in a way, I believe we have a little too much peace and quiet in our lives already. Too much time spent in front of screens with headphones in our ears, looking at pretty pictures that other people have posted on social media.

We don’t just love our RV. We also love and appreciate our time at public and private campgrounds, meeting  new people, having pleasant conversations, and connecting more with each other.

The pictures aren’t as pretty perhaps, but I’ve got the squeals of my happy boys as they enjoy an epic water gun war with a bunch of friends they just met. And that’s a pretty authentic experience to me.

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Have an opinion about the campground versus boondocking? We would love to hear it! Share away in the comments below…

See you at the campground. ~Stephanie

8 Comments

  1. Tatiana

    Nailed it!! We prefer to camp at State Campgrounds because of the tranquility, the spacious sites and, quite frankly, to disconnect from electronics and the 24/7 news cycle. Where we tend to go in the Adirondacks, we can’t even get a local radio station and cell phone service is spotty at best. It’s what we have done for more than 20 years. We love it. However…
    We also like being in a campground because there are other people around. We have met fabulous, interesting people through the years that we would not have had we been boondocking off the grid. If we were boondocking in the wild, we would have been suspicious, if not frightened by the much older couple who approached us one night with a tomato pie, a bottle of McGillicuddy’s and a deck of cards. We would have never met the young family who taught us how to cook corn on the cob in the coals of their fire. These are memories and experiences we still talk about 15 years later.
    I’m not against boondocking and I can foresee opportunities to do so in the future when our kids can enjoy the events I’d like to attend (antique shows, air shows, etc.). But, I can’t imagine that as our only method of camping. I’ve heard “campground culture” mentioned on these podcasts dozens of times. There is something very special about it and I rather enjoy the memories that result.

  2. DeanCHS1980

    Hi Stephanie,

    I grew up 6 miles outside of a small town on a country road in rural southern Indiana. Us kids played baseball, basketball, wrestled, and took many walks in the woods. Despite being spread out on farms, we had many neighbors and lots of friends. We sat on a our front porch. People waved and before you knew it neighbors stopped by to chat, drink coffee, and visit. Rarely planned. It just happened.

    Fast forward a few decades. Laura and I have tended to live in subdivisions for most of our adult professional lives. I can’t tell you the names of most of my neighbors. No one sits on their front porch if they have one. They may grill out in their fenced backyards for invited guests. If someone knocks on our door it is someone that we have invited and not just someone stopping by.

    In my limited experience with the campground, both physically and virtually, I find my interactions with others to be more like those of my growing up years rather than my current life in a “nice” subdivision.

    I think campgrounds, RVers, and the RV lifestyle allows us to form primary relationships with other people at a time when most of our relationships are secondary in nature assuming we have any “relationships” within our “neighborhood community”. I think the campground is an amazing place to spend time and to socialize kids in terms of community.

    I see the appeal of boondocking, but not to the exclusion of the benefits you outline. The campground is the Great American Community.

    Take care,

    Dean

  3. JP

    Very thoughtful! I think that these people who want to boondock, get away from it all, are mostly taking it with them. Generators buzzing, satellite dishes, internet connections, air conditioners, refrigerators, heaters (Mike, of Roadtreking fame has radiant floor heating for goodness sake, camping?), IMHO all these people are doing is taking a full hookup campground with them. If they were really boondocking, I would think, they would be living without all of these niceties.
    I think you also were spot on about the social connections at a camp ground. We do enjoy meeting people, and while we don’t have kids with us most of the time, we enjoy watching the kids out there making noise and playing. I love the age diversity, wish there was more racial diversity, at the campgrounds, as well as the diversity of rigs…its like an RV show at each campground.
    Thanks for the thoughts.
    JP

  4. Krista

    The first time I listened to one of your podcasts you had a comment from a listener involving national parks vs KOA type parks. If I remember correctly, the listener suggested you were not true campers because you did not camp at national parks. At the time I thought, “to everything there is a season.” And to every trip there is a different type of campground!

    I have camped my whole life. As a kid, my family would meet my mother’s siblings and their families’ in Pa. They lived in Ohio, we lived in NJ. With 14 kids in tow, we stayed at state parks because our parents were on a tight budget and there was plenty to do.

    Our family vacations were camping, too. My parents were big history buffs, so the campground would be the one closest and cheapest to Williamsburg, Gettysburg , Vicksburg etc. It didn’t need any amenities!

    Once married, my husband and I began to camp with our children. Our campground choices varied depending on the type of trip. If it was a sight seeing trip, we looked for easy access to the destination with a pool and playground. We stayed at a campground in Maine for a week with 10 other families that provided more activities than you could possibly take advantage of and we were packed in like sardines. In St. Augustine, Fl. on Easter vacation our SINGLE campground requirement was “as close to the beach as possible!” On one two week sight seeing trip we stayed at a national park in Kentucky with no electricity, water, or hook up. (Was it a good experience, yes. Would I do it again on an eighty degree night with a 2, 4, and 7 year old? No.) Now that our kids are older, we tend to enjoy a camping resort. We like pads with full hook up, a bar and grill and a beach.

    We have stayed at most every type of campground depending on the type of trip, the time of life, interest or purpose and we have enjoyed them all for different reasons. The beauty of camping is there are SO many different types of experiences. So really when it comes to campgrounds, “to everything there is a season” and to every trip, there is a campground!

    Krista

  5. MisKaren1

    Here here! There is not a “best way” to camp. I love that there are options for everyone. Why must we say one is bad and the other is good? This article captures a major reason why we love camping in private, some would even call them resort, campgrounds.

  6. Outside Inn

    Love your take on it and I thought your interview on Keeping Your Daydream was spot on what worked for your family. But I love that you guys recognize that everyone has different needs and the great thing about camping/RVing is that there’s something for everyone!

  7. Stephanie Puglisi

    Thank you all so much for your thoughtful replies. I always love hearing about the memories other RVers have, from childhood, the parenting years, and the ‘golden years’!

  8. #why_we_rv

    You are so on the mark with this one! So many people no longer have the skills to make new friends, nor do they understand the necessity.

    As for boondocking, I would love to give it a try, but we are too fond of the basics of electricity, water, and a dump station close by. Our favorite Parks are typically those we can find via recreation.gov and get for half price with our senior interagency passport card. Then our next favorites would be state parks, but most states don’t give senior discounts at all, or at least not for out-of-staters.

    As for privately owned campgrounds, they are fine, but we tend to live the natural landscapes and wildlife that you don’t find at a beautifully manicured park with perfectly paved roads that are full of golf carts.

    There is something out there for everyone, you just decide what camping means for you and go for it. There is no right or wrong way … Well, the only wrong way is to not go camping at all … It is a wonderful way to go!

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