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Essential Rules To Dry Camping In A Parking Lot

parking lot
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Essential Rules To Dry Camping In A Parking Lot

One of the greatest things about RVing is the fact that you have everything you need with you wherever you go. This is especially nice when you’re traveling and need to stop somewhere to sleep for the night. Finding a hotel is no longer necessary, and in reality, you don’t even need to look for a campground.

For quick overnight stays, consider saving your money and hitting up a Walmart, Cracker Barrel, or Cabela’s.  As long as there are no city ordinances preventing them from doing so, these places will often allow RVers to park overnight in their parking lots.

Though you won’t have any electric or water hookups, these locations are just fine for a quick night of rest. And because they can often be found right off the highway, you won’t have to go too far out of your way to find one.

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All that said, there are some things you should know before attempting to stay overnight in a parking lot. After all, the point is to get some good rest, and if you go in unprepared, it’s likely you won’t get the sleep and relaxation you need.

1. Consider the area you’re visiting

Before picking a place to stop for the night, carefully assess the area. Staying in a rough part of town is never a good idea, and driving into a place with narrow roads is equally dangerous. For this reason, it’s best to do your research before pulling off the highway to ensure you’re choosing the right spot.

2. Always ask

While these businesses rarely have a problem with RVs staying overnight in their lots, you will want to make sure to ask every time. Being kicked out of your parking spot at 2 AM is never fun. Besides, we all need to work together to help people see what a polite bunch we RVers are, and it is certainly good manners to ask before staying somewhere overnight.

You may also want this complete guide, Walmart Locator (recently updated in 2019).  This comprehensive directory lists all of the Walmart locations in the United States and includes RV parking information.

3. Skip the slides

If you have slides, you may want to skip putting them out if at all possible. This allows others to park nearby if need be.

Additionally, you won’t want to put out chairs, grills or other camping equipment. Setting up camp in a parking lot is considered bad manners and could even get you kicked out.

4. Stock up on water

Water is essential to life.  You will want to make sure you have plenty of water on hand for your wallydocking experience.

If you plan to shower, be sure to fill your freshwater tank with plenty of H2O. Otherwise, you can probably get away with using bottled water for everything. Just keep in mind that the more water you bring, the more you will weigh.

5. Pack earplugs and a noise machine

Parking lots can be bustling places. Delivery trucks come and go, and customers can have pretty loud conversations. Because of this, you’re going to want something to block out noise while you sleep.

A pair of earplugs and/or battery-operated noise machine (or a “soothing sounds” type of app on your phone) should do the trick just fine.

6. Hang blackout curtains or shades

In addition to being loud, parking lots are also incredibly bright. While it is great to park under a light for safety reasons, a bright light flooding into your windows at night may keep you awake.

Fortunately, many newer RVs come with highly effective shades. However, if your RV doesn’t have these, a set of blackout curtains or a new set of shades can take care of this problem quickly and easily.

parking lot
Image source: YouTube

7. Invest in battery-operated fans

Running the A/C while parked without hookups is not an option. Unfortunately, on hot nights this can leave you feeling pretty uncomfortable.

In order to combat the heat, invest in some battery-operated fans. Placing a bowl of ice in front of one of these fans will create a nice, cool breeze.

8. Have breakfast on hand

Hitting the road without breakfast is enough to make anyone cranky. Because traveling on an empty stomach is never fun, you’ll want to have a quick and easy breakfast on hand. This will allow you to refuel before you go and start your day off right.

9. Move out early

Generally speaking, staying one night at a Walmart, Cracker Barrel, or Cabela’s is no problem. However, hanging around for more than a night is frowned upon. For this reason, it’s best to pack up and head out as soon as you can in the morning.

RV sunrise
Image source: Pixabay

These simple rules will get you a long way when dry camping in a parking lot. To easily find a Walmart, Cracker Barrel, or Cabela’s location, plan your trip using RV LIFE Trip Wizard.

See also: Is Walmart Camping Dangerous for RVers?

