Imagine sitting outside your 5th wheeler, lawn chairs out on a moonlit night, (oops…that’s a mercury vapor lot light). There is asphalt as far as the eye can see, radiating heat from the 90 degree temperatures today. The hum of the cars buzzing down the freeway and shopping carts smashing into each other is only drowned out by the zap of the million bugs being electrocuted by your zapper. A nice fire has been built in your copper-dome above ground fire pit. The moment is spoiled when you’re just about ready to bite into that big brat you’ve been cooking and find out you have no ketchup.
Lucky for you, when you’re camping at a Walmart, ketchup and all of your necessities are only steps away! Walmart has a company policy to allow RV’ers overnight parking. There are a few, due to local ordinances, that do not allow overnight camping. As a courtesy they only ask that the campers check in with the store manager. Drive by any Super Walmart and you can see how popular this has become. Our Bemidji area Walmart is no exception. Last Monday morning while getting an early cup of coffee, 6 units were in the “North 40” of the parking lot with their generators humming.
Looking at stories about this on the net, there are numerous good reasons why this started and is so accepted. Humor aside, many RV’ers simply use these to get a few hours sleep traveling between destinations. They are well lit and secure and easily accessible from highways. Trash is always accepted at the Walmart dumpster. Of course Walmart offers this as a way of obtaining business from an under used asset…a parking lot. Every camper will replenish staples and supplies while spending the night, thereby creating revenue. Not to mention getting gas for their rigs. One RV’er even mentioned “If we stay at a Super Walmart, we always hit the deli for a good chicken dinner with potato salad and cold slaw!”
The biggest reason for all of this is camping for free. Many RV’ers quoted in articles say they don’t need swimming pools, showers (oh boy), or other “amenities” that come with a commercial campground. Plus the extra time finding them and getting checked in, or having them “full”. With big rigs getting single digit miles per gallon, and many owners retired, money is an issue. Another quote from an article states “If we had to go to a campground every night of the week, we wouldn’t be out on the road. It’d be another $175 to $200 a week. And we’re going to be out for a month!”
Not everyone is happy about this. In vacation hotspots such as Florida and Arizona several Walmarts do not allow camping as people have taken advantage of the offer by spending weeks in lots. In many tourist communities, campground owners have fought to get local laws on the books banning this practice. One of the more publicized fight was in Rapid City, South Dakota where the many campgrounds in and around Mount Rushmore fought against the retail giant, looking for support from the local city council. RV’ers fought back with their own letter writing campaign. As far as I know, no ban was instituted in Rapid City.
There is even a DVD out ($24.95) called “THIS IS NOWHERE” which documents the cultural phenomenon of camping at Walmart. And several videos on YouTube give you a flavor of the experience. My only comment is … I would guess if you want a meaningful experience with nature, camping at Walmart is not the answer. But if you want good people watching and a look of what a cross section of a community is…Walmart is probably the perfect place for that!
video on camping at walmart: