So, we’ve been avidly planning our route to OR these past two days. As is typical in summer most of the public campgrounds are booked solid, but we’ve managed to find a few sweet spots that we’re really looking forward to. For the couple of nights where we can’t book we’ll rely on free overnight parking along the way. Most people who full-time RV know this trick, but I thought it’d still be nice to do a quick post on it for those who don’t.
I call them “freebies” and they’re spaces where you can park for free (no hookups) for the night. In my mind this is not the same as ”boondocking” (= camping out in the boonies/nature). When you “freebie” you don’t camp and you don’t stay for the views. It’s simply somewhere convenient to pass the night, usually right next to the road. We did one on the way to Grand Junction staying overnight at Walmart locally the night before our 7AM RV appointment. Not only did it give us the chance to stock up on some groceries, but it was safe and a perfect location for the night. There are lots of places who offer this wonderful service and a couple of rules that I follow each time we use them.
Who Offers Free Parking?
I’m always amazed at the number of places that’ll let you stay overnight, even a “beast” size like us. Here’s a short list:
- Walmart - Most Walmarts allow overnight RV parking unless there’s a city ordinance that prohibits it.
- Casino’s – Many Casino’s have secure parking areas where you can stay for more than one night. Some even give you a discount on a meal. Live.Work.Dream wrote a great post about them here. Also check out www.casinocamper.com.
- Flying J’s - Many Flying J Truck Stops have a separate RV parking area where you can spend the night.
- Big Stores – Some of the larger stores (K-Mart, Lowes, Home Depot, Camping World) will allow you to spend a night.
- Rest Areas – Some rest areas (in some States) allow you to stay overnight. The Interstate Rest Area Guide sells an e-book with all the details.
- Others - Plenty of other unusual spots allow one-night stays. You can find lots of additional listings at www.overnightrvparking.com and at the fabulous Escapees Days End Directory.
April 2012 Update – There is now a new service launched by the fine folks at Frugal RV Travel called Boondockers Welcome where you can connect with other RVers for the chance to overnight for free on private property. Another great resource!
What Are The Rules?
There are really no “official” rules for free overnight stays, but there are a few unofficial ones which I always follow:
- Ask Permission - This is rule #1 and I think it’s critical. Unless you know for a fact that the spot allows overnight parking (i.e. it’s clearly marked), then the right thing to do is to ask for permission. Before we arrived in Grand Junction, CO I called ahead to ask Walmart if we could stay. There are actually 2 Walmart’s in the area and only one allows overnight parking (because of city ordinance), so the phone call was worth the trouble. If I show up at a spot without calling, I’ll go in and ask the manager on-site.
- Park Out of the Way – If you’re parking at a business chose a spot where you won’t get in the way of the regular daytime customers. At Walmart I’ll try to park at the very back of the lot.
- Don’t Set-Up Camp – These “freebies” are overnight parking, not camping. So, keep the slides in and the jacks up. We’ll sometimes put out one of the small slides (as long as it doesn’t hang into a parking spot) and we may run the generator in the early evening but I don’t push it further than that.
- Use Some Cash – This is not really a “rule”, but I like to spend some money at the spot I’m staying. It’s a way of giving back to the business for letting me stay for free.
- Be Courteous – Be nice to your “hosts” and your neighbours.
- Don’t Overstay Your Welcome - Most of these places are really just overnight parking spots. Some (like Casino’s) might let you legitimately stay more than one night, and others might allow it if you ask (and have a good reason), but for the most case it’s just a 1-night deal and it makes sense to support that policy.
- Leave It Spotless - It goes without saying that you shouldn’t dump gray water or leave trash at these spots. Leave it clean and spotless.
And the last thing, although it’s not a rule is more common sense. If you don’t feel safe don’t stay. Most of the big businesses are pretty safe, but there might be areas of town that are rougher (esp. in big cities). Overall I love ”freebies” and consider it a priviledge that I get to use them. Got any favorites of your own?