11 Tips to Find Free RV Camping Anywhere
It’s possible to travel across North America by RV and never pay for a campsite. RVers who are prepared for boondocking or dry camping (camping without hook-ups), can find a free place to park and sleep for the night almost anywhere following these eleven simple suggestions.
1. Examine the possibilities.
Whether city or rural, scout out the area for potential free camping locations that would suit you.
2. Look for and respect signage.
Avoid any area with “No Trespassing” or “No Overnight Parking” signage. Note that a sign that reads “no camping” may only be posted to ensure that tents aren’t set up but, as long as overnight parking is allowed, an RV may be okay.
3. Ask permission
Whether public property or private, ask around, (nearby neighbors, at the town hall, etc.) and find the person who can give permission. Ask for it as nicely as possible.
4. Be friendly and honest
Let people get to know you and your intentions.
Take the time to chat and let people get to know you – how and why you are traveling, and that you only need a spot to park and sleep overnight. If you call it camping, they may envision you setting up a tent, a campfire, and creating your bathroom behind a tree. Mention that you have your own toilet on board. If they’re interested, consider offering a tour of your camper. Tell them you can only travel this way if you don’t pay for camping every night. Talk about some of the other free camping situations you’ve had recently.
5. Keep your RV and yourself in good, clean, neat, presentable condition
People will judge you by your appearances. If it looks like you take good care of yourself and your RV (even an older model) it tells them you will be considerate of their property too.
6. Befriend security guards and local police
Parking lots for stores, casinos, public transit stations, etc. that are open 24 hours often have security guards. Talk to them. Let them get to know you. Tell them up front how long you plan to stay, about your plans to shop in the store, eat in the restaurant, or take the subway into town in the morning, and what you hope to see in the area. Offer them a coffee. They have boring jobs and will enjoy the interaction and may even keep an eye on your RV while you’re absent. The same holds true for policemen, especially in a small town.
7. Ask locals
Ask the person at the local visitor’s center, the clerk in the grocery store, the gas station attendant, the person at the side of the road cutting his lawn, or anyone who lives in the area if they can think of a place you might be able to spend a night or two in a free, secluded, safe area? Personnel at a store that sells outdoor gear can be a great resource. Even if you’re not a fisherman, ask where you might be able to fish (and camp) in the area for a few days. Talk to everyone you meet. We’ve even been invited to camp in people’s driveways.
8. Be inconspicuous
Don’t set up your lawn furniture, barbecue grill, etc. unless the setting is appropriate and you know it’s permitted. If the best you can find is an overnight curb-side parking spot, don’t sit there with your interior lights on and music blaring into the night. Spend your time away from the RV, perhaps in a nearby park, and come back only to quietly and immediately go to sleep. Then, get up early and move back to the park. If possible, choose a different parking spot, at least a block away, the next night.
9. Don’t push your luck or overstay your welcome
Even when you have permission to camp, keep to your promised time frame, whether that is one night or two – just enough to see the area. If the property owner thinks you’ve “moved in” for the season, or his neighbors start asking questions, you will spoil it for others who may ask for the same favor in the future and for yourself should you ever want to return.
10. Have a Plan B
Even when you think you won’t encounter a problem you may get a knock on the door after dark to ask that you move. Don’t argue and agree to move right away. Decide ahead of time where you will go if this happens – perhaps the local campground but always ask for a suggestion as well. Chances are this isn’t the first time this person has encountered this situation and may be aware of a nearby suitable place you can go. We’ve had this happen and both security guards and policemen have given us directions on where we could go to camp nearby where it was both safe and lawful.
11. Show gratitude
Make this a positive experience for everyone. If someone has helped you find a great free campsite show your appreciation. Stop in to say how good it was, say goodbye, drop off a treat, or send a post card or thank you note within a few days.