Timothy is a writer and video content creator. He enjoys helping others learn to improve their lives and shape better futures.
A Safe Place to Park
The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people living in vehicles instead of "sticks and bricks" homes and apartments. And there is no indication that the trend is slowing.
And whether someone is living in their car, van, or RV by choice or involuntarily, all vehicle dwellers have at least one common issue: Finding a safe place to park every night.
This articles explores 25 of the best places to park safely overnight in a vehicle and get a good, undisturbed, night's sleep.
1. Hotel Parking Lots
Hotel parking lots are a great place for car dwellers to spend the night because they generally offer a well-lit, safe environment where no one is likely to pay attention to individual cars.
There are constantly vehicles coming and going at hotel parking lots, and in most cases there is no one monitoring whether or not these vehicles belong to hotel guests.
If your vehicle is stealthy enough, and you remain inconspicuous throughout the night, you should have no problem sleeping overnight undetected.
Another benefit of sleeping overnight at a hotel is that some of them have bathrooms in the lobby, as well as coffee and snacks in the morning, that you should be able to take advantage of just like any paying guest.
2. Rest Stops
Rest stops are a great place to park and sleep overnight. In fact, the whole purpose of having rest stops and rest areas along highways and interstates is so that drivers can pull over and take a break.
There are many rest stops that are open 24 hours and are patrolled by security guards. Many of them also have bathrooms, vending machines, and water fountains that you can utilize. There might even be a picnic area that can be used to prepare meals or just to walk around and stretch out for awhile.
Campgrounds are one of the few places on this list that actually cost money for you to park overnight and sleep. However, since you are a paying customer, no one can bother you during the night or make you move your vehicle.
This can be a welcome break after a number of nights sleeping in places where you have to worry about being disturbed. So sometimes paying ten to twenty dollars to park in a campground for a night or two is totally worth the cost.
Many campgrounds have bathrooms (some with showers) that you will have access to, and a few even have laundry facilities. You can take care of all the issues you have as a car dweller for way less than the price of a hotel room.
4. Emergency Room (ER) Parking Lots
Another great place to sleep overnight in your car or van is an emergency room parking lot at a local hospital.
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Emergency rooms are another place that are busy throughout the night with cars coming and going. They are usually well lit, and most hospitals have security on hand patrolling the premises.
Security is not likely to bother you, however, because there are routinely people waiting in their cars for friends and family members who are patients in the ER. So even if you are spotted in your vehicle, you shouldn't have any problems.
You probably only want to stay one night in an ER parking lot though, because seeing your vehicle there for multiple nights might arouse suspicion.
Emergency rooms also have bathrooms in the waiting room areas that you can use if the need arises during the night.
5. Wal-Mart Parking Lot
While it is true that more and more Wal-Mart stores are posting "No Overnight Parking" signs, there are still quite a few that will allow you to park in their parking lots and sleep for a night or two.
Wal-Mart stores are a great place to sleep because there will usually be a large number of other cars, vans, and SUVs camping there already. With this many fellow vehicle dwellers around, the chances of anyone bothering you are very slim.
Parking in a Wal-Mart parking lot for a night or two also provides you with easy access to any items you might need to purchase from Wal-Mart. You can literally just walk across the parking lot and go shop! As well take advantage of the in-store bathrooms and restaurants.
Be sure to clean up after yourself when you leave Wal-Mart so that the store is more likely to continue to allow vehicle dwellers to park there.
6. Cracker Barrel Parking Lot
Cracker Barrel is a restaurant chain that allows semi-trucks, RVs and other vehicles to park in their parking lots overnight.
There is usually a section of the parking lot reserved for any type of parking all day long, and then after closing the rest of the parking lot is available as well. Just be sure to move from the customer parking before the restaurant opens the next day. And it goes without saying to be neat and clean and leave the parking lot looking just as good as it looked when you arrived.
7. Welcome Centers
Many states, cities, and towns have welcome centers where visitors can stop by and get more information about the local area. And many of these welcome centers have parking areas where travelers can park and rest.
Overnight parking is usually allowed because it is assumed that you are traveling through and just need somewhere to relax for awhile before moving on. However, if you stay at a welcome center more that a night or two, your vehicle might draw attention and you might be asked to leave.
