Tips for Staying Overnight at a Rest Area

Kenny & Sabrina Phillips Kenny & Sabrina Phillips  |  04.30.2018

Let’s start with why you would want to sleep at a rest area when there are so many nice campgrounds out there to choose from. Sabrina and I move around a lot, we have put over 30,000 miles on our RV since last May. And when we are traveling for her work, we cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.

This means most of our days are spent in our cushy captain’s chairs rolling down the road. When it is time to stop for the day, we are usually going right to bed, waking up early the next morning and getting back on the road again. It just makes more sense for us to pull over for the night, rather than pay for a campground we will never see. The rest areas are easy for us to pull into and get back out again and most of them have clean bathrooms, as well as picnic areas where we can have dinner before turning in for the night.

How to have a more comfortable stay at a rest area:

So now that we have the why, let’s get to the how. We have stayed at many rest areas in the last 30K miles and have come up with a few helpful tips on how to make your stay as comfortable as possible.

Prep your RV

Before we even arrive at our stop for the night we always stop to fill our gas tank and make sure we have plenty of propane. Depending on the weather conditions, you may be running your generator for A/C or propane for heat. We travel in a Class A motorhome and when our fuel gauge reaches a quarter tank, it shuts down our generator to prevent us from running out of gas and being stranded. Those of you who do not have a hardwired generator, making sure it is plugged into your coach and ready to go before you arrive at the rest area can help you avoid any late-night trips outside the rig.

overnight rest stop

Arrive before dark

Once the RV is ready, we do our best to arrive at the rest area before dark. This usually gives us a better selection of spaces and ensures we will be able to find at least one spot open. There have been times when we have arrived after dark and the rest areas are usually filled up and we have had to keep driving down the road until we found one with open spaces.

Park strategically

Picking the right location at the rest stop can really make a difference. If traveling with a dog, we recommend choosing a spot near the grass, so you have easy access for potty breaks. And when you pull into the space, stay as far back in the lane as possible without sticking out. This will keep your RV as far away as possible from the noise of the diesel trucks starting up and shutting down when they park next to you. This also helps other RVers easily see that the lane is already taken while they are searching for their space.

overnight rest stop

Setup for the night

With a spot chosen, it is time to setup for the night. We personally do not put our jacks down. We do not want to give the appearance that we are camping at the rest area and also our jacks can damage the tarmac by leaving imprints or even possibly cracking it.

One of the things we do inside the RV to block noise from trucks and other RVs is turn on a white noise app on our phone. The app we use is called Relaxio, and if we place our phones on airplane mode it does not use any data. Running your phone all night will drain the battery though, so we also use a portable charger called an Anker. This allows us to run the app all night and still wake up in the morning with a full charge on our phones. The Anker is capable of charging both of our phones at the same time.

overnight rest stop

One other thing we did shortly after we bought our RV was spray paint the vent cover in our bedroom black to help make our bedroom darker. This helps block the parking lot lights from bothering us and has helped Sabrina sleep during the day while working night shifts.

Our last tip is a bit controversial and will not be for everyone. Sabrina likes to sleep with earplugs. I do not care for them, but then again, I am a much heavier sleeper and almost nothing wakes me up. The controversy with earplugs is the fact that some people say they block out too much noise and you will not hear an intruder or smoke alarm going off. I know for a fact that Sabrina still hears everything with them in and it just tones things down for her. We also travel with our dog Belle who will not even let anyone walk around the outside of our RV without letting us know, let alone have someone trying to enter it. We have heard from many other RVers that they will not travel without their earplugs. But, this is a personal decision.

The most important tip

Our final tip is to trust your instincts. Sabrina and I have a rule that if either of us has a bad feeling about a place we will leave and look for another spot. This rule has not failed us yet.

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  1. Vickie Posted on 06.15.2019

    We have been traveling for 2 years in our RV, but it’s big as we also tow a trailer. Often campgrounds cannot accommodate our size. We love Rest stops and have a rest stop app to find the bigger places. We know to arrive around 5 or 6 so we can get a good spot to slide out our bedroom slide. It can be noisy, but we feel safer getting sleep and rest when needed on long hauls. Casinos are great places too. If you look up rest stop rules it will give you all info for each state. Frankly we have been KOA members and stay at them often with little issues and earn points too for free nights. Some BLM lands are free but we found those to be more deserted and felt more unsafe. Stay safe out there and enjoy this amazing RV life!

