So which popular tourist destinations have Walmart stores near them? Well, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park come to mind, as does Mesa Verde National Park.
Sure there is a longer drive involved and it would be ideal to stay closer to these parks but if campgrounds are booked out and you have no alternatives, Walmart stores are always a good back up to have.
Which Walmart Stores Should You Avoid?
1. Walmart Stores With No Overnight Parking/Camping Signs
Obviously, any Walmart with a sign that says no overnight camping is probably a store you don’t want to stay at. Besides feeling unwelcome, the store may have security or police officers who patrol the parking lot looking for offenders.
Trust me, it sucks hearing that dreaded tap on your motor vehicle’s window in the middle of the night. Not only is it super annoying having to find somewhere else to move onto after you’ve gotten cozy and warm in bed and are still half asleep, but it can also be a potentially dangerous experience because you’ve got to wonder what must be going through security’s mind (or a police officer’s) who can’t see you inside your vehicle. They may think you’re armed, or deranged, or whatever, because they can’t see you and they don’t know you. To them, you are just somebody committing an offense.
2. Walmart Stores With Small Parking Lots
If the Walmart store you are considering spending the night at is a small store with a small parking lot, you may be less likely to get away with staying overnight. I am referring to the Walmarts that mainly stock grocery items instead of the huge supersize Walmart stores that have everything from clothes to TVs, and more.
This is because smaller stores are usually located in cities or suburban areas that have a city wide ordinance that does not allow ‘overnight camping’ in any public spaces including grocery stores and shopping malls..
If the Walmart store is located in a city or suburban area, it is very likely that there are police officers patrolling the streets and checking on public spaces throughout the night. And if you are staying at a small Walmart parking lot, it is going to be harder for the police officers not to notice you.
In a small parking lot, you are one hundred percent going to stand out, especially if the store has no overnight workers and you are a lone vehicle.
That’s not to say you won’t get away with it. As long as there are no posted signs informing you that overnight camping is not permitted, you can try your luck staying at one of these smaller sized Walmart stores.
But it is very important that you stay inconspicuous! Do not get out of your vehicle to stretch your legs, or put a movie on your laptop. What you want is for security or the police officers to assume you are either a night worker, or just a quiet and respectful traveler who is just passing through and needed a rest.
I will share some important car camping etiquette below that will allow you to have more success with staying overnight at Walmart stores.
3. Walmart Stores In Or Near Affluent Areas
From personal experience, and through listening to stories from other traveler’s experiences, staying at Walmart stores in affluent areas is usually a big NO.
Most affluent areas don’t have Walmart stores, as people with money don’t typically shop at Walmart. However, usually there is a Walmart store in a neighboring city or suburb. For example, while there aren’t any Walmart stores in Beverly Hills, there is one in Hollywood.
My point being is that the closer you are to more expensive neighborhoods, the more likely you are going to be told to move along. Residents in or near exclusive suburbs do not want ‘vagrants’ staying overnight at their shopping centers. It is unsightly to them. To them, you may be a homeless person.
This is why you are very likely to encounter patrolling security or police officers that will tell you to move on.
This rule applies to many places similar to Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Miami, Minneapolis, etc. These cities all have strict rules and enforce them.
Basic Etiquette When Overnight Camping At Walmart Stores
Now that you know a little more about which Walmart stores are likely to permit overnight camping, let’s go over some basic car camping etiquette.
The following unspoken rules should always be applied not only so that you don’t get asked to move along, but also so that you don’t ruin car camping at Walmart stores for future travelers (which has already been happening across the country).
RULE NUMBER 1: Although you may want to park as close as possible to the front entrance of the store, please don’t! Whether you want to park near the entrance for convenience or because it makes you feel safer, just don’t do it.
The front entrance, or anywhere directly in front of the store is for customers only. Not for your unsightly RV or campervan. And no, it does not matter if you have a brand new vehicle!!!
Walmart parking lots are not campgrounds. It does not matter whether you go in there and spend money, if you plan to stay overnight, park as far from the store entrances as possible.
Even if the store has closed and you are the only vehicle in the parking lot, park away from the entrance. It doesn’t matter if it makes you feel safer to park near the entrance because there is more lighting, it is not good etiquette.
Not only are you taking a prime parking spot from customers and employees who turn up really early in the morning, but you are also putting a target on your back to either be harassed by security, police, or by criminals.
Imagine if the manager is the first one to show up at work at 5am, and he or she sees a huge RV or campervan parked near the front entrance of the store. They will immediately know you have stayed overnight, and possibly think to themselves if they see more campers turn up they will make sure they put a stop to it.