8. Car Dealerships
No one is going to notice another car mixed in with all the cars parked at a car dealership overnight. If you slip in just after closing time and remain inconspicuous throughout the night you should be able to get some undisturbed sleep.
This tip works really well when you choose a dealership that sells the same brand of car that you own. Fords blend in better at Ford dealerships, Hondas at Honda dealerships, etc. Or a decent-sized used car dealership that sells all makes and models might work if you can't find a dealership that caters to your specific car.
You will probably want to set your alarm clock so you can leave before the dealership opens and you can avoid being seen by any of the dealership employees in the morning.
9. Auto Repair and Mechanic Shops
Another place you can park overnight and arouse little suspicion is at auto repair and mechanic shops. There are always different cars parked around mechanic shops and no one in the area really pays them any attention. As long as you get to the shop after hours and leave before it opens in the morning, no one should be the wiser that you slept there overnight.
Make sure to not have any visible light showing in your vehicle during the night because this might cause someone to come over and investigate.
If you find a decent auto shop to park at, you might be able to spend quite a few nights there without ever being detected.
10. Industrial or Business Parks
Business parks are literally teeming with parking spots that are all empty after a certain time of day. This leaves ample places to park overnight and get a good night's sleep. This is also one of the few entries on this list where you can probably get away with staying all day and not having an issue, if your car is stealthy enough.
One word of warning: Parking in business or industrial park lots works best if you can find a spot that isn't highly visible at night. If your car is the only car in the parking lot all night and it can be clearly seen from the road, this could make you the target of thieves or further investigation from law enforcement.
11. Parking Garages
Parking garages are another great spot to park and sleep overnight. You may have to pay a small fee for parking, but it's worth it to have a place to park where you blend in with other cars and, in some cases, there is security patrolling.
Just make sure that you have either dark tints or some type of window covering on your vehicle if you are planning on spending your nights in a parking garage. Cars can come and go throughout the night and there is a good chance someone may park next to you.
If they can see you sleeping in your car, they will probably alert security or the authorities. If your windows are blacked out, they will just assume the car is empty.
Some parking garages will allow you to buy a monthly parking pass, which can save you lots of money if you decide to park there long-term.
12. Casino Parking Lots
Casinos are another great place to park overnight and sleep. Most of them are open 24 hours and there is a constant stream of cars coming and going. Even if someone catches a glimpse of you in your car, there is no way for them to know you aren't a casino patron just taking a break from gambling.
Casinos also make a great parking location because they have public bathrooms and access to food. And if you need something to do other than just relaxing in your car, you can always go into the casino and try your luck against the house.
13. BLM Land (Bureau of Land Management)
There are over 245 million acres of Bureau of Land Management public lands in the United States. And a large portion of these lands are available for U.S. citizens to camp on free of charge.
You can find BLM land in most states and you can typically camp up to 14 days in a row without having to move on. BLM land is a great place to park your vehicle and take a break from the grind of finding a new place to sleep every night.
To learn more about the locations of BLM land near you, visit the BLM website.
14. Grocery Store/Mall Parking Lots
If you just can't find anywhere else to park, then grocery stores and mall parking lots make a decent last resort. You are more likely to find security patrolling these lots than most of the other options on the list, and they will almost always ask you to leave if they discover you sleeping in your car.
You best bet for passing the night undetected at a grocery store or mall is to try and find a store that is open late or 24 hours and park where all the employees park. Then perhaps security will just assume you are inside working and leave your car alone.
Unlike some of the other options listed in this article, grocery stores and malls are great places to park during the daytime. With so many other vehicles coming and going, you should be virtually ignored even if security is patrolling all day.
15. Truck Stops
Truck stops make a great overnight parking destination for all vehicles, not just tractor trailers. Almost all of them are open 24 hours, and have access to food, bathrooms, showers, and in some cases, even free Wi-fi.
If you decide to park overnight at a truck stop make sure that you find an area that will not be in the way of the semi-trucks entering and leaving. Some truck stops have special areas for cars and other vehicles or you might just want to park in a section of the lot that seems less frequented.
Truck stops are another place where you can probably get away with staying during the day as well, as long as you remain pretty stealthy and don't draw attention to yourself or your vehicle.
16. Church Parking Lots
Churches are a great place to park overnight because they typically have decent sized parking lots and they are almost always empty after a certain time of night.
