Hey everyone! I hope this post is able to help you find places to responsibly, safely, and legally sleep in your offgrid home. In case you don’t already follow me on Instagram @KellyNicoleTravel, I’d like to start of by saying that we (my boyfriend and I) have lived on the road for 1.5 years now throughout 12 different countries and 24 states. We are not “homeless” and CHOOSE to live on the road to travel and hike around the world on a budget. We move around aLOT. Majority of the time we only spend 1 night somewhere and move on the next day. Some places have been ridiculously easy to find places to sleep while others required some work and searching.
If you want to scroll down to how we find spots, it’s after this section. But I definitely need to point out 5 important things first. Especially for those reading this that may be new to van life or living on the road. Please don’t choose to live or sleep in a van or vehicle unless you’re going to be responsible and respectful about it.
- I am not affiliated, sponsored, or paid with any brand or app mentioned in this specific post. Just trying to help others so letting you know what we personally use.
- Be aware of the possibility of a knock. Getting a ‘knock’ means that a person with authority (whether a policeman, security guard, park ranger, etc.) has knocked on your vehicle while you were parked and told you that overnight parking is not allowed where you are and to move your vehicle. They are generally friendly about it and do not fine you, but you still have to move. This can be annoying when you’re sleeping and have to find somewhere new to go in the dark when you’re tired. With that said, throughout ALL the places we’ve been we have NEVER received a knock in the middle of the night. We have only been told to move one time total, and that was literally in the middle of nowhere, at dinner time, pretty much right after we parked. But it happens.
- READ SIGNS around you. If you don’t read signs around you, or choose to not listen to them, you can get a ticket or towed. This may be common sense, but you’d be surprised what people choose not to listen to. Especially true if you are staying in a town or city where more rules are in place. The signs can be VERY detailed as to who can park where and when. For example, in some parts of California you cannot park anywhere on the city streets if your vehicle is over 7 feet tall or 21 feet long. Other streets are closed during specific hours 1 day a week to clean the streets. Others say permit required at all times. Some roads will say no parking for the next 5 miles and then not mention it again so if you miss it, that’s on you. Even in the most remote places of the world where you haven’t seen another human for hours.. “no overnight parking” signs still exist. They can be frustrating, but they’re there for a reason. So if you don’t read, you can receive a hefty fine. We have never received a parking ticket because we follow the law and never chance it. I recommend doing the same.
- BE RESPECTFUL to others. I know some people choose to park their vans on residential streets. This is something we personally choose not to do (even though we’re usually far away from homes in nature anyway). But we have never slept on a residential street.. even if it’s allowed. I put myself in the homeowner’s shoes and I wouldn’t want people sleeping in front of my stationary home. Not saying you can’t, just saying we don’t. IF you choose to, be respectful. Don’t play loud music, don’t leave your trash, don’t hangout outside of their home, leave no trace of your stay, and be discrete. The more disrespectful you are, the more people will push to ban overnight parking in an increasing number of areas. This doesn’t only go for residential areas though. In remote areas, out in nature, in campgrounds, in rest areas, wherever you sleep… RESPECT others who are sleeping there. Give your neighbor some “space” and don’t park right up next to them. Sidenote personal opinion: PLEASE don’t live in a van or vehicle on public land if you’re going to play loud music and party at night. You’re ruining it for those that live in vehicles respectfully.
- BE RESPONSIBLE. Probably the most important thing to mention. DON’T LEAVE YOUR TRASH or food anywhere but a trash can or recycling bin. I’ve never understood littering but we see it everywhere we go. LEAVE NO TRACE of your stay. Part of the reason overnight parking and vehicle habitation are banned in places are because of people being sloppy and not being responsible. Have a trash can in your vehicle, please.
OK now that that’s done.. here’s 6 ways HOW we find places to sleep 🙂
1. Free Apps on your phone. These are sooo helpful and convenient and basically do the work of finding a spot for you.
- How they work: fellow travelers find and provide the exact GPS coordinates of somewhere they have personally stayed so that you can stay there too. You can do a “places nearby you” search or search a specific area you want to stay near. Places people share include boondocking/wild camp spots, informal and formal campgrounds, dumping stations, and even places to fill water or propane. Pictures are often provided of the spots, or if you put the GPS coordinates into your google maps app, you can look on the satellite image to see if it’s somewhere you’d like to stay before driving there. The only downfall is because of the increase in the apps popularity, there is a high probability that someone else will also be in the spot you choose. If that doesn’t bother you, these apps are probably your best choice as the spots are found for you. If you like solitude and prefer to be somewhere without others around, you’re better off finding your own spot (#2 below).
- Apps I recommend:
- When we lived in a van in Europe, Park4Night had the most places to stay marked.
- While we live in a van in the US, iOverlander has the most places to stay marked. So depending where you are located, I recommend those 2 apps the most.. we have personally used both of them MANYY times. They are both completely free!
- There are many other apps now including The VanLife App and FreeRoam that we don’t use but others I know do. Some websites like Freecampsites.net and allstays.com also free resources for finding places to sleep (but I have found they don’t have as many places marked).
- There are also sources that aren’t free but are very affordable such as Harvest Hosts. You pay an annual membership fee and then are able to sleep in any of the places on their registry (wineries, farms, etc.) for free throughout the whole year.
