As we’ve stated many times, we like to live life on the cheap! We use coupons, meal deals and sites like Groupon and living social whenever we can. So its should be no surprise that we try to live our RV life for free also! When we first started, we stayed at an RV park in Northridge CA and decided immediately RV parks were not for us! This was, of course, after we had already bought our Good Sam and Passport America memberships. Passport America is by far the best, they give half off almost all RV parks across the country, whereas Good Sam is more like AAA and only offers a 10% discount. Now, don’t get me wrong, Passport America has saved us tons when we decide we need to stay at an RV park, and we use it, we just haven’t used them as much as we thought we would before we actually hit the road. RV parks are nice when you NEED to plug in for air conditioning because the humidity is at 100%, but thats practically the only time we stay at them. (We also didn’t know there was such thing as 100% humidity. We still don’t quite understand what that means, other than hot as balls.) They are basically large parking lots with a swimming pool, laundry, and the occasional meet and greet with other RVers. We spent some big money on our RV when we first got it installing solar panels, extra batteries and a compost toilet, so plugging in and dumping aren’t things we need. Our RV can run everything except the A/C on solar, even the microwave, and even on a cloudy day we have 90% full by 11am. Not knowing where we will sleep that night has actually been extremely exciting for us and minimally stressful, as one might think.
I would guess, on average, our monthly free sleeping is almost 27 days. Yeah, we sleep for free 27 days of the month, paying for only 3-4 nights!
----So where do we sleep?----
It’s known in the RV world as boon docking or urban boondocking. It’s known in the real world as sleeping in a parking lot. Yes, it's safe. Yes, it's legal. Yes, it's fun!
(Tips for safe and successful boondocking coming soon.)
In Southern California we knew parking on the street and in most store’s parking lots is a no-no, so we aimed our southern CA sleeps to the Angeles and San Bernadino National Forests. Both have what they call dispersed camping. We wrote a bit about them in a past post and with a quick google you’ll find many blogs and tips on these. Leaving CA we googled dispersed camping and found so many great spots off forest and fire roads. (We blogged about those trips here.)
When we got hired at Weston Red Barn Farm, Steve, the owner, let us park at the farm and at his old house a few nights a week but we also wanted to experience Kansas City so we did venture out quite a bit. Walmart became a number 1 in KC due to its close proximity to downtown and to the farm and because it was in a busy area with many restaurants and stores around. I’m pretty sure everyone on the farm was weirded out by our Walmart sleeping, but they really are so great. Most have night security, the parking lots are bright, it’s open 24 hours in case we run out of beer and there’s always a little grass for Sushi. We found in KC, the brightly lit parking lots at Walmart actually deter the bugs from the RV which was a game changer for us and why we spent more nights there, than on the farm. We use a few good websites to see which Walmarts allow overnight parking, AllStays, they also have a great app and Walmart Locator. We have stayed at a few ‘no-stay Walmarts, but always make it short and wear pjs to bed in case we are woken in the middle of the night and told to leave. Along with Walmarts, Cracker Barrels are known for letting RVers crash in their lots. Most have large spaces with dedicated Rv/Bus parking and we have never been told to leave, even that one time we stayed 30 hours. You know those days where you never get dressed and binge watch tv all day? We have those too, just in a motorhome! Before Florida, we knew of Cracker Barrel, but had never been to one. Most of the Florida Walmarts are no-stays so Cracker Barrel has been great down here. We prefer Walmart just for the convince of shopping but Cracker Barrel is always busy, good people watching, the food we can do without but we always take a minute to head into the country store and look around.
While in KC, we found the Weston Bend State Park which has camping for $13/night no plug ins, which we thought we would do more of but you’re basically paying for the same thing Walmart offers just in the woods, with more bugs, A LOT more bugs. The hipster park of KC is known as Westport, it’s up and coming and a great time. We stumbled on this place called Dave’s Stagecoach Inn, they had cheap beer and the bartender gave us free fernet, so with a little extra tip he said we’d be fine to sleep in the employee parking overnight. After drinking at a few other places we headed to the RV for the night, around 4am when the employees finished worked the parking lot became a little rowdy. Brandon and I were bartenders in our past lives so we are all too familiar with a good PLP (parking lot party) after work. It was a safe place to crash but we were woken at 9am when the salon across from the bar told us it was employee parking only. So we packed up and headed to the nearest McDonalds for breakfast and wifi. Learning from this experience we tipped our bartender a little extra at TGI Fridays Kissemmee and crashed in their parking lot. Sometimes all it takes is a quick mention of Rv life and a few extra bucks tip for a free nights sleep!
After leaving KC we headed to Branson where we found parking at the Bass Pro Shop. We’ve stayed at a few Bass Pro Shops and t’s always a good idea to call before sleeping overnight there because not all of them allow it. Waking up here was one of the most eventful. We parked in the back of the lot not near anyone and awoke in the middle of a high school drum line prepping for the Veterans Day Parade! Brandon is writing more about that fun in a later blog. Camping World and Cabelas are similar to Bass Pro Shops, with a quick phone call many allow a quick night's rest, and some even offer free dumping for Good Sam members.
We've stayed a few times at rest areas and truck stops, but these are very very low on our list. Pilot's and Flying J's tend to be the nicest, however they're all busy and loud! truckers run their generators all night and are on crazy schedules, so don't expect peaceful sleeping!
Casinos are probably our favorite place to urban boondock. It could be from The Debster taking Brandon to Las Vegas year after year since he could walk or it could be, we just like cheap beer, a crappy buffet and a chance to win money, whatever it is, we've stayed at some good ones! We found a great one in Baton Rouge, The Hollywood Casino, with $1.50 bud lights, a few blocks from downtown Baton Rouge. We made friends with the bartender and after assuming we were in a shady part of town he told us it was really safe and walkable to a bunch of college bars, we just had to crawl under a parked locomotive to get there! While in South Florida we found the Miccosuke Casino , which is one of the best we've ever stumbled upon. With a quick registration at the security desk you get a permit for up to 5 days. You can use your slide outs, eat some good food with cheap drinks and maybe even win some money!
By far our most used site for actual camping for free is freecampsites.net. It is actual camping, no parking lots, it shows lat/long of the sites which come in super handy when taking forest roads and unmarked dirt roads and actual user reviews and tips, i.e.: not suitable for RV, can get muddy, get there early. Most are state parks or wildlife management areas, and these have been lifesavers for free camping in Florida. More on Florida Free camping later, stay tuned!