Updated: Aug 24
“[My worst experience living out of my camper van was driving in the southwestern United States throughout the night and becoming so exhausted that I had to sleep the whole day - and it was brutally hot, so I got really sick and was uncomfortable. My favorite memories would have to be out there, as well - it’s so easy to find free parking and you are constantly surrounded by stunning beauty. I would use freecampsites.net and I’d make sure to check the reviews to know whether it’s safe. That website also tells you how good the cell service is, which is important.]”
Elise’s story highlights the necessity for staying safe while living out of a van as well as provides a tip on where to stay and how to legally park overnight. Let’s talk more about this and prepare you with our best insights and discoveries.
Where To Stay
Deciding where to stay should be an exciting adventure all on its own, as long as you have some direction and aren’t starting from ground zero. To get you to a comfortable knowledge base, here are some ideas on choosing which options are best suited for you.
Free - If you’re on a budget, staying for free is your top priority. Luckily, there are tons of resources to help you do so. Options include the apps Campendium, iOverlander, HipCamp, Free Roam and AllStays; as well as the super useful website freecampsites.net. These use interactive maps to show you where you can stay, so you can hover over your location and see the bountiful options around you and along your route. Be sure to check the maximum length of stay at each location to avoid fees or fines.
For a Fee - If money isn’t an issue and comfort is your top priority, you can use the same apps as mentioned above and filter for whichever amenities you’re looking for. KOA campgrounds start at $35 per night on average and are located all throughout North America. They also have an interactive map that makes choosing your next spot a little easier on you.
National Parks - When we say they are “National Treasures”, we’re not kidding! We cannot reiterate enough how incredible our National Parks are. Each one has its own mystery and awe and, if they’re not already, they should be at the top of your list of must-see-destinations. Most offer overnight parking and camping and some offer both for free with entrance ticket. Check out their website for more specific information on each park here.
Where to Park Your Camper Van
Finding safe and legal parking can cause the most headaches and nuisances. Thankfully, fellow adventure lovers have created apps that ease some of these difficulties. Most of the apps have filters for free parking, fee parking, water hook ups and restroom facilities, depending on the amenities you’re looking for. Their maps make it user friendly to locate the perfect spot along your van life journey. In addition to the apps and website I mentioned above, you can park on any forest service road, BLM land, parking lots of Walmart’s, casinos, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, Camping World’s, and Cracker Barrel’s, as well as in national forests, truck stops and rest areas (unless otherwise posted). Parking in big cities can be a real challenge and we recommend avoiding this at all costs, unless you have the permission of friends or family to park in their driveway or on their property. If you have to overnight park in a big city, choosing one of the parking lots of the big box stores will be your best bet.
How to Stay Safe in Campervan
Living out of a campervan, with some, most, or all your valuables, can be a little nerve racking. Staying safe is best practiced through planning! Plan your route, plan your stops, and plan your supply pick ups. Always check the reviews if you’re staying somewhere unofficial or unsupervised. Never leave your valuables in plain sight. Keep the front cabin clean and tidy and keep your keys in a designated safe place so that you always know where to put them and where they are. Park in a way that’s easy to leave in a hurry. Check where you’ll have cell service and where you won’t. Make sure keep your devices fully charged and have a backup charger fully charged. As much as you can, or at least for the first night’s stay, park before it gets dark to become aware of your surroundings. Share your location with friends or family so someone always knows where you are. Last but not least, think about investing in motion sensor lights - they can ward off both man and beast predators!
We hope this gave you a solid foundation to begin your trip planning. Safe travels!