Beginner's Guide to Wallydocking
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.
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.
Van 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.
Left: 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.
A 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!
An ideal Wallydocking spot: opening up to a curb and near a patch of grass for Lucy to roll in.
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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