Moochdocking: a free camping alternative

You might notice people posting the hashtag #vanlife on Instagram or YouTube with pictures and videos of people enjoying national parks or exotic places. Often that is while they are boondocking, a free camping alternative for self-contained vehicles. That’s cool and one of the things we like about having a Class B RV like our 2008 Roadtrek 190 Popular. But we also find it beneficial that we can “moochdock” when visiting friends and family for another free camping alternative.

Click on this picture to see our YouTube video about moochdocking.

Moochdocking is when you can park in the driveway as we did recently at a family member’s house. While people may not have a convenient water source for you to hook up to, they often can provide you an electrical outlet. Technically, you can just be boondocking on their property without hooking up at all, but if you can snag electricity, why not take advantage of it?

We had electricity overnight on our recent trip, so in addition to running our furnace we also hooked up a small electric heater and stayed toasty warm. (This was in early April when spring weather should have precluded the need for much heat, but we were in Northern Michigan and dealing with six inches of newly fallen snow as well as single-digit temperatures.)

We didn’t want to burden our hosts by making extra laundry or chores from having had house guests for the weekend, so we took care of everything by living in our own room out in the driveway. We find that showing up somewhere with your own room — and bathroom when not winterized — is a big help for family gatherings, too. Instead of fighting over the best guest bedroom or the comfiest couch, or over who gets the bathroom at which time, we stay outside and enjoy our own amenities and privacy.

One key thing to keep in mind is that when parking in the driveway of friends or family, you never know what you’re going to find concerning how level it is. At our most recent spot, the area where we parked was perfectly level, but the steep incline to get there through unplowed snow made us thankful for the four-wheel drive on our van. The point is: don’t assume that because you’re at someone’s house, you won’t need to think about using leveling blocks or jacks just like you would when you’re out camping in the wilderness.

Because we didn’t need to use leveling blocks and didn’t hook up to water, our only connection to our “campsite” was an electric cord. That made it super easy to unhook and take off when we needed to use the van for errands.

Connecting to a house is different than connecting your RV at a campground, too. No matter what kind of RV, travel trailer, or 5th wheel you have, you’re going to have either a 30-amp or 50-amp plug that you connect to get electricity. Most people don’t have a 30-amp or 50-amp outlet at their house so when you’re moochdocking, you’re going to end up needing what they call a dogbone adapter. It’s just a short cord that takes — in our case — the 30-amp cord and steps it down so we can plug into a standard 15-amp outlet that you find at most people’s houses.

One key thing to keep in mind is that even though we had a 30-amp cord plugged in, we were only connected to a 15-amp circuit, so our maximum power draw was 15 amps. That’s enough to charge our batteries, run our 3-way refrigerator, our lights and a small electric heater. But when connected like that, you shouldn’t use a microwave oven or your air conditioner because you could overload the circuit. That’s a good way to damage what’s in your RV, or you’ll end up tripping circuit breakers in the house that you’re moochdocking off of, which is a sure way not to get invited back!

No matter where we plug in, we always use a surge protector because you never know what the circuit is going to be like, whether at somebody’s house or a campground, and we want that protection along the line headed to the Roadtrek.

Our surge protector does the job, even though it isn’t fancy. Some models are a lot more advanced, and a lot more expensive. They will test the power before it goes to your RV to ensure it’s correct before letting it flow to your unit. You might want to consider that but, at the very least, use a basic surge protector whenever you are plugged in.

One nice thing you can do when moochdocking is to give back to the people with whom you are staying. In our recent case, we shoveled snow off their deck because they had recently received about 6 inches even though it was early April. We figured we might as well help them dig out to help compensate for our overnight stay in the driveway.

Sometimes, #vanlife is about being in cool places. But other times, when we have only a weekend available, that cool place for us means getting out of our city life and going to the country for a change of scenery and pace. By visiting family that lives in the opposite type of place from you — whether that’s the city or the country — you can create a quick, cheap getaway. And by moochdocking, you can do so without creating additional burdens for your hosts.

A fun location doesn’t have to be the Grand Canyon or the Tetons although we’d love to go there, too! Sometimes it’s nice just to have a change of scenery. Wherever you choose to be, make the most of it and keep on Trekin’!

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