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Which is Safer: Overnighting at Walmart or a Rest Area?

When asked if overnighting at Walmart or a rest stop is safer, hundreds of our RV Lifestyle Facebook members responded. They shared their experiences and alternatives…

Recently, one of our RV Lifestyle group members on Facebook reached out to our members. Christy recently talked to another RVer about staying overnight at Walmart parking lots versus rest areas. She said that she feels more secure at rest areas since most have surveillance cameras and occasionally security personnel.

Her acquaintance said that she feels safer parking overnight in Walmart parking lots. She posed this question to the rest of our members: 

“What do all prefer when traveling?” she asked, and received hundreds of responses

I will give you the gist of their replies below and provide resources and advice to help you determine where you should stay.

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Which is Safer: Overnighting at Walmart or a Rest Area?

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Safety is one of the biggest concerns of “lot docking” or overnighting in a parking lot or rest area. Is it safe to park overnight at Walmart? What about rest stops? How can you be as safe as possible?

To answer the question directly, the safety of each depends on its location. I know that’s a frustratingly vague answer, but it’s the truth. A Walmart in a nice neighborhood is likely safer than a rest area in a bad area, and vice versa.

Jennifer and I have happily stayed at Walmarts and rest areas and felt safe. Although, there have been times when we pulled in and pulled right back out because we didn’t feel safe. The key is to pay attention to your surroundings and trust your instincts.

Below, I’m going to outline more safety guidelines to follow as well as overnight parking alternatives. But first, here are a few related articles for your reference:

7 Unwritten Rules for RVers Parking Overnight at Walmart

General Safety Guidelines When Overnighting in Your RV

The following are a few general guidelines to help keep you safe when overnighting at a parking lot or rest area. While they may not guarantee your safety, they can help deter thieves and wrong-doers.

Follow Your Instincts

It is essential to follow your gut whenever you are in a new area. Listen to yourself if something does not feel right about a parking lot or rest area. Leave the site and find a more secure spot.

Set Up a Camera

Cameras are a deterrent, even when not recording anything. Consider setting up a camera on your RV so that would-be robbers think they are being recorded.  

You can also look into these RV security systems.

Check Crime in the Area

It’s always best to check to see if the spot you want to overnight is in a high-crime area. Although that cannot protect you from everything, it can help give you better odds that you will not run into any trouble. 

Lock Your Doors & Windows

Before sleeping for the night, be sure that you have all safety precautions in place. Lock your doors and have all valuable items stowed out of sight. 

Don’t forget your windows! Make sure they’re locked, and it’s usually best to close your curtains so nobody can peek in and be tempted to steal.

security systems

Be Prepared for a Quick Exit

In the event of an emergency, you want to be prepared to drive away at a moment’s notice. That means you want to be set up in the simplest possible way. Refrain from opening awnings or setting out chairs or other personal belonging.

These are safety precautions, but they’re also proper etiquette whenever you’re lot docking. You’re there to sleep, not camp!

Get a Dog

This may sound like a humorous suggestion. But one of our members mentioned this, and I think it is a great idea!

Samantha said she has two large dogs that “do really well at deterring weirdos.” If you are considering getting a pet, you might want to consider a loyal dog that can help protect you. Even their presence is a deterrent.

I remember a survey that asked convicted thieves what the biggest deterrent was, and the majority said dogs. They said security system signs weren’t as much of a deterrent because people usually forget to alarm them. Dogs are much more unpredictable, and nobody wanted to chance getting bitten.

Which is Safer: Overnighting at Walmart or a Rest Area? 1
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Where Real RVers Like to Park When Overnighting

Real RVers provide a wealth of knowledge regarding all things traveling. Where to overnight is no exception!

Many responded to Christy’s question by suggesting overnighting alternatives to Walmart and rest areas. So, I thought I’d share some of their suggestions below.

Truck Stops

Truck stops are great places to stay for a night. That is because, according to Deanna, they “have cameras and traffic.” That means there are lots of people and videos around, making it less likely for something terrible to happen. 

This sound thinking can also be used when staying at Walmart or a rest area. If either has cameras or a lot of traffic, they can offer you some additional protection. Look for locations on a busy road or visible part of the highway. The idea is to be near other people or surveillance equipment. 

Planet Fitness

Another RV Lifestyle member had a great suggestion. Denise, who used to stay at Walmart but has not since the pandemic began, stays in her camper van in Planet Fitness parking lots. 

They have a membership to Planet Fitness (which costs $25 per month for access to all Planet Fitness locations). In the morning, they wake up and shower at the gym. How inventive!

Knowing The Importance of Staying Healthy While RVing, Jennifer would also suggest fitting in a quick workout.

As an added safety bonus, many Planet Fitness locations are 24/7.

Cracker Barrel

Many people commented about staying in a Cracker Barrel parking lot overnight. What could be better than having a hot breakfast cooked by someone else first thing in the morning? 

We have mentioned Cracker Barrel before. We have written an article about unwritten rules when staying overnight at this restaurant. You should check it out

7 Unwritten Rules for Parking Overnight at Cracker Barrel

Casino Campgrounds

Another option was brought up a lot: staying overnight on casino grounds. Many locations allow you to park overnight for free or have inexpensive campgrounds. 