  2. Robert Benito Posted on 04.22.2019

    Another tip.. Most of us tow a toad or if in a trailer or 5th wheel have a vehicle that has an alarm system FOB. Keep it at the bedside and use it if in danger. If the alarm goes off without you triggering it, don’t shut the alarm off immediately if you suspect anything. Use your backup camera to investigate before leaving the rig and allow the alarm to continue while you investigate. Yes, it is irritating to hear false alarms but most people might get irritated but still look to see what is going on and that may be all you need to remain safe.

  3. pamela Posted on 03.16.2019

    We traveled PA to Yellowstone and back in 2017 …. We found very limited legal boondocking options at rest areas or Wal-Marts. After reading articles like this we thought there would be no issue. Majority of Wal-Mart’s were in shopping plazas marked no overnight parking ditto with rest areas (or the rest areas didn’t feel safe or were full). Cabelas are few and far between. Our stops were midnight stops to start again first thing in morning. If we had been stopping during daylight hours I would definitely be looking for campgrounds or state parks.

  4. Barbara Ely Posted on 01.02.2019

    Well I don’t necessarily agree or disagree HOWEVER living in Omaha, NE where I-80 is all around us … the over the road truckers ask campers to please NOT USE REST STOPS for overnight stays. The reason is that the federal government mandates how many hours truckers can drive and then they MUST pull over for mandatory “rest” . We ALL depend on those truckers … they cannot go to campsites … WE CAN. So please keep this in mind.

  5. maria llamas Posted on 12.18.2018

    Just love it

  6. Jenny Posted on 12.17.2018

    I’ve believe to be safe you need to leave your keys in the ignition and no slides out and no jacks down. You need to be ready to pull out at a moments notice. If any thing begins to go wrong or if you’re approached by intruders you can simply start your rig and pull out. Don’t turn any lights on until you’re ready to turn your headlights on and leave. That’s one reason I would not want to be behind anyone else. If I need to leave I want a clear path in front of me. No confrontations necessary.

  7. Richard Koch Posted on 12.15.2018

    Try to stay mid-way in the lane. It gives trucks more room to swing in and out when they leave. Might save the front or rear of your RV. PLUS the truckers will really appreciate it. Their lives are tough enough already ;)

  8. Doris jolicoeur Posted on 12.10.2018

    We have never had a “restful” night in a rest area, generally because of the noise of rigs coming and going and motor from trucker’s van.
    I prefer to find a boondocking spot. If there is none….I will spend money for a camping/RV park.

  9. Gary Posted on 12.01.2018

    Good tips, but I would disagree with the one about lane placement. Parking at the rear of the lane, while keeping you away from the noise of trucks’ engines, also blocks the entire lane for other travelers. If you pull to the front, others (like yourselves) have a chance to pull in behind you and also get some rest/sleep. Taking up the entire lane seems a bit rude, especially if it’s a crowded /busy rest area. Just a thought.

  10. Larry Hueni Posted on 11.07.2018

    Several other things to consider when parking in Rest Areas are as follows:
    Pre-plan stops by reviewing size and layout of the rest area on goggle maps if area is small you may want to look for a larger one that will be less crowded.
    Always park as far away from the restroom as possible, as to get away from in and out traffic.
    Park under a light as Truckers are looking for dark place to sleep.
    If possible try and park next to a parking island or outside edge so you can open a side on one side also gives more space between you and your neighbor.
    If Rest Area has RV parking always use it, this can be determined in your Google Search.
    Try and not take the last parking spot even if means driving another hour or so, as Truckers may not have an option to drive longer due to DOT laws. That’s why always look for Rest Areas that historically have empty space, again looking at google maps look for the dirty greasy spots and the non greasy parking spots of course the higher number of non greasy spots indicates non use.
    Look for Rest Areas with security many states provide (Florida for one).

  11. Jo Posted on 11.03.2018

    Six of the rest areas on the Ohio turnpike have a RV parking area. They charge$20 and have electric at each site, and stations for potable water and waste dump. They’re on the opposite side of the rest area from the truckers. Not as loud as the truck zone, but there’s still some noise.

  12. Ray & Cheryl Posted on 10.20.2018

    We understand the reasoning behind not wanting to pull into a campground for those quick overnight stays. But as in the other remarks. We do not feel comfortable staying overnight at most rest areas.
    Other great options are Crackers Barrels , Cabelas and such. Quiet and most times has security. We always have either dinner or breakfast and ask the manager if ok. Just park in the RV spaces or off in a corner away from car parking.

