Finding safe places to sleep when you live in a van or RV can sometimes be a challenge, and if you’re new to this lifestyle it could feel like a burden. There are many RV campgrounds across America but if you don’t want to have to pay to sleep every night, you will have to get clever and resourceful in finding safe places to camp. Luckily, we are taking the guesswork out of it and we are going to share our resources for safe and reliable camping across the U.S.
First, we should mention you should always pay attention to the posted signs in the areas you are in. If it says “no overnight camping” or no parking “dusk until dawn” you must abide. It’s also important to research the local laws where you’re visiting to make sure you’re not breaking them by “sleeping in your vehicle” because certain cities are very strict about that.
Resources To Find Places to Sleep:
Freecampsites.net- This website allows you to browse places on a map or search nearby locations for either free or pay campsites. You could use their filter feature to really get specific with your search. This means if you prefer a paved access road or want to ensure there’s biking, boating, dump, fresh water, etc.- you can search for those things. There are also reviews from past travelers which gives you a feel for the spots before you end up driving there and realizing it’s not what you want.
“The Dyrt” App- Super convenient search functions for finding campsites, group sites, tent sites, dispersed camping, cabins and even Yurts! It also has detailed filter function that allows you to search for must-have features for your campsite such as pets allowed, playground, wash house, ADA access, or WIFI.
Harvest Hosts*- This membership is seriously incredible! It allows you to sleep at winery’s, vineyards, farms, breweries, museums and golf courses all across the U.S for free. This is a paid membership that pays for itself in just 2 visits! The cost of the membership is $79. You must be a self-contained RV to stay with these hosts. Sometimes you get lucky and they have a water hook up or WIFI but that's not to be expected. It’s great because these businesses offer their property for RV’ers/ Vanlifers to sleep at night and by doing that, it gives you an expansive variety of camping opportunities in some very cool locations. There are over 860 locations across the U.S and the list keeps growing as it continues to gain popularity among travelers. Side note: it is very much appreciated that you go in and support the business by purchasing a beer, doing a wine tasting, buying a jam, etc. Teamwork makes the dream work in this case. Plus, it’s nice to enjoy the locally made goods!
“iOverlander” App- Designed for road trippers, this app is a database of camping, hotels, restaurants, mechanics, and many other categories you may be in search of. The details are listed for each place such as guest photos, amenities, GPS coordinates, date it was last visited and more. If you find a cool spot that’s not on the app- you can submit it and share with others! Great way to find unique places others rave about.
Boondockerswelcome.com- This site allows you to find free RV parking on private property where locals invite travelers to spend the night so they can save their money for adventures. You must be a self-contained RV who is elf-sufficient and as inconspicuous as possible. There is an annual guest subscription of $30 which is the cost of one night in a campground. Through the site, you search out locations on your route, contact the host to arrange your stay and then go! It’s a great way to meet new friends and get the inside scoop of the area from the locals. The hosts do not expect any money – they just ask for a great host review!
Blm.gov- BLM stands for Bureau of Land Management and is pretty much land owned by the government that you’re able to camp, boat, bike, dive, fish, etc. on for free. The website has an interactive map that allows you to find and explore more than 245 million acres of public land with diverse landscapes all across America. You can search locations, activities or keywords pertaining to your camping and adventuring needs as well.
Places you can sleep that you’d never think about…
Walmart Supercenters, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops and Cracker Barrell- These places are a great fall back if you’re having trouble finding a free place to sleep. Surprisingly comfortable and extremely convenient these locations allow RV’ers, Vanlifers, and truckers to sleep in their lot overnight. Many Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops have water and a dump site too!
If you have kids, it’s always fun for them to walk around the stores and get some energy out before bed. Be aware there are a handful of these store across the country that do NOT allow overnight camping due to local city laws. There are posted signs that say it, so abide if you do encounter.
There’s a lot to adjust to with living a nomadic lifestyle and ensuring a safe place to rest your head at night is now something you have to consider. The growing popularity of living this alternative lifestyle is prompting creatives all over to create and provide resources for others looking to live this lifestyle or who already do. Many of the resources above came about by travelers who collected spreadsheets of information on their travels to share with others.
It’s important that no matter where you camp, you respect the wishes of the hosts, the local laws and our planet. Be sure to clean up after yourself after your stay and try to take the extra step to leave the place cleaner than you found it. It’s a good habit to get into and even the smallest of efforts make a difference. Pack it in, pack it out!