Free Camping! We love it and this is how and where the Naked Hippies do it!
We’ve been to 19 states this year, traveling nearly 11,000 miles and not once did we pay for a campground! My last blog post told the “inside” story of why were were able to do this.
We have received so many questions about the nuts and bolts of how we actually do this.
For those who want to know HOW we manage free camping so easily, this is for you.
This is our way, The Naked Hippies Way for free camping. Take whatever ideas you think you can use – but remember, this is all part of being willing to be uncomfortable to live your dream. Our Big Foot pickup camper provides us shelter, a comfortable bed, a fridge and a stove. The kind of free camping we do is for those who want to get off the grid and do it as cheaply as possible.
WHERE DO WE FIND FREE CAMPING?
We have slept on the mountaintop in Colorado, in the woods in Minnesota and yes … in WalMart and Flying J truck stop parking lots. It’s all a matter of location and convenience. Since WalMarts are everywhere, they are always the sure backup when a site out in nature is not so readily available.
These are the resources I use to find free camping:
1. BUSINESS LOCATIONS:
First, get the AllStays App: This is a lifesaver for us. It’s not free, but it has paid for itself over and over again. I think I use this app more than any other on my phone.
This app gives you a multitude of selections from free and paid camping sites, casinos, state parks, national parks, public lands, RV stores, rest stops and truck stops.
TIP: When putting in a location, always type in city and state (not abbreviated)
When we camp at WalMart, we always call to make sure it’s okay to park overnight. It just makes sense to make sure before settling down for the night. You definitely don’t want to be awakened by security telling you to move. Most WalMarts do allow overnight camping; but in some towns and cities, a local ordinance overrides the WalMart nationwide policy, so always ask.
We also usually do a little grocery shopping in the WalMart – a way of “paying” for the privilege of camping there for free. And, we never “set up camp” in the parking lot. We don’t pull out the camp chairs and announce in any way that we are camping. (seen it many times and wondered who really thinks watching WalMart activity is relaxing?!)
Casinos are also a great place to park for the night. The AllStays app will give you the location and a review from those who have camped there before. Again, it always is a good idea to get permission.
Flying J is our number one truck stop for overnight camping. There is always a good number of RVs parked at Flying J along with the diesel trucks. We have become so accustomed to the rumbling noises of the diesels that it’s like white noise to us now as we sleep. There’s also usually a Denny’s available. Or if not, Flying J does a decent job with their convenience food.
One more perk for staying at Flying J is that most of them have RV dump stations and propane tank filling available. We signed up for a Flying J rewards card and can dump for a discounted price of $3.00 – instead of the $10 fee.
2. CAMPING FOR FREE IN NATURE:
We use two websites to find free camping at national parks and on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land:
These are great resources that have helped me find amazing, beautiful and free camp sites as we travel. I start by putting in the state and then zoom in to see what is available close to our destination. Most of the free campsites have a 14 day stay limit.
TIP: Always look for the camp sites that have reviews to help you find the best spot – or to avoid the ones that aren’t so favorable. Read the reviews to find out how scenic the site it, how the roads to access the site are, and what kind of reception your wireless carrier has there. I love the reviews that include pictures as well.
Once I find a location that sounds perfect for us, I have the directions sent to my phone. Easy-breezy!
3. AIRPORT CAMPING!
Now this is one that is definitely outside the box when it comes to camping. We learned this easy and valuable way of visiting cities when we attended an event in Utah a few years ago. Then, we had reservations at the event hotel but our pickup camper wouldn’t fit in their parking garage, so we parked at the airport, used the shuttle and slept in the hotel for 3 nights.
LIGHTBULB MOMENT! Why are we paying $199 a night when we could go back to our camper every evening and pay only $10 a night for parking?
Since then, we have parked and camped at LAX in Los Angeles, at O’Hare in Chicago and at the San Diego airport. We hop on the shuttles and city transit systems to get wherever we want to go. The bonus – we sleep in our own bed every night and pay a minimal fee for Economy parking and transit services. Plus, we don’t have to drive our camper in horrendous city traffic.
Camping at the LAX economy lot is a thrill for us! We watch the huge jets come in right over our heads. The rumble is amazing, the constant stream of jets is astonishing. How can we sleep with all that noise? We just do. We’re safe as security patrols the area regularly. We’re comfortable because we’re sleeping in our own bed. It’s an incredible hack for free camping!
