Ready to take one of the best road trips in America and see the country from the comfort of your RV? Whether you’re an experienced RV enthusiast or you’re heading out for the first time, you’ll need to find somewhere to park. While choosing to stay at one of the best RV parks in the United States is definitely a good option, sometimes you might want to avoid the crowds—and the fees that RV parks charge. In that case, you’ll want to check out the spots that offer free overnight parking. Here’s what you need to know for the ultimate budget-friendly road trip, whether you’re looking for a quick overnight stay or a longer-term arrangement.
Where to find free RV parking
Whether you plan to park overnight in an RV park or in a national forest, you’ll want to do some research ahead of time, as well as download a few apps to use during your trip. Lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are “multiple use” sites, so they’re dedicated to preservation but also allow for recreational activity. These sites are your best bet for finding free overnight parking for your RV. Most of them are also dog-friendly.
The RVParky app, Allstays app, and Campendium website have exhaustive lists that include overnight RV parking and camping options across the United States and Canada. Search by location and price (filtering by “free,” if you’d like) to find RV parking options in parks, forests, parking lots, and public lands. You might also want to check out these top spots for beach camping.
What to know before starting your RV road trip
Many towns and cities prohibit long-term parking on public streets, so even if you’ll be parking your RV or travel trailer in front of a friend’s home, you’ll need to abide by public ordinances. Off-grid camping is typically allowed anywhere on federal public lands within a specified distance of established roads, except where it’s otherwise restricted. Check with local authorities or online to see the varying rules for each location you want to visit.
Some of the most popular RV parks and campsites fill up quickly during warm-weather months, with some booking up months in advance. If you’re committed to parking only where there isn’t a fee, understand that there will be fewer options and there likely won’t be electric or water hookups. No matter what your plan is, always have a backup plan, just in case the RV park or campsite you had in mind is at capacity. Under no circumstances should you set up in an area that doesn’t allow it. Not only could illegal parking and camping damage the ecosystem and threaten wildlife, but it’s also illegal. The same rules apply if you’re leaving your RV at home and doing some free camping instead.
Why avoid RV parks
Aside from not wanting to pay a fee, there are other reasons you might want to stay somewhere other than an RV park. They aren’t necessarily bad places to stay—they’re great for amenities and for meeting fellow travelers—but sometimes you may want to get off the grid. If you’re not concerned with having hookups for electricity and water, boondocking (camping without the hookups) can be a great way to avoid the crowds, noise, and light pollution associated with RV parks. Opting for a dispersed campsite (a site outside of a designated campground) also lets you reconnect with nature while saving some money on RV park fees. If you’ll be heading out on an extended RV adventure, you’ll likely need to stay in proper RV parks sooner or later, but if you just need a quick place to sleep, sacrificing amenities during short-term stays can add up to big long-term savings. Don’t miss these other ways to find cheap places to stay.
How much does it cost to stay in an RV park
According to Alyssa Padgett, author of A Beginner’s Guide to Living in an RV, the average price of an RV park is around $45 to $50 per night, but that price can vary dramatically. Depending on the season, location, size of your vehicle, amenities offered, and whether or not you’ll need electric and water hookups, you can expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $120 per night for 24-hour parking at an RV park. A large RV park that has tennis courts, playgrounds, showers, and dining facilities may cost three or four times as much as a park that only has electric and water hookups.
Where to look beyond campgrounds
If you’re looking for a non-campground experience, check out HipCamp, which is sort of like an Airbnb for campers, offering ranches, farms, beaches, and private land preserves (for a fee). Harvest Hosts is a paid membership program (about $100 per year) that allows members access to more than 1,500 RV-friendly breweries, wineries, vineyards, and museums. Whether you’re staying on a beach, a farm, or in a cidery, there are some great phone apps that help you plan your trip, determine where to go, and find the best restaurants and services nearby. These are the best road trip apps you can get for free.
Safe places to park an RV overnight
Though many full-time RVers swear by Cracker Barrel and Walmart parking lots as safe and secure overnight options, free overnight parking isn’t always guaranteed. Though Walmart has a longstanding RV-friendly parking policy, you’ll still want to call the store ahead of time to check with the manager. If you plan to rely on their stores during your trip, first check this list of no-go Walmarts, which is regularly updated based on the experiences of RVers who attempted to or successfully camped in their lots. Avoid large retail shopping center parking lots, as they tend to be patrolled, private property and you’ll be asked to leave.
