One of the biggest issues with road trips is where to sleep for the night. Often the length of the trip is just a bit out of reach for a single days drive but with a quick midnight nap of a handful of hours the destination would be entirely doable without the hassle and time suck of sitting at a gas station hunched over your cell phone in a remote area (where data coverage is always weak) trying to use the Travelocity app to find the best hotel deal within a 50 mile radius of you. Then going into the convenient store to buy overpriced candy for a sugar rush to get you to the overpriced roach motel where you’re just going to have to unload overnight stuff from the trunk, check-in, stay for less than a dozen hours only to pack it all back up and get back on the road. In total, hours wasted and a lot of money spent to borrow a mattress you probably don’t want to be laying on. If only there was a better way.
Turn your car into your caravansary. Sleep in it.
That’s great you say. Whenever I get tired I’m already at my hotel but I need to park somewhere and what happens if the bogey man dressed as a clown comes tapping on my window in the middle of my slumber. Well, really, that could happen anywhere, in a car or not, but realistically the odds are higher in your chariot than your bedroom. So where are the safer places to get a quick nights rest without all those pesky axe murderers finding you?
These are the obvious place that comes to mind. After all they are every 40 miles or so right along the side of the interstate. The perfect place right? It could certainly do in a pinch but most rest areas are not staffed at night, if at all and they can be pretty quiet and dark places. The types of places where the axe murders like to hang out. But more than that many rest areas actually do not allow overnight parking and you may find an officer knocking on your window at 2AM asking you to move on. During the day, it’s another story and a great place to stop for a while.
This is Mercedes Magazine’s best tip. This is the place you want to stay. Walmart believe it or not is actually RV and camper friendly at over 80% of them. Really this makes good business sense for Walmart. A large majority are open 24 hours a day and business is slow overnight with a large empty parking lot. Allowing RV, campers, and yes, cars to camp out there overnight.
Crashing here is ideal for several reasons. First and foremost there’s a big store that has just about anything you need. Great time to stock up on snacks, at low prices, for the next day. Washrooms are available. There are cameras in the lot and security keeping an eye on things around the store. Often times the stores are also pretty close to the highway so getting over to one is easy.
There are some exceptions, This site has collected a list of stores that do not allow overnight parking.
This is another location that may immediately seem like the perfect place. What makes more sense? You just pulled off to fill up and why not stay there for a bit. It may be OK? If there is an attendant, check with them first. Often times they’ll turn down the request.
Think of these as the better option to gas stations. Remember, there are lots of long haul, over the road, truck drivers sleeping on the road every night, many of them with sleeping areas part of their trucks. You’ve probably seen rows of trucks at truck stops idling all night as you drive past. Those are drivers resting for the night. Ask an employee if you can park for the night before you setup camp. They’ll almost always say yes. Also ask where specifically you should park and if they don’t have a preference try to find a place where an 18 wheeler won’t hit you, good life advice in general. While the truck stops have plenty of activity you may have some strange encounters, like lot lizards (look it up) and other unique situations that are the norm in the trucking world but not as much in many of our daily lives. The other down side to truck stops can be the loud noise of many idling diesel trucks. Though if you’re a MB diesel enthusiast then the knocking of a idling oil burner may make this your favorite place to get some shut eye.
Parking Garages and Lots
All parking garages aren’t the same. Hospital parking garages are perhaps the garage du jour. There are often family members who use their cars to get a quick nap while visiting family or friends so security that patrols the garage are used to the situation. The garages are well patrolled and well lit. There is activity 24 hours a day. A good choice. Other parking garages can be good choices as well. Specifically, and this applies to the hospital lot too, find ones where it costs a few bucks to park, it limits the riff raff that otherwise might come and go from them. Parking lots are also an option here, though less ideal. Hotel lots can be good choices however some of them require overnight guests to report their license plate when checking in, you wouldn’t be a guest of the hotel and might find yourself being towed away.
For just $5 dollars or so a night camp grounds are a solid choice to stop for the night but you’ll have to plan out your stop and reserve a spot so as a last minute choice these are not ideal. On the flip side if you bring a compact tent in the truck it’s an opportunity to get out of the car, cook dinner over a camp fire and use the sleeping bag that’s been stuck in the back of the closet for too long.
Office and Industrial Parks
These places are mediocre. There generally is activity round the clock with some business operating 24/7 and cleaning or service staff working overnight but the buildings will be inaccessible to you and often the parking lots are quite dark and inactive.
Find a nice suburb and park in front of a house. It’s not a bad plan, assuming you pick the right neighborhood. The trick here is to know that you’re in a good one and not one where some guys are going to steal your wheels. At the same time you don’t want to select one too nice where a resident is going to call the police about a strange car parked out on the street.
National Forest and BML
Assuming you’re in a location that has these around they can be a decent choice. Most rangers or police won’t bother you and you will most likely even have company around you and may even make some friends. Keep in mind you are going to be more out in the wilderness than built up areas and more removed from the interstate. Being more out in nature there is the possibility of animals curious to check out your Mercedes and what’s inside. Don’t freak out when you wake to really small footsteps on the roof from an inquisitive raccoon.
In any of these places always be respectful. You are a guest and should leave the location in as good or better condition as you found it. Always keep your area clean and leave as early as you can in the morning before activity picks up. Keep your noise level to a minimum, don’t blast the stereo. If you’re camping or rummaging around your trunk make sure everything you took out goes back with you or in the trash.
Always keep safety in mind and that not all Walmarts, camp grounds, truck stops, etc. are the same. If you get a bad vibe, move on. A quick Google search of the town you’re in can let you know if it’s generally safe. Always keep your keys in hidden and within easy reach as well as a phone. A can of pepper spray or the like under can be a good defense measure…just in case. Driving while tired is extremely dangerous. If you can’t continue and the options above aren’t safely available, pay up and stay in a hotel. You’re safety is worth it.
Article: Jason Burton “JB”
Images: Copyright Daimler AG and Jason Burton