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.
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.
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.
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.
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).