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Can You Sleep Anywhere in a Camper Van? We Find Out
Published: July 15, 2021
So, you’re thinking about hitting the road and exploring in your camper van. Maybe you have your eyes on the mountains, the desert, the city, or even some national parks. No matter where you’re heading, there is a certain freedom and beauty that comes with packing everything you need in your camper van and setting off on your next adventure. It’s also a cost-effective way to travel and see the world.
Those who are comfortable with this minimalist lifestyle and giving up some comfort to travel this way may have some questions about where you can sleep in a camper van. For example, is it legal to pull over and sleep just anywhere in your vehicle? In this article, we’ll explore this question more closely and provide you with an answer.
While a camper van traveler isn’t allowed to park and sleep anywhere in their camper van, there are many comfortable (and legal) locations to park your camper van and get a good night’s sleep.
For anyone new to van living, you may think that finding somewhere to park and sleep overnight is the trickiest part, but it can be pretty simple if you know where to look. Below, we’ll outline where you can and can’t park your camper van to sleep.
If you prefer to camp in a tent click here to see a list of our favorite camping tents.
Where to Park Your Camper Van Overnight to Sleep
Below is a list of a few places where it is A-OK to pull over and sleep in your camper van.
Campgrounds are a popular and safe choice for many van campers. If you’re traveling in and around national or state parks, it makes sense to plan and book a spot as places can fill up during peak seasons.
Some campgrounds will offer amenities like restrooms, showers, and clean water, which isn’t always an option if you’re boondocking (dispersed camping on public land).
BLM, USFS Public Land, and Crown Land
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service offer public land that is primarily free and legal to park in for sometimes extended periods, unless otherwise posted. For example, you could park your camper van overnight in some national parks in a parking lot or next to a trailhead (source).
If you’re traveling in Canada, look for Crown land. Canada has around 90% of its land designated as Crown land. Often, residents can use this land for free. However, visitors may need to pay a fee. Therefore, it’s essential to check a specific province’s rules and keep an eye out for restricting camping signs (source).
Many Walmart stores throughout North America offer overnight parking thanks to their large parking lots. Therefore, they could be a good option for getting some quality shut-eye. However, keep in mind that not all Walmart stores have this policy, so you must check with management beforehand to ensure it’s okay.
If you do, make sure to be respectful and park in a location far away from the entrance and not in a prime spot right by the entrance, meant for their customers.
In addition to Walmart stores, many casinos offer overnight parking. Ensure there isn’t a big event or concert going on as they may charge an additional fee in such cases.
Truck stops are often a convenient place to stay overnight. Plus, they offer restrooms, hot showers, and food nearby.
Safe Neighborhoods and Urban or Suburban Streets
If done right and if you abide by the laws of the area, you can safely and legally park on the street overnight. It’s certainly not a long-term solution, but it should be okay for a night. However, you will want to make sure your camper van isn’t too big for the space you’re in, and if the street is busier, make sure you wake up and move along before any street sweeping or meter goes into effect for the day. In general, side streets are your best bet.
This kind of parking is riskier as you could raise some red flags with passersby or neighbors, but if done discreetly and respectfully, you should be okay.
Depending on the area you’re traveling in, the following businesses could also offer overnight parking:
- Cracker Barrel (located primarily in the Southern and Eastern US)
- Sam’s Club
- Camping World
Where Not to Park Your Camper Van Overnight to Sleep
Despite the many places where you might park and sleep overnight, it’s equally important to understand where not to park and rest. Below are some of the places to avoid.
Rest stops can be a lifesaver and an excellent place to pull over to use the facilities, have a picnic, or just, as the name suggests, stop and rest. However, there is a difference between resting and sleeping overnight. Therefore, most rest stops will not allow overnight parking but are just fine with you needing to rest your eyes and nap for an hour or so.
Never park and sleep on private property without the owner’s permission. It’s unlawful and could be considered trespassing.
Many public parks have a closing time, and someone could be responsible for checking the parking lot nightly and enforcing these rules. So, it’s best to avoid sleeping there.
Shopping malls’ parking lots, in general, do not allow for extended parking, and you shouldn’t plan to rest for an extended period here. They will usually have mall surveillance and security on-site to prevent overnight and long-term parking.
Avoid parking your camper van around schools. You don’t want to appear suspicious in any way. Leaving just a few blocks between the school and your van should be enough.
Like car camping? Click here to read more about car camping with your cat.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Are Some Safety Tips to Apply While Sleeping in a Camper Van?
When you decide to sleep in your camper van, you must stay safe while doing so.
Always be aware of your surroundings, and if you find yourself in a spot that’s not ideal, such as an unsafe neighborhood or an illegal parking or camping zone, move on.
Also, always make sure to lock your van at night while your sleeping and when you step away, even if it’s just to use the restroom.
If you are traveling with valuables, some experienced van travelers advise investing in extra security, such as an advanced alarm system, door deadbolts, or a safe secured to the van’s floor.
What Are Some Tips to Sleep Better in a Van?
It can be challenging for light sleepers to get a good night’s rest in a camper van. Luckily, these may help:
- Blackout curtains or opaque window tint
- Good ventilation
How Do I Make Sure My Van Is Well Ventilated?
Sleeping in a small space can mean that your van can get stuffy, smelly, humid, or too warm. Therefore, you must consider how to ventilate your van to ensure your comfort on your adventures.
On a warm night, it might make sense to leave the windows cracked or wide open. However, this might not always be best for safety reasons. You also might want to avoid letting the world know that you’re sleeping in your van.
For this reason, it might be judicious to install window wind deflectors at the top of your windows. Window-wind deflectors will disguise your windows if they are slightly open, hopefully deterring anyone thinking about breaking in.
Another option is to install vents on the floor and roof of your van. Floor vents are excellent because the air coming in from the bottom of the van is typically cooler than that from the top. Products such as the MaxxFan Deluxe offer a vent, fan, and rain shield in one, providing your camper van with good ventilation.