Here is a list of ideas where to park and sleep for the night. Some of these will work while you are in urban environments, and some won’t.
First, let’s talk about legalities and ethics. I have tried most of these ideas and have no problem doing so. However, I cannot recommend that you break any laws or lie to authorities. You do so at your own risk!
As most experienced boondockers know, Walmart (and Sam’s Clubs) love and welcome us to stay in their parking lots. Unfortunately, some cities have made it illegal to do so and strictly enforce it against Walmart. However, the
enforcement is usually selective and they will not enforce it at other big-box stores. I carry a Rand Macnally atlas I bought at Walmart that also has a listing of where all there stores are and will usually call ahead to find out the status of that Walmart. There is a group on Yahoo that keeps track of which Walmarts are closed to parking.
This is a great stealth spot. If approached by security (unlikely) tell them you are from out of town waiting to see Aunt Sue in the morning. Who would turn you away? As an added benefit, most hospital cafaterias offer decent food at reasonable prices. There are almost certain to be healthy options.
Motel, Hotel Parking Lots:
Medium sized is best, too small and you stick out, too big and they may have security which will double check license plates against the registry. Park like you are a guest staying there. Too far away seems odd, but too close and there will be more noise and activity.
Car Repair Garages:
Park as if you were dropping the vehicle off to be serviced. If a cop comes by, which is unlikely, tell them you are traveling, had a problem, and are waiting for the garage to open in the morning to get repairs. Many shops have a drop-off slot so it doesn’t seem strange for a strange vehicle to be waiting. If not, when the employees get there in the morning, they will start wondering why you are there so leave early.
Closed Large Retail stores:
If the parking lot has plenty of employee vehicles, just park with them and no one will notice. But what if there aren’t any other vehicles? One idea is to put a “For Sale” sign on the dashboard before you go to bed. Use a local phone number if possible.
24 hr Businesses:
You are just another customer or employee so no one will notice you. Sometimes they have security and are one of the safest places you can stay.
Lots of cars parked out front and no one knows who they belong to or who is having visitors/guests. Very safe parking.
If you are a member of the denomination, or ask first, this can work. It is fairly common to see RV’s parked in church parking lots anymore. However, a car or van parked in front of a church in the middle of the night can draw attention. I personally avoid this one.
These are usually very accepting of RV’s and vandwellers alike. But if not, then be very stealthy.
It’s common for patrons to drink too much and take a cab home, leaving their vehicle in the parking lot overnight. No one will think twice about you being there, but there is a risk of rowdiness and noise at closing time.
Why not? Go in and tell the officer you are passing through and need to catch a few hours sleep. Could you sleep in their parking lot? If he says yes, you are set. If he says no, ask him for ideas where you can park. He probably will help you out, and if not, at least you have found out about the local overnight sleeping laws of that town.
New/Used Car or RV lot:
I question this one. Most of these block their entrance at night so it’s possible you could get trapped inside their parking lot. As you leave in the morning, you may look like you are stealing the vehicle and the employees could call the police. All in all, I avoid this one, your mileage may vary.
Find a dirt road and follow it to a spot that gets you out of the path of passing headlights at night. There are two camps on this one. One says it is the best and safest place another says it is the most dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. I have done this many times when driving the Alcan to and from Alaska, and felt perfectly safe. However, I won’t do it in more urban areas, but that’s up to you to decide for yourself.
These almost always welcome RV’s and van dwellers and often will have a designated area for us. Sometimes there are extra services like showers and wifi connections.
These vary by state. Sometimes you are welcome to stay and sleep, sometimes it is against the state law. You are going to have to do the research for where you are at. There have been murders at rest areas, and so some people won’t stay there. However, the vast majority of the time they are safe and reasonable places to stay. Decide for yourself.
Some Helpful Tips Wherever you Stay:
- Move around: If you stay at the same place over and over again, people will notice. Sometimes that is fine because no one cares. Other times you will be asked to move. Generally, the lower your profile, the better.
- Spend the minimum amount of time at your sleep location: I usually scout out my location, then find a convenience store (or other public restroom) and use the rest room (and brush my teeth if possible). I go straight to my sleeping spot and go to bed. In the morning I return to the convenience store and use the restroom and freshen up as much as possible.
- Keep the van dark and quiet: If you read yourself to sleep or watch TV, make sure you can’t see the light through any of the windows and the TV/radio/music low enough so no one else can hear it.
- Have your story ready: If you are in front of the hospital, who are you there to see, and what is wrong with them? If you are just passing through, where are you from and where are you going and why? If you are in front of a car repair shop, what’s wrong with your car?
- Be as conventional as you can be. Fulltimers are unconventional, and many people are afraid of things that are different from the norm. Make yourself as normal looking as you can. If you are retired military, show that id to the officer. Keep yourself and your vehicle as clean and neat as you possibly can. In other words, blend in.
- Don’t set up camp! Even if you know you are welcome to park there, do not take advantage by putting out slides, popping your top, setting up the bar-b-que, and making yourself at home. This is what makes cities pass laws against boondocking. Don’t ruin it for the rest of us.
- Follow your gut: If it doesn’t “feel” right, don’t stay there!