Many RV travelers have trouble finding a place to stay overnight after a long day of driving.
It’s not a problem if you reach a designated parking spot for RVs, but what options are there for drivers who don’t make it to their destination before nightfall?
Your local Walmart might be the next best solution. Some Walmarts accept overnight stays in their parking lot. That has made the chain a convenient destination for travelers and RV goers looking for a spot to sleep through the night.
This article will explore what Walmart boondocking is, explain the rules that surround it, and reveal if it is a viable choice for travelers.
Does Walmart Allow Boondocking?
Before we get into the technicalities of Walmart boondocking, we should quickly define what boondocking is.
Also known as “dry camping” or “dispersed camping,” boondocking is a camping term that describes living off the grid.
Boondocking means your campground has no connection to water, electricity, or the sewers. It is a raw camping experience that depends on your skills and ties to nature.
The camping can be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the quiet ambiance of nature, or an urban spot that permits free parking but doesn’t provide any of the perks.
In the case of Walmart, its parking lot has always been a welcoming haven for RVs and travelers. Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, considered RVers his favorite kind of customer and would keep his stores open to accommodate their stay.
Do All Walmart Stores Allow Overnight Parking?
Over the years, the number of Walmart stores that allow overnight parking decreased. About 78% of Walmarts offered their parking lots to travelers in 2010, but the number dropped by 20 percent due to policy changes and management decisions.
There are many reasons why a Walmart wouldn’t allow overnight parking:
Local Laws and Restrictions
Most of the time, in certain cities and towns, rules and restrictions extend beyond Walmart.
For instance, some areas don’t allow people to sleep in their cars or camp within city limits. In addition to what the local manager says, being at a Walmart parking lot overnight can leave you with a ticket.
It’s one way for law-abiding officers and officials to keep their city clean and prevent disruptive night activities.
The Walmart parking lots don’t just attract travelers but also the homeless.
For many people without housing, it is hard to find places to sleep. Given that, the presence of an RV in a parking lot has the potential to attract the homeless. After all, why would the lot not be available to everyone?
What turns this into a problem? Well, while the travelers will leave, the homeless are likely to remain and settle on the lot.
If nothing happens, more homeless people will move into the area and disrupt customers by taking up space and asking for money.
Some Walmarts belong to a plaza or shopping district, meaning that the rules for sharing the parking lot are split and complicated.
There’s a higher chance the person in charge will deny you an overnight stay. However, if not, it could mean spending the night trying to track down whoever is responsible for the lot.
An overnight stay may depend on where Walmart is situated.
If Walmart is in a nice neighborhood, the manager might be friendly enough to allow RV travelers to stay the night.
Other locations, such as Walmarts in an area with a high crime rate, might not be as welcoming. After all, their priority will be to protect the store and avoid causing unnecessary risk to travelers.
How Do You Know Which Walmart Has Overnight Parking?
There are ways to know if a Walmart near you will accept overnight parking.
If you are out on the road or preparing for a trip, these quick methods can help you decide where to stay the night.
Contact the Store
Sometimes, the best way to know something is with a direct approach. If you have the store’s number, make a quick call and ask to speak with the manager.
There’s no need to hesitate about parking overnight if you get approval beforehand.
What better way to get the information you need than using the internet?
On either the website or app, Walmart has some information about their policies for overnight stays. Travelers should get the correct location or address that matches where they plan to stay.
Other apps help campers and travelers know what spots are available to sleep.
For example, Allstays include Walmart parking lots in their list of RV spots, so it’s an additional tool for information if you can’t contact the manager. The only con is that there is a fee to use the app.
Free Roam is another app that lists every Walmart in the US and gives you information on their overnight parking policies. The best part? It’s free!
Some Walmarts have a physical sign that says it doesn’t allow loitering, panhandling, or overnight stays.
If you drive up and see one, that should give you a clear idea that you should move on and find an alternative location for the night.
Boondocking Rules & Etiquette at Walmart
Just because boondocking is a liberating form of camping does not mean it’s without its own set of rules.
Walmart itself stresses that it values RVers. However, it reminds potential overnight visitors that their right to stay in the Walmart parking lot depends on the local manager, local laws, and available parking space.
The space is open to campers and drivers with personal vehicles. As for necessities, parking space is the only thing a traveler gets. Walmart doesn’t offer electrical services, but they deliver propane exchange and auto services.
One unspoken rule is for travelers to purchase something from the store as a token of gratitude. Walmarts consider RVers their best customers because they take this moment of refuge to get comfortable and restock on supplies.
When figuring out where to park in the lot, there are a couple of spots to choose from. However, the number one rule is that parking is not allowed near the store entrance.
The managers will usually point you to park alongside the edge of the lot, away from customers. Some areas have benches, trees, and even picnic tables for travelers to use at their leisure.
You can expect some noise at Walmart since many are open 24 hours. If you travel with pets, keep them on a leash to avoid unnecessary confrontations with other travelers or customers.
Benefits of Boondocking at Walmart
There are many reasons you would choose to stay at a Walmart parking lot than other places for an overnight stay.
If you find a location that allows overnight parking, it is always free! There is no fee or payment to stay, and your only requirement is that you have the manager’s approval (and follow local laws).
Besides having a vacant parking lot, the store will most likely be active. That allows travelers to shop, restock, and get any auto services done. In doing so, the store receives business and possibly returning customers.
No future reservation is required to secure a spot like other RV campgrounds. You get what’s available depending on the location.
Is it Safe to Sleep in a Walmart Parking Lot?
For the most part, staying at a Walmart parking lot is safe.
The stores have security guards that monitor the lot for any disturbances or homeless people. Enough cameras are watching the area, while lights from the store and poles keep everything lit.
However, threats and crimes committed on the property will be too much for the security guards, and the police might need to get involved.
Travelers should always use their common sense when deciding to spend the night at a parking lot because unpredictability is certain.
Learn about the neighborhood beforehand, lock your car, keep your belongings close, and never open up for strangers passing by.
Do you still have concerns about boondocking in a Walmart parking lot? Here are more questions other travelers have wondered.
Is boondocking illegal?
Boondocking is mainly illegal in cities, urban areas, and even your property, but not on public land.
Local, state, and federal agencies see boondocking as “dispersed camping” and provide campers guidelines to follow where it is permissible.
Can you sleep in your motorhome at Walmart?
Any RV, motorhome, or personal vehicle can stay in a Walmart parking lot. If the traveler has no car, they will be removed from the premise for loitering.
Did Walmart cancel overnight parking nationwide?
The number of Walmarts that offer overnight parking has decreased over the years, but the availability hasn’t entirely vanished.
Check with your local Walmart to see if overnight parking is accepted.
Can you park at Walmart for a week?
Walmart will only allow you to stay for one night. Travelers who try to stay longer will likely be towed or have the cops called on them.