Whether on a road trip or living out of your car, finding free places to park can be a challenging task. The truth is, if staying for multiple days in a city, it’s not wise to stay in the same place more than a couple times in a row. It draws way too much attention and people start asking questions. So it’s important to switch it up. For me the most important aspects in finding places to park my car for the night must have these very important elements:
The trick is to not to stay hidden, but to stay low key. Staying hidden is almost impossible. Staying low key is tricky, but can be done. Just about everywhere I park, there is at least one person who knows my car is there. However very few people know there is someone sleeping in it. The trick here is park in a place thats is on middle ground, between secluded and not too obvious.
Finding a place to park where you won’t have contact with a single person in a city like Austin is dang near impossible. So really, the best you can hope for is a place that sees minimal traffic. Places like parks, old lots, backroads and even churches provide just enough low traffic to make it work for a few nights at a time. Other parts of the country with a larger land:people ratio is much easier.
Like co-workers, lights are great to have but can be super annoying at times. (That’s a joke.) Parking near a light at night can be helpful when looking for something or trying to set up. But when trying to sleep they can be especially annoying. Lights just make it really difficult to avoid attention and get some decent shuteye. Just because you park in a low lit area does not mean you are in hidden. It also does not mean you are in the dark and avoiding the light. The best strategy I find for finding parking is to first try to find wooded areas closed off by roads and street lights. If I can’t find that, my next step is to look for old parking lots or behind buildings. Finding a place in the city with practically no light is almost impossible. To avoid incoming light I recommend curtains. This keeps out light and any strangers trying to sneak a peak.
The first night I ever slept in my car I though I had it made. It was this private little dirt road behind some trees in this section of Austin that saw very little traffic. You couldn’t see my from the road and the nearest light was blocked off from the trees. It was almost perfect. All except the fact that it was right next to a train track. I awoke sometime in the middle of the night to the sounds of a blaring horn through my windows. Needless to say, I never parked there again. Low noise is key because getting a good night sleep is key. The biggest noises to look out for are trains, the constant sound of car doors, and loud people.
Keeping these four things in mind when finding a parking stop while on the road should make things a little easier. Below I’ve given four of my favorite kinds of parking spots to help you when choosing the right camping spot for the night.
Places like parks typically will be pretty low key at night, with the occasional teenager or two scoping out a good place to make-out. The issue with parking in parks is the traffic you face with the morning runners and joggers. You can usually find low light, and noise typically is not an issue. Parks are my number one places to lookout for because generally they are the prettiest and who doesn’t love waking up surrounded by nature. Keep in mind, weekends typically are busier than the week days so you may see much more traffic.
There are good ones and bad ones, and telling the difference between the two is difficult. Some parking lots (not all) are monitored by police. Trust me, the last thing you want to wake up to is the tapping of a Maglite on your window. It’s happened, and its not the most pleasant experience in the world. Generally if this happens, if you are polite and have no warrants, they will just tell you to move. In rare cases they even suggest other places to park. The benefit to parking lots is its pretty low key and doesn’t attract too much attention. The downside, most parking lots see pretty high traffic early in the morning. Lighting can be an issue with the bigger “Wal-mart” parking lots but with choosing of the right spot and proper angling of your car can help alleviate some of these issues. Curtains, again, also a huge benefit.
I like parking at churches on Saturdays. Mostly because the parks are usually busy with people and I don’t have to wake up until 5 minutes before the service starts. I can dilly-dally and be in and out of my car doing things without attracting much attention. I can even get changed in the parking lot without too much judgment. The trick here is to park with your trunk facing away from the building and as far back as you can. Parking with the trunk against a wall or a fence is also helpful to keep people from seeing into your car. Noise level is moderate and lighting varies. Each church is different.
Backroads and Alleys
In Texas, a backroad just means a road less travelled. Finding the backroads with little nooks and dead ends typically is what I look for. With a backroad and a dead end you are looking at one or two people possibly knowing your parked there, but as long as it’s not private property, you should have no issues. Backroads are great with low traffic, noise and light. It’s the low key part that is hard to get away with. A random car parked on a backroad should raises a few eyebrows, but in my experience, the only thing I’ve run into of concern is the slow drivers trying to get a peep in through my tinted windows. I just stay low and let them pass. They get curious, but not curious enough to investigate further.
I like to park here on the days that it’s raining. It provides great cover and typically I’m not bothered too much by heavy traffic or excess light. The downside to parking garages is noise level. The slightest sound like the closing of a car door is amplified by 100 and can be heard on pretty much any floor. This can be troublesome if the garage you picked sees heavy traffic. Some garages, typically the ones outside city limits, and the ones you can get into without having to pay aren’t too bad. I wouldn’t recommend making a habit of parking in garages. They serve as my backup when I can’t find anything else.
So whether you are on a roadtrip or just in transition like me, these tips should help you if sleeping out of your car. Again, it’s not a good idea to stay in the same place every night because it can draw too much attention. But if you can find away to rotate between your favorite spots without having to find new places you will have a much more pleasant experience. Stay safe out there and remember to lock your doors.