Is It Safe to Sleep in Your Car at a Rest Stop Overnight?

Van life is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in America right now, but like any hobby, it has its ups and downs. After all, whether it’s a regular road trip or the full van life experience, it’s important to remember basic car safety tips. Here’s a look at why it’s absolutely a bad idea to sleep in your car at a rest stop and what you should do instead.

It’s dangerous and it’s probably illegal

A man sleeping in a car at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry in Tijuana, Mexico
A man sleeping in a car | Francisco Vega/Getty Images

As State Farm says, it’s simply a terrible idea to sleep in your car at a rest stop. This has to do with a lot of factors. The most obvious of which has to do with where rest stops are usually located. Most rest stops are probably going to be in the middle of nowhere. On top of that, most travelers are almost guaranteed to be unfamiliar with the area. 

As such, this makes rest stops a potentially dangerous place in the daytime. Additionally, it gets even more potentially dangerous at night. It’s not surprising then that many states have outright banned parking at rest stops overnight. Currently, 25 states have banned it, including popular outdoor traveling states like California, Colorado, and South Dakota. 

Even in the 25 states that don’t ban it, many have limitations on how long folks can stay overnight. For example, Washington has an 8-hour limit, while other states might have a 10-hour limit. The three exceptions are Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas, and all three have no restrictions whatsoever on rest stops. That said, it’s still a bad idea to sleep overnight at a rest stop in those three states.

Where you should sleep instead

As many van life veterans will know, one of the more popular options is to find a campground. There are many variations, and some will require a reservation. However, in general, campgrounds are a safe place to sleep at. Another safe option, according to State Farm, is a hotel. This may not be the best option for van life folks, but it’s an excellent option for people on a road trip.

In both cases, however, it would be a good idea to plan ahead. That said, there are many other options, too. For example, Walmart is a good option for many folks. This is because there are many Walmarts across the country, and many of them allow people to park 24/7. As such, those Walmarts, especially the ones that are open 24/7, are great options overall

Many other locations act as a safe space to sleep. Other big-box stores, such as Costco and Home Depot, may also offer overnight parking, just like Walmart. No matter where you decide to sleep, though, it’s still important to be mindful of essential safety tips.

Extra safety tips

Unless you’ve decided to leave your phone at home, your phone can be the easiest way to stay safe. Not only is it a navigational tool, but it’s also a safety tool. As such, as State Farm said, before you stop somewhere sketchy or unfamiliar, it’s paramount to make sure that you have reception. That way, if you need to call for help, you can.

On top of that, it’s also a good idea to keep someone close to you updated as to where you are. A smart idea is to text someone your location before you go to sleep. This way, if anything happens to you, at least they can follow your trail and potentially catch the culprit. If there is no culprit, then they could save your life by finding you in the middle of the woods. 

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