It seems that everyone we talk to about van life is curious about where we sleep at night. Either strangers want to know out of general curiosity, other van lifers want to trade tips, or family and friends are concerned about us. In our 4 months of van life, only once have we been asked to move for the night. And that was just a security guard at 8 pm who directed us to numerous other options, so no big deal. But along the way in the last 4 months, we have picked up a few tips, tricks, and general knowledge on the subject of overnight parking. I thought I’d share some of them here in case you were curious, concerned, or wanted some tips for yourself/a friend.
Places we look for to stay the night in town:
Not all Cabela’s let you stay the night in the parking lot, but we have found that a number of them do and some even have dump and water filling stations. We found that particularly in New England, these are a good option and they tend to be in most bigger cities.
Bass Pro Shop
Bass Pro Shop is owned by Cabela’s and typically have the same rules. The only reason we’ve found that either store has shared as to why we can’t park there is if they don’t own the parking lot and are therefore subject to city regulations.
We have never been told by a Cracker Barrel that we can’t stay the night in their parking lot. To be extra safe with any of the three businesses, we try to always call ahead if we can; we want to minimize our chances of getting kicked out in the middle of the night.
Some states let you stay the night in rest areas but some do not. It’s important to check state laws about this and follow posted rules. Below we’ll talk about an app we use to get information on what states allow overnight parking and other state rules.
When we are new to a town, we try to stay at a business or rest area for the first night until we can get our bearings. Once we know a little more about a city, we will try to find safe street parking so we can stealth camp at night. There are a lot of considerations that go into why we pick where we stealth park that we will talk about below.
Apps we use to find good places to park:
Water, paid campsites, free campsites
Not always the highest quality suggestions
Because it is community contributions and the go-to platform for many, there is sometimes unique content not found elsewhere
Filtering by price-point
Community contributed and reviewed locations
Good icon categorization into parking areas, sites, and trailer-parks
More standard type locations: BLM, State Parks, National Parks, Rest Areas, etc.
App curated content with user reviews. Reviews are sometimes non-existent on various businesses
Focus on businesses which provide RV related services with bridge clearances included as well.
Standardized listing of state laws
Helpful for looking up Rest Area overnight laws by state as well as gas taxes and traffic laws.
Paid but available as part of a package
Intended for truckers
Useful for finding truck friendly overnight parking
Reviews and usage don’t apply to vans since we fit in smaller spaces and different areas.
Sometimes overlooks van friendly spots, sometimes shows truck only spots. Overall is helpful when traveling major highways.
When we stealth park:
We look at crime maps to check for safe neighborhoods
We look for cars already parked on the streets
We try not to be the only car on a block
We try to not park right next to another van or RV (we worry that it draws attention to have too many large vehicles together plus we don’t want to crowd the other vehicle)
We try not to park directly in front of someone’s front door (along fences or by big bushes is better)
We look for more level streets, so no hills
We generally try to park under a street lamp (so we don’t look like we are trying to hide or be sketchy, so they can’t see any light coming from inside, and people don’t generally tend to break into cars under lights)
We generally stay in larger cities rather than suburbs (people are more likely to park on the street in cities than they are in suburbs; they also tend to notice new vehicles more in suburbs)
Overnight parking is not something we take lightly and as with everything else in the van, it takes thought and attention. But as time has gone on and we have had more experience in where to park, it has become easier. We generally only need 10 minutes or so of research time now before we find a place to park for the night. And, once we find a good place in a city, we can park there again (maybe not the exact same spot if we are stealth camping), learn about better places as we learn the city more, and it becomes much less of something to worry about. We communicate with each other about how we feel about a location and we are both on the lookout for good spots. Not once have we felt unsafe about where we were staying the night. And we plan to keep it that way.