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.
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.
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?