Sometimes travel days don’t go as planned, or you just can’t get a campground reservation. You might search out a spot to camp overnight for free in these situations. Luckily, you’ll find many spots around the country that allow just that.
Today, we’ll help you learn how to camp overnight for free in an RV. Let’s get started.
What Is Overnight Camping?
Overnight parking is a non-traditional type of RVing. It typically involves staying in a big-box retailer’s parking lot on the way to your next stop. You won’t have power, water, or sewer connections, so you need to be entirely self-sufficient.
How to Find Free Overnight Camping
Finding places where you can legally overnight camp isn’t as hard as you might think. You can use your smartphone to use two of the best resources for finding free overnight camping spots: Campendium and iOverlander.
These apps can use your phone’s GPS location and search filters to pinpoint locations near you where other users have parked overnight. We love that people can share tips and leave information that might be helpful for future guests.
Where Can You Park Overnight for Free?
Some of the most popular places for parking overnight for free include Walmart, Cracker Barrel, Bass Pro Shop, and Cabella’s. Many retailers with large parking lots that sit empty for most of the night will allow RVs and other big rigs to park and get some sleep.
You should remember that just because you see a large, empty parking lot doesn’t mean you can park there. Not all establishments are as hospitable or legally able to accommodate overnight parking.
Local rules and regulations often prohibit overnight parking. This is typically to maintain a safe environment for the community.
There is also a popular overnight camping membership program called Harvest Hosts. You gain access to the library of wineries and other spots across the country that allow you to park in their parking lots for a flat annual fee.
They typically only ask that you support their establishment by making a purchase, which means you get a bottle of wine or other treats in addition to a spot to camp overnight.
How to Camp Overnight
There are a handful of things you should do before camping overnight in your RV. Failing to do these could lead to an awkward conversation with law enforcement in the middle of the night. Let’s take a look!
Find a Place to Park
The first thing you need to do is locate a place to park. You can use apps like Campendium and iOverlander to help with your search.
However, you want to research the route and use an aerial view on Google Maps. This can help you tell if there’s enough room to safely maneuver your rig or where you can park out of the way.
Check-In or Ask Permission
Once you’ve found an ideal place to park for the night, call and ask permission. You don’t want to waste time or fuel to find out you can’t stay. If you call ahead and get the green light, you should check in with the business when you arrive.
Ensure you’re speaking to a manager or someone with authority. Take note of their name in case you have a situation later where someone may ask you to leave. Having the name of the person who permitted you to stay can be helpful.
Don’t Put Out Slides
You want to minimize the amount of space you’re taking up, especially if you’re in a parking lot. We’ve heard of RVers having slides hit by drivers not paying attention. You may also have to make a quick and easy exit in the morning as you head on to your next adventure.
Usually, you can open your slides when camping overnight at a Harvest Host or a location with plenty of room. If so, make sure to open them over grass and out of the way, so you won’t have to worry about any traffic issues.
You should always be respectful of the establishment providing a spot for you to camp overnight. This means picking up your trash, not leaving anything behind, and not damaging the property.
You want to do whatever you can to allow the store to operate. By causing an issue for customers or the business, you risk losing the privilege for everyone else.
Don’t Overstay Your Welcome
One of the last things you want to do is overstay your welcome. These overnight camping spots are good for overnight stays to your next destination. You should rarely stay more than a single night.
We’ve seen locations where RVers have practically set up camp in a parking lot. This typically attracts negative attention from customers and local law enforcement. So don’t ruin a good thing by overstaying your welcome.
Rude and inconsiderate behavior is making overnight parking harder and harder to come by.
Tips for Overnight Camping
Overnight camping is typically relatively safe. However, there are a few safety tips that you should still follow. Only park in areas where you feel safe.
If your gut tells you otherwise, find a different spot to park. Intuition is a powerful tool, and you shouldn’t be afraid to trust it.
There’s typically no shortage of security lights in parking lots. People up to no good usually rely on the cover of darkness to avoid getting caught. Parking under or near security lights will cause thieves to think twice before messing with your stuff.
Even if you park in a safe location and under lights, you should still secure your things. Don’t leave any valuables in sight or unlocked. If so, you run the risk of theft.
Is Overnight Camping a Good Idea?
Overnight camping is a great way to break up long travel days between destinations. You can save a tremendous amount of money by staying in these locations. And in some cases, you can even easily stock up on food and other supplies.
Behave yourself, take safety precautions, and get permission before getting comfortable. You’ll likely have very few issues during your stays if you do. We love taking advantage of these spots and are thankful for the businesses that welcome overnight guests.
Where is your favorite spot to camp overnight for free?
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