Some casinos offer a free stay in their campgrounds if you sign up for their casino card. 

Letitia said she likes casino camping because “they are often very cheap, and some have clean new full-hookup spots.” 

For example, one person mentioned Indigo Sky Casino in Missouri. If you get their casino card, you pay $15 to camp overnight. It is a no-frills parking lot site but does have water and electric hookups. While this option is not free, it is a clean and possibly safer choice for RVers traveling long distances. 

Another member, Georgiann, jokingly said she likes casino camping because her husband “went in (to the casino) with $20 and came out with $300.” Wouldn’t it be nice if it was always like that!

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12 Responses to “Which is Safer: Overnighting at Walmart or a Rest Area?”

December 28, 2022at11:23 am, Mark Coke said:

I RV to Spartan races all over the US and stay at Walmarts. This site has never let me down. [Link deleted]
Be aware most Walmart have no overnight signs posted because of local laws but that doesn’t mean they inforce them. I just park as far away from the building has possible. Stayed at several sketchy Walmarts, even had police stop by and tell me it isn’t the greatest area and to be sure nothing is left outside. I travel with 3 great Danes and no one gets close to the RV without them sounding off.

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December 28, 2022at2:42 am, Marla Roach said:

I just want anyone that’s going to be traveling in California, especially southern California, that the Walmarts here ALL do NOT want anyone to camp out or park over night! They don’t even want you to park in the parking lot for more then one hour and have security guards to ask you to leave, or they call the police if you don’t leave or stay more then one hour! I’ve been all over southern California and ALL the Walmarts that I’ve been to have signs posted and are no longer giving anyone permission to stay in the parking lot! Anyone that knows of a Walmart that allows parking overnight or for more then one hour, please ‘dobtell”! I really does not it! For the last 5 years they have NOT been freinds’ to anyone in RV’s ,vans, or anyone that is in the lot too long! And that’s A LOT ,if not all Walmarts out here in southern California! As of, at least, since 2017!

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December 28, 2022at7:50 pm, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Hi Marla – thanks for sharing. Definitely some Walmarts in some parts of the country do not allow this – especially in locations with large homeless populations. Maybe that is why the California ones you mentioned have this rule? Again thanks for sharing – Team RV Lifestyle

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December 27, 2022at4:16 pm, Ronald Urquhart said:

Been Rving over twenty years never had a problem at Walmart’s or rest stops occasionally you get a begger. Never again a truck stop, was next to a truck, when he left his tail swing almost took out my mirror, the next trucker parked so close I couldn’t even open my coach door, After that I left and drove a fifty miles to rest stop.

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December 28, 2022at7:47 pm, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Glad you have never had a problem at a Walmart or a rest stop – thanks for sharing, Ronald! Team RV Lifestyle

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December 26, 2022at9:56 pm, David Davidzik said:

The article didn’t really open any new doors to experienced campers when deciding the best overnight alternative in regards to where you are, and where your going.

The article didn’t mention Harvest Host as an option to the question of which is safest.
All I can say positively is during our two months trip cross country last summer we stayed at two Harvest Host, 9 or 10 Walmarts and one rest stop. For us the first factor was hours and miles driven equals best availability when time to pull off the road

As far as the camera suggestions, most Walmart parking lots are loaded with them with signs everywhere saying just that.

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December 27, 2022at12:15 pm, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Hi David – Mike and Jen love Harvest Host and use them often but for this story wanted to keep it to just where to pull over for sleep while on a road trip. It was based on a discussion in our Facebook group and this is what people were debating. Thank you for your input and sharing your experience! Team RV Lifestyle

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December 26, 2022at12:34 pm, George Otterman said:

I would not recommend Walmart or rest areas for overnight camping. here in Sevierville Tennessee, at the foothills of the great Smoky Mountains, the city has forbid camping at Walmart. Our area has numerous campgrounds and the amenities are excellent. For example,Walmart and rest stops do not provide electricity water or dumpsites.
I have owned tent, pop-up, and travel trailers. My family enjoyed camping. I must say that to own a camper you must have a mechanical knowledge and carry a tool kit.

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December 27, 2022at12:10 pm, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Hi George – Thanks for your input! Mike’s article is not about camping in a Walmart parking lot or rest area, rather about which place is best when on a road trip, and you just need to pull over to get some sleep before continuing that road trip. Thanks for sharing and we agree about carrying a tool kit! Happy Trails – Team RV Lifestyle

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December 23, 2022at12:09 am, Patti Bennett said:

i would add you can also try a local community county fair grounds. Many county fair grounds have camper hook-ups so that the 4H kids families are close by to care for their animals during the fair.

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December 23, 2022at10:12 am, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Excellent suggestion, Patti! Thanks for sharing – Team RV Lifestyle

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December 26, 2022at1:43 am, Mark Rasmussen said:

I use some grain elevators if they have a big lot. Flying Js have separate RV lots. We drop the Jack’s and put out the slides. We park so we’re not blocking anyone.

Reply

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