For most people, the American Dream doesn’t include living in a van on public land in the middle of nowhere. For others, though, that is the very definition of freedom – a life defined by exploration and adventure, free from the rat race of modern life.
As reported by Wired.com, photographer Andrew Waits spent two years roaming the beaches, forests and deserts of California, Nevada, Arizona and his home state of Washington documenting boondockers, the broadly defined group of people living almost entirely off the grid and on the road. Boondock is a collection of intimate portraits of the men, women and families he met on the road. Some lead the migrant life by choice, others by circumstance. But whatever their reasons, they share a common theme.
“What I boil it down to is this will to survive,” Waits says. “I found that was really the one tie that brought everyone together. If it was something that they needed to do because they were unhappy, they made that decision to change their life to hopefully find happiness–essentially that’s a decision to survive. Losing your job and needing to live out of your van, that is a decision to survive.”
Boondock is neatly divided into two galleries. The first is a set of portraits documenting the boondockers and their abodes; the second is artistic, subjective impressions of them. He was especially fascinated by the different ways people have devised for living out of a vehicle, and how familiar touchstones of a traditional home – a dangling wire basket of fruit, a Duraflame log – found new context in a mobile home.
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Veteran RVer and author Marianne Edwards and her daughter, Anna, have just unveiled a new website, www.boondockerswelcome.com, designed to provide fellow RVers a place to meet, arrange boondocking and provide references.
According to a press release, the idea for the web-based club came about because, like most in the RV community, Edwards and her husband, Randy Sturrock, invite RVers who they meet on their travels to stop by and visit their home if they pass through southern Ontario.
“It has always amazed us how natural it feels to extend such invitations even though, sometimes, we’ve just barely met,” she said. “Of course, it’s probably because hosting fellow boondockers is so easy – there’s no need to clean the bathroom, make up the guest bed, or plan meals – RVers are always self-sufficient guests.”
Two years ago on a solo RV trip, Edwards found herself looking for a place to park overnight near a popular tourist area. “I passed many a country driveway with an RV parked in it. At one point, with evening approaching, frustrated, and unable to find a suitable, safe, and affordable overnight location, I brazenly drove down one of these farm laneways, introduced myself, and asked this middle-aged couple if they could allow me a small corner to park just for the night. That’s when it occurred to me: Wouldn’t it be great to know fellow RVers in every part of the country?”
Club members are able to arrange free overnight parking with friends all the way to their destination. More than just a safe place to park overnight, they might begin amazing new friendships, include a bit of social time, and be directed to the “must-sees” of the area.
Eventually, the mother-daughter team hopes to cover the costs of creating and maintaining the website through a small annual membership fee (less than the average price of a night at a campground), but for a limited time, a free lifetime membership is offered to founding members. The club is open to all RVers, even those who cannot offer boondocking space themselves.
Edwards is the author of The Frugal Shunpiker’s Guides to RV Boondocking. Since 2007, she’s been sharing insights and advice on her website, www.frugal-rv-travel.com, and her articles have been published in various North American RV publications including Escapees Magazine, RV Gazette, and The RV Times.
Travel trailers. Campers. Motorhomes. Summer used to be the prime time to see them come rolling out.
Recreational vehicles are now a common sight all year-round, but RV park owners agree that in some instances, the typical visitor has changed, according to the Springfield, Mo., News-Leader.
There are still travelers who camp out in their motel on wheels for the fun of it or to save money on lodging, as well as people who live in a “permanent temporary” home as they follow their work or use the RV as a mobile home and office.
“Many RVers are retirees who stay here overnight or for a few days while they visit relatives in the area or they’re on their way from one point to another,” said Jeri Lee of the Silver Bell Park on U.S. 60 west of Rogersville, Mo.
Case in point: Kansas City retiree Kenneth Huggins, his wife and two dogs. Being able to take the pets with them is the biggest advantage to traveling in an RV, he said.
“We went to West Plains to a family fish fry for three days, back to Springfield where we have relatives … been here three days,” said Huggins.
Others — like construction workers or people taking medical treatments — live in their RVs permanently but don’t live in any park all year, Lee said. They may stay a month, six weeks or two months.
“We’ve been very busy now because of all the highway construction in the area like the 60/65 interchange and also the new power plant they’re building west of Springfield,” said Lee.
Curtis Adair is employed by a company working on the interchange.
His wife, Caron, said they own a home in Texas, but live in their RV with their cat and two dogs wherever he is working. They recently came here from another project in Louisiana.
“We’ll probably be here for about two years,” she said.
RV park owners say their business has not been affected overall by the present economic slump, but higher fuel prices did cause noticeable drops in overnight visitor numbers.
“Instead, the economy has perhaps helped the RV business because people are seeking a cheaper way to travel,” said Terry Evans of Marshfield’s RVExpress RV Park & Motel.
Jim Fowler, owner of Timbercrest Park in Springfield, agreed.
“As the price of gas increases, so do our customers,” Fowler said. “We’re nearly full every night through the summer.”
Ditto for Diane King of the Springfield/Route 66 KOA.
“It’s the most economical way to travel if you consider the gas prices and you sleep on your own sheets in your own bed,” said King.
In addition to 16 RV spaces, Evans and his wife, Iwana, built three motel rooms in the building that houses their office, laundry and gift shop. Being right on Interstate 44, most of their visitors are in for an overnight stay, they said.
“One setback is that people who are traveling in RVs often ‘boondock’ on Wal-Mart parking lots,” said Terry Evans. “I don’t have a problem with that and Wal-Mart encourages it. Travelers cut corners every way they can these days.”
Wal-Mart counts on travelers stocking up in their stores before they leave, he said.
Jackie Stone of Country Squire Mobile Home Park on West Farm Road 112 only rents spaces by the month, but said she has noticed an increase in inquiries about spaces.
Of Lee’s 30 spots, 23 are presently rented long term — not to overnighters.
“RV people are always happy because they’re doing what they want to do,” she said.
Home and office
Judy Simon of Sulphur Springs, Ark., and Paula Wright of Rogersville said their business goes along with them.
Simon — who travels a six-state area selling home décor items to antique, floral and gift shops — said she previously was in sales for 30 years and had to stay in motels.
“I prefer my own bed, and I can make my own meals at probably a third the cost of a motel,” she said. “I RV all year long.”
Wright and her husband, who have lived in an RV since 1996, do tenant improvement work. They — along with their cat — usually are in one place less than six months, she said.
“It gives me long enough to see what there is to see,” said Wright.
“Some people retire at 60 to do what we’re doing. We’ll probably do the opposite,” said Wright. “People sometimes say, ‘Don’t you miss having a house?’ Not so much. I don’t miss having to maintain the gutters, don’t miss doing yard work.”
Both women love travel.
“I can step out my door and see the beauty of our country and relax,” said Simon. “I have the opportunity to see the country close up. I meet people from all over the country at the RV parks that I would have never have met in a motel.”
Wright said their RV way of life has taken them to so many interesting “little” places they’d never otherwise have heard about.
“Right now I couldn’t imagine my life any different,” she said.
Rick Harp, sales manager at Reliable RV, said sales have been pretty consistent.
“We had a little dip when gas prices went up and the market initially shifted from the larger units to some of the smaller ones,” he said. “More recently, the market has drifted back toward the larger units.”
The industry is pretty solid in regard to economical travel and lodging as well as people living in RVs as they follow their work, he said.