Desperate times call for desperate measures, which could mean finding unique places to park overnight. If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll try just about any open parking spot to rest or sleep for the night. Park and Ride locations are usually large parking areas that are especially common in suburbs where residents carpool into the city. So can you park overnight at a Park and Ride? Let’s find out.
What Is a Park and Ride?
You can typically find Park and Ride locations outside of larger cities for commuters to park while they hop on a bus, train, or subway. They may even carpool with other workers.
Most Park and Ride locations are free, and some offer security to keep an eye on commuter vehicles while their owners are at work. These parking locations serve as a tremendous asset to those who work in the city but live in the much calmer atmosphere of smaller towns in the suburbs.
Is It Illegal to Sleep in Your Car Overnight?
Before we address whether or not you can park overnight at a Park and Ride, let’s chat a bit about sleeping overnight in your car in general. While “car camping” is widely accepted in campgrounds, public places can be a different story.
The legalities of sleeping overnight in your car or other vehicle vary based on the location. Some areas are more accepting of the practice and offer accommodations for nomads and free spirits looking for a safe place to park for the night. However, we’ve seen more rules lately regarding this practice, as some individuals take advantage of these privileges.
If you plan to sleep in your car overnight, you’ll want to check with the local rules and regulations. You can find plenty of places on public lands, especially out West where BLM lands are plentiful or in remote areas, where you can park overnight without trouble. However, you can’t just camp in every empty parking lot you find along the way.
Pro Tip: If you’re planning on sleeping in your car, use our Essential Guide to Living in a Car to make the process easier.
Are Park and Ride Locations Safe?
In general, Park and Ride locations are safe. Many will have some security measures to monitor activities. People often come and go, especially during the morning and evening hours. However, for most of the day, not many people frequent the lots when everyone is at work. Luckily, if a Park and Ride location uses security cameras, someone is always monitoring.
Do bad things happen? Absolutely. However, these locations are typically no less safe than parking at a mall or other large parking lot. You should take reasonable security measures to secure your vehicle and avoid leaving any valuables inside.
Can You Park Overnight at a Park and Ride?
Many Park and Ride locations allow users to park overnight. Some of these locations allow people to stay for multiple days. For example, California’s Caltrans Park and Ride locations state, “24-hour parking is not recommended. Vehicles parked outside of designated spaces or left in excess of 72 hours may be ticketed and towed at the owner’s expense.”
You’ll want to verify the rules for the specific lot wherever you plan to park overnight. However, parking overnight and sleeping in the vehicle is not the same as simply parking and often has different rules.
Can You Camp Overnight at a Park and Ride?
While we mentioned that California’s Caltrans Park and Ride allow users to park overnight, it doesn’t allow camping overnight. They specifically state, “No loitering, camping, vending, or parking of vehicles 30-feet or longer is permitted at any Park and Ride lot.” They’re not alone in prohibiting this activity.
Wisconsin also clearly states on its Park and Ride page, “Wisconsin Statute 86.025 prohibits camping by any person on public highways or adjacent lands.”
Connecticut’s Park and Ride prohibits “Cooking, overnight camping or establishment of temporary or permanent residence in any designated commuter parking facility.”
You’ll likely find that most locations prohibit overnight parking for camping or sleeping. Do people get away with it from time to time? Yes. However, just because you don’t get caught, receive a citation, or get asked to leave, doesn’t mean it’s legal. Know the rules for the specific Park and Ride before getting too comfortable.
Those very same security cameras monitoring for safety in these lots may be the very same ones that will get you in trouble if you try to catch some sleep there.
Common Spots for Overnight Parking
If you need a spot to park overnight, travelers commonly use a handful of places. Safety, legality, and availability will vary from one location to the next. So, research each spot before deciding where to sleep for the night.
It may not be the most luxurious experience, but truck stops can make a great spot to park overnight. You can easily get to many of these locations right off the highway, and they have an almost constant flow of traffic coming and going. While truck drivers need to use these facilities, you likely won’t have an issue as long as you park out of their way.
These facilities offer various amenities like showers, restrooms, stores, and restaurants. You can fill up on fuel and food before hitting the road in the morning. A few downsides are that they can be noisy, some could use a good cleaning, and you never know what activities might go on in the parking lot while you sleep. However, almost all will have security cameras on the property.
Some states allow overnight parking and sleeping in your vehicles at rest stops along the interstates. The state manages these facilities, and you’ll usually find them very clean. They’re located right off the interstate, making it easy to get off and back on the road.
However, available parking can be hard to come by in some locations, or they may have strict hourly limits. Some will allow parking for up to eight or 12 hours before ticketing a driver.
Safety at rest stops can vary considerably from one location to the next. Some rest stops could be near or in areas with higher crime stats. Though, we’ve seen some rest stops with 24/7 security that patrols the lots and others with security in the evening.