Rest stops and truck stops also tend to be great options for overnight RV parking because they are well lit and have 24-hour bathrooms. Casinos fall into this category, too, and the grounds may be patrolled, but some casinos may also attract sketchy characters. Many outdoor stores like Bass Pro Shop, Cabela’s, and Camping World will also let you park your rig overnight, but it’s always best to check with the manager in advance.
How long you can park your RV for free
Each campsite, RV park, forest, and public space has its own rules about how long you can park there. Most Bureau of Land Management sites cap free camping at 30 days, though the amount of time can vary by location. Most national forests allow dispersed camping up to 14 days, but some areas are limited to one day, while others allow up to 30 days. Check the local regulations by stopping by the ranger station or calling ahead of your stay. For travel inspiration, check out the most scenic campsites in every state.
How to be a responsible RV camper
The most important Leave No Trace principle is properly planning ahead. Knowing exactly where you’ll camp, having backup plans for alternate campsites, and bringing all the supplies you’ll need will go a long way.
Proper waste disposal is essential, and while RV parks may have waste disposal options, dispersed campsites won’t, so you’ll need to keep all your waste with you until you’re able to safely dispose of it. This includes packing up all your food waste and garbage, as well as burying human waste in an eight-inch “cathole” that’s 150 feet from trails and water sources.
Vehicles can do significant damage to the environment, so it’s crucial that you look for already impacted sites with well-worn access drives. Never drive onto vegetation, cut down trees, or stray beyond the borders of established camp areas. If, and only if, you confirm campfires are allowed in an area, you can minimize your campfire impact by seeking out existing campfire rings instead of creating new ones. Buy local firewood (or gather firewood in the area, if it’s allowed) to prevent the spread of invasive species. Before you leave, make sure that the fire is completely out and that any food you may have thrown in the fire has completely burned up so wild animals aren’t attracted to it. While you’re at it, make sure to avoid these other common camping mistakes many first-timers make.
For more on where to go and what to see around the country, check out our Ultimate American Road Trip Guide.
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If you’re about to cook fish but are worried about the scent lingering on your hands afterward, halve a lemon and rub your hands with the cut ends before handling fish. If the smell persists after you’ve finished cooking, scrub wet hands with baking soda and rinse with warm water. Here’s how to clean your house with a lemon instead of chemicals.
Keep your garbage can smelling fresh by sprinkling baking soda in the bottom each time you change out the bag. Baking soda is one of the most effective natural deodorizers out there and will prevent the area from smelling. Here are more brilliant uses for baking soda around your house.
To prevent the smell of fried fish from permeating your kitchen days after cooking, add a dollop of peanut butter to the oil before frying.
There are many different ways to keep your fridge smelling fresh: Place a wide, shallow bowl of coffee grounds in your fridge or freezer, leaving it overnight to absorb odors. Other great odor absorbers are tea bags; placing three to four around your fridge on a regular basis will prevent strange smells from occurring in the first place. If you don’t happen to have any tea bags handy, peel a raw potato and slice it in half, placing the two halves on different shelves in your fridge. Once the cut sides turn black, slice them away and pop them back in the fridge for continued use. If your smelly fridge needs a deep cleanse, empty it out and wipe the interior with undiluted tomato juice like this one, then rinse with warm water. This remedy will also work on an odorous cooler.
Grease in the kitchen
Put a bowl of white vinegar out in your kitchen next time you fry something using grease. The vinegar will absorb the stench and prevent an unsavory smell from emanating through your kitchen. Alternatively, simmer the vinegar once you’re done cooking for an even stronger deodorizer. Try out these other 95 household vinegar uses you never knew about.
New paint smell
Although it may be exciting to be adding a fresh coat of paint to your walls, the accompanying odor can detract from the fun. Mix a tablespoon of vanilla extract into a gallon of paint to make the sharp smell slightly sweeter.
Recycled food container
If you’re reusing an old food container that was previously occupied by something that left an odd smell behind, squirt a bit of yellow mustard in the bottom and fill the container halfway with warm water. Swish the mixture around gently, let it sit for 15 minutes, and wash. These are food containers you’ve been using all wrong.
Your pet may have managed to outrun that pesky skunk, but it still spent the evening lurking under your car. Dissolve a cup of dried mustard into three gallons of water and splash the solution over your vehicle’s tires and undercarriage.
To rid your dishwasher of that musty and dank smell, throw one cup of baking soda in the bottom of the washer and run it on the rinse cycle. Should the smell persist, sprinkle a few more tablespoons in the bottom to sit in between loads, but don’t feel the need to rinse the washer again before the next load. Prevent weird smells from accumulating in the first place by adding half a cup of lemon juice to the detergent receptacle each time you use the machine.
