Where to Sleep for Free on a Road Trip


Probably the biggest challenge on most road trips is finding somewhere to sleep. Particularly if you are the only driver on the trip, you sometimes have to find unusual spots to catch a few hours of shuteye.

Here are some of the best places - besides the usual hotels and motels - I have found to catch some sleep in a road-trip pinch:

Walmart parking lots

America's biggest retailer sometimes gets in hot water over issues such as pay and benefits. But the late Walmart founder Sam Walton was quoted several times saying travelers should be welcome to treat his stores as a refuge.

In fact, most Walmart stores allow overnight parking, including for RVs. There are even apps such as iTunes' Allstays that help you locate a suitable Walmart store. Allstays also has a website that gives a state-by-state breakdown of where you can sleep overnight free.

Some 80 percent of Walmart's U.S. stores allow the practice. Many of those are open 24 hours so you have access to a bathroom and food at odd hours. Security is often provided.

It's a good idea to ask a manager if the practice is allowed and where the best place to park is. If you see RVs or other car campers, you may be able to skip getting prior approval. Parking in a well-lit area is a good idea, and you can bring along curtains or use towels to shield the light and prying eyes from the inside of your vehicle.

You could still be subject to local laws that may prohibit sleeping overnight in cars. Pay attention to signs on parking lots that might prohibit the practice. But if you're discreet, you should not have a problem. I have slept overnight at several Walmart lots, including in Albuquerque, N.M., and Germantown, Md. Best Buy and other stores near those Walmarts had signs on their lots warning against overnight parking, but the Walmart lots did not.


Kevin Shay

More Costcos, Kmarts, and Targets are alos reportedly allowing overnight parking.

Truck stops

Most of these are well-lit and open 24 hours a day. They can be noisy, but that is probably better than not having much traffic for security reasons.

Among those I have slept at for a few hours are Love's Travel Stop on Interstate 40 near Little Rock, Ark., and Pilot Travel Center on I-10 near Palm Springs, Calif.

Casinos

I don't frequent casinos, but there are websites like Casino Camper devoted to camping at them. So someone must do more than gamble at these places.

Campgrounds

Some campgrounds that cater to hikers and bikers, such as Swains Lock in Maryland, are free. They urge visitors to register their vehicles online if you park in a lot overnight.

Many U.S. Forest Service campgrounds are also free or have nominal fees.

Rest stops

You would think that taxpayer-supported rest stops along highways and public parks would be safe havens for weary travelers. But often the private lots are safer and more accommodating.

Kevin Shay

Most rest stops forbid you from parking there for more than a couple hours. If that's all the sleep you need, they could work. Some of those I have slept at include Donley County rest area on U.S. 287 near Clarendon, Tx., and the Tonopah, Ariz. rest stop on Interstate 10.

Some parks, especially in smaller areas, allow overnight parking. Again, pay attention to signs. It probably goes without saying, but I'll say it: Lock your doors if you do close your eyes at a rest stop or park.

Kevin Shay has written for The Dallas Morning News, The Washington Post's Local Living, Yahoo, and eOutdoors, among others. He usually sleeps in hotels and motels on road trips, but sometimes he has been known to drive all night and have to find more creative places to nap.