Where To Park For FREE!

Sunday, 07 November 2010 – By Bernie

OK, now that we have an RV set up, or if you are simply using your car, it really doesn’t matter as this works for all situations, except tent camping in some cases. For me, I prefer “Boon-Docking”, but sometimes we can’t get to picky with our parking options on our travels.

WALMART – You simply can’t hardly go wrong with Walmart. There is some that the local city ordinance will not let you set there overnight. However, if you are “Stealth” and not standing out like a sore thumb with a motor home, travel trailer or truck camper, then you probably won’t be bothered. Flagstaff, AZ is one of those, as well as one at Daytona Beach, FL when I was there for bike week and Carlisle, PA.

I do not have a list of non-friendly Walmarts, but there is a Yahoo group that does share this info. Click Here to join that group. This is great for shopping and potty runs. I do spend some time in there just looking through the magazine rack, especially when they are changing the oil or rotating and balancing the tires.

Most Walmarts have a US Atlas that has all the Walmarts listed. This helps with finding a place to park as you travel around in new and unfamiliar places. If you are not sure how to get there with those directions and maps, by all means, get a GPS! I love these things, and they sure make my life so much more easier when I am trying to find where I am going.

You simply type in the address and it takes you right there. Simple. There is also an option to click on different “Points Of Interest” and the GPS will take you to what you want. Lets do some homework and go to Ebay right now and look at Garmin GPS. I have the Garmin Nuvi 750. Click that link to see what all Garmin has to offer and go take a look and add it to your wish list. Once you get one, you will wonder how you lived so long with out one.

Not sure where Mc Donald’s is located in the new town? Click on the “Fast Food” option and wait for the list to populate. Then hit go and follow the directions on the screen as well as verbal so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road. If it is not loud enough, you can hook it up to your stereo. I am not sure what channel it operates on, but it does work. Again, super simple and you will never get lost again with a simple and inexpensive $100 GPS.

If you have a WI-FI connection, then you can go to walmart.com and click on the “Store Finder” tab and check for the locations right on the Internet. If you have a Wi-Fi enable I-Phone kind of thing, that is some really cool convenience. For free Wi-Fi hotspots check out the article titled: FREE Wi-Fi.

I am not sure if Sam’s Clubs are listed in the Walmart Atlas, as I have never bought one. However you can go to samsclub.com and look to see what may be close. Once I get closer to the town/city where I think I want to spend the night, I turn on my GPS and type in “Walmart” and it finds the closest one as well as several more to pick from in neighboring cities. Seriously, get a GPS. They are cheap and so darn handy for finding about anything. Once I get a video camera I will shoot a video to show you how easy it is.

Truck Stops – OK, this is another good option, but it can get a bit noisy at times. Truck stops are easy to find, as there are mainly along the major interstates and larger highways. Here you can use them for showers, bathroom runs and to get out of the heat or cold for a break if needed. Most have fast food but they are some with sit down meals including buffets. Here are a list of the bigger chain truck stops.

Flying J


T A – Travel Centers Of America



Sapp Brothers

Bossel Man

There will be other smaller stations like: 76, Speedway, Hess and Mr. Fuel. Not sure what all you will find as you travel around. To see a pretty complete listing of all truck stops in all 50 states, check out AITA Online Directory. This directory, the “America’s Independent Truckers Association” will break all the truck stops down by state so you can check to see what ones may be on your route.

Also they have GPS coordinates that you can type in your GPS and it will take you right to that particular truck stop. Hum, have I mentioned how nice and handy it is to have a GPS? There is also a “Map It” feature that would be good for printing, as well as a phone number to call, the highway or Interstate with an exit number and a small list of services offered.

I have never had a problem at a truck stop, other than the one in West Memphis, AR. I was woke up several times that night by ladies asking if I wanted some “Company!” Hum, if I was looking, would I be in here sleeping? It has happened in a couple of others, but I can’t recall which ones. If you are in a camper, or stealthy, then you probably won’t even be given a second thought.

NATIONAL FOREST AND BLM GROUNDS: This truly is awesome and truly my favorite. Quartzsite, AZ is a favorite spot for Van Dwellers and RVers from all walks of life in the winter time. You can park out there in the open desert for FREE!!! I think you are suppose to move every 14 days. Hum, with all these vagabonds, I doubt if anyone is keeping track.

