The keys to boondocking are: Free, Legal and Safe.
Saving money, avoiding illegal parking and being safe while living in your tiny-home is crucial to making this lifestyle sustainable and fun. A cost-free overnight sleeping experience is what many nomads plan everyday. And although for-profit campsites are cheaper, legal and relatively safe compared to a hotel stay, the cost can really add up over time. And when you include your cost for water, food and other amenities, paying or not paying for a campsite can really make a budgetary difference.
But you can’t just park anywhere and call it boondocking. There are a ton of legal and illegal places to park in America. And even though a place is legal doesn't assume it is necessarily a safe place to stay the night at. This blog is a short list of ways to boondock safety, legally and most importantly, FREE.
Find free campsites found around the country
Freecampsites.net and Campendim.com are a great sites to discover free campsites dotted around the country. Simply plug in your location and a variety of options for free and low-cost campsites will appear. This will include everything from campgrounds, parking lots and permit-required land access. These sites will often provide the minimum amenities like a fire-ring and a flat-surface. Many results will have previous guests commenting about their experience at the site. Read the reviews to get a feel for the safety, road conditions and regulations of the site.
BLM (Bureau of Land Management)
The Bureau of Land Management is led by the United States Department of the Interior Responsible for Administering Public Lands. BLM sites are often in remote places and are at no cost or (very rarely) lost cost. Although many of these sites come without access to many campsite amenities like water, bathrooms, dump stations and trash receptacles, they are that magic word that makes it all worth it: FREE - or dang near it. Unfortunately, many of these BLM sites are only located in the midwest and western US, and a great distance from stores and shops. However, they are a good option for RV’ers and nomads who are able to bring their water and bathroom with them, and are welcome to a true off-grid experience.
Parking at Trail Heads
It's not uncommon for overnight backpackers to park at trail heads. This is a great option to grab a good nights sleep and blend in. But don’t pull out the outdoor set-up just yet. It’s not so common to see campers setting up in the parking lot since there is limited parking at these trail heads. Simply pull in, stay in your tiny-home and leave the following day. Visit freecampsites.net to find free parking at trailheads.
Every state has varying hour-limits to guests pulling into rest stops. For example, we stayed at 3 different rest stops between Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma. Each state allowed for 1 night stay for between 8 and 24 hours. Visit Interstateareas.com to see the rest stop legalities of each state.
Become a camp host
Becoming a camp host is a way to park and camp for free at a state park in exchange for volunteer work. These ‘volunteer’ opportunities are found in almost every state, and are organized by state parks. Each state park have varying tasks, weekly hour requirements and minimum stay limits. For example, many state parks require at least 20 hours a week of volunteering for at least 30 days stay, and tasks can extend from anything to cleaning the fire pits, to cleaning the bathrooms, to checking in park guests. In exchange, you will be provided a free campsite and will probably include an electric hook-up, water and bathroom access.
You will be able to find good stories and horror stories of nomads who become temporary camp hosts. But it is worth exploring if you are looking for a way camp for free. Visit Happyvagabonds.com to view camp host opportunities by state.
It’s all about blending in or being “stealth.” Overnight parking a gym - especially one for which you are member, is a way to boondock for free. Our gym has played a reliable role in providing a place to sleep when pulling into new, unfamiliar cities. We have a membership with Planet Fitness and have slept at well over 25 locations across the country with no issue with overnight parking. Now the legality of this method may vary. We HAVE been to gyms that had ‘no overnight parking’ signs posted. But this was extremely rare. The downside to this option is noise and privacy. You're basically at a parking lot. But if you are looking for a reliable and available sleep option, it's worth the minor inconveniences.
Stores that allow overnight parking
Large retail stores like Home Depot and Lowes offer overnight parking at select locations, with Wal-Mart probably being the most known for offering this option to wary travelers. It’s always recommended that people interested in parking overnight should call the store to ensure that this is still an option. Some of our favorites is Crackle Barrel and Home Depot as they are often quiet and off the main road. Check out this Wal-Mart RV Camping locator to see which locations offer overnight camping
Here is a short list of big-box stores that offer overnight parking:
Bass Pro Shop
View a full list here https://rvblogger.com/blog/overnight-rv-parking/