Sometimes on a long car ride, you need to get some well-earned rest. In this article, I will be outlining 10 of the best places to sleep in your car on a road trip. Ideally, you want to stop somewhere that is safe, quiet, and free of charge. It’s also important to have access to facilities such as using the bathroom or taking a shower in the morning.
I will be discussing how to find overnight parking nearby for you to stop and spend the night. There will be options that involve sleeping in your vehicle and others that involve pitching a tent or taking advantage of cheap accommodation. There are often many easy places you can park overnight and have at least a few hours’ sleep before continuing your journey.
All of the locations discussed below are places where you can sleep in your car legally, so read on for full information on each one. You should always check the law in the state you are in before following the advice in this article. I will also be discussingsleeping at rest stops, Walmart, and other safe spots.
Rest Stops & Truck Stops
Rest Stops are probably the first thing that comes to mind when people consider where to pull over for the night on a long road trip. Easy to find, usually well lit, access to facilities and food, and a great place to top up on gas, these are the natural place to stop…and rest!
It is one of the first choices people think of when they are looking for safe places to sleep in a car while traveling. If you are considering doing this, make sure you assess the environment carefully and look for any risks or safety concerns before choosing to do so.
It can be loud and busy at a rest stop with lots of other visitors filtering in and out, or it can be desolate to the point of slightly unnerving. Don’t wait until you’re too tired to drive to pull over; you want to be able to check out the rest stop and make sure it has the right balance of security and privacy for you before making a commitment.
Legal: This can vary from state to state in the USA, Dubslabs has a great article that lists each state and its laws around sleeping in your car or camping at rest stops.
Secure: Varies from stop to stop, choose one with good lighting and park near other cars if possible.
Access to Facilities: Yes! Most rest stops will have 24/hr access to toilet facilities and should have someplace where food and drink can be purchased.
Convenience: It’s a great idea to check on your route and note where the best/biggest rest stops are. Rest stops are easy to come by, but if you’ve just passed one there may not be another for quite a few miles. Know your limits and your route and stop when you need to.
Free/Fee: Most rest stops are completely free!
Traffic Frequency: Vehicle and foot traffic can be tricky at a rest stop. You want to park in a safe/populated space, but give yourself enough room from the big rigs and the main entrance of any convenience store or gas facilities to help minimize the noise outside the car.
How to find: A quick google of your route before you head off is going to show all of the major rest stops on your drive. Rest stops are usually well posted on the route itself as well, so you should have plenty of billboards alerting you to upcoming stops.
You’ve heard the rumors, and we can confirm, it is absolutely, 100% legal to sleep in your car overnight in the Walmart parking lot! With 24/hr access to facilities, food, and let’s face it, entertainment, Walmart can be a great place to rest for the night or stay for a day or two if it’s located in one of your road trip destinations.
Remember to be a courteous guest, parking in a safe space but not a space that’s too close to the main entrance as these are really reserved for the shoppers. Walmart parking lots are one of the most easy-to-find legal places to sleep in your car.
Legal: Yes, it is legal to spend the night, or even several nights, sleeping in your car in the Walmart parking lot. However, be safe! Minimize the number of times you come in and out of your vehicle and try not to park in predictable patterns.
Secure: With its own lighting and security personnel, Walmart is a pretty safe place with other humans around to ask for help if the situation arises.
Access to Facilities: Yes, during opening hours.
Convenience: Good for cities.
Free/Fee: Definitely free, but it wouldn’t hurt to buy a few snacks and essentials as you’re stopping in to use the facilities.
Traffic Frequency: Bright lights and 24/hr shopping means there can be traffic around at any time of the night. It’s also possible to get rowdy teenagers or employees coming off their shift talking and hanging around, so make sure you’ve got some earplugs and an eye mask to get you through.
How to Find: A quick google will turn up all of the Walmarts in your area.
The prospect of spending so much time in your car can be daunting, so make sure you have the right vehicle for the job. We’ve made this list of Best Cars to Sleep In to help you out.
Casino Parking Lots
This is one of those you might not have thought of but have some definite benefits. Casinos are open 24/hr and have regular patrons coming in and out at all hours, which means you’ll have access to bathroom facilities no matter the time of night, and food is usually pretty cheap. It’s a great spot to consider if you’re passing through Las Vegas.
