Urban Boon-Docking Safety Tips for the Vehicle Dweller.

Bertha and I boondocking on 17 Mile Drive in Pacific Grove, California in 2012.

Over the past 3 and a half years I have done a fair amount of vehicle traveling, to include 2 trips from Kentucky to California and back, 2 trips from Kentucky to Florida and numerous trips throughout the midwest!  I’m happy to report that I have enjoyed safe travels during all these trips!

During most of my travels I boon-dock about 75% of the time.  The other 25% of the time, I stay with friends or pay to spend the night at a campground or RV park.  Many of my friends ask where “I stay” when on the road.  I say boon-docking and then often need to explain what boon-docking is.
Many respond with, “I could never do that… just park somewhere and spend the night… aren’t you worried…”  This response is probably common with many of my vehicle-dwelling blog readers who also boondock.  I tell my friends that boon-docking can be safe and a lot of fun!

Just in case you’re a new reader, a quick web-search defines boon-docking as,

(boondock) A brushy rural area or location; To camp in a dry brushy location; To stay in a recreational vehicle in a remote location, without connections to water, power, or sewer services.

That definition looks pretty good to me but I would also add that,

(boondock) can also occur in an urban area on city streets or parking lots, where you over-night park or camp in your vehicle without fees,

The more I thought about boondocking, it got me thinking about what tips I would give someone preparing to go boondocking for their very first time, more specifically Urban Boon-Docking.  So, I decided to compile a list of tips for travelers new to Urban Boondocking.

Below are a few of my Urban Boondocking Safety Tips:

-Be alert, use your instincts, use common sense.
Be aware of your surroundings, check around your vehicle before exiting.  If a particular location doesn’t look or feel right, move to another spot!  There are usually plenty of other boon docking spots!

-Avoid boondocking in high crime areas.
Most crimes occur at night and in close proximity to rest stops, gas stations, convenience stores and ATMs, avoid boondocking near these high crime areas.

-Avoid boondocking in high alcohol-sales areas.
Not all people who drink are drunks, but drunks are no fun to deal with late at night, when you are cozy in your vehicle, trying to get some sleep.  I recommend avoiding parking near bars, alcohol package stores and other places where you may encounter lots of drunk people!

-Avoid parking in areas that have reduced visibility.
Avoid parking near dumpsters, wooded areas, construction equipment or anything else that may reduce your visibility.  You want to be able to see people approaching your vehicle as far out as possible.

– Boondock in well illuminated spots.
Many vehicle dwellers try to find the best “hidden, out of the way” parking spot when Urban Boondocking.  They think that if they can find a dark, out of the way spot, nobody will bother them.
I take the opposite approach, when I urban boondock.  I try to find the best illuminated spot in plain view.  I think if a resident sees a van circling a parking lot and then going to the back corner to park is considered more suspicious than just parking in plain view under a streetlight.

-Lock your vehicle at all times.
I recommend locking your vehicle at all times, even if you leave your vehicle for only a moment.
It doesn’t take a thief more than seconds to open your vehicle door and grab a few items.  This includes locking your vehicle when you are fueling up.

-Do not open the door for anyone, unless you know who they are.
Do not open the door of your RV, just because someone knocks on the door!  Make sure you can see who is knocking, if you can’t see them, ask them to move to an area where you can see them!  Even if someone claims to be a police officer, don’t automatically open the door.  There is nothing wrong with calling the local police dispatch to confirm that an officer is at your vehicle door!

-Keep all valuables out of view.
Store all your valuables out of sight!  Thieves are opportunists, they are more likely to risk going to jail, breaking into a vehicle they know has valuables, than one they have no idea what’s inside!

-Keep your blinds shut at all times.
If a would-be thief can see into your vehicle, he will know that,
a) You are not in your vehicle and he is free to break-in, or
b) A woman is alone in her vehicle, and maybe in his eyes, an easy target!
Remember, out of sight, out of mind!

-Install a CO / Fire and LP detector.
Portable, battery operated carbon monoxide detector / fire detectors are inexpensive and easily installed on the wall of your van, truck bed or RV.  I have a CO / Fire Detector installed in the camper shell of my Tacoma because I often sleep in the bed!  Your life is certainly worth the $30 to $50 dollars a detector costs!

-Maintain a low profile.
Try not to bring unnecessary attention to you and your vehicle.  If you park in a Walmart parking lot at 2 AM, and look like just another late night shopper, you probably won’t get a second look.  But on the other hand, if you breakout the BBQ grill, lawn chairs and clothesline tied to a lamp-post, you will definitely get unwanted attention.

-Always be courteous.
The old saying that you can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar is true for boondocking too!  It doesn’t matter if you interact with the police, shopping mall security or another patron, be friendly and  courteous!  That person just might return the favor!