The Pilot has Wi-Fi, but it is not free. They also have free ice and water hookups for your hose on the side of the building to fill your tanks. I am not sure that is why they are there, but they are there. I saw a guy washing his RV a bit a couple days ago when I stopped to eat and chat with some of my “Rubber Tramp” friends. Yeah, we pretty much call them Van Dwellers, but some call them Rubber Tramps.

There is going to be a big get together right outside of Quartzsite, AZ. It is going to be the first annual “Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.” Location to be announced. Date is set for January 13 – 23 on some of that wonderful BLM land. I would love to be there, but I am not sure if my schedule is going to allow.

Flagstaff, Williams and Parks, AZ area is a great area in the summer. There is so many places to park around town, as well as all that National Forest land which hangs out in the 6,000′ plus foot elevation. Hey, did I mention that it is all free? You get like 14 days to sit where ever you want, then you have to move. I am guessing that your 14 days start once, and if, you are ever found.

Man, it is so nice up there. The smell of Pine Trees, Cool Mountain Air and did I mention your closest neighbor is probably miles away! I would stay out there all week then come into town on the weekend for the live music and other entertainment that is abundant in this area.

There is always something going on in Williams. The professionals came into town for a “PRO BBQ COOK OFF“, and I sampled just about everything. Williams smelled so good that weekend. In 2011 it is going to be July 1 & 2. A few weeks before that there was a big “BIKE RALLY” as well. Several live bands played every night, plus they had a band in the “World Famous Saltana Bar.”

If you are planning a trip out to see the Grand Canyon or the Williams area, you can see what the local events are from the Chamber website. The biker rally for 2011 is set for June 9 – 11. Come on out and enjoy the sites, the music, the FREE camping and of course the great food!

BIG BOX STORES – I pretty much stick with Walmarts and Sam Clubs. I have done some K-Marts, especially when I am delivering there. However, I have never tried a Best Buy, Target, Comp USA, IKEA or any others. I have done some Malls. I go to the back and it just looks like I am making a delivery in the morning. I see cars back there, so they mush have night employees at some of these places. If you have a stealth set up, then you could blend right in as a night employee and never be bothered.

HOSPITALS & MEDICAL OFFICES – Hum, how would they ever keep track of the traffic coming and going in a place like this? I have seen some places that have reserved parking and a paid to park section. Other than that, you should be good to go in a stealth setup. This is also good because there is bathrooms and a cafeteria. If you didn’t want to eat there, you could probably use the microwave with out anyone giving you a second thought. How many people stay there with their loved ones overnight and want to warm up something the next day!

AIRPORTS – I can’t imagine that this would be a quiet place with planes buzzing over 24 hours a day, but if you are really tired and want a safe place to park, this could fit the stealth campers bill. Long term parking would probably be the cheapest. Not sure what the rates are, but perhaps $8 per day would be about right? If you don’t need any hookups, then this is a pretty economical $8 night of sleep. Has anyone ever seen an airport with free parking?

APARTMENT COMPLEXES: I have done this many times. However, I don’t park in front of someone’s door, or next to the office, or under a car port as these are probably reserved. When I was doing this I was either in my 1977 or my 1978 Dodge Vans. My 1978 was a window van. The windows were tinted and I also had curtains up for extra privacy. I also had a blanket hanging behind the front seats so people could not go by and see me sleeping in the bed at the back of the van.

HOTELS & MOTELS – This is one of my favorites. Normally quiet, and I simply stay toward the back 40, if you know what I mean. I don’t want to park in front of someone’s door or window, as they may detect some movement in the van. I have also used the larger chains for showers, swimming in the pool, played Putt Putt Golf and picked up some ice while in there.

If you see the ice machine that says “Insert Your Room Key For Ice”, don’t worry. I have always used my ATM or Visa card and it works like a charm. All the card is doing is pushing a button that basically turns it on and you push the other button to complete the circuit. Ice getting mission accomplished.

When I was in Daytona Beach, FL for bike week in 2005, I stayed on the road that went back to the motel. I had my van and cargo trailer and I sat with some others that was probably checked into the motel for sure. The road back looked as if the land could have belonged to the motel, or perhaps the gas station next door.

