17 Tips To Find Free Overnight RV Parking Anywhere
It's possible to travel across North America and find free overnight RV parking
everywhere you go. I know because we do it.
The only time we resort to staying in Wal-Mart parking lots or their equivalent
is in the really big cities and only if we have arrived somewhere too
late in the day to scout out any other safe options.
We've been able to find free overnight RV parking pretty well anywhere
we've ever traveled. "How?" you ask. As you will see, it does involve a bit of
time and effort.
I'd like to acknowledge and thank Lee Turner who, after purchasing all of my
submitted his own
advice for finding free overnight RV parking to the RV Basics website's
Tip Of The Day.
I've expanded on Lee's list here, based on our personal experience:
Examine the possibilities.
Whether city or rural, scout out the area for potential free overnight RV
parking locations that would suit you.
Look for and respect signage.
Avoid any area with “No Trespassing” or “No Overnight Parking” signage. Note
that sometimes a sign with a picture of a tent with a line through it or a sign
that reads “no camping” may only be there to ensure that tents aren't set up,
but as long as overnight parking is allowed, free RV camping may be okay.
Whether your potential site is on public property or private, ask around
(nearby neighbors, at the town hall, etc.) and find the person who can give
permission. Be sure to ask as nicely as possible.
Be friendly and honest. Let the local people you interact with know your intentions.
Take the time to chat and let people get to know you – how and why you are
traveling, and that you only need a spot to park and sleep overnight.
Avoid using the word, “camping.”
If you call it that, people may envision you setting up a tent, a campfire,
and creating your bathroom behind a tree. Mention that you have everything you
need on board, including your own bathroom. If they know nothing about RVs and
are curious, consider offering a tour of your camper.
Tell them that finding free overnight RV parking “occasionally” is the only
reason you can continue to travel. Talk about some of the other free overnight
RV parking situations you've had recently.
Keep your RV and yourself in good, clean, neat, presentable condition.
People will judge you by your appearances. If it looks like you take good care
of yourself and your RV (even an older model) it tells them you will be
considerate of their property too.
Befriend security guards and local police.
Parking lots for stores, casinos, public transit stations, etc. that are open
24 hours often have security guards. Talk to them. Let them get to know you.
Tell them up front how long you plan to stay, about your plans to shop in the
store, eat in the restaurant, or take the subway into town in the morning, and
what you hope to see and do while you're in the area. Offer them a coffee. They have boring jobs and will enjoy the interaction and
may even keep an eye on your RV while you're absent. (Yes, we've had guards offer to do that.) The same rule holds true
for police officers, especially in a small town. They'll feel a lot more
comfortable with you being parked here, if you approach them before they feel
they have to approach you and if they know you and what you're up to.
Ask the person at the local visitor's center, the clerk in the grocery store,
the gas station attendant, the person at the side of the road cutting their lawn,
or anyone who lives in the area if they can think of a place you might be able
to spend a night or two in a free, secluded, safe area. Talk to everyone you
meet. We've even been invited to camp in people's driveways.
Ask at outfitters or outdoor gear stores.
Personnel at these stores can be a great resource for finding free non-urban
overnight RV parking. Even if you're not a fisherman, ask where you might be
able to fish (and camp) in the area for a few days or if there are any great
hiking trails in the area and if you would be allowed to park overnight at the trailhead.
Don't set up your lawn furniture, barbecue grill, etc. unless the setting is
appropriate and you know it's permitted. If the best you can find is an
overnight curb-side parking spot, don't sit there with your interior lights on
and music blaring into the night. Spend your time away from the RV, perhaps in
a nearby park, and come back only to quietly and immediately go to sleep. Then,
get up early and move back to the park.
This type of free RV camping is commonly called “stealth camping.” If you're
staying more than one night, choose a different parking spot, preferably in
another part of town, on the next night.
Don't push your luck or overstay your welcome.
Even when you have permission for free overnight RV parking, keep to your
promised time frame, whether that is one night or two – just enough to see the
area. If the property owner thinks you've “moved in” for the season, or his
neighbors start asking questions, you will spoil it for others who may ask for
the same favor in the future and for yourself should you ever want to return.
Have a Plan B.
Even when you think you won't encounter a problem you may get a knock on the
door after dark to ask that you move. Never argue but apologize, thank them for
letting you know, and agree to move right away.
Always have a plan B. Decide ahead of time where you will go if this happens –
perhaps the local campground will be where you end up after all, but always ask
for a suggestion from the person who's asking you to move. Chances are this
isn't the first time they have encountered this situation and may be aware of a
nearby suitable place you can go. We've been asked to move only three times in all of our twenty-plus years of RVing. The security guard or policeman in each instance directed us to nearby free
overnight RV parking that was both safe and lawful.
Town festivals and special events are opportunities.
Most towns and cities don't have enough campgrounds to accommodate all the
visitors that arrive for special festival weekends. This presents a free
overnight RV parking opportunity that may not exist during the rest of the
year. There might be a free designated overflow camping area where you can camp
beside the entertainers, carnival staff and other festival participants. Even
if there isn't, during these events local authorities often turn a blind eye to campers in a town park or in a lot near the events.
Busy bars and licensed establishments.
Restaurants and bars that serve alcohol prefer that patrons do not drink and
drive. In fact, their liquor licence may depend on it. They are accustomed to seeing a vehicle left behind in the parking lot overnight,
so they're not likely to question it or contact the authorities as long as you
leave promptly in the morning. You might have guessed this is far down this list
for a reason; at closing time these lots can become a little too noisy.
Ask any place where you have spent money.
Any business owner who has just benefited from your business may be willing to
let you park overnight for free. Smaller (non-chain store) businesses such as a vehicle
repair shop, restaurant, or even a laundromat might be a good bet. Be sure
you are speaking with the manager and ask them to ensure the person who opens
up in the morning is made aware.
Follow the Frugal Shunpiker's Guides.
Since I've already done the homework for you in many areas of the country, my
Frugal Shunpiker's travel guides
will save you a lot of time and effort. They will direct you to legal free
overnight RV parking, usually at a place where you can pull out your awning
and barbecue and fully set up for camping. We've discovered free areas like
that near the most popular parks and attractions in several states.
Make this a positive experience for everyone. If someone has helped you find
free overnight RV parking, show your appreciation. Before leaving the area,
stop in to say how much you appreciated it, to say goodbye, leave a them a
token gift or, if this isn't possible, send a post card or thank you note
within a few days.
We started RVing in 1999 and discovered boondocking in 2000. Since then, finding free overnight RV parking has changed a bit. Find out how.
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