While they have great security, they may or may not look kindly upon non-patrons sleeping in their parking lot. The key here is to be considerate and inconspicuous, try not to come in and out of your car too much, park well back from the main entrance, and you probably shouldn’t do any cooking outside the car. Casino’s are used to guests coming and staying long hours in the night, or overnight, but you don’t want to call unwanted attention to yourself.
The fact that casinos have good security can be a help or a hindrance. You may be more likely to be disturbed, but also have a set of eyes watching over the area. This adds weight to the argument that it’s an example of a safe parking lot to sleep in, but you should always make choices like this at your own risk. The safest option is to book a room for the night at a hotel.
Legal: While this isn’t expressly illegal, the Casino will have the right to ask you to leave if you make a nuisance of yourself; so remember, considerate and inconspicuous is the key!
Secure: Very secure, Casinos are known for their abundance of lights and security.
Access to Facilities: Casinos are open 24/7, which means you always have access to toilets and food.
Convenience: Not very convenient, gambling is illegal in the vast majority of the USA so it’s unlikely you’ll come across one unless you are going through Las Vegas or a Native American Reservation.
Free/Fee: Free to park, but again be considerate to where you are.
Traffic Frequency: Casinos have visitors at all hours of the night and in all stages of sobriety, so be prepared for some interesting stories to come out of a stay here.
How to Find: Map out your route and check if there are any casinos along the way that could help you out in a pinch. If you’re the gambling kind, you may even enjoy making a Casino part of your trip.
Information centers are good examples of free places to sleep in your car. They usually offer free overnight parking, but always review the website and any signage before making a decision.
When you’re crossing state lines or entering national parks, there is almost always a Welcome/Information Center. These are a great spot to get some information and advice, stop for a rest, and use the toilets. Spending a night here is an option, as they tend to be safe and well lit, but the centers usually operate under limited hours so all it has to offer won’t always be available to you (something to consider for those middle of the night restroom runs).
Legal: Another grey area. It doesn’t hurt to pop in the center and ask, they may know of a better place to park for the night nearby or have no problem with you staying there.
Secure: Usually in a well-lit and maintained area. They don’t always have security so it may be a little daunting to stay there overnight after they have closed and you’re alone in the parking lot.
Access to Facilities: Limited, while there is access to toilets and refreshments (as well as maps and information) this will only be available during its hours of operation.
Convenience: As they are only at borders, they aren’t particularly convenient but they can be planned into your trip if you look ahead of time.
Free/Fee: Usually free to park.
Traffic Frequency: Usually quieter as they normally have set hours of operation.
How to Find: Google, of course, can tell you where along your journey has welcome/information centers but you should also keep your eyes out for signs when coming through a border.
Religious buildings are another example of a place where you can sleep in your car.
Traditionally, religious buildings were seen as a place of refugee, a place you could come in and seek some assistance. Religious communities, of any faith, are often happy to help out someone in need so it’s worth opening the big doors and looking for someone to ask if it’s alright to use the parking lot. If it’s not their day of worship (many religions hold services between Friday and Sunday), they may be happy to oblige!
A fairly safe option, with pretty good lighting, depending on the location, but there probably won’t be any facilities to use. Most religious buildings will be closed during the week except for a small staff of personnel that are only operating under limited hours.
Legal: Another grey area, religious buildings may be on private or public land so it’s a good idea to ask permission where possible. They are also regularly empty outside of services so if you keep yourself to yourself and leave no trace, it can be permissible.
Secure: Usually well lit, but not much personnel. Larger religious meeting places will have a large, lit parking lot and a staff of security, but smaller ones can be less looked after.
Access to Facilities: It’s unlikely you’ll have access to any facilities as they are usually closed outside of service hours. Even during service hours, you might feel a bit weird strolling in your jammies with a toiletries bag tucked under your arm.
Convenience: This can be tricky, houses of worship may not always be obvious for what they are, or you may not recognize one if it is outside of any faiths you know of personally. However, you can be sure that where ever people gather, there will be religious houses.
Free/Fee: Free, religious buildings almost never charge to park at their location.
Traffic Frequency: Outside of services, religious buildings are virtually ghost towns with little to no traffic of any kind.
How to Find: This will be a more nuanced google search as a religious house can include churches, mosques, or Shinto temples.
Bureau of Land Management-BLM Land
Beautiful scenery and connecting with the simpler side of life is what a road trip is all about and staying on BLM Land can keep you in the moment instead of having to step out of the adventure atmosphere and into a Motel 6.