In any case, I had a van and trailer so they assumed that I was a biker checked into the hotel. No body looked at me funny or asked any questions, even when I was getting ice from the ice machine. Actually, I made some conversation with my fellow bikers and had a great time.

I do try to look at the windshields to see if they all have some kind of tag on it stating that they are checked into that hotel. Most hotels will take your license plate number, but I doubt if they spend much time going through the parking lot to check all those plates.

EMPTY, DESERTED OR CLOSED BUSINESS’S – This could be a good option, but you have to watch these bigger cities as they like to tow off anything for a buck. I parked at one of these in Evansville, IN to walk across the street for lunch. It had a tow away sign there, so I kept a close eye on the truck. I figured I could probably eat and be gone by the time the tow truck found me.

I would much rather go to a neighbor hood, motel or hospital before I did this one if I was in my van. However, you will start to get a sense for doing all this as time goes by, so go with the gut when it feels right.

Also, when you park on the street, watch for signs that say no parking:

1) Between certain hours
2) On certain days for Sweeping
3) Snow Routes – In the winter
4) No parking from 2 am to 6 am.

Hum, I wonder why on number 4? Is there going to be that much traffic at that time of night where they need all that pavement? Perhaps it is to give the drunks more room to navigate their way home. I doubt it, I think it is just another way to make it harder for us wheeled nomads to enjoy what GOD has given us. If you see all that, just move on to a friendlier town and spend your money there.

PARK BETWEEN BUSINESS’S – Especially if one or both is a 24 hour business. If you are parked between the 2 business’s, they have no idea where you are. The one business will think you are over at the other one, and of course that is what the other business is thinking. A good example of this is Mc Donald’s and Pilot Truck Stop in Quartzsite, AZ. Neither one would care, but there is several parking spaces in the middle of those 2 establishments. However, I do think it belongs to Pilot. However, Pilot welcomes your business, and sleep overs and I see people parked all over that area.

CASINO’S – Here is a favorite of mine. I am doing it right now as I type this article in Las Vegas, NV. My free Wi-Fi is coming from Mc Donald’s right now across the street. I was using Panera Bread earlier today, but left to go eat at the Texas Station. They have a great BBQ Buffet on Saturday Night.

OK, since this is another 24 hour business, they have no idea if you are in there gambling, watching a show, or actually checked into the hotel. I have done this in many different states and I have never had an issue or even someone to look at me funny. Below is a section of parking for trucks and RV’s.

truck_RV_ParkingIf I was in my van, I would try to get to the top of the parking garage, that way my batteries would charge and I could have a better view out the window! Also, I may even be able to pick up the Wi-Fi from Mc Donald’s. With my van, I would probably need 8′ 6″ of clearance, and I think it is only 8′. Oh well. Here is that parking garage.

parking_garageIf you ever get to “The Dells” in Wisconsin, that town from what I hear is not all that friendly with RV’s parking around town at night. I guess the local campgrounds want you to spend the big bucks to stay with them. I was in my big truck so my options were very limited. I found out that there is a bunch of trucks and RVer’s parking at the “Ho Chunk Casino” less than 2 miles south of town.

They don’t bother you, and you can get a free shuttle ride into the casino and there is all the soda and I think fruit juices you can drink – “FOR FREE!” Wow, what a deal! The cups are small, but you can refill it yourself all you want. I had a buffet one night, and a Philly Cheese Steak from the cafe thing the other night. What a deal. I would go back, and I will some day.

CAR LOT, REPAIR SHOP OR PARTS STORES – I think a repair shop would be easier to get away with if you was found by the local police. Just tell him you are waiting for the shop to open. If you was found in a car lot, which most of them have the entry blocked to keep people out, he may think that you are up to no good. If the repair shop finds you early in the morning before you are able to leave, just tell them that you was having an over heating issue, or the engine was stalling a bit.

What ever you feel like you can get away with, like you was really tired and didn’t want to deal with it till morning. You saw his shop and knew he would probably be able to give you a hand if the problem did not magically fix itself over night. You could make the repair shop feel better by asking for a price on a new battery or exhaust or something and thank him for his time.

Depending on the location, you may be able to park at Auto Zone, Checkers, Pep Boys and places like that if the surroundings are right. Seems like there is always a car somewhere around there. Of course, have your story ready, like it is overheating a bit or what ever.

