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.
Since writing this list, a brand new and very viable option has been added!
It's like you discovered signs like this hanging from mailboxes in every part of the country:
Join Boondockers Welcome for FREE overnight RV parking on fellow RVer's private property all across the continent!
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 boondocking guides, submitted his own advice for finding free overnight RV parking to the RV Basics website's Tip Of The Day.
I've just expanded on that list here, based on our 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.
- Ask permission. 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. Then ask as nicely as possible.
- Be friendly and honest. Let people get to know you and 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. 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 locals. 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 his 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 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 could park overnight at the trailhead.
- Be inconspicuous. 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 had this happen only three times and both security guards and policemen have given us directions to nearby free overnight RVparking options that were both safe and lawful.
- Town festivals and special events – opportunities for free overnight RV parking. 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 special dates, a blind eye is often turned to camping in the local park or parking lots near the events.
- Busy bars and licensed establishments. Restaurants and bars that serve alcohol prefer that patrons do not drink and drive. They are also used to seeing a vehicle left in the parking lot overnight so are 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 the list for a reason; at closing time, the parking lot can get a little bit 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) businesses such as vehicle repair facility, restaurant, and 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. Be sure to subscribe to my RSS feed to find out when new editions of the guides are published.
- Show gratitude. 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.
Finding overnight RV parking (boondocking) has changed in the fifteen years since we started RVing. Find out how.Return from Free Overnight RV Parking
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