I have spent innumerable days and nights in private, state and federal camping areas, and for the most part it has been enjoyable. When you have young people in your entourage, the facilities offered by the typical family campground are perfect to connect with their usual activities back home. And to relieve any boredom they might feel travelling…particularly for long distances.
My first choice for “camping” will always be the state and federal forests. Second comes the state and federal parks. The facilities offered by the private campgrounds are terrific if you need electric and water hook-ups. Maybe you want to be connected to the sewer lines. Perhaps a camp store is on your list of camping requirements. A swimming pool, on-site laundry, air, cable, computer plug-in?
My vehicle is equipped with a bank of golf cart batteries that supply all my electrical needs. House current (115 volts AC) arrives on-line throughout the RV via a sizable inverter, that changes the automotive current (12-15 volt DC) to power any small appliance in the kitchen. Everything else is low voltage, that is to say, all lights and fans in the kitchen, lighting throughout the interior are powered by those batteries. If I need to use the microwave, or to make the morning coffee, I fire-up my small Honda 2000 watt (quiet-running) generator. The coffee could be done through the inverter power, but the electric draw is high. The solar panel on the roof keeps the source topped-up for most of my needs. So much for electric hook-ups.
If you have sufficient holding tank capacity for a short duration, you do not have to be connected to a sewer umbilical. And all RVs have pretty good tanks for fresh water (filtered, of course). There is a commercial laundry nearby almost everywhere (within a week’s travel), and I can find a library, or connect to the internet at myriad hot spots around the country. My satellite TV dish provides perfect reception even in the desert. And I do not need air conditioning for the few uncomfortable nights I might have to experience in a typical year, since I travel to Florida or to the southwest for the winter, but head north to visit my daughter, son-in law and his Mom,in the late spring, until the early fall.
That FINALLY brings us to WALMART. Sam Walton, when he was still with us, held that travellers were good business for Walmart, and that he would never disallow an RV owner a parking space for overnight. When I am on the move, and do not require any of the aforementioned amenities…look for me at the nearest Supercenter!
To date I have spent the night at well over 180 Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs. They get my business for groceries and neccessities; I buy my gas there (hard to find in the northeast,though), have purchased tires, oil and filters and some RV supplies there. Sam was right….it is a transactional arrangement that makes good sense.
Okay, now that we’ve generalized on that subject, if you are one of the Walmart haters, you can move along….no hard feelings! Most supermarkets,that have the room in their parking lots, will allow one night. Just be sure to check it out with the manager. Sometimes there are specific restrictions. More often now, there are local ordinances prohibiting sleeping in a vehicle at night.They are probably unconstitutional… but just move along. I do not want to be where I am not welcome. My business sense doesn’t want to reward anyone who cannot appreciate that millions of RVs are out there. Even if everyone wanted to spend every night in a campground, there simply is no room!
Today’s self-contained RVs are equipped with all the comforts, and needn’t impinge on anyone’s sensibilities….as long as the owners are reasonable, do not overstay their welcome, do not spread out across multiple sites unneccessarily, do not tie-out their animals or fail to pick up after them, or themselves. Don’t even talk to me about esthetics. There are very few Partridge Family psychedelic buses out there, and the majority of the RVs are pretty good looking, and certainly do not detract from the street scene.
Most Walmarts make you welcome. What I have said previously is what most of the managers expect when you arrive to stay over. Just stay back out of the way of shoppers’ spaces (most stores are, or are converting to Supercenters that stay open 24/7), and try to be UNOBTRUSIVE. That isn’t asking much, and if when the morning arrives, you are not on your way, you should be. There are some exceptions…check out the local rules, but move around, or move out!
There are circumstances where a Walmart management does not make the rules. I stopped for three years running, on my way through New Jersey , at a Walmart at Hamilton Shops. It was very convenient to major highways,Trenton, restaurants and services of all kinds. This year I was met coming out of the store by a new security officer. After a friendly chat with this gent, he informed me that the owners of the property no longer allow overnight parking at any area there. Walmart does not own the property, Same is true just north of Jacksonville, Florida, and at many places where you might expect to be welcomed.
The most effective way to save yourself ,and the security service, any embarassment, or a knock on the door at 1 AM, is simply to ask. Every year I buy the Walmart version of Rand McNally’s Road Atlas. In the back you will find a listing of all the Supercenters, smaller stores, Walmart neighborhood grocery stores, and Sam’s Clubs throughout the entire North American expanse. I keep track of where I have stayed, notes about the location, comments about unusual features, and proximity to points of interest. My personal rating system employs words like “GREAT!”, “LOTS OF ROOM “,”POSTED-NO PARKING OVERNIGHT”.