-Have your keys in your hand and at the ready as you approach your vehicle.
When you approach your vehicle, have your keys at the ready.  If you fumble around in a bag or purse looking for your vehicle keys, you give a criminal the opportunity to sneak up on you while you are distracted, looking for your keys.

-In parking structures, avoid stairwells.
If you decide to doondock in a Parking Structure, it’s safer to go up or down levels on the ramps and not in the stairwells.  Stairwells at night are often high crime areas.  On the ramp just remember to watch out for passing automobiles.

-Install a kill switch or vehicle alarm.
Homes with alarm systems have a much lower burglary rate, and since your vehicle is your “home,” think about installing an alarm or kill switch to prevent theft of your belongings or worse yet, theft of your vehicle!

-Strategically park your vehicle. 
Park your vehicle in a direction that provides the most visibility on your doors, to include the van rear doors or truck tailgate.  If the criminal has out of sight access to your doors, he can more easily break in!  When I park my Bigfoot Truck Camper I always make sure the rear door is most visible to passers-by.

-Hide copies of important documents.
Thieves want to spend as little time as possible in your home / vehicle.  They can’t steal what they can’t find, so hide copies of important documents like vehicle registration, insurance, etc…

-Record serial numbers of important electronic devices.
Record the serial numbers of important electronic devices like cameras, laptops, GPS units, etc… It may not prevent theft but it just may help you get stolen items back form the police if they are recovered.

-A few places I’ve had safe boondocking experiences.
24 hour big box store parking lots.
Medium sized, chain hotel parking lots, most are extremely well illuminated.
Church Parking Lots, ask first!
Police Department Parking Areas, or rather, close to police departments.
Costco / Sams Club, they often have free wifi accessible from the parking lots.
24 hour Fast Food parking lots, added bonus is inexpensive, tasty coffee in the morning!

I hope these tips help keep you safe during your next Urban Boondocking Experience!
Please comment below if you have other tips!

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The $5.00 Dollar Solar Oven.

I know it seems like I have solar-cooking on the brain lately, since my last 3 posts have been about solar cooking options.  Don’t worry, I promise you it’s nothing more than a mild case of heat-stroke!
All kidding aside, I have really become a fan of solar cooking, like you haven’t noticed.  This time of year, much of the nation would be hard pressed to cook a meal with solar energy, but since I am in the “sunshine-state,” I might as well try a few solar experiments.  I have 3 store bought solar cooking options I purchased over the last 5 years,

– The “SunOven” solar oven. About $275.00,

– The “SunFlair” portable, folding solar oven.  About $99.00,

– The “SunRocket” portable, solar kettle.  About $60.00,

All three set-ups have their pros and cons, and as you can see above, all 3 cost a fair amount to purchase. On a popular mobile lifestyle website I frequent, “CheapRVLiving,” one fellow reader showed how he built a solar oven out of a cardboard box, aluminum foil and glue… that was really pretty cool, and really inexpensive at a total cost of about $5.00.  That led me to search the internet, looking for other people who have built their own solar ovens on the cheap.  On “You Tube,” I found a video of a woman who built a “Dollar Store” solar oven with the folding windshield reflectors many of us put in our car windows on hot, sunny days and oven bags.  I thought the idea was pretty awesome, so yesterday I purchased the materials necessary to build my own “Dollar Store Solar Oven.”

Materials and Costs of the “Dollar Store Solar Oven.”

– Two folding windshield reflectors, $1.50 each for a total cost of $3.00
– A 2 count box of Oven Bags, cost…………………………….. $1.00
– A 4 count box of medium metal office clips, cost………………$1.00

Total Cost………………………………………………………..$5.00 Dollars.

You will need a pot to cook in and of course the ingredients of your meal.

I reused a few other items that came with previous solar oven purchases, namely a small bakers rack, a small bakers tray, a silicone pot and an oven thermometer.  All four of these items were available at the “Dollar Store” I shopped at, for about an additional $10.00 dollars.  So I guess if you needed to buy all items at once you could probably do it for around $15.00.

