We recently asked our readers this question about typical Walmart campers:
If you are a regular Walmart camper, we’d like to know if you have seen a change in the type of people who stay in the parking lots. Is it pretty much as it always has been, or have you noticed more people who appear to be barely getting by, living in old or beat-up RVs?
As usual, when you poll a large swath of the public, the answers were mixed.
I believe this can be explained with a very logical reason and that is:
Location, location, location!
Over the last year-and-a-half that I have spent full-time RVing and traveling the country coast to coast, and a lifetime of RVing off and on before that, I can safely say it depends on the location of the Walmart.
When possible, I avoid parking in Walmarts just because there are usually better options. But I do from time to time. And yes, I have definitely observed changes… in some areas.
In my experience, the closer you are to a big city where rents are prohibitively expensive and people have been pushed out of their homes, the more plentiful and questionable your fellow Walmart campers will tend to be.
One Northern California parking lot I can recall had a rear parking lot that was so scary it resembled the set of “Mad Max.” I drove on by.
However, I have stayed at Walmarts in small towns where the store managers welcomed me with open arms and I was the only RVer in the lot.
Just like bricks-and-sticks real estate, I have found that the quality of Walmart camping comes down to location.
What did RVtravel.com readers say about Walmart campers?
About one-third of the readers who answered this question said they saw no changes. But two-thirds definitely did.
One reader even seemed to take offense at the mere question.
Deb G. said:
My thoughts are that this type of article is meant to be divisive. What type of people? So people who can’t afford big rigs are a different type from people who indeed may be barely scraping by? In case you haven’t noticed homelessness is a growing problem. Rent is rising faster than wages. What’s the purpose behind this kind of article? I was a fan until you decided to venture out of RVing news and step into let’s ban the poor folks from mingling with the rich folks.
Nobody is trying to ban poor folks, and we are sorry you feel that way, Deb. Our intent with this question was not a statement on homelessness in America. Although homelessness is a driving concern and a significant factor in why 2/3 of our readers have seen a change in Walmart campers.
And because so many have seen changes, not only in who is staying at Walmarts but also in Walmart’s own policies, it proves the question more than legitimate.
Marybeth A. echoed Deb’s sentiments without discounting the legitimacy of the question.
This subject has the potential for political mayhem. Yes, there is a notable difference within the last few years. No available housing. Many people are unable to rent Airbnbs—even people with regular jobs can’t afford them. Corporations have bought up nearly all available properties in our little summer tourist town, so there is NO housing.
Many saw changes in the ability to camp at Walmart at all with signs in the parking lots prohibiting the practice.
These readers are worried, and with good reason, that the days of free camping at Walmart may soon be coming to end.
Alan C. just returned from an almost-3-month trip in the U.S. and Canada and said:
No place in the U.S. was parking allowed at Walmart. We have in the past used it often on travel days but started seeing problems a couple of years ago. Between people setting up camp, chairs out, grills, etc., and people just living there, unfortunately, the end was in sight for a system that worked for Walmart and for us. I don’t know what the answer is except our wonderful politicians need to solve the homeless problem.
John B. echoed Alan’s sentiments with this observation:
Despite a 13-state cross-country road trip earlier this year, I have yet to see a Walmart that still allows overnight parking. As far as I can tell, almost all stores changed their policy in mid-2020, disallowing RV parking for the night.
A lot of our readers, myself included, solidly place the blame on those abusing the Walmart parking privilege, which in turn hurts all RVers.
Robert G. says:
We have spent the night in numerous Walmarts east of the Mississippi this summer and have noticed about 1/4 of the time there will be one or two vehicles that give the appearance of “residing.” We also notice overnighters are more likely to roll out their awnings, set up their grills, and deploy their levelers than in the past. Couple this with frivolous lawsuits and it should be obvious our free nights on Walmart parking lots are coming to an end. It is disappointing to see how some will take advantage of a situation to the point of ruining it for everyone.
Paul L. adds:
I have seen grassy areas around Walmarts that allow overnight camping so full of dog feces that you could not walk even two feet without stepping on it. Some folks seem to think it’s up to Walmart to clean up after them and they leave their trash everywhere. And they stay for days and then wonder why Walmart is stopping overnight parking. It’s these self-serving, egotistical idiots that are ruining camping at businesses that used to allow overnight parking.
The trash problem was echoed by Timothy S., who observed this at his local Walmart:
I noticed a travel trailer parked at the far end of the lot. As I drove by, I wanted to see how everything looked due to all the articles that I have read. All was clean and proper. I did my shopping and the camper was gone, but left behind were bottles, bags, and other types of trash. It is these types of people that make it bad for those of us who would be passing through an area and just want a place to sleep for a few hours or even a little sightseeing.
Some folks saw no changes in Walmart camping
A minority of our readers saw no changes in their Walmart camping neighbors.
I suspect, as I alluded to earlier in this article, these were Walmarts in more remote or rural areas.
We’ve stayed at many Walmarts over the last three years. My observations have led me to believe that the majority of folks are using Walmart as an overnight stop on their journey. I haven’t seen any indication otherwise.
Larry F. concurred, adding:
We are full-timers and have been for four years. We frequent Walmart parking lots and are extremely grateful to Walmart for the privilege of using their lots. We have never seen one instance of inappropriate camping by dilapidated or squatting RVs of any type. Hopefully, that is not now nor will become a problem. Thank you, Walmart!
I love the optimism and wish I personally shared it.
However, since I have been on my long, long RV trip, I have made it a point to check out Walmarts across the country, regardless of whether or not I planned to stay there. Sadly, in my observations, the changes discussed in this article, brought on by America’s homelessness crisis, have become the rule and not the exception.