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What is Lot-Docking Camping? (HINT: It’s Cheap)

You probably know about boondocking, but there’s a more urban version that’s gaining in popularity, and it’s all about convenience. Lot docking is no substitute for spending time in the great outdoors – it’s simply a practical part of traveling.

Lot Docking is staying for a short time in the parking lot of a commercial business. It’s not exactly on the grid, but it’s not as far off it.

The practice has been around for quite a while, long before someone coined a clever name for it. With more RVers than ever out and about, it’s catching on among more campers.

Lot Docking vs Boondocking

Boondocking gets its name from the term “boondocks”. It is dry camping in a natural, remote setting.

Free boondocking sites are sometimes far from any kind of development but are often just on the outskirts of civilization. Common locations include national parks and other lands maintained by the federal government.

Hint: Want a list of the best free camping sites in the US? Click here.

Lot docking happens on commercial properties, sometimes alongside a busy highway or maybe in a quieter suburban area. There are a few different reasons to make these kinds of stops. It might be that you don’t want to stray too far off course and just need to bed down for the night. Other times, bad weather will dictate that you need to pull over to be safe.

Some businesses are more inviting toward overnight stays than others. Because of their friendly attitudes toward RVers, popular lot docking spots include retailers like Walmart, Sam’s Club, Cabela’s, Cracker Barrel, Flying J and Pilot. (There are surely many others, too, but these are the ones that come to mind.)

Here’s further reading about how to legally camp overnight at Walmart.

Casinos, with their welcoming attitudes and often a heavy security presence, are favorites of many campers, too. Some of these stay-over sites are 24-hour businesses that have lots of traffic through the night while others offer a more private after-hours experience.

Also, lot docking is unlike stealth camping in the sense that you are camping with the business’ permission. Even though it’s implied, either with signs designating RV parking or through a company’s general policy, it’s a good practice to call ahead in advance. By speaking directly with a manager on duty, you might be made aware of important issues you wouldn’t know about otherwise.

You might also want to ask if there are any restrictions on the use of a generator.

As I write this, I’m lot-docking at Cracker Barrel!

Things You Need for Lot Docking

You won’t need a lot of supplies because, in theory at least, you’re not going to be lot docking for very long. It’s always a good idea to be prepared, though, so here are a few suggestions to make your experience a smooth one.

Water is a must no matter where you are, so make sure you have some bottled water on hand as well as plenty in your freshwater tank in case you want to take a shower.

Parking lots can be noisy. Even if the business is closed for the night, there could be a loud delivery truck arriving especially early. A pair of earplugs or a battery-operated noise machine might help you get a good night’s sleep before hitting the road again.

We like to have battery-operated fans on board for situations like this, too, because we certainly don’t want to have to run the AC all night without being hooked up to power.

Make sure you have a good set of shades or a blackout curtain, too. Those overhead lights can be awfully bright, especially if you’ve gotten acclimated to camping in the woods.

Check out this article for a list of Boondocking Essentials.

How to Find Parking Lots to Camp In

Word of mouth is a pretty reliable way to find out about businesses that are RV-friendly, but there are other ways to find potential locations, too.

Allstays has an app called ONP Walmart for Walmart stores that you can camp at. Other apps and websites include Walmart Locator, the Allstays Website, and Campendium.

Most stores like Camping World, Cabelas, Gander Outdoors, Walmart, and Cracker Barrel allow overnight parking.

Some city and local ordinances prohibit it, though, so in some towns these stores may not allow it.

Lot Docking Etiquette

You’re camping for free, so it’s proper to be courteous and show some gratitude. There are a few ways you can give back, but maybe the first rule should be to not cause any problems.

Don’t get too comfortable. It’s pretty much just a flat spot for the night, so there’s no need to spread out and set up your chairs or fire up the grill. Keep your slides in, too, unless you have to slide them out to get into bed or have access to something that’s critical.

Many businesses that allow lot docking have designated parking areas. If not, don’t park in the middle of the lot. That’s for customers. Also, it’s probably safer (and maybe quieter) toward the curb.

Unless you have to, don’t unhitch your trailer, and certainly don’t leave it unattended. Also, when the morning comes, be ready to move on quickly and as soon as possible.

But before you go, it’s a good idea to spend a little money at the business, if you can. Don’t feel like you have to break the bank because, after all, one of the reasons to lot dock is to save money. But having a nice breakfast or purchasing some supplies for the trip ahead or even just a small souvenir is a nice way of saying thank you and giving a little payback.

Finally, leave only tire tracks. If you bring it in, take it out, and that doesn’t mean cramming a trash bag or two into one of their tiny trash cans by the front door.

Lot Docking: Here to Stay

Though no one dreams of camping in a parking lot, sometimes it just makes a lot of sense. It’s a practice that’s hopefully here to stay, so let’s all be on our best behavior. Let’s not wear out our welcome at the many businesses that support lot docking.

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

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  1. Ken Thornton says:

    If you ever need to mooch overnight along US 287 we are just outside of Wichita Falls, TX.!

  2. Kenny Lin says:

    I love lot docking – urban boondocking. The past few years I did lot docking more than remote areas or backwoods or backcountry camping. That is more convenient for me so that I can get access to auto mechanics more easily and I can get better signals for my AT&T cellphone and shopping for my foods and RV essential items. I been hopping around the different lots for overnights in one city or town. Sometimes I would check into the gov-run campgrounds or private RV parks for enjoying different views and relaxing. I am a solo traveler and camper, If I feel lonesome I would go to casinos RV lot to stay overnights and go to bar area to order a gin and tonic to drink and talk with bartenders for relax. Some casinos are free overnight parking and some pay a small fees and that is ok for me. In summary, I like lot docking for my RVers lifestyle.

  3. Sigrid says:

    The last thing I want when on a road trip is spending the night at a giant parking lot! Camping is being out in nature, not being surrounded by asphalt and hundreds of other cars.