If you drive into the parking lot of most Walmarts—especially Walmart stores on popular road tripping routes—you’ll probably see a couple of RVs and vans parked near the back of the lot.
This is because for a couple of decades now Walmart parking lots have been a safe haven for RVers who are in need of a quick overnight stop to get some sleep before continuing on the road. In fact, Walmart ordains this practice and has a specific corporate policy pertaining to this subject.
But knowing that Walmart supports boondocking in their parking lot begs the question… why?
Why Does Walmart Allow Overnight Parking?
The answer to this question is actually quite easy to find, all you have to do is head over to the Walmart corporate website. Check out this blurb from the FAQ page of Walmart’s corporate website:
“While we do not offer electrical service or accommodations typically necessary for RV customers, Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers. Consequently, we do permit RV parking on our store parking lots as we are able. Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on the availability of parking space and local laws. Please contact management in each store to ensure accommodations before parking your RV.”
Plain and simply, Walmart allows overnight parking for people with RVs because they value those customers.
Honestly, I think that’s a pretty cool policy coming from a corporation that is occasionally given the label of “evil”. Walmart understands that they stand to benefit from having potential customers staying in their lots and are willing to give a little back to those customers.
Do All Walmarts Allow Overnight Parking?
If you plan on taking advantage of Walmart’s friendly attitude towards RVers staying overnight, make sure you do some research ahead of time.
As stated in the quote above, “permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on the availability of parking space and local laws”.
So what does this mean? It means that not all Walmart stores allow people to park their RVs overnight.
If you want to ensure that you are able to stay at a Walmart somewhere along your route, it is suggested that you call ahead and ask permission from the store manager. If they say no, please don’t make a big fuss because the ability to overnight in a Walmart parking lot is a privilege, not a right.
As it stands right now, just over half of the Walmart stores in the US still have policies in favor of overnight parking for RVs. This is according to OvernightRVParking.com, a site that specializes in tracking locations around the US that allow people to overnight. This is down quite significantly from times in the past when a large majority of Walmart stores allowed free overnight parking.
Back in my early twenties when I first started road tripping around the United States, almost every single Walmart I encountered had a number of boondockers parked in the back of the parking lot.
In fact, I once met two brothers who were traveling in a van before it broke down and they got stranded at a Walmart for four days waiting for parts to be delivered. I spent the better part of two days hanging out with them in the parking lot of that Walmart, chatting and hanging out.
Now that I know better, I know I shouldn’t have spent that much time blatantly hanging out and treating Walmart like a free campground. This brings us to my next point….
The Do’s and Don’ts of Overnighting at Walmart
There are some pretty simple guidelines to follow if you want to show respect and gratitude while sleeping for free at a Walmart (or any business that allows overnight RV parking).
Just because you’re looking for a free place to crash overnight doesn’t mean you need to throw class out the window.
Keep these tips in mind while you boondock at Walmart:
- Arrive late, leave early: A golden rule of the urban boondocking world, this term refers to arriving late (typically after dark) to a parking spot and leaving early in the morning before most people have started their day. By doing this, you decrease the chances of your presence—and the presence of your big RV—annoying anyone or making anyone nervous. Annoyed and nervous people tend to call the cops about “sketchy” vans and RVs, so if you’d rather sleep through the night without a knock on your door, arrive late and leave early.
- Be clean: One of the reasons a lot of Walmarts and other stores have been changing their policies about overnight parking is because many people don’t know how to clean up after themselves. If you are staying for free in a parking lot, properly dispose of all of your trash and recycling, preferably not in the dumpsters of the store you are staying at. Also refrain from dumping any waste liquids in the parking lot because it is rude to leave a mess like that and quite frankly, it’s gross.
- Patronize the store: This one should be pretty easy to take care of because there’s a good chance that you’ll need to pick up some food or supplies anyway. Patronizing the store is the main reason why Walmart allows RVers to stay overnight in the first place. They know that they stand to make a lot of money by being the closest shopping center to a bunch of hungry campers. So if you’re going to boondock at a Walmart, at the very least go in and buy something small like a candy bar.
- Park well: It is very important to be considerate while parking your RV in order to minimize the impact you have on daily store operations. So, park as far back in the lot as possible, and occupy as few spots as you can. I’m consistently surprised at how often I see RVs taking up almost twice as many spots as necessary. If parking a big rig like a fifth-wheel trailer makes you nervous, consider purchasing this compact teardrop trailer from Ecocampor.
Do not do any of these things when you park overnight at Walmart:
- Don’t set up camp: Parking lots are not campgrounds and should not be treated as such. When boondocking in any parking lot, it is not the time to pull out the camp chairs and grill and kick back. Keep your time spent outside of your camper to an absolute minimum.
- Don’t party: The last thing any business wants is a bunch of rowdy vacationers partying in their parking lots. Refrain from any blatant smoking and drinking, and keep the volume of your music low. The easiest way to avoid bothering anyone with your presence is to simply plan on a low key evening reading or watching a movie. In reality, if you are sticking true to the arrive late, leave early way of life, you’ll probably just hit the hay once you park your rig. If you must have an evening nightcap, keep it within the privacy and comfort of your rig.
- Don’t overstay your welcome: Are you wondering about the ideal number of evenings to stay in a Walmart parking lot? One. These lots should be considered a quick pit stop before continuing on your travels. If you absolutely have to stay another night, check with the manager and explain the situation. More than two nights and you’re messing up. It’s important to be smart and forward-thinking with travel plans so that you don’t end up burdening anyone. The only reason you should ever have to stay more than one or two nights in a business parking lot is a true emergency like an injury or mechanical issue.
Other Places to Stay Overnight
Walmart isn’t the only business that allows free overnight RV parking. In fact, if you are looking for more information about all sorts of places you can boondock, check out this article I wrote about where to park your RV overnight for free.
The following businesses have historically allowed overnight parking for campers and RVs:
- Cracker Barrel and other destination restaurants
- Planet Fitness
- Bass Pro Shops
Keep in mind that the landscape of free overnight RV parking is changing rapidly. Everyday businesses are updating its policies and refusing to allow overnight RV parking. Recently more and more RVers are reporting difficulty finding Planet Fitnesses and Cabela’s locations that will allow overnight parking.
So please don’t come after me if you try to boondock at one of these locations and are refused.
Remember, Be Respectful
It is so important to be respectful while staying in a Walmart parking lot or at any other business. I know I sound like a broken record at this point, but if we RVers want to maintain the privilege of boondocking in parking lots, we have to prove that we can handle that privilege and the responsibility that comes with it.
But also remember to have fun! Traveling in an RV is the most fun way to road trip around the country. So if you have to stay at a Walmart, make it short and sweet so you can get back to doing what you love: adventuring.