Where do you park your bus on your travels? How much does it cost?
Aside from the cost of our conversion where we park our bus is one of the most popular questions we receive.
After 12 loud hours of bumpy bus driving all we want is to find a convenient place to park that’s safe and quiet. Those with smaller vehicles, vans might be able to get away with pulling over almost anywhere without anyone noticing. Ahh, that would be kind of nice. 🙂
For our 31 ft. happy teal home on wheels, inconspicuous is pretty much out of the question.
Where do WE like to stay?
The answer is, well, it depends. It depends what part of the country we’re in, how long we’ve been driving, how much food and water we have stocked and what our plans are (if we have plans...). But one thing remains, no matter where you are there is always a place to stay.
We prefer free or low cost options for parking our bus because active travel in a large vehicle like our bus isn't cheap, well, I should say diesel isn't cheap. Saving money on accommodations is a big help to keep things affordable and sustainable.
We'll go over several bus parking options below along with our experience with and evaluation of each.
Wal-Mart Parking Lots
I can’t tell you how many times a curious bystander has come up to us and said, “Cool bus. Whaddya guys stay in Walmarts and stuff?” To be honest, it’s more of the “…and stuff” than anything else for us but it’s a great option on travel days.
While we have stayed at a few Walmart parking lots, it’s not at the top of our list for a peaceful night’s sleep. Stadium-style floodlights and noisy traffic can make it a challenge to count sheep.
Sometimes you just can’t drive another 30 miles so Walmart it is. Plus, it’s very convenient to resupply when you get there AND you can go back in when you wake up in the morning and shout, “Shoot, we forgot bread!”.
COST: Free -- check with one of the apps we suggest below or just walk in and ask customer service to make sure RV parking is allowed at that particular location. We found southern California to be the least accommodating in this regard. Just a heads up!
Let's talk about rest areas & rest stops. When we have a destination in mind it’s all about putting in as many miles as we can stand and finding the most efficient place to rest.
Especially true to the Northeast, some states have quite the urban sprawl and places to camp for free are few and far between. It’s in these instances where the good ol’ fashion rest stop shines.
There is something sweet about pulling off the highway and within 30 seconds your engine is off and you can zonk right out.
Now, not all rest stops allow overnight parking, but most do. I mean, that’s what they’re there for, to rest! If you’re parking at night and out early in the morning there shouldn’t be a problem.
Pay attention to signs, though, there’s nothing more annoying than having a cop knock on your window at 3 am telling you to move; so much for rest!
The other viable option is a truck stop.
Wait, truck stop, rest stop? Aren’t they the same thing?
Well, not really. While many rest stops do offer trucker parking they are typically run by the state. Most truck stops are privately owned, like a big gas station and usually offer fuel and convenience store products. Some even offer paid services like vehicle maintenance, Wi-Fi, RV water, dump, and propane stations.
Our favorites are Flying J, Love's, and Pilot. They are some of the larger chains you'll see out there and a lot of them offer RV amenities.
Some locations fill up FAST with truckers (their main purpose, duh), so just be courteous and patient if you're considering this option.
Be aware that not all truck stops are RV/bus/van friendly. Ask first.
Many of the smaller truck stops cater specifically to commercial fleets and they are not always looking to share their limited spaces. Quite frankly, I don’t blame them. You try hauling a 50’ trailer all day only to find a hippy bus taking up the last space in the lot. Don't be that guy. 🙂
The point is, truckers are working, they’re not on vacation or road tripping around the country. Most are on the road for days before they see a regular bed, you don’t really want to get in their way.
Cost: Free to minimal. Varies on location. Check with the customer service rep. or one of the apps. we suggest below.
Private campgrounds provide a broad spectrum of amenities and options across the country. Some are super rustic and affordable, others have all the bells and whistles and the price tag to match.
I know what you might be picturing -- hordes of vacationers packed like sardines all enjoying the same fancy amenities, a pool, a hot tub, a restaurant, mini golf -- glamping. They're not ALL this way. We actually LOVE switching up our parking options every once in a while for an experience like this.