Often, the reason signs have been posted in the Walmart lot is to keep TRUCKERS out! There are also an insufficient number of truck stops, I’m sure, but these large commercial rigs,that are not even delivering to the store,certainly don”t belong. Even with the diesel prices in the stratosphere, many of these truck drivers run their engines all night, drop their trailers to go elsewhere for food, drink…even accommodations. Do you blame Walmart for trying to control this practice?
In 1973 I purchased my first bus. Single, after being married for nine years, I felt my biological wanderlust clock idling. I’d planned many extensive treks, and there was really nothing to prevent moving down the road. I found a 1965 Carpenter bus, previously utilized in a school district in New Hampshire to ferry the football team to distant games. It was over 36 feet in length, and had extra headroom, which I needed to locate the bath and shower just inside the side wall, halfway down the coach. The emergency door was there, making dumping of effluent and cleaning that much easier.
I had the garage perform a short-block rehabilitation, so I started out with the equivalent of a “new” engine. It was an International, using mostly Ford parts, was equipped with air brakes, as well as my number one requirement….a rear engine compartment, so that the sound of movement would be at a minimum. This “pusher” turned out to be an ideal vehicle for a conversion, and I set about ordering parts and appliances to begin the metamorphosis. Building the dinette, bathroom, front and rear sofabeds, kitchen counters and cabinets, as well as the walls and closet structures, filled the days as I waited for things to be delivered.
I lived on a sizeable piece of land, so the coach was parked just outside the door, and I worked in it every spare moment that I could create. Being self-employed helped, and my daughter lived with me most weekends, so she got a real workout as we transformed the newly- empty floor space into a comfortable over-the-road home. I had convinced my Mom and Dad, as well as my sister, that I could have it finished in July, and that a great maiden voyage would be a trip from New England, west to the Black Hills of South Dakota to view Mount Rushmore.
Although my wife and I had trekked the Trans-Canada highway from Ontario to British Columbia in a ’55 Chevy converted for sleeping, visited the Seattle World’s Fair, with a return via Yellowstone and some of this same territory, it had been over twelve years before, and I couldn’t wait to get on the move. When we made our trip to the northwest I was working as a travel consultant for AAA, planning everyone else’s trips. Living vicariously while mapping journeys, passing out tour books and Triptiks wasn’ t quite what I had in mind!
The motorhome was completed just in time for our window of opportunity, and we loaded my Kawasaki motorcycle onto its rack on the front bumper, turned out of the yard in Salem, New Hampshire, picked up my folks in Melrose, Mass.,and headed west…to Weston, Mass. There my sister and her youngest daughter bade farewell to my hard-working brother-in-law, and we six latter-day pioneers were out of there!
Off in our moving proving-ground, and headed for unknown parts and distant campgrounds beyond the setting sun. Through New York, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois…..CRUISING!
Was this first trip a total success? Hardly. We had some trying experiences, but they were ameliorated by a whole lot of looking, finding and enjoying. But was it HOT. When it rained and the roof domes and side windows had to be closed, it was uncomfortable and the metal ceiling would get moist with humidity. On Interstate 80, near Davenport, Iowa, late on a Saturday afternoon, the bus popped a fan belt, which snagged the compressor belt as well. We limped into a city park beside the Mississippi for the night. The parts stores were closed until Monday morning, but then I had it all back in good order, and we were soon on our way along the Missouri river, and into the Dakota country.
We had stopped at several nice camps with amenities for the kids, plus Seaworld in Ohio, so we were ready for the likes of the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. We followed the billboards for ice water to Wall Drug Store in Wall, S.D.then we panned for gold flakes in Lead, checked out the presidents’ profiles in Rapid City, motored around in some fabulous mountain scenery, and camped amid the bison.
Travelling the “blue highways” where practical, we turned east for the kids’ date with the opening of school. We sauntered back through southern Minnesota, through Wisconsin Dells and on to Chicago’s lakeshore drive. Into central Indiana and Ohio, and past this country’s first oil fields to the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania….who knew?
A final thrust into the Catskills and Berkshires and our excursion neared its conclusion. My travel appetite was whetted for a lot more of this lifestyle. You might say that a sea-change evolved in my perceptions about my own existence as well. I soon moved into the coach, and became a FULL TIMER!
I had the opportunity recently to view my Dad’s slides of that trip. I was moved by the audacity of that endeavor; what poignant memories!
Thirty-four years and many different motorhomes and conversions later, I’m still at it. But much has changed. This blog just might be useful for anyone who has mused on the possibility of doing what I have done. There’s not much that I’ve missed !