Over the past two extended road trips in the U.S., I’ve done a fair bit of camping in WalMart parking lots. I’m almost reluctant to post this, as I’m sure it is one of those situations where increased popularity of this practice may cause WalMart to change their policy. As it stands now, WalMarts allow and even encourage people to park trailers, cars or trucks in the parking lots of their 24 hour Superstores for overnighting. Here are some do’s and don’ts for this economical way of traveling. On a road trip, crashing at a WalMart can save you $50 to $100 a night in campground or motel fees.
If you visit a 24 hour WalMart any night, especially the ones close to major highways, you will see an array of camper trailers, cars and trucks. They are usually parked in one of the back corners of the parking lot so as not to interfere with regular customers. There are security cameras throughout the front of the stores to discourage any vandalism problems, and some stores even have security cars doing regular sweeps. The washrooms inside are always clean and accessible. WalMart is an excellent and cheap source of breakfast, whether you’re looking for McDonald’s, or buying apples and yogurt. Sometimes it can be a little noisy, especially if you’re unlucky enough to hit a night when they’re cleaning the parking lot, but on the other hand I’ve stayed at many campgrounds located beside highways that are just as noisy.
Most WalMarts have two entrances and it is worth noting that one of them is usually locked after midnight. So if you anticipate having to use the washroom in the middle of the night, locate yourself on the side of the parking lot with the unlocked door to avoid a very long walk. Sometimes there are benches or even lawn furniture set up (in the summer) in front of the store, usually under lights, so you can sit and watch the customers, read a book or just socialize. This is handy if you don’t have a trailer.
Here are some “don’ts” that you should remember:
1. You can’t pitch tents or set up chairs. The most recent group I traveled with misunderstood what I meant by “WalMart Camping”, so when I returned from the washroom, I found the scene shown below. In spite of the fact that WalMart allows camping, it is probably a good idea to still maintain a low profile.
2. You can’t unhook your trailer and leave it for any period of time. This is meant for overnight stops on a road trip only, not a home base.
3. On one occasion we did have a security person ask us to leave, saying that this WalMart was an exception to the rule. He actually directed us to another WalMart nearby which he said wouldn’t mind. However even in this case we managed to convince him to let us stay as it was very late at night. (This was in Boulder, which perhaps explains things.)
4. Of course it pays to be considerate and not do anything that will jeopardize this good will from WalMart. All it would take is a few people to be inconsiderate or do something stupid like dump their waste water in the parking lot in order for this policy to become unpopular with the stores.
Here is a good site that comments on this policy. http://www.freecampgrounds.com/othercamps.html