  13. Linda Posted on 10.20.2018

    We use Casinos for quick overnight stops. They are well lit and have security. We will usually grab breakfast or dinner there

  14. Stephen Matweyou Posted on 10.20.2018

    Good article. Trust you gut is best advice.

  15. Andre Belloise Posted on 10.20.2018

    I use custom ears plugs by Alien Ears …they are custom made for your ears.

    You can still hear a smoke alarm going off, the sound pressure alone would wake you up!

  16. Mary Posted on 10.15.2018

    I’m a party pooper, with the new regulations they have put on truck drivers for our available driving hours, it is even harder for us to find parking especially with the influx of foreign and rookie drivers that don’t always know how to park. Also not all rest areas are safe. 9/10 my husband has to walk me to the bathroom and we travel the main 48 states all year round. Just all be mindful in how you park in spaces, smaller RVs should park toward the middle of the space if you have no other options. Parking under the parking lights is a wonderful idea so you can be seen. Or at the very least, leave your running lights on so trucks can tell you are there. It’s hard late at night to go to set up for a parking space just to see that a small RV or other vehicle is there. Best recommendation: if you can get away with it, park on the car parking side. Less noise, less angry truck drivers.

  17. Dan & Linda Posted on 10.14.2018

    We agree with Jim (5-15-18) if you are pulling in before dark your not going to sleep right away. we call these 1-nite stands or in transit stops, and prefer to have not only the quiet of a campground but the security of it. There are many out there within a few miles of highways that honor PA, Good Sam’s, AARP, AAA, Military and other discount and would possibly let you stay in their overflow area for even less if your inclined to boon dock. We do stop and fill the tank and clean windows before stopping for the night, that way we can leave early in AM with little getting ready preps.

  18. Eric Welch Posted on 09.30.2018

    Good info.

  19. Bea Stone Posted on 09.04.2018

    We traveled from our home in Florida to Yuma, San Diego, up north to Portland and Seattle. As some destinations were over a day’s drive, we parked at rest areas a lot. Other places that you can park overnight are Cabelas, Cracker Barrell, and Walmart/Sam’s. FYI, in several western states, we found dump facilities in rest areas.

  20. Laura Benjamin Posted on 08.23.2018

    Lock everything as much as possible and leave nothing in sight if you are going to sleep in such a public spot. I tried to nap in a rest area once and some guy tried to break into my car with me in it.

  21. Stephanie Posted on 08.23.2018

    We used a website called while on our honeymoon. For 2 weeks we only spent 2 nights in a campground… and saw so many amazing places!!! Just a thought for you!! Colorado had a bunch!

  22. marc Posted on 05.19.2018

    Some good ideas here and I will for sure try my ear plugs. Our Boxer can wake a dead battery, so no intrusion worries!

  23. Jim Posted on 05.15.2018

    We have never had a “restful” night in a rest area, generally because of the noise of rigs coming and going. We prefer to be in a campground/RV park, even for an on-the-move overnight. Since you are saying to pull in before dark, odds are pretty good that you aren’t going right to bed. I’d rather be where I can put the jacks down and the slides out, plug in, and enjoy a restful sleep. We’ve been RVing for over 30 years now – have tried all the “parking” situations. I’ll take a plug in and a quiet park.

  24. Mike Posted on 05.07.2018

    Can you share some favorite rest areas in Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and Alabama? We travel in these states annually. Thanks, Mike..

  25. Lou @RVHabit Posted on 05.02.2018

    Very good information. The best part is trusting your gut. If it doesn’t feel right move on. Your instincts are usually right.

  26. Kenny Phillips Posted on 05.02.2018

    @Chris HI Chris, There are some states that do not allow overnight parking and then there are some rest areas that do not allow it even in states that do. Rest areas that do not allow you to stay overnight will have plenty of signs to let you know, normally the signs will read 2HR. Parking only. We use a free app called RV Parky on our phone, it has user reviews about the rest areas, campgrounds, walmarts etc and will let you know in advance which ones let you stay overnight and which do not. Hope the info helps, take care and safe travels!

  27. Chris Posted on 05.01.2018

    I’d heard that some states do not allow for overnight stays in rest areas. What has been your experience? Thanks!