BLM Land is national land maintained by the national government for the preservation of nature and the enjoyment of people. While they do have maintained campsites and facilities, you are also free to rough it on your own, but this does mean no access to furbished facilities. It can also be a little daunting, especially if you are road tripping on your own, to be so isolated.
Have you got an idea of your own? Feel free to reccomend additional locations you think are the best places to sleep in your car while traveling.
Legal: Legal as long as you stay away from designated campsites and major trailheads. Signage will usually indicate where you shouldn’t park. It’s also important to be mindful of protected areas/nature reserves on the land, but these should also be signposted.
Secure: Being close to nature is a beautiful way to spend the night, with nothing but the night sky and nature to keep you company. This also means that there is nothing but the night sky and nature to keep you company, there will be no lighting or other people around in case of emergency.
Access to Facilities: The great outdoors is open to you 24/7, make sure you bring your own environmentally-friendly toiletries and clean up after yourself.
Convenience: If you aren’t road tripping on the western united states, then you can pretty much forget about it.
Free/Fee: Free, but there is also the option to snag a spot in their developed campsites for more security and comfort for a small fee.
Traffic Frequency: Very quiet with little foot or vehicle traffic. Nature can get pretty crazy and you want to make sure you scout out some level/solid ground to avoid getting a flat tire or a stuck car.
How to Find: If you want to find out more about visiting or camping on BLM Land, then check out their website at theBureau of Land Management.
Know a friend of a friend? Second cousin twice removed? That one guy you met well road tripping through somewhere else who said “hey, if you’re ever in my neck of the woods…” then you could have a spot on their street (if not their couch)!
Residential neighborhoods can be very safe (depending on the area), with little traffic or late-night noise. Find a place that feels safe, but remember you are a guest near other people’s homes, you want them to feel safe too. So if you don’t know anyone in the area, find a safe spot and settle in for the night, keeping in mind once you’re in your car, you’re probably stuck there for the night.
Legal: It is legal to park on the street, just check for any signs indicating restricted parking or parking permits required.
Secure: Make sure you check the crime stats for the local area and use your best judgment if the area feels secure to you. A clean, well-lit neighborhood is usually a sign that people look after the area and expect you to do the same.
Access to Facilities: Unfortunately, unless you are parked out front of a friend’s house, there will be no facilities so you’ll have to find another place to get bed ready before you park up, and have a plan of action for your morning routine.
Convenience: People live everywhere, there is always a neighborhood to wander into, but safety, safety, safety!
Traffic Frequency: Suburban neighborhoods tend to be quieter, with fewer road/pedestrian noises during the night. City neighborhoods can be full of life and action at all hours, so consider your location wisely.
How to Find: Neighborhoods are tricky because you want to feel safe, and you want the people who live there to feel safe too. Take the time to scout out several different locations so you have options, be respectful, and try not to draw attention to yourself, you don’t want any of the local residents suspecting you of nefarious motives.
Street Parking In The City
Sleeping in your car on the city streets is one of the more adventurous options available to you, you are right there in the middle of all the action. If you’re the kind that likes a little less ambiance, select your location wisely. Bonus points if you can find a stretch of parking along an empty lot or a blank concrete wall as you’re less likely to attract the attention of passerby.
This is one of our least favorite places to sleep in your car.
While it can be safe, it is important to use common sense and trust your intuition, if an area doesn’t feel right, scout out another option or spend the extra cash to have a safe night’s sleep. You are worth it.
Legal: While not illegal, you can easily be moved on by police or security in public streets. Limit the number of times you come in and out of the car, keep the windows covered, and (everyone now!) be courteous and conscientious! Definitely not the place to be cooking outside your car.
Secure: Lots of lighting and plenty of people around can be very secure, but be mindful of the city you are in and the street you are on. A quick google search can give you crime stats and information on the city you are in. It’s worth taking the time to scout out several locations and note how safe they appear, especially at night, before committing to a spot. Being inconspicuous around your car isn’t just about flying below the radar, but personal safety as well.
Access to Facilities: There will be no immediate access to facilities so you’ll have to have a plan for the midnight pee. Usually, cities have some 24/hr businesses that will have toilets you can use, but you’ll probably need to buy something and you want to be very careful about how many times you enter and exit your car.
Convenience: You can always find a place to park in a city, but remember, safety is the most important thing. So if it doesn’t feel right, it’s totally worth it to spend the night in a cheap motel.
