Living in your motorhome is as exciting as the places you’d be visiting and the adventures you’d be having. Because you don’t usually camp out in familiar territories, it is important to consider your safety and security during trips, especially when the night comes. Knowing where you can stay overnight without hassle is a concern every van lifer needs to address.
Where to legally sleep in a van? There are many options van lifers can choose from. You can stay overnight for free at places such as Walmart, casinos, truck stops and BLM parking areas. Depending on your budget, you can also rent a spot in private or public campgrounds.
You may consider living in a stealth camper for privacy and added flexibility. Online resources are likewise available to help you find places for your camping and boondocking needs. This article will guide you in making informed decisions for your daily sleeping quarters as you read on.
Places To Park Overnight And Sleep in A Van
Trips may take days, weeks or months, and while you’re sure to have fun in your dream destinations, long drives can be really draining. When darkness falls and you’re left weary on the road, sleeping in your campervan might be your much-needed break. Here is a list of stop-overs free of charge!
9 Top Places to Stay Overnight For Free
Walmart Parking Area
Walmart parking lots are free spaces for you to pull over and sleep soundly. Walmart is a top choice for RVers and van lifers because of its strong presence across the country. More than 4,000 Walmart stores serve the American consumers while around 408 outlets are in Canada.
Some RVs and vans permanently set up here, so expect to have neighbors if you station at Walmart’s for an evening rest. This is also a good choice for errand days as what you need may just be inside the store. However, they may prefer that you park in a certain area based on management’s policies.
Benefits of Staying at Walmart
Without a doubt, a Walmart store is accessible and easy to find. Parking lots are well-lit for security purposes so safety is not an issue. Some stores are open 24 hours, which is a good news! You can seek help anytime, and bathroom facilities are within reach as the need arises. Cell service is certain; you just have to make sure you’re comfortable should there be other campers in the area.
Issues of Using Walmart Space
Too much lighting in the parking space may interrupt normal sleeping patterns. Shoppers can also come early in the morning, so you’ll probably get distracted sleeping in. More than 1,000 out of 4,000+ stores in the US prohibit overnight parking due to various reasons. Seek permission from the store management first before deciding to pull off for the evening.
Another disadvantage is that you will have to walk inside the store for bathroom use unless you have one in your van. If you want privacy, this one’s not for you then. Noise pollution at night is likely an occurrence, so better secure earphones for your convenience.
Most Walmart stores have free wi-fi but with many travelers opting to stay at Walmart’s, internet connection is said to be easily crowded.
Casinos are open 24 hours with security protocols in place for their clients’ safety. Parking for a long time is completely fine as casino goers gamble until wee hours of the morning.
Benefits of Staying at Casinos
Wherever you’d be spending the night, basic amenities such as bathroom and shower have to be checked. Access to bathroom facilities is not a problem with casinos.
They’re often near highways so you’ll have an easy road pull-off any time. Food, coffee, and tea are readily available as menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner come handy with casino food shops. If you love gambling, then it’s a plus!
Issues of Using Casino Space
Staying as is should be the discipline when sleeping within casino premises. Getting in and out will naturally draw more attention putting you at risk of being scolded. Parking areas may be designated for clients only so be well oriented on their parking rules to avoid being knocked for an immediate pull-out.
If gambling is illegal in the state you’re in, this won’t be a great choice for you. Being aware of current state regulations will save you from perils ahead. You might also lose a big amount of money if you gamble and you’re not careful about it. In addition, noise pollution is likely to happen with casinos being near the highway.
When you grow weary during the trip and you decide to get a nap or sleep, rest stop is the place to be. Many rest stops are located on inter-state roads and highways, so finding one won’t be too hard.
Benefits of Staying at Rest Stops
You can stay at rest stops for more than a night because that’s what they’re designed for! Most have 24-hour bathroom facilities and tables that you can freely use. There may be volunteers who will serve you in their premises. Cell service is generally good so you can expect a reliable communication line while staying.
Issues of Using Rest Stops
Rest stops can be unsafe depending on their location. It’s helpful to check your location first to ensure your security. Your awareness of the surrounding is definitely necessary.
Noise pollution is another dilemma you’d be dealing with as rest stops are commonly situated near the highway. Parking may have set hours, so better know what those hours are before deciding to hang around these sites.
