While not peaceful or glamorous, it has certainly come in handy to know that most 24-hr Walmarts allow overnight camping. Well, not really camping. Overnight parking is a better description. Still, when you’re tired from a day of traveling, it’s comforting to know that you have a place to rest where you won’t be bothered. And while we certainly know folks that sleep in Walmart parking lots when traveling in their regular passenger vehicles, in our van, we’re not exactly roughing it. We set up our little tv and dvd player, settle into bed, pull the curtains, and sleep more comfortably in our own bedding than we ever do in a hotel room.
You’ll develop your own way of handling your travel planning, but here are some pointers that we employ when we’re traveling between destinations and will be looking for a place to “camp” overnight while on the road:
- We try to plan ahead, estimating a rough proximity of where we think we’ll be at the end of the day. We research a little ahead of time to find 24-hour Walmarts in the area (other options are rest areas and truck stops. We don’t just pick one to settle on. We might have one we’d prefer as a target, but we try to have some in other towns on our route also on our list. This way, we have choices if we’re:
- behind schedule
- ahead of schedule
- not yet tired and want to travel further
- overnight camping’s not allowed at the Walmart we wanted to stay at
- the place doesn’t look so great once we actually see it
Note: There are several ways to find Walmarts. You can search for Walmarts near (the town name) in google or your favorite search engine. You can also check directories online for Walmart Camping.
Some resources that are helpful:
- Walmart Store Finder
- A list of stores that don’t allow overnight parking: http://www.walmartlocator.com/no-park-walmarts.
- There are also Walmart atlas map books that show the locations of Walmarts and indicate which are 24 hour stores (although with easy internet access, these printed map books are getting a little bit harder to find these days).
- We check out the Walmart when we get there, to make sure that there are no “no overnight parking” signs* and that it seems to be in an area we feel safe in. If it’s not a good fit, we move on to the next one on the list.
*Just because there’s a sign posted, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t park there overnight. Please see note at bottom of article.
- We don’t settle in for the night until it’s dark and we’re ready for sleep. Walmarts are not a place to camp – just a place to sleep. Don’t set up tents, tables, chairs, or such.
- As a courtesy (especially if we’re the only ones camping there), we let the manager on duty know that we’ll be overnight parking. We then ask if there’s a specific location that they’d like us to park in. They often have a particular corner of the parking lot that they like the overnight campers to park in.
- In the morning, once we’re up and about, we use the Walmart restrooms, do a little shopping for the day (as a thank you for letting us park there), and hit the road. We don’t dally or interfere with their regular shoppers.
* We recently stopped at a lovely little lakefront town in Wisconsin. The Walmart there had signs up that no RV or truck overnight parking was allowed. We were traveling in passenger vehicles. Since we didn’t fit either of those options, we decided to ask the manager on duty. We could’ve easily just parked there anyhow, but decided that 1) it was more respectful to ask and 2) we’d rather find out right away rather than have someone rap on the window in the middle of the night. He was very nice and mentioned that the signs were because of a local ordinance that didn’t want trucks idling or RV’s running their noisy air conditioners overnight, since they were so close to a residential section. He told us that as long as we didn’t look like were camping, were quiet, and we parked over in the north-west corner of the parking lot, that it was unlikely that anyone would bother us.
I fully agree with the statement made on the subject at www.freshoffthegrid.com: “Being allowed to stay overnight at Walmart is a very graciously offered privilege, and by no means a right. (From a liability standpoint, it would be way easier for Walmart to prohibit this activity, but they have decided extend a helping hand to travelers.) So, be courteous. The general rule is to keep as low profile as possible. No tents, no chairs, no hibachi grills. Everything must be done within your vehicle. ”
Camping at Walmart’s a great resource that I’ve appreciated time and time again. They don’t have to let us park overnight – it is a gift they’re giving the public. By being respectful and courteous when “camping” at Walmart, you will help keep this privilege as one that we can all enjoy for a long time to come.