If you travel a lot, chances are you’ve been in this situation before. You’re exhausted, far from any RV park, campground, or hotel, and in need of a place to rest. Maybe an unexpected problem or travel delays kept you from reaching your destination.
Perhaps it wasn’t the best planning on your part. You may even be simply looking for a way to save a little cash on accommodations. In any case, this is when RV overnight parking spots come in handy. But not every location is created equal.
That’s why we’re breaking down your choices, from most comfortable to most annoying.
What Does Overnight Parking Mean?
Overnight parking allows travelers to legally sleep in their RV, truck, car, camper van, or other vehicles. It’s typically for a short period. It’s most often used by those on the way to a final destination.
They simply need a few hours of shut-eye before continuing down the road. Depending on the exact location, amenities and rules can vary widely.
Keep in mind: These are the 7 Deadly Sins of overnight RV Parking.
Where Can You Park Overnight?
In most parts of the country, you’ll have a few options for parking your RV overnight. However, local laws and parking rules will vary. It’s crucial that, before bedding down for the night, you ensure you can legally park in the location.
This can be verified by nearby signs, contacting the business, or other methods. When in doubt, it’s always good practice to ask to avoid an unwelcome wake-up call from a business owner or police officer.
Truck stops are one of the most common choices for overnight stops. They offer the advantage of being designed for overnight stays. At their best, you’ll have access to amenities like food, bathrooms (often with showers), and potentially other services like an RV wash and gas.
While truck stops can have a bit of an unsavory reputation, many offer 24-hour security, making them arguably even safer than other options.
Business Parking Lots
Certain nationwide businesses have acquired a reputation for encouraging (or at least tolerating) overnight RV parking in their lots. The best known are Walmart and Cracker Barrel, which have thousands of locations around the country, often close to major travel routes.
At these spots, you’ll likely just have a large parking spot with few other amenities other than the business itself if it’s open. You’ll want to keep a lower profile while overnighting here and try not to be a nuisance to customers.
That means keeping your slides in, not using your generator, and keeping all your possessions inside your rig until you depart.
This is one of the overnight parking choices where it’s most crucial to reach out to the business itself to verify if it allows RVers to stay. Some Walmarts or Cracker Barrels may not permit overnight parking or have rules about where RVers should park and how they should conduct themselves.
Rest stops certainly aren’t anyone’s idea of a dream campground, but they have one major thing going for them – convenience. RVers who need a few hours of rest don’t even need to leave the vicinity of the highway they were traveling on, saving valuable time and gas.
However, the quality may vary widely. You may get a developed stop with bathrooms, restaurants, and security, or simple parking lots on the side of the road. You’ll want to consult any signs or local laws to ensure overnight parking is allowed.
Our nation’s public lands (overseen by the Bureau of Land Management or BLM) also provide millions of acres of free camping spots for an overnight or longer. In just about all of these situations, you’ll just be pulling your RV over on the side of the road or into an open space.
This means no amenities, no security, and often, no neighbors. That means you should be comfortable being alone, often in the middle of nowhere. It’s crucial to ensure you are actually on BLM land and not an area owned by private landowners or others. Some BLM land will also require a fee for camping, usually at more developed campgrounds.
FYI: 5 Reasons to Avoid BLM Land
A Friend or Family Member’s House
Overnight camping in your RV at a friend or family member’s house is basically a much-upgraded version of crashing on their couch. Sure, you may have your own space within your rig. However, you should still consider yourself a guest and act accordingly.
Depending on your host’s home, equipment, and comfort level, you may have access to everything. That includes a full electric and water hookup to requests to keep your slides in and generator off. Most friends or family won’t expect any payment.
But, it can be nice to take them out to dinner, a drink, or buy them a small token as a thank you for their hospitality.
FYI: Moochdocking, it can turn into a bad situation.
Street Parking in Some Cities
Many cities have somewhat stringent rules about parking overnight and parking large vehicles like RVs. But in those that don’t, you may be able to find street parking and simply pull over there for the night. You’ll want to double-check local parking laws and your location. You certainly want to avoid waking up with a ticket or being towed to the impound lot!
Even if cities allow street parking of RVs overnight, they may not permit people to stay in them. In any case, you should be as discreet as possible during your “stay.”
Safety can also be an issue here, and you’ll need to ensure your parking options are in a safe neighborhood.
Which Overnight Parking Place Is the Most Annoying?
Annoying may be in the eye of the beholder, but truck stops top the list of irritating overnight parking locations for many. There are a few reasons for this.
First, there are typically few, if any, rules about generators or noise. Depending on how busy the stop is, this can range from just obnoxious to a dull roar. Unlike other options, truckers are on a schedule. That means they may come and go throughout the night, making even more noise.
That kind of semi-chaotic environment may not provide the best rest, regardless of the availability of amenities like food and showers.
Keep in mind: YouTubers shares scary overnight truck stop experience.
How Can I Avoid Stopping at a Truck Stop to Park Overnight?
If a night at a truck stop doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, don’t worry. With a bit of planning and foresight, you’ll rarely, if ever, have to stay at one. The most important things to remember are keeping your travel distances reasonable and knowing your destination.
Follow the 3/3/3 rule. That can be helpful here. By selecting an end destination that’s a reasonable distance, even unexpected delays shouldn’t prevent you from making it there by the time you need to go to sleep.
If this isn’t feasible or you need a place to stay on the fly, your next best option is to take a few minutes to research businesses along your route that may allow overnight RV parking. Give them a call to verify, ideally during regular business hours.
Once again, a few minutes of planning can help you avoid stopping at a truck stop out of sheer exhaustion later on.
For the uninitiated: 7 Thing to Non-Truckers Need to Know About Truck Stops
Where Is the Safest Place to Park Your Car Overnight?
Understandably, safety is the top priority for many of those looking for an overnight parking spot to get some rest. In many cases, overnight parking is quite safe, especially at designated locations. While you may not enjoy the noise and bustle of a truck stop, they often have security on-site. The number of witnesses likely discourages many crimes of opportunity.
Overnighting at a business parking lot, rest stop, or friend’s or family member’s house can vary in safety. That depends on the safety of the surrounding area and how busy it is.
BLM land can also be relatively safe. However, its remote nature could present potential problems regarding criminals and access to emergency assistance. You’ll need to use your best judgment to determine whether an overnight parking situation is safe. When in doubt, find another spot.
Overnight parking can be a fantastic resource for weary travelers who know how to make the most of it. Keep this information in mind, and you’ll never struggle to find a safe, comfortable place to lay your head.
Where was the most annoying place you’ve ever had to park overnight?
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