And what if you happen to need to come back later that night for whatever reason? Well, now the manager recognizes your vehicle and your number plate and will consider you to be a nuiscance.
Even if you turn up to the Walmart store late, and there is already another overnight camper parked right in the middle of the parking lot, do not go and park next to them.
Herd mentality is not helpful in this situation, and again, although it make you feel safer to park next to another camper, it will instead draw attention to both of you and up your chances of being told to move on.
The only time you should go and park near another RV or campervan is if they have made the effort to park far from the store’s entrance somewhere near the back of the parking lot.
You want to make it seem as though you are making an effort not to inconvenience the store.
Far too many times I have seen one camper pull up near the front entrance or in the middle of the parking lot, and then next thing you know there are five overnight vehicles in a row. Don’t be a sheep. Just because one or two people do something doesn’t make it okay, or in this case, legal.
Unless there is a sign at Walmart clearly notifying you that staying overnight is okay with management, you can assume that it isn’t, and if you want to stay you will need to stay unnoticed and out of the way.
RULE NUMBER 2: Although Walmart parking lots are very well lit, some areas of the parking lot, particularly towards the back, may be less lit up. When possible, try to park in the dark as much as possible.
I know some people do not feel comfortable parking in the dark out in public spaces for fear of being carjacked or whatever, but the truth is, it is less likely to happen if you are in the dark and out of sight.
Most criminals are opportunists. If they see a lonely RV, campervan, or car, sitting in the middle of a parking lot when they are driving by, it may give them pause to stop and think about doing something further or at the very least checking out your vehicle.
Despite what you may think, a criminal is not going to let the fact that your parked under a street light stop them from breaking into your vehicle. If they want to do something, they will.
So remember, it is always best to stay out of view from other drivers passing by on the road because you just don’t know who that person (or persons) will be.
And in the case that it is actually illegal to park overnight at the specific Walmart parking lot you have pulled over at, by parking in the dark, you will lessen your chances of being spotted by any patrolling officers. Even if they were to see you hidden in the dark, they may be more inclined to let it slide on the one occasion as they can tell themselves that you weren’t visible.
RULE NUMBER 3: If you do end up sleeping at a Walmart parking lot, please do not get out of your vehicle constantly throughout the night, even if the store is still open. Sure you can get out a few times to use the restroom or go grocery shopping, but don’t get out just to stretch or to take your dog out for a walk. This just draws attention to the fact you are staying overnight!!!
In this era when a lot of Walmart stores are choosing to no longer allow overnight camping for RVers and campervans across the country, why risk being told to move on? Even if they don’t say anything to you on this occasion, they may think twice about allowing it in the future if travelers are so brazen.
RULE NUMBER 4: I can’t believe I need to mention this… but for heaven’s sake, please do not get out and cook on your gas stove, play loud music, or string your wet clothes outside of your vehicle. And absolutely do not set up your camp chairs at the Walmart parking lot.
Yes, we have seen this many times over the last several years. Is it any wonder Walmart stores do not want road trippers staying in their parking lots anymore?
Even the feint blue glow from a laptop on inside a vehicle is enough to draw attention. Use common sense.
RULE NUMBER 5: This isn’t a strict rule but a suggestion. I have heard that some travelers will go inside Walmart and ask to speak to management about whether or not they can park overnight, or they might ring the store ahead of time and ask for permission to stay in the parking lot.
I advice against this. In most stories I’ve heard the reply has been no. But if you had just turned up, management would never have even known, or if they knew, possibly not be bothered to tell you to move on.
RULE NUMBER 6: When possible, try and turn up to Walmart parking lots late in the evening, or possibly after the store has closed, and try to leave very early in the morning before the store opens. This is the best way to avoid being told to move on.
This rule should be applied in areas where you might have an inkling that store policies might be stricter, for example in very urban areas.
However, you might be looking forward to when the store opens because you need to pick up some goods. In that case, stay as long as you like if you are going to be a paying customer.
RULE NUMBER 7: It is often customary to spend some money in the store in exchange for having you stay in the Walmart parking lot. If you do need any groceries or other items, show your thanks to Walmart for letting you stay by spending some money instore.
If you follow some of the simple rules mentioned above and practice good car-camping etiquette, you are less likely to get told to move. Remember, the key is to stay low and not to bring attention to yourself.
If you’re planning a road trip and looking for more ideas on where to sleep overnight on a road trip, check out this guide to 7 Places You Can Park Overnight On A Road Trip In The USA.
You can also see this post on 7 Places You Can Shower On A Road Trip for more helpful road tripping and vanlife tips.
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