As I write this, we are camping at a Walmart. We were hoping to stay at a campground today, but the nearby campgrounds were unexpectedly full, or did not allow folks under 55. Unless you plan every place you stay in advance, or completely avoid popular areas, this type of situation is bound to happen.
I do not recommend stealth camping for everyone. Like anything, it has risks. That said, we have camped at different Walmarts at least one hundred times across the United States with no incidents. The trick is to leave if you feel uncomfortable and use your common sense. For example, we have driven in and out of many Walmarts because they felt shady. It happens.
I also want to make it clear that we stay at campgrounds more often than not. When we’re working on the magazine, having hook-ups is very helpful. If quality campgrounds were always available at a reasonable price, that would be our first choice. Since quality campgrounds at a reasonable price are not always available, we keep our eye patches and tricorn hats ready.
This week’s Question of the Week was, “Have you ever parked somewhere overnight in pirate stealth mode?” Here are the responses.
“After returning from New Brunswick into Maine I was looking for a spot to sleep so I could catch the sunrise candy stripe lighthouse at Lubec (the easternmost place in the USA). There were a few promising places and I was getting a little desperate. I spotted a house under construction, with an ocean view, so I parked there. I woke up at sunrise and drove the short distance to the lighthouse and made coffee in the parking lot.” – Larry Davis, 2001 Ford, 1988 Sunline
“Hospitals are a good bet for overnight stopping. There are always people coming and going. If you are stealth nobody knows if you are spending the night or visiting someone.” – Russ Berquam, 2014 Ford F-350, 2015 Arctic Fox 1140
“I have parked in many lots and crossed my fingers. One time I got flooded out of a campground and had to stay overnight in a parking lot with three horses in a trailer in Southern Indiana. We went back to our flooded out site in the morning to a mess and stayed the rest of our vacation. The horses did well in the trailer all night and I figured I would have a good reason if anyone tried to move me along. We had to drive through three feet of water on our way out. The campground was in a valley and we were by a nice stream that became a torrent.” – Joshua Magner, 2010 Toyota Tundra, 2001 Hallmark
“Back when I had a Jayco pop-up, I could sleep on the couch in it almost anywhere. My favorite trick is in the National Parks when the campgrounds are all full, go to the hotel parking lot and stay there. Never had a problem.” – Bruce Ostermann, 2015 Dodge 5500, 2015 Eagle Cap 1165
“I camped overnight at a marina on the coast of Rhode Island. We fit right in with all the other vehicles parked there. I am sure most of them were overnighting on their boats. Marinas are usually a friendly place.” – Dave Stillman, 2005 Dodge Ram 2500, 2012 Lance 850
“This is something I do all the time when I am heading to a trail for some hiking/running. Since my camping vehicle was a minivan prior to my current Outback, I am able to slip in unnoticed a little easier then a truck. I am hoping to get a real camper at some point in the future. Hotel parking lots are my first pick for a safe spot, but I have also slept at trail heads in remote areas. The best place was behind a police station next to their impound lot. I felt very safe there. I have also have used side streets.” – Jim Harris
“Haven’t we all? But I might have more instances than most being that my camper is very stealth when not popped-up.
The beach may not count. We’ve camped overnight free in the weeds hundreds of times in stealth mode even with the top popped up. As a pirate, I may not want to give out my booty secrets, but arrrr what the heck mate.
We all know without electricity and the inability to run a generator (it gives away your camping stealth mode piracy) it sucks in the summertime without air conditioning, a television, and battery charging abilities. So what we do to keep it stealth, is marinas. You’re on the water and the sounds of the sailboat lines tinging off the masts always puts me at rest. Here you can also catch your bounty of fish for dinner, free for the taking.
Marinas all have outlets on the docks and some have outlets in the parking lots. Just be prepared with a very long heavy duty extension cord. Most marinas won’t mind if you ask, especially if you have your wife and/or kid(s) with you. Enjoy the booty my fellow stealth campers.” – Jeff Dean, 2001 Ford F150, 1999 Palomino pop-up
“I’ve camped down town at the county courthouse in Red Bay, Alabama, two doors from the police department. I pulled in about 11pm, got in back, and kept quiet. I left the next morning about 6:45. On the Gulf Shores of Alabama, I camped at an open used truck dealership, on the street out front. I pulled in about 10pm, and left by 7am.” – Bill Strickland, 1996 Ford F250, 1999 Lance 845
“I used to do this quite a bit over the years, but I don’t do it anymore. I had a van, which is far more stealthy than a truck camper. I could also just walk up front and drive away if things started to happen. I’ve seen cars broken into and had security guards where I work wake me up despite having made prior arrangements. I don’t recommend casually parking around unless you’re in safe places. I good night of sleep is worth the price of a campground. Maybe small towns, Walmarts, and national forests are okay, but I would personally avoid suburbs, or even small cities.” – Vince Kurpan, 2014 Promaster, Custom built
“No.” – Bill Gage, 2003 Dodge 2500, 2008 Northstar 650TC
“We call this urban camping and we’ve successfully done it in many places. Our epiphany came when the campground in Astoria was full. We moved the camper round to a B&B that we knew and parked there, just while we worked out what to do. We suddenly realized that if we were parked outside of an inn, the owner doesn’t know anything about who you are, and you might be visiting with a neighbor. Everyone else assumes you couldn’t make it into a campground and decided to stay at the inn. Urban/pirate camping win.” – Heidi Nicholl, 2012 Chevy 2500, 2010 Adventurer
“While on the way to Houston, I parked in a Walmart parking lot in Austin, Texas. I wasn’t sure if this lot was off-limits to overnighters, but I didn’t see any signs prohibiting parking there. The store had a 24 hour gas station so I parked in the lot next to it. My camper is a pop-up, and I chose to stay low profile and slept on the dinette bed. I got up early and headed out. When I got home I checked the internet list and found the location where I stayed at was a no overnight parking store.” – David Blake, 2012 Ram 2500, 2001 Hallmark Ute LX
“I am brand new to truck camping, so no stealth-mode camping yet, but count us among the willing. We are looking toward reading some really good ideas here.” – John Tully, 2014 Dodge, 2015 Lance 855S