Hi Guys! Greetings from ALASKA! I am currently on a solo road trip from Southern California to Alaska and back…in my PRIUS [her name is Priscilla] and she handled the famous Alaska highway like a champ, despite what some people told me!
I’m so grateful to be on this amazingly beautiful adventure and as I have been posting on social media, I have been getting some questions about how I live in my car and the deets involved. Sooooo, let me start by answering the most common…
How do you sleep in your car for free?! And where the heck do you park overnight to do so??
Okay, quick little disclaimer to start…first, you want to be respectful of fellow humans, businesses, and nature in general SOOOO it is best to follow the rules whenever possible.
And second, you want to feel SAFE and super comfy when you do this – if you do not, you need to find a new spot or PAY for proper camping, hotel, lodging.
I travel because I LOVE to explore new places and experience all that they have to offer. I sleep in my car a lot while road tripping because I LOVE to wine + dine the town/city/area that I am visiting. I take the lodging funds and put them in to new experiences AND by only sleeping in my car it forces me to leave it.
This means that when I wake up, I get up and go somewhere. I meet new people, have new convos, explore where I am, and work in local hangout spots [again forcing me to not be alone]. This forces me to be away from TV. Away from hitting snooze and laying in bed much longer than I wanted to and all the regular routine I do at home that isn’t beneficial. Okay, with alllllll of that said…
Here is where I park my car and sleep FOR FREE while road tripping:
FREE Camping AKA BLM Land
The Bureau of Land Management is an agency within the US with approximately 247 million acres of public lands. On this land, they allow you to park and ‘camp’ overnight for free for up to 14 days. Check out their website for locations, these are mostly in the Western US states only.
Retail that is open 24/7
If you find a store that is open all night there will be people coming and going and thus, overnight parking is permitted (just double check the signage). This includes Walmart who even allows overnight (for a single night) RV parking. Be sure to check the rules of the Walmart you are going to first, as some vary but usually if 24 hours, overnight parking is allowed.
Obvi, they are open 24/7 too and therefore have people in and out and overnight parking is okay. Just like retail though, with people coming and going there is noise and bright lights. Ear plugs and an eye mask are a must!
*hospitals aren’t my jam, but I have met a handful of travelers that use them as a backup plan when they can’t find another spot FYI
Hotels are my jam and where I park MOST of the time. This is rough though because it technically IS BREAKING a rule as I am not a hotel guest, and I don’t like that…but if I’m arriving late at night and there are a lot of free parking spots that I am not taking away from guests AND I’m not leaving any footprint behind, I do it.
I find a mid-range priced hotel (IE parking lot is well lit and nice but not so nice that security is patrolling it all night) and I park as far away from an entrance as possible. I look for spots where one side of the car can be next to plants (aka only a parking spot on one side) to be as discrete as possible.
I do love to camp and only really switched to sleeping in the car because camping was adding up very quickly BUT you can still find very reasonably priced campgrounds if you do some research. I have even asked an RV campground owner if I could just park in a regular spot (no hookups nor utilities) and they let me pay a few bucks to do so. Sometimes you just need to ask.
Okay, I have done this but only like twice because people paid a lot for their home and they don’t want car people sleeping in their neighborhood ya know? This is a LAST RESORT that I have used when I literally was too tired to safely keep driving AND you better believe I got my butt up at the crack of dawn to leave before anyone saw me. And even then, I didn’t park directly in front of a home, I found some bushes as far away as possible and slept there. Just be respectful of the neighborhood and use this only when you’re in a pickle.
PARKING OVERNIGHT TIPS
Don’t Stay Downtown
The closer you are to a city’s downtown the harder it is going to be to find a spot to park. Downtown’s require paid parking majority of the time everywhere. Hotels even charge for parking in larger cities. Drive about 10+ miles away and you will find wayyyyy more options.
You don’t want to freak someone walking by out, and you don’t want to receive a parking ticket or violation of any kind. [FYI I have never had someone knock on my window and ask me to leave or receive a violation of any kind, and I truly think it is because I try to be as courteous as possible to others].
I asked the visitor’s center where in town I could park overnight recently and the lady literally said “you aren’t sleeping in your car right?” Lol. I LOVE that more people are trying this out and I LOVE all the people converting their actual homes in to vans and living the #vanlife. It has put a bit more of a spotlight on the overnight parking subject and I’ve seen more and more ‘NO OVERNIGHT PARKING’ signs than I used to – but its all good. I LOVE that people are making travel a priority in their lives!!!
On this trip alone, I have made some amazing van-life friends and been able to park with them too! [Priscilla the Prius was a little worried she wouldn’t fit in, but they loved her LOL]. So make some friends and see where they are gunna park. As a solo female though, I don’t always tell people I’m alone until I feel comfortable doing so. Just use your intuition, and trust your instincts.
I suggest locating your spot when you first arrive in town [if you’re staying all day that is] and then you don’t have to worry about it later. At bedtime, you just drive back there and go to sleep. Bam! Super easy! Sometimes, being super tired and searching is the worst!
I have black cardboard cut outs that I made to fit my windows, and I put them up each night. It looks like I just have dark tint and I get instant privacy. Check Amazon or your car company’s website and see if they have custom window shades available…if not just make your own!
If you ever search and search and can’t find a spot that is safe, just park where you feel safe. In my opinion, the worst that can happen is you have to explain to a patrol officer your true story of how no where felt safe and you were too tired to continue on. A fine to pay is wayyyyy better than jeopardizing your safety.
Don’t Ruin It For Others
Just be courteous. By saving this money you are making the rest of your travels possible so don’t make a mess, don’t draw attention to what you’re doing and just be grateful for the safe, comfy spots you find.
Lastly, this is a great site that will help you and when all else fails google, google and google some more. Read town/city rules and where they may have overnight parking spots. Often times, the Visitor’s Center has a section of parking for RVs and even though you aren’t in one, just park there.This handy guide helped me save a TON of money on lodging while road trippin'. #roadtrip #freelodging Click To Tweet