Our First Parking Lot Camp Out

Seems that many folks aren’t aware that there are quite a few places where an RVer can park the rig overnight for free. No hookups of course, but when you’re pooped out after a long day of driving, anything can look like the Hilton. And you can’t beat the price.

WalMart parking lot camping in our RVWalMart is known for being nice to RVers and allowing them to park overnight. Good capitalists that they are, they figure that most overnighters will shop there too, so why not let ’em. A word of caution, more and more locations are banning this practice due to long term campers checking in. Check for listings of WalMarts that don’t allow camping.

We had not tried boondocking in a parking lot until just recently, when we were halfway to Appalachia. The reason is because until now it had been too hot, and since we don’t have an internal generator, we aren’t able to run the air conditioner. Now it’s getting cold (really cold) here in the East, so we were willing to give it a shot. Here’s what we discovered:

  1. In general, it seems like parking lot camping in a motorhome or bus is easier than in a 5th wheel. It’s less conspicuous. And if you choose to, you can see out the front window and know what’s really going on outside, if anything. In a 5th wheel like ours, you can’t see directly in front of you. I thought that was creepy.
  2. Keep an eye on your battery levels when running your heater (or AC) if you don’t have an internal generator. Ours is external, so if we wanted to run our heater for a long time, we’d have to pull out the generator in the parking lot. Not exactly being inconspicuous by doing that!
  3. Be cautious about where you park, and consider what kind of traffic will be going around you at all hours. We parked near loading docks, because we thought it would be darker at night. But the problem was that delivery trucks were showing up at all hours. WalMart doesn’t sleep!
  4. Parking lot boondocking is not the place to put out your grassy mat or bust out with the BBQ. We put our dish out this time due to work commitments, but aren’t making a habit of it. Keeping your slide outs in is probably a good idea too. Just pull in, sleep (if you can), and leave early.

The Amish Shop at WalMartLastly, one fun thing about boondocking in a parking lot is that you never know what you may discover.

When we arrived at our spot at WalMart in Virginia, we found what looked like parking spaces for horse buggies. Sure enough, in the morning an Amish couple arrived in their buggy to do some shopping. Go figure!

12 thoughts on “Our First Parking Lot Camp Out”

  1. Larry,

    If you search RV.net’s forums, you’ll find that people do have some negative experiences. Some don’t like fulltiming and call it quits in a short period of time. I’ll tell you my perspective on it…

    When you first get started it can be stressful. Learning the ins and outs of a rig, and discovering how frequently things come loose and need to be maintained, is a pain. But if you hang in there, things will get easier.

    You and your wife have to be comfortable and used to being around eachother. A lot. Jim and I have worked together for over 10 years, so we are used to it and can usually handle any disputes that might come up. The neighbors can hear everything in an RV park, so we find it best not to let arguments get heated.

    You need to be comfortable with dirt in your house. Even in the most pristine RV parks, you’re going to track it inside. Here in New Mexico, there is a fine layer of grit on everything, no matter how much I clean. That’s the way it is. I clean our rig way more than I ever cleaned our house, but now it only takes me 10 minutes or so!

    Speaking of houses, if you decide to keep your stick house, remember that it might be stressful. I just spoke with a newly-retired couple who got their first rig and took it out for an extended trip. The wife told me that she was really nervous leaving the house vacant, and will probably decide that selling it is the best thing for them if they want to go on the road without the stress of thinking about it.

    Like Jim said, there are little things that come up, but it’s the spirit of adventure that makes up for little issues.

    Good luck!

  2. Negatives? I personally can’t think of any! But it is all relative and a matter of choice.

    I suppose you either love the lifestyle or hate it. We budgeted for a year on the road, thinking it would get old quick. But now we’re workamping and doing whatever we can to keep on keepin’ on.

    I’m sure we’ll settle down someday, but full-timing gives us so much freedom. We are not tied down by a home, mortgage, or the 9-5 grind.

    You must, however, be OK living in a small space. With a small toilet. And a small shower. You must like the challenge of issues that arise living in a home on wheels. You gotta be able to handle the stress of towing and parking a big rig.

    But there is so much more that makes up for these petty things.

  3. Can anyone give me some negatives to living in a 5th wheel full time?? we have been kicking around the idea and all we seem to get are positives

  4. Thanks for the info. We are starting our journey full timing and are heading out east. Hopefully we will find more helpful people along the way while we find various places to stay in the winter. It is a curious though as to how many of us baby boomers are on the road?
    Camille & Jen

  5. Ha ha! Love the horse and buggy!

    I agree that Wal-Mart’s ulterior motive for allowing RVers to stay overnight is to draw them into the store for supplies. Especially with the Super stores where you can load up on groceries.

    Thanks for the tips. I’ll file them for future reference.

  6. Out here in the wild west, I know for a fact there’s no overnighting allowed at the Huntington Beach Walmart in Orange County, due to city ordinance – not company policy.

    I know this because I used to be the overnight security guy at an RV dealer, and I’d get the pissed off RV’ers who’d arrive at our lot at two in the morning just after having been told to be on their way by HB Police. I couldn’t let them overnight in ours either, due to company policy, not city ordinance (being in neighboring Fountain Valley).

    I disliked being the bad guy, especially when it came to retired couples who just wanted to get some rest. I don’t work there anymore, and don’t miss it one little bit.


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