I don’t think any of us rent (or purchase) an RV aspiring to stay at a Walmart overnight. But parking overnight at a Walmart, Cracker Barrel or a truck stop can be a cheap and convenient way to travel when you’re on route to your destination. Increasingly, though, retailers like Walmart and towns and cities themselves are having to restrict overnight parking, in part because people aren’t being respectful during their stay – or because they aren’t leaving at all. Here are a few guidelines on how to be a “model RVer” when overnighting at Walmart and other similar locations.`
The corporate policy of Walmart welcomes RVers to spend a night in their parking lot, with the individual business’ permission, in most places, as long as it isn’t banned by local zoning laws. When you’re not in a big city, you’ll find that most locations are okay with this. OvernightRVParking.com (and their app) as well as the Allstays app are helpful guides on which locations will be likely to allow overnight parking. Do you NEED a particular parking lot’s permission for your trip to be viable? Be sure to call ahead. Their policy may have changed. You don’t want to show up, ready to check in with a manager and settle in for the night, to be told you’ll need to keep driving for another two hours.
The exception to the permission rule? Truck stops and travel plazas are generally 24 hours, and they usually don’t require anyone to ask permission. However, do be sure to ask if you aren’t sure where it’s okay to park. (That’s an entirely different conversation!)
Keep it compact
The number one complaint I hear about RVers is that people are behaving like they’re at a campground when they’re in a business’ parking lot. When you’re parking at a Sam’s Club or a Visitor’s Center, the goal is to take up one parking space. If that isn’t an option, due to the size of the spaces and the size of your rig, your goal is to find the least obtrusive space to park. Look along the outer edges of the lot. Or try a truck or RV space if there’s a larger space available.
It’s considered rude to set up your camping chair, open up your awning or have a cookout. Putting your slides out should also be avoided if at all possible. But what if in your rig, for instance, you can’t access the fridge without the slide open? Just work to position your slide so it doesn’t extend into another space. Remember, overnighting at Walmart and other businesses is a privilege, not a right.
Can you spend a night, or even two, in most Walmart parking lots without attracting attention to yourself? Absolutely. Should you play loud music and invite all of your friends to visit you? No. Even if you’ve asked the business’ permission to be here (which is always the recommended policy when parking at Walmart or other retailers), they didn’t okay a raucous event. They said you could sleep there. So stick to sleeping, and make yourself a meal if you’re hungry.
Keep it short
I hear stories about communities where the local retailers are no longer allowing overnight parking, and I’ve encountered a few of them. It’s often because those parking lots had become a home base for a homeless or transient population. It’s one thing to spend a night, or even two, at a local business. But when you’re planning a week’s vacation with Walmart as your home base, it’s really not respectful to them or to the guests hoping to park there.
Always try to keep it short. Stay for one night, possibly two if it’s a rare location that allows it, and then move on. If you’ve chosen to spend a week staying in parking lots, make sure to keep moving rather than staying in one retailer’s space. Some great stays can be found at visitor’s centers (sometimes they’re awesome, and sometimes they are full of trucks…do your research and use Google Maps for photos), Walmarts (some even have great views), Cracker Barrels (they’re often in locations where you can walk to shop or take a quick drive into the city) and maybe even a shopping mall.
Show your gratitude
Businesses don’t extend their parking lots to travelers as charity. They do it to win your business. Make sure that every time you spend the night in a parking lot, you thank the business by shopping at their store. Buy a meal, do your grocery shopping, grab some wine or a gift. You’ll feel like this is a fair transaction and so will they.
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