Many RVers are familiar with overnight parking as they travel to a destination. They don’t need a full-service campground, just a place to pull over and get some rest before continuing down the road.
But more and more automobile travelers are forgoing hotels and hoping to make the same short stopovers on long trips. Even more have decided to live in their car as rents, mortgages, and fuel prices continue to gouge the budget.
Where is it safe and legal for them to sleep in their vehicles?
Let’s find out!
How Can I Sleep in My Car Without Getting Caught?
Many municipalities have laws against parking overnight. This includes sleeping in your car, but there are dozens of places that do allow you to do just that. Granted, most of these locations are for overnight stopovers only, not camping long-term in your vehicle. But if you’re stopping in a city, first look for a safe neighborhood.
Secondly, scan for No Parking and No Camping signs to avoid those areas. In larger towns, they usually have a city website that sometimes lists their parking requirements, so that’s an excellent place to start. Look at parking in a 24-hour business like a gym, grocery store, or Walmart, where cars are expected to be.
Or mix in with cars at a hotel if they have good lighting and don’t have a security patrol. You may even be able to park on a side street next to an apartment complex, blending in with residential vehicles.
And thirdly, remember that you should keep a low profile. Put some window shades in the front window and cover the side and back windows as much as possible with black material.
This will keep people walking by your car from realizing it’s occupied. The blacked-out windows can also help keep any lights you use to read, make dinner, etc. from being noticed.
Where Is It Okay to Sleep In Your Car?
Believe it or not, there are still many businesses and locations that do allow overnight parking. Some even have water spigots and restrooms available. We’ve listed several suggested sites where you may find a place to rest, but you’ll need to check with specific locations, as local laws may negate allowances.
Walmart has long supported RVers, allowing them to park overnight and rest. They reap the benefit because most campers shop at the store the next morning, picking up necessities for their journey. The brand also allows drivers to rest overnight in their cars, but more and more locations have come under fire from local campgrounds for this practice.
That has brought about new local laws that don’t let Walmart offer parking spaces overnight. So check with each store to see what their policy allows.
Pro Tip: Find out how to Legally Camp in a Walmart Parking Lot for free!
Most rest stops let travelers stay several hours, catching some “rest” before continuing their journey. Some smaller roadside stops in Texas even allow drivers to stay for two or three nights, but you should check with individual rest stops, as a few states don’t support overnight parking.
A great place to look is Campendium. Search the location of your choice by closest city and filter for “free camping.”
Many casinos welcome RVers and car campers with free overnight parking. In fact, some will issue a free gambling pass with a voucher for breakfast for first-time visitors! Some of the facilities recognize possible new customers and have even built their own RV parks. Obviously, these are not the casinos to ask for free parking allowances, but there are still quite a few establishments that allow it.
The best clearing house for free overnight parking is casinocamping.com. Search by state, and you’ll find all the casinos registered with a notation stating that they do or do not allow free overnight parking.
Most Bureau of Land Management-run property is in the western United States. But this is a massive opportunity for free overnight stays, as well as free camping for up to 14 days. BLM is federal land that doesn’t fall under the National Park Service. It consists of all types of topography, from desert canyons to mountain forests, riversides, and fields.
Most undeveloped BLM lands are free for camping, but the BLM also has developed campsites that charge small fees and usually offer vault toilets and picnic tables.
Know Before You Go: Some parcels are set aside for day use only, so be sure to check at www.blm.org or stop at a local National Forest or BLM office for information on locations.
Cabela’s, Cracker Barrel, and Lowe’s are just a few of the many businesses that allow overnight parking. And if you’re traveling near a national forest, there are many dispersed camping areas where you can pull off and get a good night’s sleep free of charge.
Several small towns (especially in Texas) have city parks where you can stay up to three nights, and many of these even provide water or electricity. Several apps and websites are available to assist you in finding these areas. Check out FreeCampsites.net, Campendium, and the Allstays Pro app.
Can You Sleep in a Car With the Windows Open?
Yes, as long as you have found a safe place to sleep, you can keep the windows down. This is especially helpful on hot summer nights. If bugs are a worry, there are black nets that can be hung over the window frame, allowing air to flow through the car but stopping mosquitoes and flies from coming in.
Sometimes there is still a worry about safety regarding ill-tempered humans or wildlife if you’re stopped in a national forest. Be sure to keep your windows at least halfway up, lock your doors, and keep your key fob with you. Trigger the car’s alarm if you suspect any problems.
The sudden noise may be enough to scare off intruders of the two- or four-legged kind.
Can I Live in My Car?
More and more people are choosing or have found it necessary to live in their vehicles. It’s possible with some good planning, as you’ll need to consider where you’ll shower and your daily toiletry needs. It’s also paramount that you create a reasonably comfortable ‘bed’ in your vehicle because giving up good rest over a period of time is a quick way to wear yourself out and fall ill.
When considering living in a car, you’ll also need to plan your overnight stays in advance, knowing that if you camp in the city you most likely won’t be able to cook dinner outside of your vehicle, and you’ll need to plan out your bathroom use.
You’ll also have to move your car every night.
Is It Safe to Sleep in a Car?
Sleeping in your car can be as safe as any other lodging activity. It just requires careful planning, a safe environment, and common sense. Select your surroundings carefully, don’t call attention to your vehicle, and follow all guidelines at your parking location.
You’ll enjoy the freedom of navigating your way across the country!
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