“Wait, you mean to tell me I have to PAY to stay here?!”.
I know, I know... While we love the solitude of wide open public lands (more on that below), there is absolutely nothing wrong with a little pampering once in a while.
After a week without a GOOD shower, it’s pretty freakin’ nice to have a few glorious amenities for a night. You really grow an appreciation for the simple things.
Plus, people on vacation are fun! We love meeting people out on the road. Might as well enjoy the company and join in.
Cost: Can be pricy. Varies by season, individual campground and location.
The Park Ranger
State and National parks offer the best of both worlds, nature and luxury. Well, luxury might be an overstatement, but being able to plug in, fill your water tank, dump your waste, and take a shower is luxurious enough for us.
We get asked about National Parks a lot. We stick to the periphery (national monuments, state parks, national forests) because of our dog Moose. We like hiking with him and the thought of leaving him behind is, well... sad. A lot of NP's have strict pet policies (understandably so!).
We typically stay at a state park campground for one night every week or two, depending on how we’re doing on supplies.
It allows us to regroup restock, refill, and dump. Averaging at around $8 a night 4 times a month, that’s pretty cheap when compared to a hotel.
Cost: Mid-range. Varies, National Park campgrounds fill up fast and are usually more expensive. Call ahead & verify pricing.
Staying with Friends & Family
This is one of our FAVORITE options for our mobile lifestyle. It's a win-win because you get to spend time with your friends and family and it's (usually 🙂 ) free.
We've been relatively stationary for the past few months in New Hampshire with family and just loving it. It gives us a stretch of stability to get work done and plot our our next big cross country trip this fall.
We plan to spend chunks of time with friends on our way out west. It's so special to roll up with your home on wheels & share that with your loved ones!
We also love exploring our Instagram family network too. The bus and van communities are so supportive and inviting.
Now for the creme de la creme of parking options for your bus, RV or van.
Public lands (Bureau of Land Management, BLM for short) offer stunning and vast landscapes like no other.
The western United States offers a wide range of free parking on public lands. This is our absolute all time favorite option for long term camping (14 days or less in each spot) AND DID WE MENTION IT’S FREE!
Public lands come in a few different varieties. According to the US Department of the Interior there are almost 250 million acres of public lands in the United States and they fall into 28 categories. National Forests, national monuments, national historic sites, wildernesses, national wildlife refuges, and national conservation areas are just a few.
Typically you are allowed to stay in these areas for up to 14 days and then need to move it along (relocating to another site on the same land doesn’t count). With literally millions of acres to choose from there’s always a place to relocate to.
Where do I find these places?
There are also a variety of travel apps that have been extremely helpful in locating the best places to stay. They typically show descriptions, amenities, camper reviews, and location.
Download these helpful apps:
- Campendium (free)
- iOverlander (free)
- freecampsites.net (website, not app)
- Allstays ($9.99 - worth it, IMO)
It’s not a bad idea to cross reference apps for the area you intend to stay. Some of these lands are pretty remote so find out as much information about them as possible before heading out.
A site might work for a van or tent but not a big rig. Or maybe the road getting there is narrow and treacherous. Sometimes you just have to chance it. We’ve journeyed to some spots that had little to no information and found them to be real hidden gems.
Leave no Trace
Keep in mind using these lands means adopting leave no trace practices. There are usually no hookups, dump stations, water fill, or trash cans. You carry out what you carry in.
Respect Public Lands
I think we should all experience the beauty of our public lands to fully understand the necessity for their protection & preservation. RESPECT THESE LANDS!
There are few things in this world that are this beautiful and still free, and there’s nothing worse than finding them full of waste or excess signs of use. Enjoy them, treat them with respect and they'll be here for the next generation.
So Many Options for full-time travel!
With all these resources combined you can quite literally live on the road for as long as you want or at least for as long as your wheels are turning.
We hope this helps you on your journey.
Go and explore the amazing natural and cultural diversity this country has to offer, you won’t be disappointed. Now if we could just find a way to get free diesel… 🙂