2. Use GOOGLE MAPS to find your own spot. We use this perhaps more than anything else.. in every country that we’ve lived in a van in. If you follow us, I often show some of the spots we sleep in, and they are always quiet and remote (I’m definitely one of those people who likes a spot all to myself ha). Basically, we just search around the area we want to sleep in before going there. We zoom in and out of the satellite image of Google Maps looking for potential spots. Places to look for that typically work include roads that don’t show any buildings or houses nearby on the satellite, large pullovers/laybys, or spots on a random body of water like a creek, river, or lake. THIS HAS WORKED FOR US NEARLY EVERYWHERE. From farms in the midwest to beaches on the west coast to spots on the summit of mountain ranges to the middle of the woods in the Yukon. Some of my favorite, clean, quiet, beautiful spots we’ve slept in were found by zooming in and around on Google Maps app satellite images.
- Tip: when you find somewhere you think looks like somewhere you’d like, hold your finger down on the spot until Google Maps “marks” it. Most of the time it will bring up a virtual image of the road that you can literally “drive” down the road on your phone screen to check out exactly what the spot looks like BEFORE driving there. You can literally see if there’s “no overnight” signs there BEFORE you drive there. If there’s no signs, and if you like it, save the spot on your maps and drive to the coordinates Google Maps has provided.
- Being completely honest, sometimes you can’t find a specific spot, you just see an area that looks good. We’ve driven to just a road that looked quiet many times and just drove along it until we found a good spot on it.
- BE PATIENT. We’ve scrolled around on our phone for up to 30 minutes sometimes looking for a spot. So the only con to this option is YOU have to do the work to find the spot. But chances are high you’ll find some of your favorite spots using this method! I’ll make a video showing a screen recording of my phone with how we do this soon.
- DON’T BE AFRAID TO SLEEP IN REMOTE AREAS. They are some of the most peaceful and beautiful places you’ll spend time in. It’s what living on the road is all about. And to be honest, remote areas are some of the most safe areas BECAUSE nobody else is around.
3. Overnight-friendly Businesses – Depending where you are located, become familiar with large businesses that allow overnight parking. In a large portion of the USA, Walmart allows overnight parking (some locations, especially on the west coast, do not allow it though..so look for and READ signs). We have stayed in a Walmart maybe 4 or 5 times total and slept great. Cracker Barrel usually allows overnight parking as does Cabela’s and some Home Depot’s. Unfortunately I’m not familiar with ones in other countries, but I’m sure you can do a simple online search to find ones in your country. These type of places aren’t the most exciting or relaxing place to stay, but if you’re on the road longterm you will end up staying there once in awhile when there isn’t anywhere else.. trust me. So be sure to be aware of what companies allow you to stay overnight in their parking lot near you for those times.
4. Rest Stops or Truck Stops- These are typically a last resort, and definitely always have a time limit on your stay, but you CAN stay in most of them for anywhere from 4 hours to 24 hours. It won’t be quiet, it may smell like trucker piss, and there will be security or cops monitoring peoples stay, BUT if you’re on a highway or in a really strict area and need to sleep somewhere for a few hours… that’s what these places were made for. (Rest stops are literally the ones on the side of the highway that you’ve probably used to go to the bathroom when in a car. Truck stops are just off the highway: like Pilot, Luvs, Flying J, TA, Roady’s, etc.) Can’t stress enough to READ SIGNS because every once in awhile some will not allow overnight parking. We’ve only slept in a truck stop maybe 3-5 times BUT I can say that Pilot truck stops have AMAZINGLY clean and nice shower facilities!!
5. BLM Land/National Forests vs. National Parks: Important to note the differences.
- You cannot boondock/wildcamp in almost all National Parks. You must pay to stay in a campground in majority of National Parks. If you don’t mind paying, National Park campgrounds are often beautiful and have very close access to hiking trails and landscapes. However, National Forests have some of the best wild camping spots in the country for free. Know the difference between a park and a forest (parks usually cost money to enter, etc.). National Forests are located all over the place and often right outside the National Park’s boundaries.
- BLM land stands for Bureau of Land Management that contains and preserves millions of acres of PUBLIC land across the USA, mainly in western USA. These lands are possibly the best legal way to live for free on the road longterm (if you’re respectful about it). You can usually camp just about anywhere you want on BLM land. The laws vary slightly from place to place but some allow you to stay up to 14 days, for free. And then, most of the time, only require you to move a certain amount of distance, such as 25 miles away, and you can stay 14 more days for free somewhere else. Amazing right?! You can learn more about BLM land and check the specific area you want to camp out in on the government’s website blm.gov
6. Campgrounds/State Recreation Areas- If “free” isn’t what you’re looking for all the time, campgrounds are always an option. They are obviously legal and can provide amenities you may not otherwise have. We have stayed in campgrounds a handful of times while in National Parks, for close access to trails, or when we want a shower that’s hot with an unlimited supply of water. We found that Canada had the most affordable campgrounds often only costing us $9/night!
There you have it. Many ways and places to find legal places to sleep for free on the road! ENJOY the views, the ever changing scenery, and the freedom. If you have ANY questions feel free to send me a message on Instagram @KellyNicoleTravel or email me at KellyNicoleTravel@gmail.com
Kelly & Dave