If you’re getting a bit restless after months at home and are itching to travel again, taking an extended trip in a camper van may be the perfect solution. Recent travel restrictions have made camping one of the most popular travel options in recent months, and traveling in a camper van allows you to see new places within the United States while maintaining your ability to keep to yourself instead of interacting with more people than you are comfortable with on planes and in hotels. This mode of travel is especially cost-effective because there are more places available than you might think to legally park your camper van for free.
Park in a vineyard for a scenic free camping experience
Kara and Nate may be the internet’s favorite travel YouTubers. The pair reached their goal of traveling to 100 countries shortly before travel restrictions forced them to move in a new direction, and they are currently continuing to share travel hacks and hidden gems while living and traveling around the United States in their camper van. One of their most creative tips for new camper van owners is free camping in a network of beautiful vineyards, distilleries, breweries, farms, and similar attractions across the country through Harvest Hosts. This option is limited to one consecutive night per location.
Camp for free on public land
If you’re heading to the mountains, prairies, or other remote areas, you may have the opportunity to camp for free on undeveloped Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Free “dispersed” camping, or parking on your own on public land instead of in a developed campground, is allowed for up to 14 days in most of these areas. Some state, city, and county parks also offer free camping.
Parking lots are your go-to choice for overnight camper stops
Although there are more fun and scenic options available in many parts of the country, spending the night in a parking lot is the easiest and most widespread option if you’re traveling spontaneously or in areas where other free places to park are not available. However, this does not mean you can pick just any parking lot if you want to keep your night free. Be sure to choose the right type of business and double check for signs indicating any parking restrictions before you go to sleep to avoid potentially steep fines.
Walmart has been one of the best-known options for free overnight parking for decades, but it is important to be aware that this is no longer a universal policy. Instead, Walmart now leaves the decision of whether to allow overnight parking up to each individual location. Many stores continue to offer free RV parking, especially those that are open 24 hours, but double checking each location you plan to stop at is a must. Most casinos and certain other businesses also allow overnight parking, and truck stops are always an option for owners of vans, campers, and similar vehicles.
FreeRoam and other mobile apps even provide location-specific details about nearby businesses that allow overnight parking or other free options anywhere in the country, as well as other local information that is of unique interest to camper van travelers!
The restrictions of this summer and fall may have put many of your travel dreams on hold, but you don’t have to limit yourself to staying in one place. Whether you want to take a road trip for a couple of weeks or move into your RV or camper van to travel around the country for an indefinite amount of time, you still have options available for visiting new places and enjoying unique experiences this fall. When your home is also your method of transportation, you can save the money you would otherwise spend on plane tickets, hotel rooms, and other typical travel costs by taking advantage of the many resources that van life pros have gathered to share with other fans of this emerging travel niche.