Beginner's Guide to Wallydocking

Pro tips for parking overnight at Walmart.

Katharine & Humberto Gunn Katharine & Humberto Gunn  |  06.18.2018

When we first started our journey, we thought we would be parking every night in amazingly scenic places, with our back doors open and our golden retriever frolicking through the wide-open spaces. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as much as we thought it would, and we do spend many, many nights in Walmart parking lots, especially on the East coast where free public land is almost non-existent.

Why Walmart?

Soon after we became full-time RVers we realized how much we didn’t want to spend all of our money and time at campgrounds. We bought a Class B van specifically because we had a set timeline to see the country as quickly as possible. And we wanted the freedom to dictate our own schedule. We found that being the night owls that we are, campgrounds were restrictive to us.

We rarely accomplish anything before 10 a.m., and we usually do a lot of our driving late into the night. So, having to get to a campground before closing time (often 5 p.m.) really cut into our productivity. However, if we were able to arrange a late check-in we felt that we weren’t “getting our money’s worth.” We didn’t want to pay for a campground, only to arrive so late that we couldn’t use the amenities, ie: pool, showers, laundry, WiFi, etc. We would just be throwing money away to park for the night and leave the next morning.

Also, many campgrounds are often secluded from downtown areas and we wanted an option to be close to the action without having to spend an arm and a leg on urban campgrounds. So, after just three nights in paid campgrounds, we decided to try our hand at ‘Wallydocking’ – boondocking or dry camping (staying overnight in your RV) in a Walmart parking lot without hookups and without setting up camp.

wallydockingVan life isn’t all nature and wide-open spaces all the time like it was in Shiprock, NM.

Step One: Locate the right Walmart

Our first step was to see which Walmarts were acceptable to stay at. We downloaded the Allstays Camp & RV App to our phones, which pays for itself from the money you will save not staying in campgrounds. The app shows all of the acceptable Walmarts to stay at with a yellow “W”, and the non-acceptable ones with a red “W.” Just make sure to read the reviews for the ones that you are contemplating staying at, since not all Wallydocking-acceptable-Walmarts are created equal.

Some are still marked as “acceptable” but have bad reviews regarding noise, crime, size of the lot, etc. If there is an option for a Walmart that has decent reviews vs. one that has no reviews or questionable reviews but is closer, we’ll usually go out of our way for the sure thing.

We always want to minimize the chance of getting the 2 a.m. knock on our door, which we have gotten a total of once at an All-stays-approved Walmart, even after almost 100 Wallydocking experiences. Even getting kicked out that one time wasn’t so bad, so try not to live in constant fear of it.

wallydockingLeft: Lots of Wallydocking options in Maine; Middle: No Wallydocking options in Saint Petersburg, FL; Right: One lowly Wallydocking option in Fort Stockton, TX.

Finding the best parking spot

Before you arrive at your Wallydocking-Walmart-of-Choice, make sure to check out the satellite view of the parking lot, just so you’re not circling the parking lot aimlessly trying to gauge which is the best spot.

We always park the farthest away from the store while still staying on Walmart property, and we try to park so that our sliding door opens up to a curb facing away from the main entrance of the store. It’s an added bonus if we’re near grass or a mulched area, so it’s easy to take our dog out.

Also make sure to look at the Allstays reviews for any directions about parking. Some Walmarts want you to park in a specific area, like “at the perimeter” or “by the garden center.” It is also best practice to ask a manager or security before you stay, so this is a good time to confirm which area is best.

The reviews on Allstays are all posted by other travelers trying to find good Wallydocking spots, so if you experience anything that might help another RVer out, be sure to share the wealth, especially if you get kicked out.

wallydockingA visual representation of our personal Wallydocking parking strategy.

Other helpful tips

We always make sure that we are courteous, clean, quiet, and out-of the way, so there isn’t a reason to want to kick us out. This means we are not extending our awning and setting up camp outside our van. (Although our dog once pressed the button to fully extend the awning in the middle of the night. We awoke in a panic thinking we were being towed!)

While Wallydocking, we also don’t use our generator; although in very RV-friendly Walmarts (Fort Stockton, TX and Cortez, CO) we have seen over 20 RVs parked for the night, some with their generators on. In Page, AZ some rigs were fully popped out and camp chairs and grills set up in the parking lot. This is usually not the norm, and is not considered best practice. But seeing other RVs in the parking lot when you arrive, is always reassuring. There’s always a little bit of fear when we roll into a Walmart with no reviews and no other RVs are there.

