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. 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.

  2. Eric Welch Posted on 09.30.2018

    Good info.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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..

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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!