The build is quite simple as you will see in the pictures below,
Unfold the 2 windshield reflectors and place one below your cooking pot and one behind your cooking pot.  I used a small folding chair to help the sun reflectors maintain their shape with the support of the chair’s back, seat and arms.  I used the metal office clips, the kind you can use to hold a stack of papers together, to clip the sun reflector to the chair.  This helped the oven maintain its form in the wind.  I then took the black silicone pot, filled it with my meal of sweet peppers and ground turkey, and placed it on the bakers rack and tray.  The rack, tray, thermometer and pot go into the oven bag and I then used one clip to seal the end of the oven bag.  I placed the bag on the reflectors and started cooking.  The bakers rack elevates the food so the heat is evenly distributed 360 degrees around the pot.  The bakers tray helps to maintain heat in the oven as the metal heats up and then gives off that heat slowly.  I was really amazed at how quickly the Bag / Oven heated up, the thermometer went from 60 degrees to over 200 degrees in about 20 minutes.  Pretty amazing, but then again I am easily amazed and amused!  Remember to seal the bag tightly, as that is how the “oven” stays hot in order to cook evenly.  The bags are reusable and if the pot is sealed correctly, there will be no condensation build-up in the bag making reading your thermometer easy!  I read that ground turkey needs to reach a minimum of 165 degrees to properly cook.  After about 30 mins my oven reached 220 degrees!  The oven eventually reached about 260 degrees when I removed the food from the bag!  Not bad for a $5.00 dollar, “Dollar Store” Solar Oven.

Below, you can see the end results…. a tasty lunch of Sweet Peppers and Ground Turkey, courtesy of the mighty Sun.  Since I can’t share a bite with you, trust me when I tell you it was delicious!

The $5.00 Dollar Solar Oven Materials.
Sweet Peppers with Ground Turkey.
The Oven ready to start cooking.
Close-up of the Oven, Pot on Rack and Tray and Thermometer.
Peppers with Ground Turkey done cooking.
Peppers with Ground Turkey, hot sauce and cheese added!

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Solar Options, The “SunFlair” Portable Solar Oven.

Being in Florida this time of year has given me the opportunity to test a few solar cooking options.  Cooking with solar today in Kentucky would be next to impossible, seeing that it’s 9 degrees fahrenheit and partly cloudy.  Here in the “Sunshine State” of Florida, it’s not a perfect day for solar cooking, but good enough.  It’s 54 degrees, breezy with full sun, warm enough for me to test my new “SunFlair.”  The “SunFlair” is a lightweight, portable, folding solar oven.  It weighs in at about 3 pounds and folds up small enough to fit into a bag the size of a reusable shopping bag.  The “SunFlair” seems to be well made and comes out of the box with everything you need to prepare a meal, minus the food.  Included are a thermometer, a small metal cooking rack, a baking tray and 2 collapsible silicon pots and a carrying-bag.  The silicone pots are rated up to 485 degrees.  I paid $99.00 for my “SunFlair” on Amazon.  The “SunFlair” website advertises a price of $119.00 as I type this post.

For more details about the “SunFlair,” checkout their website,

http://sunflair.net

The website has great cooking tips for anyone new to solar cooking!

Setting up the “SunFlair” solar oven takes less than 5 mins.  Simply remove the oven from the carrying-bag and unfold.  Then place the cooking rack in the oven, add the pot with food and thermometer, then zip-up the plastic lid.  It really is that simple!  Of course, food preparation time will depend on what you are making.  Today I made a chorizo and sweet pepper quiche, prep time about 10 mins!

After about 90 mins of “noon-time” slow cooking (160 degrees), the quiche was fully cooked!

Below are a few pictures of the “SunFlair” in action….

The “SunFlair” Solar Oven in the carrying bag.
The cooking rack, thermometer, and 2 silicone cooking pots.  One pot is expanded.
The “SunFlair” solar oven unfolded.
The “SunFlair” solar oven unfolded with cooking rack and pot.
Today’s lunch, chorizo and sweet pepper quiche.
The Quiche ready to go in the solar oven.
The Quiche after 90 mins of cook time.
The Quiche ready to eat!  It was delicious!

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Solar Options… The “SunRocket.”

The “Sunrocket” solar kettle.

My first experience with solar cooking was about 5 years ago when I purchased a “Sun-Oven,”  solar oven.  I’ve blogged about the “Sun-Oven” a few times over the last three years.  I think solar is a really cool way to cook or pasteurize water, mainly because solar is a clean, renewable energy source.  The “Sun-Oven” is great to use when I’m camping in Bertha the Truck Camper but it’s a bit too big to take in my smaller Tacoma truck-camping set-up and definitely way too big to carry while backpacking.  I did some research, looking for other solar cooking and water purifying options that are more compact and found the “Sunrocket.”  The “Sunrocket” is a small, light-weight, portable solar kettle, capable of heating or boiling water.  The kettle holds 17 oz of water and depending on weather conditions can boil water in about 45 mins.  I put the “Sunrocket” to the test this week and it performed as advertised, I brought 3 cups of tap water to a boil in 50 mins.  The “Sunrocket” makes a great addition to anyone’s emergency preparedness kit or camping kit!  For me the best thing about the “Sunrocket” is that I can use it to pasteurize water, making safe drinking water with nothing more than the power of the sun…. no fire needed!

Below are a few more pictures of the “Sunrocket” in action!    

The “SunRocket” solar kettle in the upright, closed position.
The “SunRocket” solar kettle in the upright, open position.
The “SunRocket” solar kettle in the horizontal, open position.

