How to Boondock at Walmart

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You’re on the move. House on your back. Making tracks from one spot to another. It’s been a long day and you need a few hours sleep. In the midst of looking around for campgrounds it strikes you - there are always RVs parked at the local Walmart. What’s that all about? Can anyone do that? Is it legal?

Who Does This?

A Walmart parking lot is a great demographic equalizer. We’ve seen battered rigs in Walmart parking lots that didn’t look like they could move under their own power. We’ve also seen motorcoaches that look to be home for the latest top-40 star.

Mostly it’s your average RVer on the move from one region of the country to another.

Why Do They Do It?

Budget and convenience. By not paying for a campsite overnight you keep ~$30 in your pocket. Walmarts are easy to find and are usually highly accessible. RVs are usually self-contained so don’t need hookups for a simple overnight rest.

When Do We Boondock at Walmart?

Walmarts are an attractive option when we have two travel days in a row. After a long first day on the road we just want to roll in, sleep for the night and head out again for the second day.

Is It Camping?

We have seen people referring to this as “Camping at Walmart”. It’s not. People park their RV’s in a Walmart parking lot and sleep for the night.

We have never seen anyone with an awning out, chairs out, or cooking food outside their rig. We have only seen people out socializing if they happen to be traveling as a group.

Other than folks taking their dogs out or stepping into the Walmart to buy something we almost never see the people from the other RVs.

How Do We Do It?

Here’s our basic process for boondocking at Walmart. There are many opinions on how to do this in the RV world and we don’t agree with all of them. I’ll explain why as they come up.

Note that I said opinions and not rules. There are organizations out there that suggest they have created rules for staying overnight at Walmart. These are, in fact, just more formalized opinions.

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Suburban Sheep Shirt If you have the same slightly sarcastic sense of humor as we do this may be the shirt for you. This design is both a commentary on suburban living and a declaration of your intent to leave it.

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You can read the Walmart Policy for yourself and see that it has no mention of what others claim as “rules”.

First, Find a Walmart

While that sounds like the punchline to the old “how do you become a Millionaire joke” the reality is not all Walmarts allow overnight parking. The decision is left to the local stores and governed by local ordinances.

We start with the Allstays Camp and RV app. It lists each Walmart and indicates if it’s RV friendly or not.

We find a store using the app and read the reviews. If it’s listed as RV friendly, has good reviews and looks close to our route we’ll try it.

Call Me…Maybe?

The general consensus in the RV world is that you should always call or talk with the store manager before tucking in for the night.

We do that…sometimes.

If the app leads us to think it’s a popular spot to boondock we don’t bother calling.

If we get to the Walmart and there are 6 other RVs (or semis) already setup we don’t bother inquiring.

If the app doesn’t make it clear that this is a popular Walmart for RVers, and if there aren’t already rigs in place, we will go in and ask before setting up.

We have never been asked to leave a Walmart once setup.

Pick Your Spot and Go

Driving into the Walmart lot we first scan the perimeter and look for spots.

Our ideal Walmart parking spot is along an edge, away from traffic, with some distance from other RVs. I want to park with the driver’s side of the truck on the outside of the lot.

My second choice is at the end of a row of spaces, parked across them lengthwise. I will park in these with my driver’s side to the inside of the row.

Why park that way?

Because our trailer slide-outs are on the driver’s side and I want to put them out.

Slides Out?

Yes, you read that right.

We..I know this is tough to swallow…we actually put out our slides while boondocking at Walmart.

Did you hear that? That was the sound of our membership papers to several RV clubs being shredded. Not putting your slides out is one of the suggested “rules” for boondocking at Walmart.

I get it. It’s a courtesy spot. I’m not paying for it. I don’t want to “setup camp” or live there for a week. I respect the arrangement.

But here’s the thing. The RV world is dominated by retired couples with 2 little dogs traveling in large Class A motorhomes. Maybe their RV is useful for the two of them with all the slides in.

We need to put our slides out in order to use our RV. Without the slides out the bunkhouse bedroom is inaccessible from inside the rig.

