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When my husband and I travel cross country, we don’t always book campsites on drive days.
The reason for this is that we have found it works better for us to drive as long as we can in a day then find a place to sleep.
When we have booked at the campgrounds, we are fairly committed to either try pushing on to get there or stopping early when we could have put on more miles.
Additionally, we have missed reservations due to weather. Last year we hit a pretty severe storm and felt it was best to pull over and sleep earlier than planned.
The great news is that there is an abundance of places you can stop and rest free of charge.
When we first started RVing, I will admit I was a little nervous about parking overnight in parking lots.
Not just because of safety issues, but also because I was worried it was an old wives’ tale and we would get a ticket, or at least asked to move on.
I am more than happy to report that not only have we found RV friendly overnight parking, but we have never had any issues (knock on wood).
What to Know About Overnight RV Parking
Before I get too far in, I feel I should touch on a couple of definitions regarding RV speak as it pertains to parking.
Dry Docking versus Boondocking and What Each Means
Both refer to camping without any hookups, but dry docking is done in more civilized areas such as Wal-Mart, a rest area, or even primitive campgrounds.
In contrast, boondocking is out in the boonies, away from anything resembling civilization.
Top 5 Things to Know when Dry Docking
#1 – Safety First
Always be aware of your surroundings, sometimes you will be the only rig, and other times there might be few there.
If you ever feel uncomfortable with the area, other campers, or the solitude, move on. It’s not worth risking your safety.
Everyone has that extra sense; we can’t always put our finger on, but when things feel off, trust your instincts.
But safety doesn’t always mean something nefarious. It also applies to the weather. Inclement weather conditions can also impact where you decide to stop.
For example, when we were pulled over during a rainstorm, the area we first chose was in the middle of a flood area, so we moved to higher ground.
#2 – Be Courteous to Other Campers
No one loves the inconsiderate neighbor, whether you are at home or on the road.
Be aware of others in the area.
This doesn’t mean you have to go over and introduce yourself, but it does mean:
- Be conscious of your noise level
- Leash your dog so Fido doesn’t wander over to greet someone unexpectedly. Remember, not everyone loves dogs (see our tips for RVing with dogs and cats)
- Not running your generator overnight
#3 – Leave the Area the Same Way You Found It
One of the fastest ways to wreck free parking is if people start leaving behind litter and pet waste.
It’s an incredible convenience to be able to park for free overnight, so be respectful to the owners of the property.
Additionally, be respectful of the camper coming in next.
You can even be a good neighbor and pick up somebody else’s trash.
#4 – Be Prepared
Remember, you don’t have any hookups.
So be sure your water tanks are full, your generator is ready to roll, and your gray and black tanks have space for your overnight stop.
#5 – Have a Source of Electricity
If your RV didn’t come with a generator or solar panels, it is an investment you won’t regret.
Without an alternative power source, you limit yourself to what you can use and run the risk of draining your battery.
Where Can You Park Overnight for Free?
Most Walmarts allow overnight parking.
However, there are a handful of stores that do not, so it is always best to call ahead if you aren’t sure.
One of my favorite things about drydocking at Walmart is the convenience of picking up any necessities while you’re there.
Also, they are often conveniently located just off the freeway.
Some rest areas allow overnight parking. Those that don’t have signs posted to the parking limits.
If you do park in the rest area, you will need to park in the area with the semi-trucks.
We have used rest areas frequently, though one of the drawbacks is the noise from the semis coming and going.
However, they are nice if you have pets that need to go outside because they have pet exercise areas (don’t miss our tips for RVing with pets).
Like Walmart, some (not all) stores allow for overnight parking.
However, the stores that do allow overnight parking have a special RV area and may even offer a water and dump station.
They do charge a nominal fee for the dump station, but it’s convenient, and rarely is there a line.
Note: Cabela’s RV parking is for customers only, but it’s also a great place to grab any additional camping gear you need or forgot to pack.
Camping World used to be a popular overnight stopping place.
However, recently they have changed their policy at some of their locations, so it is best to call ahead to see if they still allow drydocking.
Sam’s Clubs, located in cities that allow overnight RV parking, will let you stay overnight.
Sam’s Club does request you notify the manager in advance to avoid being identified as an unauthorized vehicle and having your RV towed at your expense.
Most Cracker Barrels allow overnight parking and frequently have designated RV parking.
To see if a Cracker Barrel is RV friendly, go to their website and put in the location.
This will tell you if it is an option or not.
Overnight parking at a truck stop is an option, but wouldn’t be my first choice unless they have a special RV area like Flying J.
Truck stops are meant for trucks, and when the lot is busy, you might be taking a spot a trucker needed.
Sure, they can park elsewhere, but truck stops have bathrooms, food, showers, and basic amenities, making it a convenient stop for them.
Additionally, truck stops are loud, and it isn’t fun trying to walk across a busy lot.
It’s a lot like playing Frogger!
Target, Lowes, Costco, Home Depot
These stores do not have an RV parking policy.
If that’s all you can find, you can always approach the store manager to seek permission to stay overnight.
A lot of it is common sense stuff, but after a long day on the road when you’re tired, mistakes are easy to make.
Here are some general safety tips:
- As I said earlier, be aware of your surroundings. If it looks “shady” find somewhere else
- If you aren’t familiar with the area, don’t go walking after dark
- Lock your doors and windows
- When possible, stay at places where you have cell service
- If available, park in a well-lit area
- Keep an eye on the sky. Not for little green men, but staying on top of weather conditions is a must
Free overnight parking is not only convenient, but it allows for a more relaxed drive day since you don’t have the pressure of a waiting reservation.
Being able to stop virtually anywhere and having the convenience of “home” with you is one of the many benefits of RV life.
I know overnight parking can seem a bit daunting at first since no one wants to be the person getting towed.
But rest assured that RVers have been parking for free at various locations for years and will be doing so for years to come.