Boondocking is another word for camping overnight somewhere for free. Although you have no camping fee, you also have no amenities. No hookups, for example.
Many folks stay on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, which can be beautiful. However, today we are talking about hanging in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
Our Experience Camping in Wal-Marts
We boondock in Wally World quite often when we are trying to get somewhere quickly. It just seems silly to pay for a campground fee when you are just staying overnight. We usually get in around 4 pm and take off in the morning by 9.
We don’t have a generator, so when we boondock, it is a lot like traditional camping.
Our microwave and television don’t work and the computers last on battery only so long. We can’t charge anything up either. We do have some lights, but no electric. We cook on the stove and sometimes end up reading or playing card games in the early evening. We often go to bed early since there is not a lot to do.
On one occasion, we were traveling with another family who did have a generator and so got to see how they boondocked. The difference between their experience and ours was remarkable. They had the TV going with Dish programming and all their lights worked – pretty much business as usual. It was pretty darn nice.
7 Tips for Boondocking
No matter what type of rig you have, here are some tips to make your stay as pleasant as possible.
- Know if You Are Welcome – While many Wal-marts and Sam’s Clubs don’t mind boondockers, some do not allow it. Look for signs on the light posts in the parking lot to make sure they don’t indicate that overnight parking is not allowed. It is often recommended that you go in and ask permission from the manager. We have never done this, but if it makes you more comfortable – go for it.
- Be Aware of Your Surroundings – Be sure to evaluate the surrounding area. If you have an odd feeling, hit the road. We have only done this once in seven years, but that small voice can help keep you safe. We do keep the doors locked once the sun has set.
- Find a Level Spot – Find a quiet spot as far away from the store as you can. Be sure to check for as level a space as you can find, as parking lots can be quite sloped. Sometimes moving a bit can make for a much better experience.
- Etiquette– It is okay to put your slides out as long as you are not hanging out into the driving space. It is not okay to put out chairs and a grill. This is not a campground. Don’t abuse the privilege.
- Shop – We always try to shop at the store while we are here. We inevitably end up spending well over a hundred bucks, which we would spend anyway for groceries. We figure that if we continue to support the stores that so graciously allows RVers to stay overnight, the policy will hopefully continue.
- Warnings – BEWARE: If you don’t have a generator, try not to boondock if it is really hot because your air conditioner will not be working. We have ended up going out to eat because it was too hot to cook. This almost always costs us about 50 bucks, which is way more than a campsite would be.
Be warned that parking lots are usually quite well lit, so you will have lights shining in your windows.
In addition, it can be noisy. To be honest, I have never used earplugs, but we did have one occasion on which several large trucks came in late and parked right next to us. They had their generators and motors running most of the night. It was quite loud and really annoying. I most definitely would have used plugs then if I had a pair.
- Helpful Items – If it is a bit warm, I use this awesome battery operated fan. I got it at Amazon for about 10 bucks. If you want to spend about twice as much, you can buy one that has a plug in.
I love this fan. I don’t get it out too often, but it is a life saver when I do.
I tend to be warm and having a breeze blowing over my face when I am hot and trying to get to sleep is simply a blessing.
In addition, it folds right up and is easily stored in the drawer next to my bed.
Another item that I really like is this really cool towel from Frogg Togg. (Ha – no pun intended!)
You dampen it with water and then drape it around your neck – it gets quite cold. This thing is amazing.
It is really stiff when you pull it out of the package – like cardboard almost. Once you wet it down it softens right up and feels more like a chamois cloth.
When it dries out it starts to harden up again but I was still able to fold it up and store it back in the original container with a little bit of work.
Boondocking at Wal-Mart: A Good Experience
We have always had a very good experience boondocking at Wal-Mart stores. We feel safe and have met quite a few other campers who have also pulled in for the night. It is a rare experience that we don’t have at least one or two other camping rigs settled near us.
We appreciate Wal-Mart stores for allowing us to stay in their parking lots. It saves us money (that we usually turn around and spend at their store) and helps us stay on the road.
If you follow the tips outlined here, you should also have great success at boondocking when you need to.