Technically yes, we could feed the kids in through the little access door in their bedroom but really? Like they’re going to go back outside using that door and then come back in the main trailer door to use the potty? Fumbling around with a key at 2:30 AM?

Legs Up or Down?

So if I haven’t completely alienated myself from the rest of the RV world yet let me just make sure to complete the process.

We also put our trailer stabilizer legs down.

All four.

Again, maybe the retired rule-writing RVers can still sleep well without putting their stabilizers down.

Try that with two teens in bed at one end of the trailer while you lay at the other end.

Without the legs down if one kid rolls over in bed the rest of us do too. Whether we want to or not.

I get the intent of the general opinion here too - we don’t want to damage the surface of Walmart’s parking lot.

With our lighter weight fifth wheel using blocks under our legs we aren’t impacting the parking lot by our use (we just won’t mention those half-dozen fully loaded semis that always seem to surround us when overnighting at Walmart).

 

Our favorite spot - on the side, slides out over the grass.

Our favorite spot - on the side, slides out over the grass.

Rear legs down - but using blocks

Rear legs down - but using blocks

Front legs down on blocks as well.

Front legs down on blocks as well.

Tucked into a Walmart for an overnight stay.

Tucked into a Walmart for an overnight stay.

When at Walmart we do a minimal setup - what about at a campground? Join our newsletter and download our How to Setup Your Fifth Wheel Trailer in 20 Minutes or Less 10 page eBook.

Do We Ever Unhook the Trailer?

No.

We see Class A RV’s owners towing cars unhook the cars and go somewhere, leaving the rig unattended.

And we have seen unhooked and unattended Fifth Wheels or bumper pull trailers at Walmart.

But we would never dare do that. It’s our house. Our Home. Most of what we own is in there. Even with a hitch lock I wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving it behind in a strange parking lot.

Is It Safe?

We have avoided some Walmarts based on reviews. We have left others because of high traffic, awkward parking arrangements, or just a bad vibe.

While recent news about a shooting at an Arizona Walmart might have you thinking overnight parking at Walmart isn’t safe, there are over 4000 Walmart stores in the USA.

That was one incident at one Walmart and didn’t involve RVers. The odds that you’d get caught in a situation like that are very small.

If we drove in and saw people apparently living in their cars in the parking lot we’d most likely move on. That’s not a scene we’d be comfortable with.

We’ve never had a single issue in dozens of Walmart stays.

Just the one overly enthusiastic security guard in Texas.

Do We Sleep Well?

Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t.

We have been at some Walmarts where they like to clean the parking lots starting at 10:30PM. The drivers of those cleaning machines start out by doing donuts around all the RVs for about 20 minutes. Once you are good and awake they move off to do the rest of the parking lot.

Early on in our travels I felt like I had to be on “safety watch” while the family slept.

These days I worry less so sleep better. Still not as well as in a campground - Walmart lots are usually well-lit and the light will keep me awake. I made window covers from reflective insulation that I use to darken the room.

The rest of the family always seems to sleep great.

We do find that using a white noise app helps mask some of the parking lot sounds. Our powered vent fan also adds white noise while moving air through the bedroom.

Do We Always Buy Something?

A friend once told us:

Walmarts are the most expensive free camping you will find.

We don’t purposefully go spend money to pay for our site.  But invariably we need something and we might as well get it while we’re stopped down.

We’ve come a long way since our first boondocking experience where we played by the so-called rules and had a terrible night of sleep.

Tell Us Your Walmart Experience

Do you boondock at Walmart? Hate them because of a business practice? Hate us because we don’t “do it right”? Seen someone totally “camping in the parking lot”?

Leave a comment and let us know…

19 Comments How to Boondock at Walmart

  1. Picture of PXLatedPXLated April 14, 2015

    Before I hit the road full-time I don’t think I ever shopped at a Walmart - and I still haven’t stayed overnight at one. But I must say, after 9,000 miles, the Walmart sign is always a welcome. It’s one of the few places that are pretty consistent no matter where you go. You know what you can get and what you can’t. And across southern Kansas it was the only source of propane in some areas.
    Even though I’m still not a big fan, they have become a regular stop along the way.