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Want a Great Meal While Wandering… Go Ethnic!

I recently blogged about “Frugal Eats” while Wandering (Traveling).  Often, the best meals I find are at little hole-in-the-wall restaurants off the beaten paths!  A pricy restaurant does not always mean a great tasting meal!  I have had great success finding reasonably priced, awesome tasting meals by following the crowds! A restaurant, food-truck or food-stand that is always busy with local customers usually means that the food is great and reasonably priced!  Another tip to finding great meals is to seek out ethnic neighborhoods wherever you wander!  In Singapore I ate perhaps the best Indian fish curry I have ever had, in an Indian neighborhood.  While I lived in Brazil, I ate some of the most incredible Japanese food in the Japanese district of Sao Paulo, the largest population of Japanese outside of Japan.  The foreign immigrants to any new country build neighborhoods where they can retain many of the customs and traditions of their homelands!  We all know food often ranks at the top of the list of the customs and traditions all ethnic groups seek to hold onto!  For at least the last 30 years in America, the largest group of immigrants has been Latinos!  One of the largest concentrations of Latino-immigrants in America is of course in Florida, where I am currently wandering.  Mexicans are the largest group of Latino-immigrants in Florida, so it goes to reason that finding great tasting, inexpensive Mexican food here in Bradenton should be easy!  Oh yes it is!  Within a 5 min drive of where I am staying, there are probably 2 dozen “taco-trucks.”  Over the past 3 weeks I have managed to sample tacos from 4 of the busiest “taco-trucks” close to home!  My friend and his son have never eaten at any of the taco-trucks, even though they drive-by them just about everyday!  This week, I took them to my favorite one and they loved it, I’m sure they will be regulars!  2 great tasting, authentic Mexican tacos and a beverage for under 5 dollars is a certainly a great food-find just about anywhere!  So my simple tip is, don’t be afraid to venture into an ethnic neighborhood to eat, no matter where you wander, even if that neighbor is just a few miles from home!

Below are a few pictures of tacos from 4 different taco-trucks in Bradenton.

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Oscar Scherer State Park, 2014

The scrub-pine forest of the Oscar Scherer State Park.

I wanted to take advantage of the “nice” Florida weather earlier this week and decided to spend a few days camping in Oscar Scherer State Park, located just a few miles north of Venice, Florida.  The Park is a 1,300 acre preserve with roughly 15 miles of sandy walking trails and biking paths that meander through a scrub-pine forest.  A blackwater stream flows through the Park and into the Gulf of Mexico, making it a great place to kayak both flat-water and on the ocean for the day!  I stayed 2 nights in my “tent-cot” at the busy campground located in the Park.  It’s a full-service campground, popular with the full range of “campers,” from 2 man tents to 42′ mega RVs and everything in-between.  The campsites are relatively small but offer a reasonable amount of privacy due to the heavy vegetation between sites.  You can and should reserve your campsite online, it may be difficult to find a site on short notice, as the Park’s wonderful location makes it a popular destination for snowbirds.  I was feeling fortunate to not be in the middle of the “polar-vortex” that many of my friends and family were suffering in the midwest.  I followed the temps on my smart-phone, parts of Michigan and Ohio dipped into the negative teens for a few days… wow … I though, “Man I’m one lucky dude… I’m in Florida, it won’t get too cold here.”  But as fate would have it, at about 6 AM the first morning in the park, I awoke to 37 degree temperatures outside my tent, much colder than I expected.  But as they say, it’s all relative, 37 degrees is a lot warmer than 15 below zero, I still felt pretty fortunate!  That day, I hiked about 7 miles of the park’s sandy trails.  I was looking for the scrub-jay, an endangered bird who makes his home in the park.  After a few hours of hiking I managed to see only one scrub-jay, a small bird similar looking to the well-known bluejay but just a bit fatter.  One of the cool features I found along the trails was a drinking fountain made for humans and dogs alike.  It also featured a water-bottle fill point.  The drinking fountain reminded me that for this mini-adventure, I was not exactly in the Australian Outback, but it did allow me to fill my water-bottle which was nice.  As I have always said, not all adventures have to be in a far-off distant land summiting a 17,000 ft peak.  Some adventures can be close to home and still offer a nice getaway, like a few days at Oscar Scherer State Park!

A drinking fountain along the trails at Oscar Scherer State Park, made for man, dog and water-bottle!

    

The scrub-pine forest at Oscar Scherer State Park.
The aftermath of a controlled burn at Oscar Scherer State Park.
My Campsite for a few nights at Oscar Scherer State Park.
Not too fancy but the simplicity of my campsite was wonderful nonetheless!
The blackwater stream that flows through Oscar Scherer State Park and into the Gulf of Mexico. 

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