"Do you know about Wal-Mart camping?" We didn't know, but the old man at the campground in Florida insisted WalMart not only allowed RVs and vans to park overnight, but encouraged it. "Free camping," he told us, and we didn't wait long to take advantage of this new knowledge.
Somewhere in northern Georgia we pulled into a Wal-Mart, and sure enough, we saw some RVs off to one side of the parking lot, looking like they were there for the night. We were heading back to Michigan in our conversion van, and free camping sounded good to us. We parked, plugged in our 5-inch T.V., and settled in for the night. Nobody bothered us. In the morning we used the bathrooms inside, and bought some orange juice.
The next night we camped for free again, this time at a "Flying J" truckstop. There were RVs camping there as well. You'll find Flying J Truckstops all over, and they actively court the RV crowd, counting on gas and other sales. We filled our tank there in the morning, and bought some food as well. As long as campers stay out of the way of the truckers, free camping is likely to continue.
Other Free Camping Places
Generally, you can camp free on any BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, unless it's specifically forbidden in an area. This is also true of National Forest lands. In both cases you're limited to a stay of two weeks in one place, though this rule is not always enforced, and the next two-week place might have to be only a hundred yards away. State forest lands are usually open to free camping without permits, but policies vary by state (The two-week rule seems to be common).
We camped in our van for ten days at Williams Landing, east of Tallahassee, Florida, on Lake Talquin. It's a beautiful place, with hot showers. Our cost? Zero, and you can stay up to two weeks. There are free campgrounds scattered around the country. Ask an RVer about this, or buy a Woodall's directory from any large RV dealer.
Note: Wal-mart seems to encourage the campers, except in coastal areas where too many RVer's want to live in a parking lot. Don't roll out the carpet and put out lawn furniture like one traveler we heard about, or you may ruin it for all. Some stay for a week at a time, going out all day to see the sights (and so they don't wear out their welcome). Wal-mart gets business from the campers, but they'll only continue their policy if they don't have problems, so keep it low-key.
To find a Wal-Mart in the area you're traveling to, visit Walmart.com. Scroll down to the "store finder" link to search. Thank you for camping at Wal-Mart!
Steve Gillman hit the road at sixteen, and traveled the U.S. and Mexico alone at 17. Now 40, he travels with his wife Ana, whom he met in Ecuador. To read their stories, tips and travel information, visit: http://www.EverythingAboutTravel.com