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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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