When you’re traveling in a vehicle that you live and sleep in or are even just going on a road trip, sleeping in hotels and paid campgrounds can really add up. So it’s only natural that instead of staying in a paid accommodation, you’d rather find a spot where you can park overnight for free.
The most common fear I hear from people looking to move out onto the road is having to find a place to park overnight that is not only free, but also legal. You can’t park overnight anywhere you want to. And nobody wants to get that dreaded knock on the door at 3am telling them that they have to find somewhere else to sleep for the night. But the good news is that if you read this blog post, you’ll know all the places where you can park overnight for free. Keep reading to learn my 10 favorite free places to park overnight to sleep on the road and my top tips for finding free overnight parking wherever you are!
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iOverlander is a great app for anyone living in a car, van, or RV to download as it has so many great resources available to you! The app displays an easy to use map where you can search for free places to park overnight around the world, fill up on water, dump gray water, and more. It also shares photos and reviews of each location. It’s a great place to find free places to park overnight on the road and gauge whether it’s safe to do so or not.
Freecampsites.net is a website similar to iOverlander but it is dedicated only to helping you find free campsites. This is my favorite website for finding dispersed camping areas. I especially love when there are recent reviews and photos of a location so I know exactly what I’m getting into. I highly recommend using freecampsites.net when searching for your next free campsite!
Any map app on your phone will allow you to search for travel stops, rest areas, public parking lots, hotels, and many of the other places on this list where you can park for free overnight. I prefer Google Maps, because the level of detail it provides makes it the best app for scanning BLM land for campsites and finding street parking. It also allows you to save maps for offline use, which will come in handy if you lose cell phone service.
Related Post: 10 Best Free Campsites in Colorado
BLM/Public land is my favorite place to sleep on the road. BLM land is owned by the Bureau of Land Management and is always free to camp on. There are over 245 million acres of BLM public land in the United States. You will typically find them in wide open spaces such as National Forests, desert areas, and mountain parks. They typically contain a fire ring (though not always), no facilities, and often weak or no cell service. But they also contain no (or very few people) stunning views, and a chance to unplug/breathe in fresh air.
The general rule is that you are welcome to camp on any BLM/national forest land for free for up to 14 days within a 30 day period. To find them, I recommend checking my map first (because I’ve already found the BEST campsite in the area for you), and then freecampsites.net or iOverlander if you don’t find a campsite in your area. If you still can’t find anything, call a ranger station in the area you want to camp in. I’ve found the BEST free campsites this way! Like a beautiful one overlooking the ocean on one side and mountains on the other in Santa Barbara where I didn’t see another human being all week 😍
Related Post: Stealth Camping in San Diego
Rest areas, truck stops, and travel stops are the best places to sleep overnight when you’re on a long road trip. They are free to sleep at, located right off the main interstate, and have restrooms and snacks. What more do you need?
Rest areas do sometimes close overnight, but most are 24 hours. You are able to sleep at any rest area for free for up to 8 hours. I prefer to sleep at rest areas on road trips if I just simply need an easy place to sleep.
Truck stops and travel stops are great if you’re looking for snacks, gas, and/or a shower. I prefer Love’s, but you can search “truck stops” on Google Maps to find something near you. Travel stops are also generally located off of major interstates so they’re easy to get to. The best part is they have coffee and often very nice showers.
Tourist information centers (also called welcome centers) are typically located near state lines or other major points of entry, such as state parks, to provide incoming visitors with information about the area. They also have restrooms and often allow overnight parking, making them a great free place to sleep on the road, though their restrooms sometimes close during non-staffed hours.
I slept at the Adirondack Welcome Center for several nights when visiting upstate New York, which I highly recommend!
Residential neighborhoods are a good place to park overnight because they see less traffic than tourist streets and typically less crime as well. The best way to find parking in a residential neighborhood is by searching on iOverlander or just driving around and looking for a spot that won’t disturb anyone or attract attention. A good place to try is near neighborhood parks or find street parking near apartment complexes or houses. When parking in neighborhoods, just be sure to show up after dark, leave early, and never park directly in front of someone’s house.
I parked in residential neighborhoods when visiting Orange County and Malibu which allowed me to wake up literally just a few steps away from the beach!
Most Walmart parking lots allow you to park for free overnight and some will even have space blocked off for vans and RVs. This is a great option for those traveling solo as Walmarts are well-lit and have surveillance cameras at the very least. If you’re not sure if you can park, look around to see if you find any other overnighters or just call and ask.
If you’re driving in the southern United States, you’ll be pleased (and likely surprised) to hear that most Cracker Barrel locations allow free overnight parking for travelers behind the building, but I definitely recommend calling ahead. It’s a quiet place to sleep and a delicious breakfast is just steps outside your door!
Street parking is definitely one of the more adventurous options of free places to sleep on the road as you have more of a chance of attracting the attention of cops, mischief, or anyone who simply doesn’t want you there. But it is possible to find really great street parking options, such as along a concrete wall or a road less traveled. You could even end up with some really beautiful views this way. Areas where you can park overnight are often unmarked, so as long as you see no “No Overnight Parking” signs, you should be okay.
Before picking a spot to park overnight, I recommend really scouting out the area during the day just to ensure you would feel safe there at night and try to park near a streetlight if you can. Limit the number of times you go in and out of the vehicle and move along if you get an uneasy feeling.
Public parking lots like park and ride lots are a great place to park overnight for an evening or two. That’s what they’re made for! I don’t park here too often as they generally don’t have any facilities or pretty views, but they’re a good place to stop if you simply just need a place to get a quick rest and move along.
You can park at any business that’s open 24 hours overnight as they’re used to having cars coming and going all night long. Most of these lots do have security patrolling, so you’ll want to be stealthy and quiet while you’re here. The best 24 hour business to park at overnight is a casino. Most casinos have specific RV parking in the back, are well-lit, and take their security very seriously. Plus, it’s a great place to go if you want to enjoy a nice dinner and some entertainment.
Hotels are a great place to stop for the night because they’re used to out of state license plates and guests coming and going at all hours of the night. Some hotels only allow parking with a guest pass, but there will usually be signs posted if that is the case. If not, just be sure to park away from the entrance and remain inconspicuous.
Some apartment complexes only allow parking for residents and guests, but most at least have a lot where anyone can park any time. Apartment complexes are usually pretty secure and very used to people coming and going so as long as you remain inconspicuous you shouldn’t have any issues.
Related Post: The Solo Mentality: How to Get Comfortable Traveling or Moving Alone
As you can see, there are tons of great free places you can sleep overnight when traveling or living on the road. Don’t let the fear of not being able to find a place to park stop you from living your dream life. In all my years of travel, I’ve NEVER been in a situation where I literally could not find anywhere to park. You’ve got this!
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