How do you camp for free?
That's where boondocking, dispersed camping and stealth parking come in. I've learned that most people use the term "boondocking" when it comes to free, no-hook-up overnight camping...but according to my research, there are differences in the above terms.
If you're stopping overnight in a Walmart parking lot, for example, that is technically "stealth parking." It's best to call ahead, though, to make sure the Walmart you're heading to allows overnight parking. It seems that this very popular practice has experienced some changes over the past couple of years...with some Walmarts now prohibiting the overnight campers/parkers.
I called the Milpitas, Mountain View and Chico, California, Walmarts to check and see what their policies are...and the answer was "no we do not allow overnight camping." In the case of Chico, the manager said that it's a city ordinance that keeps the overnighters out. Further research indicated that some municipalities have enacted these kinds of rules for a variety of reasons, including keeping local tax-paying RV parks happy-- If you're spending the night for free in a Walmart parking lot you're not spending money at the RV park.
Stealth parking also refers to finding a place to park your rig and spend the night just about anywhere in an urbanish area while you try not to call too much attention to yourself and your tent, trailer or RV. If you are tent camping, it's pretty hard to be stealthy once you whip out that tent. Travel trailer campers usually want to stay hitched up to the tow vehicle and RV's keep their slideouts "in" to reduce unwanted attention.
Why do you want to reduce unwanted attention? Well, who wants to be awakened in the wee hours by a security guard or the police who are sometimes all too eager to give you a ticket for unauthorized overnight parking? Can you say "municipal revenue stream?"
As for boondocking and dispersed camping...these are all about "getting away from it all." National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands or another type of public land are the best bets. There are many options here, most free, some with a small $5-10 overnight fee. Here is the BLM link to recreation: http://www.recreation.gov/recFacilitySearch.do?agencies=126
And a subsidiary site on California camping at recreation.gov: http://www.recreation.gov/campgroundSearch.do
We have boondocked on BLM land in Nevada's Black Rock Desert (home of Burning Man) and in Quartzite, Az. The Black Rock fees are apparently included in the price of your Burning Man ticket and the fee in Qz was $40 for two weeks.
To really boondock, you gotta be pretty self-sufficient because you can't hook up to a park's water, electrical or wi-fi services. Having an indoor bathroom is key for me. Last winter, Tom re-plumbed our trailer to include a hot water heater so we can shower and wash dishes without hookups (for at least a few days.)
I'd really like to see more options for solar power in lieu of electrical hookups. We currently have decorative solar lights but would like to be able to use solar for all our power needs.