Nomad Life

7 Tips for Finding Free Overnight Parking for RVs

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These days, Sam and I completed yet another cross-country road trip from Colorado to the Midwest along I-80. However, this time we did it in our camper van which means we essentially did it for free. Obviously, we had to pay for gas and food, etc. But we spent a whole week on the road and never paid for an overnight stay. How did we find this free overnight parking you ask? Well, mostly by using our smartphones and the internet. I apologize for not having a more glamorous hack to find the best free overnight parking. But, I will say that with these 7 tips along with this list of 15 places with free overnight parking, you’ll be able to plan ahead and avoid wasting time in your search. This was our first rodeo finding free overnight parking, so these tips and tricks come from our own mistakes. Hopefully, with these words of advice, you can avoid struggles on the road and feel relaxed as you rest your head and keep money in your pocket. 

1. Gather Your List of Free Overnight Parking

This is a step that we sort of skipped before we headed out. We had a vague understanding of places that might allow free overnight parking, but I wish we had done more research. Lucky for you, all you have to do is download this list that we compiled after our time on the road. Now you’re all set with the basics. This list features places that you can typically find all over the country or at least in certain regions of the country. They’re usually quite accessible and avoid any long drives off your route. This is the simplest list of what stores allow overnight parking. However, you may grow tired of the same old asphalt and lack of scenery. I recommend using these places on your journey and then paying or doing a bit more digging for free RV camping once you arrive at your final destination.

2. Use Google Maps to Find Free Overnight Parking

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As I said, nothing glamorous or “hacky” here. We simply stuck to the basics. First, pull up your route, and figure out where you plan to stop. Once you find your stopping point, use your handy-dandy list of free overnight parking places and search in that area. Typically, there are multiple options so if one doesn’t end up working out, make sure to choose a backup. It’s important to choose ahead so that you’re not on too much of a time crunch. It’s dreadful looking for a place to stay when it’s dark out. We also used google maps to plan out non-overnight stops along our route. A final tip is to save spots that you really liked in your Google Maps, so you can use it again if you’re ever traveling that same route. 

3. Call Ahead for Free Overnight Parking & Other Courteous Things

While it’s an abundant standby, Walmart recently started cracking down on overnight RV parking. For this reason, and as a courtesy to all stores that allow free overnight parking, it’s important to call ahead or go inside and ask. Just be sure to call before the store closes…we ran into this issue a few times. Also, sometimes they will request that you park in a specific area of the lot. This is usually as far back as possible away from the front of the store. In our experience, no one asked for our vehicle information and no one ever responded with an “I don’t know”. Seems like they get asked this question quite often. It’s also a courtesy to stay only one night at stores rather than making it a week-long living situation. As a final courtesy, it doesn’t hurt to purchase something as a thank you. 

4. Trust Your Gut When it Comes to Safety

The first line of defense is to call ahead and make sure you won’t be towed or harassed for parking overnight. Also, don’t be afraid to read reviews. Sure, many of these places won’t have 5 stars but reviewers often comment on safety. Next, as I stated earlier, always have at least one backup plan. Sam and I only experienced a feeling of unease once on our trip. We promptly moved to a backup location despite having to drive for about 30 more minutes. I felt safest in areas that were open 24 hours with well-lit parking lots and several other Boondockers and truckers in sight. It also doesn’t hurt to stop off near the suburbs of larger cities where there are several other businesses and people around. 

5. Use Free Overnight Parking That’s Open 24 Hours

There are several reasons I recommend a spot that’s open 24 hours. First and foremost, it’s nice to have a bathroom at all hours. I realize this only applies to RVers without their own facilities, but just something to note. It’s nice to pull in somewhere late at night or super early in the morning that seems busy. For me, empty parking lots equal the setting of a horror movie. I like knowing that there are always people around in case of an emergency, vehicle troubles, answering questions, etc. Truck stops, rest areas, and 24-hour gyms are all great options. 

6. Use Rest Areas

Also making the list of free overnight parking for RVs are rest areas. Why use them? Well, first of all, they’re all over the country and along major interstates so they’re extremely convenient. Rest areas are open 24 hours and typically very well maintained and safe. If you’re traveling with a pup, there are often walking paths and large areas of grass for potty breaks. Keep in mind that whether or not you’re allowed to sleep overnight at a rest area varies by state. My list of free overnight parking provides this information and links to know the exact laws in each state. 

7. Use Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome

Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome are services that charge an annual fee to provide free camping at over 4,000 farms, wineries, breweries, etc. across the country. Once you pay the annual fee, every site is free. The amazing thing about these services is that the locations are all unique. Plus there are perks like delicious wine and beer. It is recommended that you purchase something from the places where you stay as a courtesy and thank you to the lovely people who allowed you on their land! A few disclaimers about harvest hosts. There are often size limits and you have to have a toilet. Also, these spots are typically further off the beaten path with less convenient locations along your route. Finally, be sure to put in your request for a spot several days in advance. These places fill up quickly and sometimes the hosts do not get back to you in time!

With these 7 tips and tricks, plus a list of 15 free overnight parking for RVs you’re all set to hit the road and save some money. Honestly, it’s worth it to skip the fees, especially if you’re just passing through on your way to an epic destination. Then, once you’re there you can maybe spend a bit more for the perfect campsite or RV resort. It feels strange the first few nights, but eventually, you settle in and you may even feel a sense of community as you pull into the lot with your comrades of road warriors. 

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