It’s also a common courtesy to shop at the Walmart you are staying at. We don’t do this every time and no one is policing this, but we often spend more than we would to stay at a campground just filling up on RV essentials, and sometimes unnecessary road trip candy and Redbox DVDs. Whoops!

wallydockingAn ideal Wallydocking spot: opening up to a curb and near a patch of grass for Lucy to roll in.

Our takeaways

Wallydocking has been one of our favorite unexpected experiences that we have accomplished during our journey to become Van life pros. Some people hate it, but we love it. It has enabled us to dictate our own schedule, knowing that we can roll in and out whenever we want.

While driving, we know we can always push a little farther on the map if there’s a safe yellow-marked Walmart waiting for us. Most are open 24 hours, well-lit, and have security, so it’s a place of safety for us when we’re in a new place that we’re unsure of as well.

We are grateful for the money and time that we have saved by Wallydocking, as we were able to use that on experiences and/or food instead. We know that no matter where we go we will always have a spot at Chateau Walmart.


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10 Comments

  1. MARK DUERR Posted on 11.17.2018

    John Nguyen: it it’s going to go down to maybe 75 degrees by 10pm, we’ll stay at the Walmart but start by parking not by all the other RVs, run our generator and AC to get the unit down to maybe 65 degrees, then go and park for the night near the other RVs, running fans. If you don’t have a FanTastic brand roof fan (like a whole-house fan for your rig), get one installed, they are essential!
    I would note that on the West Coast, I’d estimate 50% or more Wally’s have signs posted saying no overnight stays. It is relate do the homeless problem noted by Dennis G.

  2. Cynthia Posted on 07.04.2018

    We are very thankful that most Walmarts allow campers to park. We always shop at Walmart while parked there. I know in many places in British Columbia’ s lower mainland it is not allowed which is sad. I think that is just the protectionism of the RV / campground associations. Sometimes there are not enough camp spots in rv parks and the only place to stay is a Walmart.

  3. Katharine Gunn Posted on 07.03.2018

    @John Nguyen
    We actually don’t come across this situation too often. If we see that the weather will be extremely hot or cold we will book a campsite so we can run our AC/Heater off shore power. If the temperature is consistently to one extreme we tend not to stay too long in that place and either head for water or head for mountains. As a last resort we will open all of our windows (we have screens) and turn on all fans to try and get good cross ventilation. We have a tiny fan that runs off USB power that we attach over our bed too.

  4. Tony King Posted on 07.02.2018

    We’ve stayed in countless Walmart’s while criss-crossing the USA. We never stay at one if it’s hot, that’s the time to spend the money. We have our own way of using Walmart’s as everyone works out what works for them. We definitely don’t stay exclusively at Walmart’s as there are lots of choices without using private RV parks.

  5. David Posted on 06.30.2018

    Parking my RV in a Walmart lot has never occurred to me. I enjoy parks and nicer RV places like KOA. Parking in a parking lot would take a lot of enjoyment out of the whole experience. Parking in some one’s driveway is another matter entirely. And driving at night doesn’t sound all that enjoyable either.

  6. Jim Bedford Posted on 06.30.2018

    With few exceptions, we simply don’t use Walmarts in hot weather unless we expect it to cool down at night. We do have to run the generator a couple of hours in the morning to make coffee and because we have a residential refrigerator. The new RV generators are fairly quiet with much less noise than the big trucks idling all night.

  7. Chuck Borcher Posted on 06.30.2018

    I always ask when we arrive at a Walmart, unless there are several RVs in an area, if we can spend the night. I prefer ones that are open all night; I feel security is better. Down side is if you pick the night when they are cleaning (vacuuming) the lot; they start early.

  8. jim Theda Posted on 06.30.2018

    Seems to me if you want to run your air conditioner near people you need to buy one of the new coaches with enough lithium battery power to silently run the air conditioner…….

  9. Dennis Gregory Posted on 06.30.2018

    It is common courtesy to always ask the manager if you can park, maybe while you shop in the store? A van-RV is less conspicuous, but a class A, B, or C is pretty obvious. If there are truckers present, I’m always comfortable parking overnight. Also, I’ve hear of one instance (a good friend of mine) who had their RV towed while on a day excursion in their tug … $600 to get it out of impound. Seems a county ordinance prohibited overnight parking even on private property (outside an RV park), due to homeless buying RV’s and doing just that.

  10. John Nguyen Posted on 06.18.2018

    If one is Wallydocking in Texas/Arizona/NM/etc and it is 98 degrees outside and you can’t run the AC, how does one cope with the heat inside the RV? Any strategies to cope with the summer heat while Wallydocking?