  2. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink April 15, 2015

    Hey Randy - thanks for the comment!  I think you captured our feelings perfectly - not big fans, would rather not shop there as much as we do, but the consistency in a life full of variability is nice.

    I’d be curious to hear where your 9K miles have taken you…

  3. Picture of PXLatedPXLated April 15, 2015

    I’ve always flown to destinations whether business or pleasure and have never really driven anywhere but within the upper midwest so this has been a roaming, exploratory trip. No destinations laid down, no timeframes to be anywhere.

    Started out crossing southern Kansas shooting old abandoned things, then down through NM, over to AZ an diagonally up to the NW. Then down to Yuma, over to Imperial Dunes, up to the Salto Sea and Joshua Tree and back to Lake Mead area. Then over to Red Rock, Death Valley and on to the Coast, up Big Sur to San Francisco and back to Lake Mead. Then over to Flagstaff, Sedona, Lake Powell, etc and back to Lake Mead area. Of course many stops between those highlights. Am now slowly making my way east through northern AZ and NM.

    50-60% of my time is boondocking, the rest national or state parks. Haven’t stayed in a commercial campsite at all yet. Think I’ve only had hookups 5-6 times in 6 months. Am pretty well equipped with solar and a backup generator. Solar does the trick 80% of the time.

    Plan to do the NW over the summer/fall months.

    Been an interesting journey so far :-)

  4. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink April 15, 2015

    Sounds cool - we’d like to be off the grid more than we are but it’s tougher with a family and still needing to be connected for work!

    Are you posting photos anywhere online?

  5. Picture of PXLatedPXLated April 15, 2015

    One advantage of being semi-retired (old) is I don’t have to be connected all the time. I do find I’m too much of a news/info junky to be off too long though. I’ve actually been impressed with Verizon coverage in the SW as I’ve had either 3G or LTE 85% of the time.

    Photo’s - Haven’t posted any yet - Am doing a version of light painting - not the goofy sparkler kind - similar to studio lighting but outside at night. Multiple exposures stacked. Haven’t done too much in AZ/NV as most ghost towns etc. have been turned into tourist traps.

    I’ll post a couple to Twitter for ya.

  6. Picture of Scarlett GoodwinScarlett Goodwin April 15, 2015

    We traveled with our 4 boys in a Minnie Winnie motor home for a year. We stayed at tons of Walmarts, never having any trouble.  We were WWOOFing so it was convenient to stay on the way to a farm.

  7. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink April 15, 2015

    Hey Scarlett - thanks for the comment. I think it’s important to note that Walmart stays are best when they’re just on the way to somewhere else. That keeps it from becoming “camping’...you know?

    We did a WWOOFing gig too (in TX) - where was yours? Did the farm have RV hookups?

  8. Picture of BrentBrent May 03, 2015

    Hey thanks for the info everone, we are about to head out for a first trip in September from Vancouver Island to San Franisco and back. Then next year winter 2017 off on a retirement full time cruise, down the coast to LA then across to South Padre Island. Then all going well all the way to Florida keys, then up the east coast till we get back to Canada, then back across our country till we are back to the island. Looking so foward to this. Gotta a truck, looking for a 5th wheel, then we are set!

  9. Picture of JeffJeff June 24, 2015

    While we’re still several years away from retirement, my wife and I have been RV’ers for the past 14ish years.  We’ve stayed in many WalMart parking lots on our way to our final destination.  Once, during a cross-country trip we stayed almost exclusively at WalMarts from California to Pennsylvania.  We’ve never been run off by security, the police or “weirdos”.  Typically, we follow the same guidelines that you’ve described above—including putting out our slides, jacks, etc.  We have a diesel pusher now, so I’m not as worried about unhooking our car and doing a dinner excursion…unhooking out truck and leaving our trailer just would not happen though.  Love the site—lots of great information!

  10. Picture of BrentBrent June 27, 2015

    Thanks Jeff like the site too, we have the trailer now. 29ft Cosair, and soon will make our 1st trip. Test is out, and make whatever changes/additions then off into the wild blue! Thanks fr all the Walmart info, will be carefull out there.

