Van Life | Where We Park Overnight

Many of us panic when we are just starting out and thinking of places to sleep safe at night in our van or other vehicle. But you quickly realize that no matter where you are, there is always a safe spot nearby to crash for the night. Thankfully, we now have the assistance of several apps, websites, and a community of people that have been doing this a while. So you should never be stuck in any area questioning your safety or if you're allowed to be there. I've come up with a short list of the classic do's and don'ts along with the different types of camping that you'll be doing on the road!

 


 

Dispersed Camping

This is defined as any free camping in national parks, national forests, and/or monuments. The established campgrounds are always easy to locate and charge a fee. But most of these places will also offer free camping with no amenities and equally amazing views. With a few searches in your favorite websites and apps, you can find the best, free camping in whatever area you are in. They usually aren't right off the highway such as our later options but offer some wonderful time spent in nature.

Useful Tools: freecampsites.net | ioverlander.com

DO'S

  • Find campsites with reviews to ensure the spot is still open and safe
  • Leave a review yourself! Contribute to the community
  • Pick up after yourself. You'll see the phrase "pack it in, pack it out" frequently
  • Get there before dark; it can be very challenging to find in the dark
  • Make sure you won't need 4x4 (if you don't have it); the reviews and website should clearly state

DON'TS

  • Never assume you can park somewhere on national land, check your apps and websites
  • Places with bad reviews aren't worth it! Safety is first so good reviews and photos are important
  • Littering has no place in our community so don't even think about it
  • If authority asks you to leave, you politely comply. No arguing or strong defense. 
  • Avoid this type of camping if in a hurry, often takes you way off desired route

 

Business Parking

A few generous businesses around the country gladly welcome overnight guests to sleep in the parking lot. It can help with sales as we often end up running inside to grab a bite to eat or inevitably need to buy something quick. Some businesses even sympathize with our community because different executives have traveled and enjoy helping others currently doing so. Whatever the motive is, we appreciate it. We spend more nights parking outside of a business than we do anything else. It's always safe, reliable, and easy access to bathrooms in the morning. We typically use the same companies because we have grown familiar with their policies and preferences. 

Useful Tool: AllStays app ($9.99 but invaluable)

*info downloads so you can use this app offline which will be necessary on the road

Walmart

  • All locations are different; (use AllStays)
  • Park in the back of the lot near a street light
  • Don't call ahead; easier here to ask forgiveness than permission
  • If "no overnight parking" signs, try to park elsewhere

Casinos

  • Again, not all allow. Check your apps. 
  • Many will ask that you check in with security before staying in for the night
  • Usually a 24 hour rule so don't plan to stay for a week
  • Stay in the back and out of the way

Cabela's

  • Personal favorite company to stay overnight
  • Has dump stations, potable water, RV spaces
  • Call ahead for this one and ask. Rules vary heavily.
  • If you are near one that allows, do it! You won't regret it.

Cracker Barrel

  • Edgar's favorite (always has to get those damn biscuits)
  • Nicest staff ever and almost always says yes
  • Call ahead and ask; often police patrol at night; won't bother you if you got permission
  • If budget and time allow, have dinner and breakfast as a thank you

 

Final Notes...

These are the ways that we have been able to camp and park overnight in various states and locations. Event the smallest towns will surprise with a random Walmart or casino that welcomes overnight parking. My last pro tip would be to always find somewhere early in the day to stay that night. We often will adjust our driving schedule in order to make sure we have place to sleep. If you aren't on a budget and want paid campgrounds, they are easily searchable in Google or maps. The options listed above are all FREE, and we have never paid for camping! If you need more help, please head to the contact page and ask. 

 

Happy camping!

Sydney

2/18/2018 | San Diego

 

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