Reminder: articles in the Opinion section are written in a more personal voice – secessus
Not every spot is good for every boondocker. Some like shady areas while those dependent on solar may want open field.
It is common to find spots on freecampsites.net, iOverlander, Campendium, the Dyrt, FreeRoam, etc. Since others are using those same sources of information you may want to consider the spots as general areas to start looking. The area near the lat/long will often be the most crowded, so if you go a bit further down the dirt road you will likely have fewer neighbors.
Some terms to be aware of:
Boondocking spots are often relatively open on weekdays and crowded on weekends; locals swarm public lands on late Friday through Sunday when they are off work. Since some will take off an extra day you may find the most open spots if you arrive Tuesday through Thursday.
The worst time to arrive is during a holiday or other 3-day weekend when even the most casual of Weekenders drags out their long-neglected RV.
Arriving with plenty of daylight left is highly preferable. You will be able to:
If you arrive mid-morning you may be able to hear where the generators are.
Arriving in darkness can be stressful. It may be best to pull over into a temporary spot at night then resume your hunt when the sun comes up.
A 40' Class A or big trailer is going to take up more room than a minivan. If you want to be especially polite you might take the smallest spot that will fit your rig instead of the bigger spot that a bigger rig needs.
Flat ground is nice, but if you carry leveling blocks you can stay level even on uneven ground. If your vehicle rolls a bit when you put it in Park consider using the parking brake to lock in the position before shifting out of Drive.
You might use an app like OpenSignal to estimate coverage in the general area, or look at user reports.
Once you get near the sites you can drive with your cell phone in your line of vision to see whether or not you have “bars”. If you are using the phone as a hotspot note that you can put the phone anywhere in the vehicle that may have better reception.
In extreme cases (like digital nomads) a cell booster might be helpful.
Verizon tends to have the best coverage in rural areas so many nomads use it. This can mean, however, that where nomads gather together Verizon can be congested. A cheap secondary AT&T line might be useful, and even T-Mobile has more coverage than it used to.
Apps like Sun Surveyor can help verify the number of hours of sun you will get in a spot/position. This video is shaky and rotated, but you can see that the app plots the path of the sun across the camera view as you look around. Particularly useful for picking out the best spot in a heavily-shaded area like a forest.
Trees and other features can help limit the effects of wind. Camping on the edge of a cliff, mountaintop, or in a saddle may increase winds.
If you want privacy look in a 360 around the site to see if there are neighbors with uncomfortably close views.
If you drive by and see large RVs with generators outside you can expect them to run the generators quite often. Some “contractor”-style generators are obnoxiously loud.
Folks who value solitude over social interaction may want to find sites:
These factors tend to weed out the less-motivated boondocker.
You may want proximity to paved roads if you predict many trips to town. Otherwise getting away from pavement often means quieter and less-crowded camping.
If you are camping off dirt roads be aware of weather patterns; a good rainstorm may make passage impossible. After a few days it will dry out and you can leave. Have enough food and water just in case.
You may want to find a spot where you can park the right facing the road in case you need to make a quick exit.
If you have to park close to a road you may want to face the door that is open most away from the road. This would minimize noise and dust.
If you use the van like an office with the side doors open you may want to face the opening to the north to keep direct sunlight out.
If winds are strong from one direction you may want to park the vehicle facing into (or away from) the wind to reduce rocking and noise.
You may want a folding lawn chair, hammock, or other furniture to allow comfortable outdoors sitting.
Arrange your campsite such that you can leave in a few minutes in the case of danger or discomfort.
The day before a departure start packing up the site. Before driving off walk around the campsite and around the vehicle to make sure you didn't miss anything.
Consider this weather forecast:
There are warmer/cooler days, windier/calmer days, and sunnier/cloudier days.
If you need to drive and winds are favorable a day earlier or later you might want to take advantage of tail winds. Try not to drive into headwinds.
If you need to drive, use solar and have alternator charging, you may want to drive on a cloudy day. This will allow the alternator to help charge the battery without unnecessary idling.
If you have a pet with you consider running errands early in the morning when temps are cooler.
Also note that there are two freezing overnights that might damage plumbing, water containers,3) or lithium batteries. If you are depending on electric heat (battery warmer, electric blanket, etc) be sure your battery bank has sufficient charge going into that night.