Can You Sleep in Hotel Parking Lots? It’s Probably Not Legal, But…

comfort inn

Can you sleep in a hotel parking lot if you’re on a road trip and you’re really desperate? Back when I embarked on my summer-long cross-country van trip, I slept in my conversion van most nights in order to save funds.

Usually, this meant parking on a nondescript residential street and pulling the shades. Sometimes, it meant pulling into a Walmart parking lot and settling in near the RVs that were allowed to park there overnight.

On a few rare occasions, I had trouble finding a place to stay. This usually happened in suburban areas where there was no “town” to speak of, just streets of ritzy houses where my vehicle would clearly look out of place and perhaps elicit nervous phone calls from locals to police.

I was somewhere between Birmingham, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida one night when I realized I didn’t have a convenient place to settle in. Paying for a night in a hotel would’ve blown my $10/day budget. But as I drove around and realized there was virtually nothing in this town except for gas stations, supermarkets and hotels, I had to make a decision.

So I scanned the hotel parking areas and made the decision to pull into a hotel chain parking lot. I immediately pulled the shades and went to bed, hoping they wouldn’t notice that I wasn’t an actual hotel guest.

van sleep
Having a van or SUV makes it much easier to sleep in a hotel parking lot.

In the morning, I woke with the daylight, as usual, and hightailed it out of there around 7 am.

I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the hotel sign as I left since it made me smile. The sign read, “Thank you for staying with us.” I replied out loud, “No, thank you!”

Can You Sleep in Hotel Parking Lots?

Disclaimer: The following is not legal advice. Everyone is responsible for knowing and understanding their local laws.

So, the question: Is it legal to sleep in a hotel parking lot, and how would you go about doing that? Well, the answer is complicated. Legally, the answer may be no.

But you’re probably reading this because you’re wondering if it’s possible to get away with it. In that case…

First, remember that many jurisdictions (such as San Francisco and Beverly Hills) ban sleeping in vehicles overnight. So if you’re in one of these places, you are totally out of luck. Don’t risk it.

sleep in hotel parking lot

Next, hotels typically have private parking lots, which means that by parking there, you are on private property. If you are caught trying to sleep there without paying for a room, they could certainly kick you off the lot. But would they go further? Who knows.

It’s possible that a ticked-off hotel manager could try to get the police involved and urge an arrest or citation for trespassing. That would be worst-case scenario, and obviously it’s one you’d want to avoid. So you have to weigh the risks.

Clearly, having a conversion van or SUV with room to spread out is your best bet. And a hotel like the one in the photo above would give you the best chance of being able to blend in, since the lot is fairly large.

If a hotel parking lot feels too risky, go for a truck stop. There are always truckers sleeping in their vehicles. Seeing car passengers asleep at a truck stop is less common, but it can be done if you find a spot away from the busy area.

Alternatives to Parking in a Hotel Lot

If you don’t want to take the chance of sleeping in a hotel parking lot or truck stop, campgrounds may be the first option to seek out.

There’s no rule that says you need a tent to sleep in a campground. Just pay your site fee, roll up to the campsite, and doze off in your car.

Alternately, find a busy neighborhood with lots of on-street parking. Any area that is crowded enough so that your vehicle won’t stand out is the best spot.

Large shopping malls usually have security vehicles that drive around the lot at night, but smaller strip malls typically do not, so they can be a good option.

Walmarts sometimes work, as well. The rule of thumb with Walmarts is that if you see a group of RVs or vans clustered together off in the side of the lot, they are probably sleeping overnight. So feel free to pull right over and join them.

Finding overnight parking near me was always a challenge in my van, but it was doable with some effort. Good luck!

Have you ever tried to sleep in a hotel parking lot?

5 thoughts on “Can You Sleep in Hotel Parking Lots? It’s Probably Not Legal, But…”

  1. You should really fix the part about the angry hotel manager that could take it further and try to get you arrested or a ticket or whatever by law definition it’s only trespassing when you refuse to leave after being asked to do so if no one approaches you and asks you to leave it’s not trespassing

  2. I’ve been exclusively sleeping in hotel parking lots for my rapid cross country trip to california since I’m a car camper and my car blends in very very well. A lot of the chain ones have free to access WiFi which is a plus and I feel pretty safe in their parking lots specifically since there isn’t a bunch of in and out people and I’m closed in by other cars that won’t be disturbed til morning. I do try to never leave my car once I park though and do all my business before I arrive so it can be a simple in and out sleepy time deal and I don’t arouse suspicion. I’m usually just pulling off the highway in a daze too, so it’s much easier to drive a half mile off the interstate to park than find a campsite. That would be for when I’m actually looking to enjoy myself and not just pass out somewhere safe for the night.

  3. I was homeless, and lived out of my van in the far end of the Walmart parking lot for 3 months. I left during the day and came back every night, never had a problem with walmart, as long as you are in the far end of the lot.

  4. I am a security officer, I catch people sleeping in their cars, all the time, unfortunately it is private property, the hotel and yes I will call the cops if you give me a hard time , start yelling and cursing me for politely waking you up and explaining the
    situation plus it’s not cool

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