One of the most frustrating parts of vanlife is finding a place to park overnight that’s safe while also not breaking the bank. From free campsites to overnight parking at wineries, these are the best options for parking while living the van life.
If you’re living the scenic van life and don’t want to break the bank, there are tons of free campgrounds all around the US that you can stay at. The key is to finding these campgrounds as they are often more secluded and have more limited amenities than a paid campground. Free campsites are often known as dispersed camping which is usually available on BLM land. We find free campgrounds using apps like The Dyrt or Freeroam. These are both free apps that you can filter options like campground type, price, or whether certain amenities are available. You can also stay for free at some federally managed campsites just by taking first come first served spots early in the morning. We’ve found that you can find spots relatively easy in the morning and sometime you don’t have to pay a fee! Often you are allowed to stay at these places for an unlimited amount of time although there are downsides to free campsites. They are often secluded and in areas where you may not have cell service or access to the outside world. In these cases you need to be careful about other people and wild animals more than say an RV campsite where there are more people and services. This is a good option for people who are living the van life on a budget and are traveling more so than staying in one area for a prolonged time.
If you’re open to paying for campsites then you have much more options to choose from than just free sites. For finding campsites we still recommend The Dyrt app because of the amount of options and ease of use. We are usually able to find no hookup sites for about $15 – $25, while sites with hookups are usually more expensive. Many places allow you to make reservations for a site ahead of time, but this is usually more costly. If you don’t mind waking up early, look for first come, first served spots because many places allow you to stay for free as long as no one makes a reservation. This is very helpful in national parks that have lots of campsites to choose from. Sites that are paid for are also safer than free sites and usually have bathrooms and drinking water making the stay a little better.
We don’t typically park at RV sites because we built our van to be off grid for at least a few days so while we make use of the water, electric, and sewage hookups, we don’t need them. RV parks, in our experience, usually charge at least $45-$50 for a night which is a big hit to someone on a budget. We have stayed at a few because we could not find anywhere else to stay and if you have a small enough rig, most of the time they can accommodate you. They are nice to stay in if you want an easy place to park for the night and maybe grill out and enjoy the night, but if you are on a budget then we advise to steer clear of RV parks.
Our favorite way to park for the night is definitely Harvest Hosts! If you don’t know what Harvest Hosts is all about, it is an app than congregates a large selection of places to stay overnight in a van or a big rig like a class A RV. You pay an annual membership of $80 (as of July 2021) and you get access to breweries, wineries, farms, and museums all across the US to stay at! For an extra $20 you can upgrade to include golf courses. We love Harvest Hosts because it is very easy to find a place and request a stay using their online reservation system. If you stay at places in urban areas then sometimes the parking is just is a parking lot but if you look for places a little of the beaten path then you can find magical sites! Although the camping if “free” after you buy then membership, Harvest Hosts asks that you buy something to support the business and recommend at least $20. This is fine by us because most campsites are at least $20 anyways and this way you get camping as well as goodies from where ever you stay. The best part about Harvest Hosts is you get the best camping spots with the best views and no one to both you!