Or, just tell the officer that you are really tired and could not safely drive anymore. If they do ask, as long as you are honest and seem like a nice person with nothing to hide, the officer is probably going to say OK, and might even keep an eye on you during the night. Now that is what I call “Protecting and Serving.”

POLICE STATION – This one offers good protection, as most people are not going to come there to look for trouble. When I was living in Indiana I got a ticket in TN. I went to court to fight it so I drove down there the day before. I slept in my car and went to court the next day. I sleep right there in the police parking lot which was next to the court house.

There were a couple of trucks there as well. I was not approached by anyone and the lot was rather bright will all those huge street lights. It was a pretty quiet night, but the sleep was not the best laying in that front seat. Oh well, I did enjoy the trip since I could just go where ever I wanted in my car.

NIGHT CLUBS & BARS – As you can probably guess, this is not going to be the quietest place to try to get some shut eye, but people do leave their cars at these places often, as they are not safely able to drive back home. They simple come and get their auto the next day when the effects have worn off.

Even though I have seen these cars sitting there over night at some of those famous night clubs on the beach at Panama City, FL, I have personally never done that, as I want some place a bit calmer. When I get a bit tired, I am getting out of there and heading down the road to Walmart or to a dead end road or a neighbor hood.

There is plenty of options around the coast to park and many times get a nice ocean view and breeze. I have never been bothered in Panama City, but I always try to be as stealth and incognito as possible. If you get there, go park down on Front Beach Road by the beach so you can hear the water and get a nice breeze. Highway 98 runs East and West and you will find so many places to park. 98 use to be a lot of 2 lane highway, but it is all 4 lane now from Panama City to Pensacola.

REST AREAS & EXIT RAMPS: Well, the safer of these 2 options would be a rest area in my opinion. If you are going to do an exit ramp, once you get off the ramp, go to the stop sign and go park on the opposite side that is the entry ramp getting back on the road. Why? Well, if someone is half asleep when they come off the exit ramp, you may get ran over. Needless to say, if you wake up, it is going to hurt. If you are on the opposite side, you have a better chance of the asleep at the wheel driver of waking up before he gets to you.

Also, some states like AR, GA & MI to name a few, make it illegal to park on the exit ramps and you will get woke up and told to move as soon as the officer writes you out a nice ticket to go with it. Seriously, the rest area is the safest of these 2 options, in my opinion. If I get a choice of which space to take in a rest area, I go toward the end furthest from the traffic coming into the rest area.

If the driver is asleep at the wheel, he has got a lot of trucks and cars to go through before he gets to me. Know what I am saying? Always think of your “EXIT” before you go into the “ENTRY.” It just may save your life. Also, make sure you keep your windows up, or most of the way up. I know there have been killings in rest areas in the past, so don’t go it alone outside the RV, especially if you are a female. For the most part, I think they are pretty safe, but just use common sense and keep your guard up.

Also, out here in the desert west, many exits have roads or dead end roads that will even get you further off the road and away from the off ramps. This is a great option, plus it will be a bit quieter then sitting right there on the off ramp next to that noisy road.

To fit in with your surroundings, if you are a stealth camper, don’t make a bunch of noise at night. You don’t want people to hear or see any movement, and make sure if you are watching TV or reading that no light is leaving the van alerting people that you are in there.

We know we are not doing anything wrong, but just put yourself in their shoes. If you are in the house looking out at this van, or what ever, and see movement in there and perhaps lights, what are you going to think? If we are going to be stealth, then lets stay that way. Once you decide to go to bed, find your spot and hit the hay. No need to make yourself noticeable.

MISC. – Some things just don’t fit in a category. For the stealth camper, neighbor hood streets and dead end streets for less noise is always a good plus. However, how about this area pictured below? It is not a strip mall, or a dead end street or anything else. It is right across the street from Palace Station kinda between 2 apartment complexes.

It is fenced off from both to the apartment complexes and there is no signs that say “No Parking” or “No Stealth-N”, so who knows. Could be a unique hang out. Personally, I would park across the street in the Palace Station parking lot, simply because they have security walking/biking around the property. Practically all casinos do, so this should give you a bit of more security when you are sleeping.

across_from_palace_stationNo matter where you decide to camp/stealth, be safe and have a ton of fun!