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 in your vehicle.
You want somewhere that has privacy, 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 but we have managed to compile a list of 7 places you can park overnight and sleep on a road trip along with their advantages and disadvantages.
Fortunately, America is a very road-trip friendly country. What I mean by that is it has well maintained roads, scenic byways and highways, cheap gas and many places you could potentially pull over and park overnight to sleep without getting into trouble with the law. We have parked overnight at all of the places listed below so if you have any questions feel free to ask us in the comments section below.
A few road tripping essentials:
7 Places You Can Park Overnight & Sleep On A Road Trip
You may have already heard that it is completely legal to park and sleep overnight in your vehicle at all Walmart parking lots. This has been true in all of our experiences. In fact, we have seen RV's and other vans that are set up permanently at some locations.
Walmart is at the top of the list because they are found all over the country and it is such a relief 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 that most of the stores have free 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 at a casino. As long as they think you are in there spending money I am sure they don't mind having you.
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 is 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. Casino's can sometimes be hard to come by if gambling is illegal in the state you are driving through but you may still stumble across a few on Indian Reservations.
3. Rest Stops
Rest stops are a great place to spend the night if you are still on your way to your destination and start to get tired. You will most likely pass MANY of these driving on highways and interstate roads.
Rest stops are a great place to stop and stay for one night or maybe even two. It is legal so you won't get a tap on your window during deep sleep! Most rest stop's 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 morning.
The only thing I would say is the downside to rest stops is that they can feel unsafe in some places. I am referring to those rest stops that are in the middle of nowhere and not lit very well, but this could also just be my imagination as I have watched one too many horror films that begin with a lonely rest stop. Even though there is probably nothing to worry about, you should always be aware of your surroundings and if something doesn't feel right just move on. If there are others car camping you can always park closer to them.
4. Welcome Information Center’s
Once you have crossed the state line you will more than likely encounter signs pointing you in the direction of a Welcome Center. These places usually have good sized parking lots that you could park overnight and sleep just for one night if you are desperate to find somewhere safe.
Advantages are you will probably have the place all to yourself and you will be able to get out and cook a meal 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 in the morning. Some Welcome Centers even have free wifi!
Disadvantages are you won't be able to access bathroom facilities until the center opens in the morning. It’s also probably not a good idea to get out and start wandering around or making a lot of noise after dark or you might get unwanted attention from the police.
5. BLM Land
BLM Land (Bureau of Land Management) offers dispersed camping for all so feel free to car camp or if you have a tent with you feel free to pitch it! You can camp anywhere you like, generally anywhere outside of designated campsite or picnic area's and trail heads are fair game. Camping is allowed on most BLM Land for up to 14 days and is completely free. If you do camp on these public lands, please make sure you follow the Leave No Trace principles to reduce your impact on the land. This means pack out all of your trash!
Advantages of staying at BLM Land are that it is completely legal to stay for a considerable amount of time for free and of course the surrounding natural beauty, the solitude and open spaces.
There are no real disadvantages except that most BLM Land is located in the western half of the country so if you are road tripping on the East Coast this is probably not an option for you.
6. Grocery Stores, Shopping Malls & Fast Food Outlets, Parking Lots
These have all been grouped together as their 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 it may seem safe. Yes, they are well lit and some have security camera's too for the added safeness factor, however do be aware that it is probably not legal and you may be told to move on during the night. Having said this, we have stayed at some grocery store parking lots for nights on end with no trouble.
Grocery store and mall parking lots are convenient as you may not need to drive very far to come across them and you will also have access to their bathroom facilities.
Once the grocery store or mall closes you should not get out of your vehicle as this will just draw attention to your situation which you do not want as it may be illegal in your state. Also, be careful because parking lots at these places aren't always the safest bet.
7. City Street Parking
Finding somewhere to park overnight and sleep in your car in cities or urban area's can be tough! But if you're on a budget and avoiding the expensive costs of staying in a hotel, your only option may be to park on the street...
The good news is late night parking is usually free. Depending on which city you are visiting (or area of the city) it is probably pretty safe too. However, it is never legal to be sleeping inside a vehicle on city streets so therefore you need to be stealthy if you decide to do this.
The downsides are there are no restroom facilities (which can be pretty hard if you're a female and it's 3am) and it an be quite noisy too with pedestrians and traffic. It is also not the greatest feeling in the world waking up not so fresh surrounded by all those normal people who have showered and look fantastic. But it is most certainly an option.