Finding a place to park for the night
I am going on an extensive roadtrip very soon and I have a question about the best places to park my van for the night. I know that rest stops are illegal (in most states) and dangerous. I have read that truckstops are decent places but may be noisy and probably inaccessible to me because I was hoping to avoid the interstates as much as possible. I have also read that the parking lots of Wal-Marts and other stores open 24/7 might be good places but policies vary from store to store.
I was thinking that hotel parking lots might be a good place because of other out-of-state visitors actually staying in the hotel. My question is whether or not it is illegal to park in a hotel parking lot if you aren't staying in the hotel? Is it standard practice for most hotels to police their parking lots periodically or would I probably be OK if I slipped in after dark, parked in the back somewhere, and slipped out early the next morning. I would likely stick to larger hotel chains where my presence as an out-of-towner would be less likely to be noticed.
My main concern about my upcoming trip is where I will be stopping to sleep every night so any feedback is greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Parking on private property
Most truckstops have been remade in the image of "Travel Centers" that cater to both commercial truckers and occupants of passenger vehicles. There is (nearly) always a section of a travel center where over-night passenger vehicles are welcome. If you get a copy of one of the travel center guidebooks, you will find that there are hundreds on smaller two-lane roads, miles from the Interstates.
Parking on private property without permission if frowned upon in any state in America. Most places have city or county ordinances prohibiting the practice. That being said, many businesses will allow overnight parking -- but the implied courtesy is that you will purchase something from them. I can't imagine you would be thrilled to have some tourist drive into your driveway and sleep over-night without seeking permission.
Yes, you are likely to get caught if you park in motel/hotel lots. In many places, such behavior will probably result in a jail stay... Personally, I can think of no justifiable reason for trespassing on private property.
For alternative views, use the Gray Search button on the top of this page. There are a number of suggestions for places to stay over-night.
Good luck! I hope this is a van where you can stretch out a bit, otherwise you may hope for an occasional hotel or even a night in a tent in a campground. Personally, I can't sleep well in the "travel centers" as they are very brightly lit at all hours of the night and there is the constant din of trucks entering/exiting/using generators, etc.
My understanding is that Walmart generally welcomes overnight guests. In fact, at many a WM parking lot, the overnight crowd is large and may resemble an RV show. I have stayed overnight in both a vehicle and an RV in a WM parking lot and generally venture in the store in the AM for both a small purchase and a restroom visit. There is always something that you can use at a WM even if it is just film, ice or the likes. WM is across America and although you can not plan for their locations, they will often appear when most needed. Happy tripping!
Thank you both for your advice.
You need to check in with the manager of the Walmarts before you camp in the parking lot because not all cities will allow Walmarts to let you spend the night. It's my understanding that Walmarts wants self-contained units. I've heard Target Stores will allow RV's overnight parking too.
SLEEPING IN A VAN
PENSFAN: Gert and I have been using a van for road trips for years it matter more where you are if you want to find a place to sleep. Stay away from tourist areas where they make thier money by folks staying in motels and eating out. we looked for 24 hr. grocery stores and eateries a great place would be a shopping area with coffee shop that would open at 5:00 am breakfast and a bathroom great stuff. the only time we got asked to leave is when we were parked in the parking lot (no gate) of a state park oh well good luck GEO.F.
Sleeping In Van
I can tell you that our local Wal Mart has recently taken steps to stop overnighters from it's parking lot. It plain got out of hand. On the other hand there are decent rest stops that allow you to crash, I have used them. Also, I have left rest stops where I just felt uncomfortable. A place of interest would be behind a local fire station. Usually they are not disagreeable to persons catching up from fatigue. I have even been invited in for a cup of java and conversation. You may be asked what you are doing but a polite explanation goes a long way. That dosen't always hold true for the local police station. Good luck, use good common sense and be safe.
That is clever
First time we have heard of the fire station location. Another similar place is the rear of the parking lot at hospitals -- but again, this is all private property and folks need to be aware of what they are doing.
When we used to have our truck with a camper on it, we were forced to stay in parking lots a few times when campgrounds were not to be found. We found that parking in mall parking lots worked really well when this happened. We would park in an out of the way corner, preferably away from the main road. We would wait until later at night to pull in and be up and away before the stores opened. In order to not draw attention to ourselves, we would go immediately to bed so that no lights were burning.
A couple of times we have also just parked on a city street to do this. Again, pull in fairly late, leave early, and don't have any interior lights burning.
Personally, I wouldn't suggest this for every night but only for times when you can't find a cheap campground.
It is still risky to the max
Imagine this scenario -- you are asleep in your camper at the edge of the parking lot, minding your own business and some drunk driver crashes into your camper. Under US law, the owner of the private parking lot is jointly and severally liable for all injuries and damage to your vehicle sustained in the wreck.
Through no fault of this private person, he and his family and/or business might lose the business caring for you and your vehicle in the aftermath of this accident. Parking in a parking lot without permission is trespassing and puts the owner/operator of the parking lot at grave risk for anything that happens there. Still think it is a good idea?
In our travels, we have stayed overnight in parking lots, but we always did in a manner that enabled us to ask permission.