Where do I park overnight?
I get tons of question about living out of a van or now, a school bus. While it’s almost impossible to list them all in one post, what I am going to do is focus on one question at a time. In this post I’ll talk about “Where do I park overnight?”
I’ve been living full time previously in a sprinter van and now in the bus (Jess) while traveling across the United States. Whiles it’s a change going from a stealthier sprinter van to a BIG YELLOW bus, it’s basically been the same thing looking for places to stay. Here’s some of the places and things I’ve learned over the years.
The best thing I do is try to plan ahead to where I’m going to stay for the night. It could be one night, several nights or a few weeks depending on the location. The easiest one is to do a quick search on MAPS for local Walmarts. I usually don’t have to worry about getting there late. However, some Walmarts are starting to not allow overnight parking. But wait, there’s an APP call iOvelander. Generally though, Walmart allows overnight parking which provides a lot of safety factors. The have lit up spots, patrolled parking lots big enough space for buses, bathrooms, most of the time good internet, and more often than not there’s other vanlifers parked there as well. Plus if I need to get some groceries or anything else, its right there.
Another place that I’ve looked up when there are no Walmarts is Cracker Barrel. Cracker Barrels are all over the states and are known to have dedicated spots for overnight RVs, buses, and anyone else looking to rest overnight. The nice thing about Cracker Barrel is that they are often much quieter than Walmart and less crowded. I’ve stayed at many Cracker Barrels where most of the time I’m the only one in the parking lot at night. However, mostly Cracker Barrels are a one night pit stop.
Look for spot during the day.
One thing I try to do is always look for a spot during the daylight hours. Whenever I’m driving around cities or towns, I’m constantly looking for places I could potentially park over night. This really helps because I’ve done it before, too many times actually, where I’ve been in a pinch and parked some where that looks “eh” at night. Which then lends to a bad sleep because I’m too on guard of whats going on outside. Like there might be people walking by, strange noise, etc. So, yeah, seeing a place in daylight eases the nerves and allows a more peaceful sleep.
Family and Friends houses
This is one of my favorites. Traveling around the States has allowed me to visit friends all over the place. And most of them have a street or driveway where I can park the bus. It’s so fun to visit them and give them a tour of the bus and share stories of where I’ve been and where I’m going. Most of the time I can fill up on water, plug in the batteries or take ’em up on a hot shower. I know, you’re asking yourself, “Tell me more about this shower thing. How do your shower on the bus?” I’ll get to that on a later post.
Another place I tend to park when I’m in the city or towns is side streets. Side streets, I find, are usually quiet and safe places I feel comfortable with. Finding a good one is a probably the hardest thing of all. I tend to drive and look during the day when I can get a better idea of the type neighborhood I’m looking to park in. Things I look for are people walking their dogs, homes that don’t have their front doors facing the street, other cars parked on the street, and sometimes like so many other places, I run into other vanlifers. I like parking in fun neighborhoods where I can walk my dog “Van” or maybe get a coffee at a local coffee shop.
It’s not often I get hassled, but I have. Maybe 3 or 4 times in the years I’ve been traveling. The cops have kicked me out of a few places. Of course it was in Massachusetts. Even one time in my hometown.
I was parked in my own hometown, near some unused at the time, soccer fields and trails when was about to take a nice nap when I heard a knock on the outside of my van. It was the cops. Sure enough someone called the local police saying there was a suspicious white van parked at this park. When I opened the door and came out, one of the cops was like, “JOE?!” HA! We knew each other from playing hockey. After explaining that I live full time out of my van we both laughed about the call and he told me I might be able to get a better nap at another spot where no one will bother me. Oh, this brings up a good piece of information. 99% of the time if you ask a police officer where you can stay overnight? they can’t recommend a place. Strange.
But, yeah side street usually work out for me.
OK here’s the BEST ONE. B.L.M. Bureau of Land Management. BLM’s are the best. Basically west of the Mississippi where the country starts the open up, there are humungous pieces of land that are monitored by the Bureau of Land Management. BLMs are designated area where you can park for “FREE”. Some are very primitive and some are more elaborate. For example there are spots in the southwest that are in the middle of nowhere and that are miles and hours away from the nearest town. Spots that may have a fire pit or even bathrooms. It’s really incredible. And the Views! Holy crap the views are out of control. Imaging being in the middle of the desert with no one for hours upon hours away, its so peaceful and free. I miss it right now as I’m typing this.
Oh before I forget too. BLMs have a few basic rules. You can only stay for 2 weeks at a time then have to leave. If you want to go to another BLM, you have to go 28 miles as far the crow flies to the next one. If you don’t know what that means. It means that you have to go in a straight line 28miles to a different BLM. And don’t worry, there’s plenty to choose from.
How do you find these BLMS? I’m glad you asked. There’s an APP, of course. The go to APP we all use on the road is iOverlander. It’s so good. iOverlander is a APP that use MAPS and shows you where all the BLMs that other people have stayed at before. It’s really easy to use plus most of the places have feedback by people that have stayed those places before. You can see if the roads to the site are passable for 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive, do they have cell service, bathrooms, fire pits, and some will even have photos of the spot. Seriously it’s a great APP.