WHAT ABOUT SHOWERING?
First, you need to know that we converted the shower in our camper to storage. If your RV has a shower, you won’t have to be concerned about this.
You’re going to love our solution. It’s brilliant! We are hippies, but not so much dirty hippies,thanks to this amazing fix to our non-existent shower!
Here’s what we did. We got a membership at Planet Fitness. The “Black Card” membership which I pay $19.95 a month for allows me to take a guest (Bruce) to any Planet Fitness facility in the country. With over 1400 clubs, it’s easy to find a location on our road trip travels using their app. Plus, they are open 24/7!
We’ve had this membership for nearly a year now and have yet to work out! We just shower there. Maybe one day, we’ll actually work out – ha ha! Flying J has showers available, but only if you are a commercial truck drive, so this solution at Planet Fitness has been perfect for us.
With that said, in between the Planet Fitness stops, we are quite comfortable with sponge baths and baby wipes!
WHERE DO WE DUMP OUR SH*T?
As explained earlier, we usually find a Flying J for this necessary but yucky job. The discount we get there makes it worthwhile to bypass Love’s where the fee is anywhere from $10-$15.
We also found that in Iowa and South Dakota, the rest stops provide FREE dump stations! That was such a great service we wish every state would offer RVers.
Now for the grim reality. Sometimes, we are miles or days away from a dump station and the tank starts getting dangerously full. I have to thank my Grandma Day for guiding me to use coffee cans or jugs for the excess. (she always kept a pee can in the car.) I started using a “pee can” when we lived in a tent for one summer and were not close to the campground bathroom. Ever since we hit the road in 2013, I’ve kept them handy.
Yep! Lived in a tent in 2009! Want to read the full story of how our dream began when we got rid of everything and moved into a tent? Get my book “RV LIVING: The Naked Hippies Way.”
HOW DO WE GET MAIL?
This is only applicable to full time RVers. We don’t really need an every day delivery of all that usual junk mail. We pay bills online and have online banking services. But, occasionally, we do need to receive mail.
For that, we have a mail service from Escapees which forwards our mail to whatever address we give them. When we know we’re going to be at a friend’s or family member’s home for a visit, we call to have them send our mail there.
HOW DO WE GET BY WITHOUT PLUGGING INTO ELECTRICITY?
Until we figured out how to do this in order to charge our laptops and phones, we had to pay for campgrounds. Many RVers have generators for this purpose. Our pickup camper has no extra room for even the smallest generator. We had to figure out something else that would work, and we did.
We have an inverter that is now wired to our truck battery. Our truck has become our generator. We are able to charge our devices as we travel and also when we are parked. Sometimes we run the truck, sometimes we just run the inverter off the battery. This has been the last piece of the puzzle to fall into place so that we can truly camp for free.
Without electricity, our coffee maker sits idle but we have an antique drip-o-lator that makes awesome coffee using the gas stove in our camper.
WHAT ABOUT FLAT TIRES AND BREAKDOWNS?
We’ve had 3 blowouts on this trip, plus we had to be towed over the mountains in Arizona when our truck lost power and couldn’t make the steep climbs. We’ve been rescued many times by Good Sam’s Roadside Assistance. Of all the expenses we have, this one is vital to our peace of mind.
You can imagine how difficult (as well as humorous) it would be for Bruce and me to tackle changing a tire on the pickup when the camper is weighing it down. Not gonna happen. Good Sam’s Roadside Assistance has always provided quick and efficient service, sometimes above and beyond the limits of their rules and regulations.
There you have it – The Naked Hippies Way for free camping.
It ain’t always pretty and definitely not always comfortable, but we’re free. We’re traveling this gorgeous country now, not waiting for everything to be pristine and top of the line.
We also have the immense blessing of visiting friends and family as we travel. Their hospitality showers us with the luxury of showers, laundry, electricity and meals. But, as the open road continually calls us, we stay to enjoy the conversations and luxury, but eventually, the itch to get moving has to be scratched.
Our next free camping adventure is taking us to Quartzsite, Arizona where thousands of RVers gather for the winter on hundreds and hundreds of acres on BLM land. We will pay for a long-term pass which gives us camping from September to April for $180. With that pass, we’ll have access to a dump station, water and trash disposal.
You might have your own hacks for camping for free! We’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below and we’ll let you know if we try it.
We’ve been to some AMAZING places this year.
Enjoy the tour!!