The Dark Art of Moochdocking (and How to Not Get Kicked Out)

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Moochdocking is the questionably legal practice of camping on someone else’s private land.

This normally means parking your rig in a friend or family member’s back yard or driveway.

Moochdocking is also called “driveway surfing.”

It’s a pretty simple concept: Park your RV overnight for free, thanks to friends and family. Point and laugh at the schmucks paying $75 a night.

Usually, “moochdocking” refers to long-term camping, and driveway surfing is just for one night.

WHO INVENTED MOOCHDOCKING, ANYWAY?

What’s the difference between boondocking, wallydocking, and moochdocking?

All these forms of RV camping share two traits:

  • They are free. You’re not paying for the privilege of parking your tires on someone’s grass or concrete.
  • They are self-sufficient. You have to run everything off your batteries or generator (preferably just batteries). You probably won’t have hookups, either.

But moochdocking is a little different than regular ol’ boondocking/dispersed camping.

  • “Wallydocking” is a form of free overnight parking. It normally means parking your rig in a Big Box store parking lot, usually Walmart (or one of the other locations listed on this list), staying in stealth mode, and spending a couple of bucks at the retailer as a “thank you” for not kicking your *ss back onto the highway.
  • Boondocking usually refers to wild, primitive camping, typically in publicly owned lands. You can camp on National Forest ground, BLM land, and several other types of public lands. Boondocking is governed by local laws, such as maximum stay limits.
  • Moochdocking means boondocking, but on private land. That’s where the mooch comes. You’re “mooching,” aka “bumming” or “freeloading,” off the host and their good will.

A bad moochdocking site will have low-hanging trees blocking access, a sloped muddy yard, no electricity, no view, no WiFi, and no free breakfast.

A good moochdocking site will have a secluded paved driveway, access to the home’s WiFi, a 15- or 30A connection, key to the front door, and a standing invitation to a pot roast dinner.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF MOOCHDOCKING?

Are you undecided? Here are some reasons to indulge your inner moocher and try out free family camping!

  • Internet access. Most private homes have WiFi or at least cellular signal.
  • Urban accessibility. If you’re exploring metropolitan areas, moochdocking might be the only way to park within 30 minutes of your destination!
  • Safety. Not much risk of theft, wild fire, or hungry bears in suburban America!
  • A bathtub. If you compliment or bribe your host, they might let you soak in a real, honest-to-God bathtub. With more than six gallons of lukewarm water. That’s worth, what, at least $350, right?

HOW DO PREPARE FOR MOOCHDOCKING?

Honestly, moochdocking is pretty easy.

Just go camping in your RV.

And then don’t pay anybody.

Well, I guess it’s a little more complicated than that. Here’s how to prepare for an overnight moochdocking RV stay:

  • Dump your tanks! Go into your site with clean, dry, empty gray and black waste water tanks.
  • Fill your freshwater tank! You’ll need all you can get! If you have a small freshwater tank (less than 30 gallons), you might consider filling up a collapsible 5-gallon water bag or a couple of 1-gallon water jugs.
  • Top off those batteries. If the site doesn’t have partial hookups, you’ll also need a way to recharge your batteries. Solar power is preferred; generators are too loud and noisy.
  • Bring an ice chest. Always wise to have a backup in case you run out of battery juice and can’t run your fridge.
  • Do your laundry. You’re already asking your hosts to occupy their driveway for free – don’t also ask them for their washer and dryer, too!

There are two other important rules for moochdocking.

  1. Don’t overstay your welcome. Read the social cues. Don’t wait until Cousin Jim padlocks the fridge and barricades the bathroom. Leave while people still like you. Otherwise, you’ll burn a bridge for the future!
  2. Show appreciation with a gift. Give your host something in return for their generosity. Pay for a dinner out, a good bottle of wine, two dozen roses, an Alaskan cruise – whatever befits the occasion.

WHERE DO YOU FIND MOOCHDOCKING SITES?

Family & Friends

Start with friends, family, third cousins, and high school Facebook friends you haven’t spoken with in 7-8 years. It’s a greaty way to reconnect with old friends! (and maybe even old flames).

Seriously. Don’t discount the beauty of reuniting with family and friends. That’s one of the true joys of moochdocking.

If you’re venturing into places far from home, there are several apps, websites, and membership clubs to help you find a place to park.

Boondockers Welcome

Founded by Marianne Edwards (famed “Frugal Shunpiker” and author of The Frugal RV Traveler), Boondockers Welcome is a membership club that offers free overnight parking to members. Here’s how the website describes their purpose:

“Boondockers Welcome is a venue where RVers can connect and welcome each other to camp on their property, with no expectations of being paid in anything more than gratitude and a pay-it-forward spirit.”

Free Campsites

If you’re looking for free and cheap camping options, you can visit one of the following resources:

Harvest Hosts

If you’re into a more glamping form of boondocking, check out Harvest Hosts. This company has partnered with wineries, museums, golf courses, and other private businesses to offer free overnight RV parking.

You should plan on buying something from the business to show your support, however. $10 is the minimum recommended.

IS MOOCHDOCKING LEGAL?

If you’re thinking to yourself, “I could camp for free in G-Ma’s backyard FOR-EVAH!!!” then – well, that’s probably not true.

The powers-that-be want your property tax money. They want you to spend 30 years of your life paying off a mortgage with $120,000 in interest.

So they aren’t too thrilled about the idea of you dodging all their zoning restrictions, HOA regulations, and CC&Rs.

Laws surrounding moochdocking vary from place to place. There’s nothing inherently illegal about moochdocking. But G-Ma’s Homeowner’s Association may not agree.

Here are some common restrictions around free overnight RV parking on private property:

  • No RVs allowed on the curb whatsoever/more than 24 hours.
  • No RVs allowed in driveways with slide-outs extended or hookups engaged
  • No RVs allowed off-pavement.
  • No RV dumping (obviously).
  • No RVs allowed that extend past the front of the house by X feet.

There are some suburban areas that don’t allow any RVs, at all, whatsoever, period (except maybe a few hours for loading/unloading).

But there are many residential areas that will allow RVs for at least a few hours. If you camp in stealth mode (imagine you’re a fugitive on the lam from the CIA), you could go several weeks undercover!

Be wise. Be kind. If the HOA issues a fine, don’t make your host pay it. If Karen from across the street complains, pack up and get out. You don’t want to jeopardize neighborhood relations.

MOOCHDOCKING ETIQUETTE

The #1 Rule of Moochdocking is Be Invisible. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

  • Don’t set up outside. Leave the tiki torches and camping chairs for KOA. If you can, don’t even deploy your sides. Keep it stealthy!
  • Don’t run a generator. If you must, restrict your usage to between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., while everyone else is away at work.
  • Don’t let your pets run wild. Quarantine your pets while moochdocking. You don’t know the neighborhood!

That’s how you mooch – and how you do it nicely.

Mooch on!

Andy Herrick is a blogging nerd, #8 Enneagram, wannabe bread baker, INTJ, RV industry professional, and small business entrepreneur. He can be found hanging out with his lovely wife and family, skiing, cycling, climbing, hiking, and convincing anyone who will listen why dogs aren’t really that great of pets. Also, he runs this website.

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