Asking for permission before you park in a church parking lot might be a good idea, mainly because if you get the green light, you might be able to stay there for awhile. You could volunteer to keep an eye on the church grounds at night in exchange for your parking there.
17. City Street Parking
While many cities require you to pay for parking during the day in the city limits, a large portion of them allow free parking after certain hours. This means you can park overnight for free without incurring any tickets or fines.
It's usually best to find an area of the city that isn't too empty at night so that your car doesn't stand out. But you will probably want to avoid areas with lots of late-night activity from bars, clubs, concerts, etc.
Also make sure that you know when the paid parking hours begin again in the morning so you can be awake and on your way before you're required to pay.
18. Residential Neighborhoods
Residential neighborhoods make a great place to park if you are living out of your vehicle. The streets in these areas are usually very quiet at night with very little traffic and few prying eyes.
Stealth is very important when parking and sleeping in residential neighborhoods though. If the nearby homeowners notice you in your car, they will probably call the local police. But if your vehicle is stealthy, you avoid parking directly in front of someone's house, and you come in after dark and leave early in the morning, then you should be able to get a good night's sleep without any issues.
19. Rent a Driveway or Parking Spot
If you decide you really hate looking for a new spot to park every few days and you want a dedicated place to call "home," then renting a spot in the driveway of a friend, family member, or co-worker might be the best move.
There are lots of people who have extra parking spots on their property that they aren't using. Leasing it out to you for $100-$200 a month would be a great way to bring in some additional income without any effort.
Alternatively, you might know someone who has some land or acreage that they might allow you to park or set up camp for a small fee.
If you don't know anyone personally who could rent you a place to park, you can always look online. Apps like SpotHero match parking space owners with people looking to rent a place to park.
20. Apartment Complexes
Apartment complexes that don't require tenants to put parking decals or permits on their cars are a great place to park overnight. There are always cars coming and going in apartment complexes and no one really pays any attention to the parking lot.
Some apartment complexes even have "visitor parking" areas set aside for non-resident parking. You can use these spots without any fear of a tenant wondering why there is an unknown car parked nearby. Just be sure to only stay a couple days at a time.
You'll also want to make sure to not show any lights at night in your car. If anyone is looking out their window and sees lights and movement coming from a parked car, they will probably assume someone is breaking into the car and call the cops. You don't need that hassle! So keep the lights and your movements to a minimum.
21. Police Stations
Police stations make a great place to bed down for the night for a couple of reasons. Every city, town, and county has a police station, so no matter where you are traveling, you should be able to find one. And they are some of the safest places you can imagine. No one is going to bother you car if you park overnight at the local cop house.
You definitely want to go inside and get permission before you decide to spend the night at a police station though. Be sure to bring your ID with you and just let them know that you are traveling through and need a safe place to stay for the night.
If for some reason the local authorities won't let you sleep at their station, they might be able to direct you to somewhere else you can park for the night.
22. Employee Parking Areas (24-Hour Businesses)
If a business is open 24 hours a day, then they will probably have an employee parking area that will always have cars parked in it. If you park your car in this area and are stealthy enough, you should be able to spend the night undisturbed.
You might even be able to park at the same employee parking spot long-term because everyone will assume that you are an employee, so seeing your car there night after night won't arouse any suspicion.
23. Safe Parking Lot Program Lots
Some cities have developed safe parking programs in response to the rising number of people living in vans, cars, and RVs. These programs designate certain parking lots as safe parking zones and there are usually services provided like portable bathrooms, bottled water, overnight security, and in some cases, meals.
A quick Google search should bring up any information about safe parking programs in your area.
24. Family/Friends Driveway
Family and friends are a great resource to call upon if you have nowhere else to park. Many of them might even be willing to let you use the facilities in the house while you are parking in their driveway.
Just be sure not to overstay your welcome or to draw undue attention to the fact that you are living in your car. This could get your friend/family member in trouble with their neighbors who probably won't like the idea.
25. 24-Hour Gyms
Gyms that are open 24 hours are perfect for vehicle dwellers. Not only do they provide well-lit parking areas where cars are constantly coming and going, and a lone car won't stand out, but they also provide a place for car-dwellers to use the bathroom, shower, and work out.
You will probably have to purchase a membership to be able to use all those services but the $15-$25 per month is well worth it to be able to shower every day.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2022 Timothy Ward