However, many rest stops have no formal security except maybe a call box you can use to access emergency services. So if you can’t sleep overnight in a Park and Ride, a rest area can make a good alternative.
In some areas, stores like Walmart, Cabella’s, and other big-box retailers allow overnight parking. However, these parking lots are private, and it’s up to the individual location and local laws whether to permit overnight parking or not.
If you find a big-box retailer, park out of the way of traffic. You’ll typically see trailers and other large rigs parking towards the back or in the corner of a lot. You should always get permission and support the establishment by making a purchase. If staying in a Walmart, you can easily grab groceries or other supplies you need.
Fitness centers are good for getting in a workout and parking overnight. Many of these locations stay open 24/7 to accommodate their customers’ schedules. As a result, many of these parking lots sit empty most of the night. A vehicle parked for several hours likely won’t draw much attention.
Additionally, many fitness centers have shower facilities for gym users to use after workouts. If you plan to travel regularly, it may be worth considering a fitness center membership to take advantage of the parking and get in a shower from time to time.
Lately, we’ve heard some travelers and nomads having tremendous success parking overnight at hospitals. Many hospitals have large parking lots that often sit empty, especially overnight. However, some hospitals maximize their space by using parking garages, making it impossible for those with taller vehicles to park.
Like most other overnight parking locations, rules and regulations will vary from one place to the next. If passing through an area, call the hospital in advance to get permission. You don’t want to go out of your way only to discover that you can’t park there when you arrive.
Pro Tip: Use our guide on parking overnight at a hospital to ensure you don’t get kicked out after you park.
Tips for Overnight Parking
You can’t usually sleep overnight in your vehicle at a Park and Ride, but you have many more options. To stay safe and comfortable while camping in your car, you can do a few things to maximize your experience. Let’s take a look.
Do Your Research
You should do plenty of research when selecting an overnight parking spot. However, no matter what you’ve read online or heard from a fellow nomad, you should get permission before getting comfortable. Local rules and regulations can change quickly, especially if an area is experiencing issues with individuals parking overnight.
You want to choose a convenient, safe, and comfortable spot. The purpose is to get some rest before returning to the road. You don’t want to spend the entire night tossing and turning because you didn’t do enough research.
Secure Your Stuff
You don’t want your gear or equipment to disappear while parking overnight. Lock any outside storage compartments and make it difficult for any gear to get removed without you noticing. Never leave valuables within sight of those passing by your vehicle.
Thieves can quickly smash a window, grab your valuable items, and disappear into the darkness. You want to make it as difficult as possible for thieves to steal your stuff.
Even if you park overnight in a Park and Ride, secure your belongings or take them with you as you will leave your vehicle unattended.
Choose Your Spot Wisely
There’s a lot to consider when choosing your spot. Some locations, like truck stops and rest areas, often have a rather constant traffic flow. Truck drivers that use these locations also will typically leave their trucks idling whenever possible to use electrical outlets or control the climate inside their cabs while they rest.
These large trucks can make a tremendous amount of noise and make it very difficult to get some rest. If you struggle with sleeping with noise, you’ll want to choose your location wisely, or you’ll be in for a long night.
You can also choose to park under a light post when possible to increase your security, whether at a Park and Ride or another overnight parking area.
Don’t Attract Attention
One of the best ways to avoid any negative encounters while parking overnight is to avoid attracting attention. You want to blend in as much as possible and avoid getting noticed. Making lots of noise or being outside your vehicle will likely attract some sort of attention, typically negative. Not everyone will be a fan of you parking overnight, even if it is legal.
We’ve heard of overnight campers having serious confrontations with residents who dislike vehicles parking for the night in their city or town. If you attract negative attention, avoid escalating the situation. Pack up your things, and leave immediately. You don’t want to deal with an angry individual that could create an unpredictable or unsafe situation.
Minimize Your Stay
Another great way to have a positive overnight parking experience is to minimize your stay. We recommend arriving at the spot just before sunset and leaving just after sunrise.
You don’t want to stay longer than necessary, as overstaying your welcome will likely attract negative attention. Park long enough to get enough sleep to tackle your next travel day or adventure.
Know the Rules and Stay Safe When Parking Overnight
If you plan to park overnight regularly, you’ll quickly learn the importance of knowing the rules and staying safe. Even if you legally park overnight, you might still decide to pack up your things if you no longer feel safe. You never know when the situation may change or if something might happen that causes you to question your safety.
No overnight parking spot is worth risking your safety. Pack up your things and leave if you feel uncomfortable. For this reason, always park in a way that you can exit quickly and efficiently if necessary. And remember that at most Park and Ride locations, you can park overnight but can’t sleep in your car.
Have you parked overnight at a Park and Ride? Tell us about your experience in the comments!
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