Welcome Information Centers (WICs)
Normally seen when you crossed a state line, Welcome Information Centers have wide parking spaces to accommodate your campervan. WICs exist to cater to the traveling needs of motorists across states and help travelers as well to find a temporary shelter for the evening.
Benefits of Staying at WICs
You’re likely to stay alone at a center because WICs are unpopular when it comes to overnight parking. Any activity won’t attract much attention too. You’d have the liberty to do stuff like cooking because privacy is certain at night. Free maps and information on the state you’d be exploring are also available for use.
Issues of Using WIC Spaces
WICs are not a 24-hour facility that’s why using portable items in whatever activities you’d be having is a must. For instance, you’ll have no access to bathroom facilities until the center opens. If your van has a tiny bathroom inside, this is no big deal though.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Area, National and State Parks, and National Forests
Free dispersed camping is allowed in public lands but with camping guidelines you ought to follow. Car camping for free is typically for 14 days, but can sometimes reach 30 days depending on policies. As a rule, the Leave No Trace standard is required for all campers.
Under this principle, you are expected to be eco-friendly and to stay away from lakes and streams. Staying away means observing at least 200 feet distance when setting up.Taking your trash with you when you leave also minimizes environmental impact. You are encouraged not to publicly share the location as you preserve the area better with less visitors possible.
Benefits of Staying at Public Lands
Completely legal and free to use, public lands are a must-visit for spending the night. Perks of open spaces, solitude and nature’s beauty will surely attract anyone to state parks and forests. You can definitely enjoy stargazing here and watch the wildlife closer than before.
Access to hiking or biking trails plus outdoor activities can add delight to your ordinary day. If you’re looking for a secluded place to relax better, public lands are just perfect for you!
Issues of Using Public Lands
Most of the time no toilets are available in BLM areas. Cell service may not exist so consider your communication needs beforehand. The best spots may also be difficult to access as they’re normally situated in remote zones. Most areas are in the western half of the US, so if you’re boondocking on the eastern section, don’t be surprised not to find a single spot.
Crown Land in Canada
Crown land comprises around 89% of Canada’s total area and comes with free access for Canadians. Crown lands are government-owned and can either be federal or provincial, with a few acres that are privately-owned. Non-residents may be granted access on crown lands upon paying for required permits.
Benefits of Staying at Crown Land
Because Canada’s crown land is subdivided into categories, your experience will depend on where you’re situated. Recreation Sites, for example, function like primitive campgrounds with fewer amenities. Most of the camping sites are perfect for backcountry camping, or that of wilderness backpacking.
Issues of Using Crown Land Areas
You normally find Crown Land sites in the most remote parts of Canada, so infrastructure tends to be limited. Access is difficult that’s why kayaking or canoeing using public waterways is traditionally done. This is known in eastern provinces such as Ontario.
Grocery Stores and Other Outlets
Parking spaces are normally convenient and safe when you’re in grocery stores or shopping malls. Cabella’s, Bass Pro Shops, Sam’s Club, Cracker Barrel and Camping World are reported to have accommodated van lifers and RVers in their sundown activities. Local and regional stores may also allow camping. For instance, A1 Superfoods grocery store in Montana is known to be a host to campervans and RVs, especially during nightfall.
Benefits of Staying at Grocery Stores and Outlets
Situated in suburbs, accessibility is never a problem. If you have errands, these stores are sure to make your life convenient and your needs instantly taken care of. You can just grab food inside when you’re hungry.
Restroom facilities are also available for your morning routines. Cabella’s, for one, do have water refill stations that can instantly cater to anyone nearby. Parking lots are well-lit and with security features, such as roving guards and installed cameras, so you need not worry about your safety. Cell service is guaranteed but your privacy isn’t, as other campers may also be present in the vicinity.
Issues of Using Other Grocery Store Space
There are concerns you must be aware of when using store park lanes. Be careful not to draw attention when they close, as thieves may sneak out from nowhere. They may have the idea of your vehicle being unoccupied so being alert is imperative.
Grocery outlets may not have 24-hour restrooms so you might as well keep your van ready for emergencies! Noise pollution is more likely at night and no privacy can be expected. You know quite well how suburbs work.