Free/Fee: Late-night parking in cities is usually free, but make sure you check signage and are aware of parking restrictions and meters.
Traffic Frequency: Busy, busy, busy. A city always has people going by, traffic, noisy pets, and any other number of things going on. It is also a possibility to be woken up by someone attempting to burgle the car, believing it to be empty.
How to Find: City care sleeping may not be the best night’s sleep you ever had, so do your research and check the cities you are passing through. Know the safer/quieter areas, practice personal safety, and always have a backup plan.
Large Shopping Centres and Parking Lots
We know our article is called “10 Places you can Legally Park Overnight” but we know these are the big locations everyone thinks of first and we have to give you the bad news, these locations are illegal and you have a high probability of not only being moved along but possibly receiving a ticket as well.
These locations tend to be secure and well lit, with access to facilities and food during business hours, but the risk of being disturbed by security or someone looking to cause a little mischief around a car they believe to be empty is pretty high. If you are in a smaller town, it can be worth popping into a local business with a large parking lot and asking permission first. You could rest easy knowing you have their permission to be there!
Legal: Definitely not legal, if you are desperate and just can’t drive another mile, remember to be discreet and safe and respond respectfully to anyone who might come to move you along. They are just doing their job.
Secure: Well-lit and generally very secure.
Access to Facilities: Access to bathrooms, food, and supplies can make these locations a great place to have a quick stop and maybe grab a short nap.
Convenience: Every city or town, no matter the size, will have some retail or grocery store parking available. They are definitely around if you are in dire straits.
Free/Fee: Technically free, but could come at the cost of a good night’s sleep or a ticket.
Traffic Frequency: As these businesses are usually closed overnight, it should be fairly quiet. Though a quiet parking lot is a magnet for teenagers looking to participate in some low-level anarchy, so beware.
How to Find: Trusty Google will let you know which stores are in your area.
Traditional Campgrounds/ AirBNB
When all else fails, remember, we live in the golden age of Airbnb. If you are tired of being in your car, you don’t feel safe, or just have a little extra cash to throw around, booking into a campsite, AirBNB, or Motel gives you the opportunity to have a genuine rest with glorious facilities that you don’t have to feel slightly awkward about using.
Campgrounds are one of the safest places to sleep in your car. Even if you pay a small fee to stay there, you have the peace of mind that you are staying in a campground instead of a parking lot.
Legal: Definitely legal!
Secure: Arguably the most secure option, staying in a maintained campsite means there are plenty of other people around. Airbnb and Motels are incredibly safe as you have your own, lockable space.
Access to Facilities: All these places come with access to 24/7 facilities so you can shower, use the restroom, and cook with ease and comfort.
Convenience: Campsites can be out of the way, and sometimes book on a first come first serve basis, so do your research and pre-book where possible (especially in busy seasons). Airbnbs also require some pre-planning, but when all else fails, there is always room at the Motel!
Free/Fee: The drawback to all these facilities and security? The fee. Price ranges from roughing-it-with-the-bare-essentials to staying in an actual hotel. Know your budget and come prepared! When you haven’t booked ahead, or done your research, you are at the mercy of the first place you find.
Traffic Frequency: In the case of a campsite, most other campers, like you, will be looking for some peace and quiet…but you can never be sure. Motels & AirBnb’s obviously give you significantly more control over your environment
How to Find:Airbnb‘s website lets you specify your location, price range, and needed amenities. Google can help you sort through motels along your route. The Dyrt Pro is a free app that helps you locate campsites near you. If you are a regular road tripper, you may want to invest in their pro subscription and get access to all their road trip and camping tools.
Are you ready to get to your next adventure?
With all these options, it’s impossible not to get excited about hitting the road and having nothing but you and your car to get you to the next adventure, so let us leave you with some final thoughts:
Variety! All of these options are good options, and it is a great idea to mix them up. The more places you have in your back pocket, the more flexible you are. Variety also keeps you safe, if people don’t know your pattern, they can’t catch you off guard.
COURTEOUS AND CONSCIENTIOUS! I can not stress this enough, if you want people to leave you be, be liveable! Don’t leave a mess, don’t blast the radio or whip out the old BBQ in the middle of someone’s street or place of business, and be discreet. Most people aren’t bothered by a parked car, but someone in a parked car can make some people nervous. Cover your windows and limit the times you come in and out of the car. We’ve said it before, but this doubles as safety precautions for you.