Hobobo Guide to Camping

Now that you are learning the ways of the great hobobos before you; there are a few more tips to make your own before you become a hobobo master yourself. This article will give you great strategies for sleeping in your vehicle safely and freely wherever you go. The theme for the topic of camping is “cops not crackheads.”

You might be thinking why would you want to get hassled by the cops for sleeping? The truth is you don’t want to be hassled by anyone, but if it was going to be someone who would you rather encounter? First here are two basic rules:

Rule 1: Be Respectful

You are trying to sleep for free in whatever area you choose and should that be an urban area you don’t want to upset anyone. Because you are sleeping in a vehicle you probably don’t have a bathroom. Plan ahead and go before you pull into the place you will be sleeping. Overall, just be discreet, be quiet and don’t leave any trash or trace of your presence.

Rule 2: Keep Up Appearances

Keep your clothes on and be presentable. If that means washing the car and throwing away the trash in the cab before you park; then do it. Your goal is to make sure no one gives your vehicle a second glance. It should blend in as much as possible. This means no stickers or other clear markings that make your vehicle stand out.

So now that we have gotten the rules of the game out of the way let’s talk about location. On our 6 month road trip we paid for accommodations once. This was when one of us came down with a cold and the forecast was calling for snow. Sometimes you just need a room.


There are a few places where it is legal and accepted to park and sleep. Walmart is one of those. There is a rumor that the founder of Walmart declared that anyone was welcome to camp in their parking lots though I am pretty sure this is just a myth. Whatever the reason and origin, Walmart may become your new camping convenience. If you approach a Walmart near a national park, for example, you will undoubtedly see a fleet of RVs parked in the lot.

When we slept in a Walmart parking lot we would always buy something before we went to sleep, just for good measure. There is always something you might need and Walmart has pretty much everything. We would typically use the bathroom to brush our teeth and wash up, which can be a little awkward when someone witnesses you doing this. But we always shrugged it off and never had a problem. If you happen upon a Walmart with no RVs you may want to check with the manager before. They may have come to some agreement with a nearby RV park and don’t want you to park there.

I put Walmart first on the list because it is legal and usually safe. That said, sleeping in a parking lot below floodlights does not always result in the best night’s sleep. A good alternative if the Walmart doesn’t allow overnight parking or is in a bad part of town is urban camping.

Urban Camping

streetviewThis is hobobo code for sleeping in neighborhoods. There certainly is an art to this. Being discrete and keeping safe are two things necessary for urban camping to be successful. We usually only found ourselves urban camping one night at a time. This was primarily because we chose to urban camp when splitting up a long drive. For longer stays in a city we found couchsurfers or stayed with friends.

If you find yourself needing a break pull into whatever town you pass through. Hopefully it will be big enough to have some data on it. Also note that if the Walmart happens to be in a sketchy part of town then you’ll want to go elsewhere.

Find your favorite wifi hotspot and do an internet search for “best family neighborhood (name of city).” There are loads of parent forums with people describing safe areas for kids. One that I have consistently found good tips on is City-Data.com. If it is safe for kids then it is safe for you.

Once you find the neighborhood look at google street view to see if there are cars on the street and if it is flat. Pick an address and head over after 10pm. This will usually ensure no one will witness you hopping into the back of your truck or getting ready for bed.

This is when keeping up appearances is very important. If you are in a family neighborhood then you are more likely to have a knock on your window if someone witnesses you hopping in the back. In this case it’s good to have your story ready and be nice.

Typically honesty is the best policy and saying you are on a long road trip and pulled off to sleep is pretty good. Being apologetic and offering to move along is usually the best policy. You might even ask the officer how close the nearest rest stop is or if he can direct you to an RV park or campground. This proves you’re non-threatening and willing to do the right thing.

The legality here is pretty difficult to ascertain. Most cities have a no public sleeping ordinance to give the police some power to keep homeless people in check. Some do not and city-specific information is nearly impossible to find. This is again why keeping up appearances is really important.

Public lands

This is the ideal scenario for your hobobo sleeping. BLM land and NFS land have rules governing where you can sleep. In some places there are free campgrounds with bathrooms and garbage service and in others you may find dispersed camping which has no services but is allowed as long as you are 1 mile from the main road. This is an excellent option where it is available however, finding these sites can be difficult.

The website publiclands.org lists all campgrounds and public land in the west. We found it was pretty useful for locating designated campgrounds but there aren’t great resources for finding NFS or BLM land that allows dispersed camping. Additionally in the more densely populated Eastern half of the country these opportunities are fewer and further between.

Your best bet is to talk to camping-oriented locals or rangers. You can usually find someone in the know and the ranger in the NFS office will definitely be able to fill you in on where you may camp. This can make it hard to plan in advance so always have a backup plan.

Other Ideas

These strategies made for a cheap and successful 6 month road trip around the US. We were never hassled in any way and found a few amazing campsites on public land. If you have any stories you’d like to share or other tips and tricks please leave them in the comments.


3 Responses to “Hobobo Guide to Camping”

  1. Julian Hom said:

    What a good guide. My girlfriend and I went on just a week long road trip sleeping in the back of my car. We kept pretty much the same guidelines. We slept at Wal-Marts most of the time except when we couch surfed.

    A different time, when we were in Canada and sleeping in my car, we had a run in with the police, but they were nice about it. We were both dressed and presentable and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons it turned out fine.

    August 25th, 2011 at 6:50 pm

  2. David said:

    I have found that rooftops are a great place to illegally camp with ease. I’ve slept on the rooftops of theaters, homes, Victorian hotels, and auto parts stores.

    Of course, location is key!

    April 11th, 2012 at 7:09 am

  3. Betty said:

    In the States, Cracker Barrel, Cabellas, Bass Pro Shop, and other large stores permit overnighting in their lots. Don’t forget truck stops like the Flying J/Pilot, they have spaces set aside for RVs and tucks. I’ve heard of people even stopping at Lowe’s or Home Depot for a nap.

    June 5th, 2013 at 4:00 am

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