By Kay Fitz on Apr 12 2019
Category: The Lighter Side

Van Life: Where Can I Overnight Park?

Vandwelling looks like paradise- all of those Instagram pictures of people sleeping in their vans parked at the beach, or at the top of a mountain with amazing views- but is that the reality? Vandwellers aren’t able to just park wherever they want, despite what social media makes it look like. Most of the people are staging those photos for the ‘gram, and in reality they’re sleeping in a Walmart parking lot.

In this blog, I’ll break down the different parking options available to vandwellers, and expose the reality of it all.

Van Life Series

  1. Before you Make the Lifestyle Change
  2. What is the Best Vehicle to Live in?
  3. Job Options for Digital Nomads
  4. Where Can I Overnight Park? (this article)
  5. Van Life: #LifeHacks on the Road


There are free and paid options, so I’ll break down some of the options for each, and provide some resources to help you find where to park or camp.


When considering free car camping locations, there are typically some rules that apply, so be sure to call ahead or research such rules before planning to spend the night!


These will typically be beautiful, remote locations perfect for Vandwellers seeking solitude. BLM allows up to a 14 day stay in a 28 day period limit, and after this time period, you must relocate to another site at least 25 miles away. You must always park 200’ from water sources and 100’ from any roads- if you do not do this, you could be fined or asked to move! Most importantly, always be sure to practice Leave No Trace. There won’t be any people around to pick up after you!


If you need to overnight camp in a city or populated area, you’ll probably be camping in parking lots. A good rule of thumb is to arrive later in the evening and leave early in the morning to avoid attention. It’s polite to park towards the outskirts of the parking lot to make sure you’re not taking up spaces that real customers could use. If you have the means, purchase a little something from the store(s) to say thanks!


You have the gambling itch? Most Casinos will have overnight parking, but be sure to call prior to arrival to ensure there’s space or there aren’t any events taking up the lot. The free locations often are just a parking lot with minimal amenities- I will describe the paid Casino parking amenities in a little bit!


If you’re driving on the interstate, Truck Stops and most Rest Areas are a good overnight option.

Rest Areas have different rules per State, so be sure to research that before planning to camp! They will have public bathrooms, coin-op food & beverages, and trash receptacles.

Truck stops are the better option since they allow overnight parking and amenities. Some will have WiFi, showers, restaurants, car washes and more. Best practice is to park on the outskirts, or in non-trucker spaces, to make sure the true truckers have room to park.


Maybe there aren’t any free options in an area you’re going to be vandwelling, or maybe you just want a little luxury for a night or two? I’ve broken down common paid camping and their price ranges.


Most of this land is free, but some distinguished campsites have fees ranging from $5-$25/night. These locations typically have beautiful views, and are still secluded from others, offering a lot of privacy.


These campgrounds are common, but don’t have much privacy since the sites are typically right next to each other. Campsites will vary, some including electric & water hookups, most including showers and restrooms with trash receptacles. If you’re lucky, they’ll have recycle dumpsters too! Sites will be distinguished and either require a reservation or a permit for first come-first serve. Fees range from $5-$50/night.


There are a number of OA Campground locations across the US & Canada. This is true luxury camping and will be pricey! Aside from the common WiFi, electricity, showers, and restrooms that other campsites offer, they also have dog parks, fishing ponds, camp grills, swimming pools, general stores (that offer firewood and propane), and much more! They typically run $30-$60+/night, but also offer memberships if you plan to utilize their services often!


Similar to Park Campgrounds, this is another common source for overnight camping. Sites are right next to others, so if you’re looking for privacy, it will be minimal. Amenities vary, but typically include showers, restrooms, and trash receptacles. Some have WiFi, electricity, and general stores. Prices vary, but commonly around $20-$40+/night.


As we previously discussed, Casinos can have free parking, but the amenities are minimal. If they do charge, it’s typically between $15-$25/night, and it includes amenities like bathrooms, trash receptacles, and sometimes showers. Be sure to call ahead to check out the situation.


So now you know about your overnight parking options, but how do you know which ones are available for your travel route? You won’t have all of the options everywhere you go, so it’s smart to plan ahead. Luckily, there are some awesome websites and apps out there that makes the search easy. Here’s what I found:


If you’re not always staying in remote and secluded places, overnight camping can be a very exposed lifestyle. Having to stealth park in random lots can attract unwanted company and attention. Some general rules to follow:

Even if you are camping somewhere remote, you’ll want to be aware of your surroundings. Some safe practices to follow:


You are a guest wherever you are visiting, traveling, or staying. You want to be sure to leave a minimal impact on the environment and respect others around it- and I’m not just saying other human visitors. Animals live in some of these environments, so we are essentially guests in their home, and need to respect them as much as possible. Many are unaware of the ‘Leave No Trace’ movement, so I will break down the 7 principles for you which provides guidance to enjoy our natural world in a sustainable way that avoids human-created impacts. Spread the word!!


1) Plan Ahead and Prepare

2) Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

3) Dispose of Waste Properly

4) Leave What You Find

5) Minimize Campfire Impacts

6) Respect Wildlife

7) Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Practice these 7 Principles wherever you go. We want to make sure our world is still thriving for the generations to follow, so minimizing your personal impact is important. Many are unaware of the environment around them, and the impacts they could be making, so be sure to always research best practices before visiting new places! I can’t express this enough.

Time to Escape!

You hopefully have enough resources to plan your next Van Life trip, so where you goin’?  I’ve found that it’s easiest to figure out your destination first, and then plan your stops and figure out the camping places in between. Enjoy the ride!

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