Road trips can be a bit unpredictable and sometimes though we might have a goal to make it to the next official campsite, life happens and our timelines simply don’t match up. If you have ever been in one of these situations you know how it feels possibly to be driving for hours in your car or RV only to see the day getting away and the panic of where should I stay setting in.
But what are your options when you simply cannot keep driving and need to throw in the towel for the evening?
Believe it or not, this is a question many ask. And depending on which portion of the country you are in, you might find a variety of answers.
Now keep in mind, with each of these answers you will want to find which suits your style travel, your comfort and your location. No one answer will be the perfect solution for every motorist, but it is nice to have one of these options in your pocket for a rainy day so to speak.
These are one of the more common places you can find across the US. While it seems no two stops are maintained in the same manner you could find a very safe and secure well lit stop or another that might be a bit more sketchy in appearance. This is where you will really want to look into your comfort levels and explore your options.
I have found in Texas for example if you travel along certain paths you will find Safety Stops, rest stops designed to give motorists a safe haven for rest but also to get into a safe place in the elements. These are highly secure, many with an officer on hand to monitor security cameras to give the feeling of a very safe place to pull off and rest. Others in the state however might be little more than a pull off with a picnic table and no restrooms.
If you are traveling try to always do a little browsing of the internet as you seek out a place to stop and try apps like AllStays or FreeCamping to see if there are notes on the rest areas along your path.
Crossing into a new state? These locations are great places to pull off, have a cup of coffee, stretch, pick up some literature and use the restroom, but more so many will allow you to park for a few hours at a time to rest.
Regulations on overnight stay are usually posted in the parking area, however most allow a single night stay. I did notice while traveling on the east coast that regulations were bit more rigid at these stops and many did have No Overnight Parking signs posted.
Another advantage to staying at Welcome Centers is they offer free wifi in many cases so if you are close enough to the building you can tap in and have a little access on your road trip for your devices.
This option can be a very beneficial one to motorist weary on the road. Not only in many instances can you stay in the parking lot as long as you park toward the rear or near the auto or garden centers but you also will have access to the store for any supplies you might need in addition to a clean restroom.
However, with that being said I have traveled across the US and noted that many WalMart stores are now really cracking down on overnight parking in large part due to people not being respectful of the property. I don’t know how many times I have been at a WalMart, even just going to get groceries when no traveling and seen people throw trash out of their car and onto the ground. Other times I have seen people actually setting up a tent in the parking lot. It really makes you question some people, and for this reason certain lots have just decide not to accept overnight traffic.
If you are curious if a WalMart in your area or the area you are traveling to is accessible to overnight stay there are a couple of online databases. My favorite is AllStay, which literally lists all the WalMarts in a given city and has first hand accounts of other travelers who have attempted to stay. Again, the north east seems to be the most difficult for finding a site which accepts overnighters, however I can only assume that is because of the amount of people crammed into these sections of the country making it very difficult for them to allow.
These sites are designed for larger vehicles, however this is also a place of business for those who work on the road, so with parking at one of these stops it is imperative to obey the rules designed for RV or vehicle overnight stay.
You will want to find RV specific sites at these locations or regular parking for cars or vans.
Depending on your size you will want to really pay attention to where you are going if you don’t want a late night tap on your window asking you to pull forward.
The benefit to a stay at one of these locations is the convenience of a clean restroom and opportunity to shower if need be. Additionally you have access to a store with a variety of items you might need before hitting the road and in most instances a restaurant.
My suggestion if looking into one of these options is to try to stay with the big names in the industry: Flyin’ J, Pilot, Loves, Petro, or TA (Travel Centers of America) these usually are concisely of better quality and have better facilities in addition to better overall security.
Now that you have the locations, remember a few tips before settling in for an overnight parking experience:
1 - In an RV, don’t pull out your slide outs. Pulling these out can take up to much space. Especially in limited parking areas like truck stops this can create a very dangerous situation as your slide is very likely to get grazed by another person attempting to park in the close spaces. In locations such as WalMarts this can be the fastest way to be asked to leave as they do not mind you staying, however they do not want it to appear that they are now an RV Park. Remember you are there for a convenience not for a standard camp.
2- Do not drain your grey water onto the ground at any facilities.
3 - If Car or Van camping remember to still park toward the rear of the property in designated spaces. Do not park in spaces designed for trucks when you are clearly much smaller. Do not park in limited access parking, meaning parking designed for regular shoppers at shops, these are those closer to the building at WalMarts and truck stops.
4 - Do not set up a tent, grill or outdoor chairs in lots. Again remember you are using this as a parking space only not actually camping so do not make yourself at home.
5 - When in doubt, ASK! If you are unsure of being able to stay in a location you can always ask a manger or call ahead to Welcome Centers. Always better safe than sorry.
6 - Do not abuse the ability to stay overnight. If you are traveling to an area, rather than depending on one of these locations for a week of stay, plan ahead and only use this as a backup plan. Commonly people seeking to save money often have overstayed their welcome and abused the privilege to stay.
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