ILiterally for trucks to park overnight, truck stops can also be an alternative for your sleeping quarters. You can squeeze in beside those trucks should you be desperate for a spot. Flying J, Love’s and Pilot are popular names when it comes to traveler-friendly truck stops.
Benefits of Staying at Truck Stops
In the case of Flying J, you can pull in at any time of the evening. Coin operated shower and laundry facilities are also available.With $10 from your pocket, you can already have a bath at Flying J.Truck stops also have attached restaurants for food needs as travelers often search for food shops.
You can fuel up at truck stops before hitting the road again. They have 24-hour bathroom facilities for your use, a guaranteed cell service connection and well-lit parking areas to ensure their visitors’ safety.
Issues of Using Truck Stop Space
The bad news about truck stop spaces is they can be loud given the possible queue of trucks stopping over for the night. You’ve got to try earplugs in this situation. Nighttime light pollution is another issue as parking areas may be too lighted.
City Streets via Stealth Camping
City streets are the least popular option in this list, but are potential spots when you’re left with no other alternative. It is important to know the local laws as some states disallow this habit.
Sometimes you sleep where you’re not allowed and as a reality check, it does happen! Be respectful and learn to blend in should this become your last resort.
Benefits of Staying at City Streets
An urban setup brings comfort to any traveler, such that the feeling of being with people despite the busy streets reminds you that you’re not alone in your journey. That’s a relief sometimes. Cargo vans also pull off easily when in city streets and cell service isn’t a common problem.
Issues of Using City Street Parking
Because you’re camping on streets, it’s likely that you won’t have access to bathroom facilities during the night. Prepare an alternative for this. You need to be quiet and careful too, as you’re way too noticeable being in public sight. This explains why it’s harder for adventure rigs to standby on city streets. You’re required to change location every night so you won’t get noticed.
Other Places You Can Try
If it’s impossible to reach the places mentioned above, there are alternatives you can choose from. Here is a list of other places where you can spend the night securely.
Think of your budget when opting for campgrounds. There are no restrictions as to duration of stay as long as you can pay. Access to bathroom and shower amenities, water, electricity, firewood and wi-fi is present in most campgrounds.
Public Land Campgrounds
Cost range for public land campgrounds is from $5 to $25, but discounts may apply by using the National Parks Interagency Pass. Camping fees though support and maintain public lands. If you don’t want to search for a boondocking spot, this is the right place to be. They’re usually with no showers and might be noisy as they’re commonly near highways. You can expect to have neighbors when you camp out on these sites.
Campgrounds in City, State and County Parks
As camping fees help these public parks, your budget must be around $10 to $45 to secure a spot. Beautiful sceneries are an advantage and the park activities present like biking, hiking, boating, and fishing can make your day extraordinary. These campgrounds can be really expensive and crowded. Rowdy neighbors are a possibility so prepare for probable what-ifs.
Kampground of America or KOA is the biggest global network of privately-held campgrounds with various locations across Canada and the United States. Their campgrounds can cost you $30 or higher. Hotel-like amenities can be found in their campgrounds and are certified dog and kid-friendly.
KOA offers membership to save on fees. With an annual cost of $30, you enjoy 10% off every time you stay and you’re free of charge every 10th night. Noise pollution is possible though as they’re near highways. Wi-fi can also get overloaded and you may not like it when people, kids, and dogs are running all over!
RV Parks and Independent Campgrounds
With the usual cost range of $20 to $40, camping tends to be expensive in these spots. Access to onsite activities and amenities will surely make your stay memorable. Many, however, are styled just like parking lots.
Considered illegal if without permission, an overnight stay at a private land has to be with owner’s approval. There are services that connect you to private landowners, two of which are discussed below.
A subscription service to find local wineries, breweries, and farms for short-time camping, Harvest Hosts can help you relocate for the night. No camping fees are charged but you’re expected to buy something from your host.
With a yearly subscription of $30, Boondockers Welcome connects you to people everywhere for camping out in their properties for free!
Parking Areas of Hotels and Motels
Big ones may have security personnel that check vehicle plates so be cautious when parking.
Too small hotels may also draw more attention to you. Please consider this stuff before deciding what hotel or motel to spend the night with.
If no parking passes are required, you have the opportunity to stay overnight. You can be assumed as one of the people who live there, so you’re perfectly safe.