9 thoughts on “Essential Rules To Dry Camping In A Parking Lot”

  1. When we are just going from Point A to B we frequently stay at Wal-Mart. We always park away from the semi delivery area. We park with the doorway facing ‘in’ rather than to a curb. We bought well and don’t have to open a slide in order to use all facilities. We always buy something in the store such as bread and milk etc. and may eat at the McDonalds in the store. The big thing is to be considerate. If we are in the area for sightseeing etc. we then will always stay at a RV Park where we can fill the water tanks and empty the sewage tanks and bring out the lawn chairs.

  2. More and more, I see cities and municipalities passing and enforcing ordinances prohibiting overnight parking in said parking lots. While most are respectful in their stay, there are others that just don’t care, and leave messes and garbage behind. Truly a shame, but that’s what it’s come down to. In a way I can’t blame the store management. We have stopped at many of these places for meals and provisioning, but never spent the night. We are not concrete/blacktop campers.

  3. Have stayed at many WalMart’s and Cabela’s over the years. After checking All-Stays to see if that location is OK for over-night parking, I’ll do a Google View to see what other stores are in the area to get a sense of the neighborhood. On long trips I’ll mark down 5-10 over-night stops to give me options, in where I can park overnight.

    I only ask that if you pull into a Walmart and plan to run your generator “All Night” PLEASE don’t park right next to me!!! I don’t get it…….

  4. I agree with most of the comments. However, you are using a space for free. If you feel the need to deploy slide outs or use your generator, or put the grill out…. go to a campground. These stores are offering us a service and those people who abuse it are basically saying “screw you, I’ll park here if I want and do what I want and if you don’t like, too bad. I don’t care if I ruin it for everyone else, I’m what’s important”.

    If you find that you can’t use your bedroom without the slide being deployed, guess you didn’t do your homework before you bought the RV. We looked a a couple that you couldn’t even get to the bathroom if the slide was retracted. It also blocked the access to the fuse panel. Hmmmm, if you blow a fuse that controls the slide, how the heck are you supposed to check it? To make matters worse, the motorhome magazine outlined all of the problems this caused, and, at the end of the article, said “overall a very nice rig for family fun” Guess money is more powerful than the pen after all….. don’t want to lose that ad income.

    As full timers, we use these free areas when all we want is a nights sleep. And, we always make a purchase at the store if possible. Please folks, don’t ruin it for the rest of us just because you’re needy or inconsiderate.

  5. Perhaps I’m a low-life creatin, but I don’t see much wrong with what you describe. I just burned up a Norcold refrigerator ($1100) because my MH was slightly off level so I can understand why they wanted to user their levelers. I wouldn’t think of sleeping in a parking lot without a TV on. OK, maybe they could have kept three of their slides undeployed, but they might have needed that fourth one open to expand the bedroom. Were they running their noisy generator near somebody who was trying to sleep? That is what riles me. Or how about the rednecks that open their awning and set up their lawn furniture in WM parking lot. Can we talk about them instead? Those twits are going to get us all kicked out.

  6. There are some good Apps available to help find dry camping spots that allow overnight visitors. There is also a group of RV owners you can join, who will let you stay on their property for little or no $; and you can post your own property as available if you wish. Good way to make some new RV friends. There’s also an App of free campsites. I enjoy staying at State Parks because they are inexpensive and usually have great views & hiking as well as clean facilities, picnic tables and campfire rings.

  7. If we need an overnight we choose a cracker barrel. We arrive at dinner hour, go in an eat dinner, talk to the manager about staying..if permitted we spend the night and have breakfast there before leaving. We have never been turned down yet…. It seems to work out for us when needed. We like cracker barrel because they have spots marked for tv’s..thanks cracker barrel.

  8. Unfortunately you can talk till you are blue in the face about the do’s & dont’s of staying overnights in places like Walmart but it seems some don’t care or just clueless. We have stayed overnight in many,many Walmart’s,Cracker Barrels etc with zero problems. We have our own way of doing it. I guess the best way of thinking is pretend that it was your store and what would you want people to do when staying overnight without disrupting business.

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