  11. Picture of Kennie Kennie September 14, 2015

    Also love the site and a lot of good information.  As I have only been a full time RVr for the last four months.  I find the stay at the Walmart parking lot has been a great location for me.  I also like staying on the outside perimeter as its away from most of the traffic and usually there’s the sound of the hum of a disiel truck to put me to sleep.  I am staying in a 33 foot 91 pace arrow for now and it has everything I need for a single traveler.  After a lot of miss fortune over the last 27 years I find that the flexibility to go were you want when you want to be an awesome adventure.  I found that a good up to date generator and Solar power and of course LEDs are a must.  Sorry I got away from the subject.  I have only had one problem with Walmart in the very beginning do to staying more than two nights and was kindly ask to leave by the manager and sheriff.  This was at a small one and not a super Walmart never had a problem one with them and they will usually get a couple of dollars here and there from me seems like you always need something in the beginning.  Sorry for the long message to an awesome sight thanks for all of your advice. OK one last thing maybe you rivers know already but to make your dollar go farther I have found out I can get two 54oz ice waters for 60 cents at every chevron I have been in so you can still bye something for under a dollar.  Keep on with an awesome Web sight thanks again…  Have you ever been able to hook up to Walmart wireless if so can you explain how?

  12. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink September 15, 2015

    Hi Kennie -

    No - we’ve never tried to hook up to Walmart Wifi - since we roll with our own cell-based connection we just use that.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  13. Picture of BrentBrent October 12, 2015

    Our 1st Walmart stay.
    We made our trip to San Francisco and back in September, all went well, AC/DC Rocked!  Now have made our 1st break in trip. On the way home to Vancouver Island I made an error, which I was told at the Coho ferry terminal has been made many times before. I thought 4pm was the ferry to Victoria, not, we missed the 2 pm, and had to stay a night in Port Angeles. Where? I asked the guy at the ferry office, and he said Walmart is where he has seen many people spend a night.
    As you have recommended we went in and asked before we stayed, and were told OK for 1 night , just stay to the outside of the lot, and don’t block the trucks.
    My wife was concerned about safety, but all went well, slide out, jacks down to stabilize, dinner inside, and rain outside. Nice. We stayed hooked up as recommend, played some cards, and had a good sleep, and caught the first boat out in the am.
    We did buy something, as always when near Walmart. Will do again if needed, Thanks for the info Michel.
    We did a Blog on our way,  http://1lovelylifetolive.blogspot.ca/

  14. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink October 12, 2015

    We know that Walmart! We summered in PA a few years back and shopped there regularly.  Actually, it’s where my wife learned she had cataracts.

    Glad to hear it went OK. We’ve done a couple of Walmart stays in the last week or so. Left one because it was too busy and just didn’t have the right feel. Next one was great.

    Odd though - we found a great parking spot off to the side. While setting up MsBoyink said touching the trailer she felt electricty.

    We were under high-voltage lines.

    I didn’t feel anything but we move to the other side of the lot to make her more comfortable.

  15. Picture of BoyinkBoyink April 03, 2016

    Update - the last couple of Walmarts we’ve stayed at have had wifi that we were able to use from the parking lot.

    It wasn’t like “stream Netflix fast” but enough to get email and load a couple of web pages.

  16. Picture of John R., Jr.John R., Jr. April 12, 2016

    Planning full year tour in ‘17. Looking at boondocking and Walmart. Found your site. Truly enjoyable. Bookmarked, and will be back. Best to you.

  17. Picture of MargoMargo January 12, 2017

    I always look for walmart and plan my trips accordingly.  They have the supplies I need, whether that be milk, dog treats, spark plugs, black water tank treatment, or appropriate attire for the location.  I am a single traveler and walmart also takes care of my social need of being around people and not having to engage them.  Plus I feel more than safe and make sure I park in camera view but my most favorite part is being able to walk my dogs.  Walmart always has beautiful open space even in the busiest cities.  I am more than thankful to the walmart business model and have suggested they put in power points and water.  I would readily join whatever walmart subscription service they offered.  We have rest stops we have all paid for but can’t use Thank you Walmart, thank you!

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