Stop smelly sneakers from stinking up your whole house by crumbling a couple of dried sage leaves like these inside each shoe just before you put them on. Sage carries a light fragrance while killing bacteria, and you can just shake the flakes out each night and replace them the next day. Try these other home remedies for foot odor.
Kitchen smoke or cooking odors
Did last night’s dinner leave an unexpected reek in your kitchen? Wet a washcloth with vinegar and wave it around the room to neutralize any smell. Another method is to slice two lemons and place them on a baking sheet, then preheat your oven at 225°F and bake for 60 to 90 minutes. Once time is up, leave your oven door open and let this natural air freshener work wonders.
Keep your feet from stinking up your shoes in the first place by soaking feet in a tea bath for 20 minutes every night. After two weeks, you should notice a decrease in sweat and odor. Another helpful solution is to sprinkle a 50/50 mixture of baking soda (to neutralize stench) and cornstarch (to absorb sweat) on your feet and in your shoes each morning. Just watch out for these 14 body odors that could be a sign of something serious.
Chemical smell in oven
Chemical oven cleaners can be necessary for thorough cleaning, but they leave your oven with a harsh smell that leaches into food when it is next used. Prevent this from happening by wiping the inside of your oven with a sponge soaked with white vinegar after it’s been cleaned. Let the vinegar dry completely before you turn the oven on again.
You’ve just cleaned your microwave and it’s spotless—except for the lingering stink. To rid the appliance of unwelcome fragrance, microwave a few tablespoons of vanilla extract on high for one minute. Let the vanilla cool and repeat as needed. But these are house smells you should never ignore.
Odorous pet accidents
New puppy’s not housebroken? Soak up as much of the accident as you can, then get rid of the urine smell by pouring a 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water onto the smelly spot so that it soaks through. Let it sit for a half hour, then wash with cool water to get vinegar out. Pat dry, then place a half-inch-thick layer of dry rags or paper towels and weigh them down with a heavy object, which will speed moisture absorption. If odor persists, work an eighth- to a quarter-cup of baking soda into the carpet, leave for 15 minutes, and vacuum up. However, general pet odors can also be quelled by heating freshly ground coffee beans over low heat in a cast-iron skillet. Then, place the skillet in the smelly room and the odor should be gone by the time the coffee grounds cool.
While boiling milk, it’s easy to glance away for a minute and look back to see your pan overflowing. If you’ve burnt milk and need to mitigate the smell, wet the bottom of the pan and coat it with salt. Let the pan sit for about ten minutes and then wash normally.
If you’ve cleaned your vehicle meticulously but can’t seem to get rid of an unpleasant smell—whether from a carsick child or a fast food drive-thru—offset the odor by leaving an undiluted bowl of white vinegar on the floor of your vehicle overnight. If you have vinyl seats, sprinkle baking soda over your seats and work it into the material using your hands or a soft-bristle brush. Shut all doors and windows overnight, and vacuum the neutralizer out of your seats the next day. One helpful tip to keep your car smelling fresh is to keep coffee beans or baking soda in your ashtrays to keep offensive odors at bay. Check out these 13 weird tricks for cleaning your car.
To freshen up a musty-smelling clothing article, pour a little unflavored vodka into a spray bottle and gently spritz the garment. The alcohol will kill odor-causing bacteria, and no new fragrances will be added.
Everyone is familiar with the long-standing solution to a skunk-sprayed pet: the tomato bath. However, for a cheaper alternative with a lot less cleanup, bathe your pet in a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar. Just don’t bother with these 16 traditional cleaning tricks that don’t actually work.
Dank-smelling drain or garbage disposal
Keep your drain and garbage disposal smelling fresh and clean with these suggestions: Pour a cup of salt down the drain, followed by a cup of baking soda, and a kettle’s worth of boiling water. You could also grind citrus peels, fresh mint, or ice cubes that are half water, half white vinegar. To keep your home smelling generally nice, use these 11 simple tricks for freshening your home’s scent.
Smelly dog ears
Dogs with long or floppy ears are at greater risk for wax and bacteria build-up, which can cause their ears to smell pungent. Clean your pet’s ears on a weekly basis with a cotton ball dipped in a mixture made of equal parts water and vinegar, being careful not to put the cotton ball in the ear canal. After the first ear, discard your cotton ball and get a new one to prevent cross-contamination infection. You’ll also want to try these 13 household cleaning tips you’ll wish you knew sooner.
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