It’s an unfortunate situation many travelers have found themselves in – exhausted, far from their final destination, and in desperate need of a place to get a few hours of rest. Unfortunately, hotels can be hard to find and expensive. Many places prohibit simply pulling over on the side of the road to sleep in your car.
So what should you do? Read on as we explore the legal ways and places to sleep in your car and how to stay safe.
Where Is It Legal to Sleep in My Car?
While it may not seem like it, there are actually plenty of legal places to sleep in your car once you start looking. Certain cities or neighborhoods may have laws prohibiting sleeping in your vehicle while parked on the street, but others don’t. Some businesses allow or outright encourage drivers to stay the night in their lots.
Truck stops, rest stops, and various other roadside spots also permit sleeping in your car. Overall, more places than you would expect may allow it. It’s worth investigating if you’re curious about places near a particular destination.
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How Do You Find Places That Allow Overnight Parking?
Those traveling through an area can find suitable overnight parking in several ways. Several online directories exist just for this purpose, providing easily searchable databases that often allow you extensive filters. Some may charge a nominal fee, while others may be included in popular RV- or traveler-centric services.
Similarly, those who are members of online forums or discussion groups for travelers can pose questions there. Many others have likely been in those situations. Additionally, you can rely on several large companies that typically allow overnight parking or a variety of other common spots we’ll discuss ahead.
Where Are the Safest Places to Sleep in Your Car?
Legal places to sleep in your car are one thing. But it’s also vital to ensure the area you’re staying in is safe, too. So here are some of the most popular and secure choices for car sleepers.
Walmart earns the first spot on this list for its general friendliness to car sleepers. There’s also the fact that it’s practically everywhere! Walmart has no companywide policy specifically allowing overnight parking. However, many stores will permit it if you check with a manager beforehand.
The recognition that RVers and other car campers provide valuable business to Walmart. On the flip side, those sleeping overnight outside Walmart can also enjoy the convenient chance to restock food or other supplies before hitting the road again in the morning.
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Another nearly ubiquitous roadside presence in some regions (especially the south) is Cracker Barrel, the old-time, down-home restaurant known for country favorites. Crack Barrel has long been friendly to RVers and other road trippers who need a place to stay for a night.
Like Walmart, it’s worth checking with the managers of a local branch before bedding down. With a delicious dinner before bed or a delightful breakfast the following day, Cracker Barrel will have your stomach full and help drain the stress of the road before you know it.
Casinos are places where high-rolling customers routinely carry lots of cash and other valuables. Eventually, they’ll need to head to their vehicles. If casino lots are a haven for crime, you can bet they won’t be open for very long.
Therefore, casinos make extra efforts to keep their lots secure. Many offer designated areas for RVs and campers to park for free (often correctly). That’s if those who stay overnight will spend some money at the casino and in restaurants or shops.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) supervises vast amounts of America’s public lands, primarily located in the western half of the country. These are typically no-frills camping experiences. Some are organized campgrounds, while others may just be clear areas alongside rural roads.
Sites are primitive when they exist, with only rare access to bathrooms, power, or water. However, the lack of amenities is made up for by their incredible locations, often remote, beautiful places close to national parks and other natural wonders. These free or low-cost campsites usually allow up to two weeks of camping.
Rest Stops or Welcome Centers
It’s hard to get more convenient than a rest stop. You can catch a few zzzs just feet from the road without losing time detouring from your route. Many have regular security patrols to keep resting drivers safe, and the high traffic through these areas means plenty of eyes to keep criminals from doing anything unsavory.
Rest stops and welcome centers also sometimes offer other benefits, from vending machines and restaurants to tourist information that can help plan the rest of your trip.
What Should You Do If Someone Knocks On Your Window and Asks You to Leave?
The answer, in part, depends on who exactly is knocking! Of course, you should listen to police and other first responders who tell you to move. The same is typically true of private security responsible for your sleeping area. If you actually have to leave, it’s generally better for everyone involved for you to simply find another nearby place to get some rest.
Unfortunately, everyday people may also occasionally try to tell you to leave certain areas, even if it’s none of their business. Once again, you may be in the right. But it’s essential to consider how good of a night of sleep you’ll truly get if you’re worried about a busybody calling the police or, worse, taking matters into their own hands.
When feasible, it may be best to move on. However, you shouldn’t hesitate to contact the authorities if you feel threatened or in danger.
Do You Need to Crack a Window When Sleeping in a Car?
Some may be concerned that they could risk suffocating in their car overnight if they don’t crack a window to allow in some fresh air. However, there’s no need to worry. Cars aren’t small or airtight enough to allow humans to deplete the oxygen inside. This can be important in situations with persistent bug problems or less-than-ideal air quality.
Even if it’s not required, car sleepers may be more comfortable with a slightly open window. This also allows fresh air to circulate, helping control moisture and temperature. Even a small crack is enough to regulate the air inside.
Is It Safe to Sleep in Your Car?
Some may be concerned about the potential for crime or other hazards while sleeping in their car. In many cases, a car doesn’t offer the same protection and security as a traditional home, apartment, or even an RV or camper. However, safety is primarily a factor in where you choose to sleep.
Well-lit areas with security and lots of passersby are typically very safe, while things are less certain in less savory neighborhoods and darker locations. However, with a bit of common sense and trust in your gut, it should be easy to figure out which of these categories a spot falls into.
While a night in a car is rarely anyone’s idea of a good time, it can be a valuable way to rest up on long trips while saving money on hotels or campgrounds. With this critical information, you should have no trouble finding a comfortable spot to catch a few hours of sleep and safely make it to your destination.
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