Airports and Hospitals
You can have a sleeping quarter as long as an airport or hospital is near you. Just make sure to park in a remote area to avoid hassles during emergencies.
Typically quiet and easy to come by, church parking spaces can be your choice. It is crucial to seek permission first before doing anything so you can sleep soundly at night.
Friends or Family Members
If you know someone in your location, it’s best to stay with them for the night. Parking for a fee may also be agreed upon to help both parties. You don’t just have a sleeping quarter, but you’ll definitely enjoy bonding with them. If someone you know also has an accessory dwelling unit that you can rent, that would make a difference in your trip.
Why Choose Stealth
Stealth van life is simply making it appear that your campervan is just like other vehicles on the road. Living inside the van won’t be obvious from outside. Stealthing gives you flexibility when staying out in nature as you camp anywhere for free. Easy and hassle-free urban living is possible for you when hiding in plain sight. More privacy and freedom to camp out are typical characteristics of stealth camping.
To do this, choose a plain white cargo van. You can have the windows tinted or have no windows at all. Solar panels or roof vents can also be installed for an affordable power source and good ventilation inside.
Online Guides To Find Places To Sleep
Websites and apps can be accessed to find places at no added cost, both in Canada and the United States. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
For stealth camping and boondocking areas, iOverlander is a free app that scours populated places based on RVers and van lifers’ feedback. This app works offline for added convenience.
Search through FreeRoam
FreeRoam is a free app that’s great for boondocking sites and campgrounds in nature. You can use map layers to search for public land and check for elevation, fire hazards, cell coverage, and smoke. The user base is smaller hence, there are not enough reviews.
Similar to iOverlander, AccessPark4Night is based on user reports. Stealth camping sites found along highways and legal campgrounds are included in its gallery. You can also read various campsite experiences and see photos, and comments to help you in making decisions.
Find Places through Hipcamp
You can discover and book camping sites such as lakes and beaches, and RV parks through Hipcamp. Hipcamp also includes opportunities for hosting and camping stories for your review.
Pick your Choice with AllStays
Providing options for camping sites, hotels and parking, AllStays lists campgrounds in various states, national parks, and public lands. Mobile apps are also available for downloads on its website.
Freecampsites.net for Boondocking
Campsites present are crowdsourced but with reviews and notes that you can read and update yourself. Freecampsites.net has the biggest list of dispersed camping spots for your boondocking needs.
Ultimatecampgrounds.com for US and Canada
With its Android and iOs apps, Ultimatecampgrounds.com showcases an interactive map displaying both US and Canada-based public campgrounds. Descriptions are provided so you’ll know if a certain campsite is free of charge or not, including the amount of fees.
Other Resources for Canada Crown Land
To search for camping sites in Canada’s Crown Land, here are a few government sites you can browse.
For British Columbia: Recreational Sites and Trails Map
For Alberta: Alberta Environment and Parks
For Ontario: Ontario Map Locator
For New Bronswick: Crown Land Conservation Areas
For Nova Scotia: Nova Scotia Interactive Map
Because not all of Canada’s crown lands are suitable for camping, it’s better to have an initial research so you’ll know where to go. The links above are quick aids that can assist you in scouting for the right spots.
Tips for Your Safety
Stay in the best place, that is, with nature. Nature tends to be harmless most times, so camping out becomes exciting and memorable.
Get ready for bed in a location different from where you’ll be sleeping. This will save the time that you can use for sleep once you’re in your sleeping quarter.
Avoid staying in places with frequent parties or with evidence of partying. You won’t always have an idea what could happen with people around.
Be aware of your location. Use Apple Maps or Google maps. You’ll have a better command of directions in case of emergencies.
If you sleep in the city, look for well-lighted areas with security cameras. Though these are hard to spot, there are a few places for you to take refuge.
Change locations frequently. Stay at one spot no more than one night. This will protect you from unwanted attention.
Arrive late and leave early. As much as possible, seek no attention. This is done best when there are no people around as you come and go. Being unnoticed is the best protection for you.
Whatever destination you’re looking at, it is always convenient and safe to know where you can drop by for the rest of the night. While there are a number of alternatives to pick from, make sure to have a list with you should you cross states or even US borders. In this way, you’ll always have a fallback should Plan A fail. For now, let’s draft the plans for our next stop. After all, that’s what this motorhome life is for.