If you are about to embark on a road trip this is a question you will have to ask yourself every night. Where should I pull over to spend the night? When you're on a road trip it is important to get a good night's sleep to take full advantage of whatever the new day brings.
Assuming you are not staying in a hotel or looking for a place to pitch a tent, it can be quite difficult finding somewhere to sleep. You want somewhere that has privacy and is safe and quiet. Some place you can cook dinner and use the facilities when nature calls, however it can be tough to tick all of the boxes just mentioned. Below I have compiled a short list of places to sleep that are road tripper friendly, along with their advantages and disadvantages.
You may have already heard that it is completely legal to park and sleep overnight in your vehicle at all Walmart parking lots. In fact, we have seen RV's and other vans that are set up permanently here. Walmart is at the top of the list because they are found all over the country and it is great knowing you are not going to be told to move on in the middle of the night. In addition, their parking lots are well lit for added security. Some Walmart's are 24 hours so you know there is always going to be help nearby if needed and you have access to bathroom facilities. Another bonus of Walmart is most of the stores have wifi. The only disadvantage of Walmart is that because it is well lit you may have trouble getting to sleep. And forget about sleeping in because shopper's will be coming and going starting really early in the morning.
Casino's are another great place to spend the night when it comes to feeling secure. They are always open 24 hours so you can be assured there are security officers' patrolling all night along with security camera's around. Not sure if they actually mind or not but we have never had any trouble spending the night. As long as they think you're in there spending money I'm sure they don't mind. Some other advantages besides security include access to bathroom facilities, food, tea and coffee at all hours. They usually have reasonably priced food available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I guess if you like to gamble there's that too. Not too many disadvantages but probably not a good idea to get out and start cooking up a meal as this may draw too much attention. Depending what state you're in casino's can be easy to come by. But even if gambling is illegal in the state you are travelling through you are likely to pass a few on Indian reservations.
Rest stops are a great place to spend the night if you are still en route to your destination and you will most likely pass many on most highways and byways. These rest stops are a great place to sleep in your car for the night or even two nights if its nearby an attraction you are visiting. It is legal so you won't have to worry about being told to move on. Most rest stops have 24 hour bathroom facilities and some even have picnic tables. If you are lucky there may even be volunteers serving tea and coffee in the mornings. The only thing I would say is a down side to rest stops is sometimes they can feel unsafe depending on their location. They can be in the middle of nowhere and not very well lit but most of the time there will at least be truckers stopping overnight. Even though there is probably nothing to worry about it is always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and maybe try parking near others who are spending the night.
Once you've crossed a state line you will more than likely encounter signs pointing you in the direction of a Welcome or Information Center. These places usually have good sized parking lots that you could spend the night in. Advantages are you will probably have the place to yourself and you will be able to get out and cook if you need. You will also be able to obtain free maps and get some information on state attractions and things to do once the center opens. Some Welcome Center's even have free wifi. Disadvantages are you won't be able to access bathroom facilities until the center opens in the morning.
State parks are another option available to you when you are on the road and looking for somewhere to sleep in your car for the night. As long as you are not in the city you will probably pass many of these. State parks nearly always have camp grounds and depending on if the camp ground is primitive or not you will either have access to bathroom facilities or at least have the outdoors on hand for when nature calls. The great thing about state parks is they are always located somewhere beautiful that you will want to spend more time at, for example by a river, close to the beach or based in the mountains. More than likely there will also be picnic tables and fire pits. Disadvantages are that there is probably going to be a fee involved for spending the night and many campgrounds can be full at peak times during the year. Be aware if you are thinking about just spending the night in the car park of a state park that there is the likelihood of being told to move on (which has happened to us a few times). Check for signs on whether you are allowed to park overnight.
Grocery Stores / Shopping Malls / Fast Food Outlets
These have all been grouped together as the advantages and disadvantages are similar. If you are in suburban area's you may be tempted to sleep in your car at any of these types of places because parking here is convenient and they seem pretty safe. Yes there are a lot of parking spaces available, they are usually well lit and some have camera's so add to the safeness factor. However do be aware of the fact that it probably is not legal and you may be awoken during the night to be told to move on. In saying that some shopping malls and grocery stores won't mind. Other advantage's include access to bathroom facilities and food during certain hours. Disadvantages are that once the stores and malls close you will not be able to just get out when nature calls as this may attract attention to your situation. You also risk having precious sleep time being disturbed. And just be careful because car parks at these places aren't always the safest bet.
City Street Parking
Finding somewhere to park overnight and sleep in your car in cities can be tough. If you're on a budget and avoiding the expensive costs of hotels your only option may be to park on the street. The good news is late night parking is usually free and most of the time perfectly legal. Depending on which city you're in or area of the city you are in it's probably pretty safe too. The downsides are no bathroom facilities (which can be hard if you're female and it's 3am), it can be noisy with pedestrians or traffic, and it's not the greatest feeling waking up not so fresh surrounded by all those normal people who have showered and look fantastic.
If you have any questions on this topic or have experience with road tripping in the USA and would like to share your tips and secrets, feel free to leave us a comment below.
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Two Aussies road-tripping across the USA. Our goal is to discover America's wild places and vibrant cities... and make the most of every moment. Read more