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Have Walmart campers changed for the worse? RVtravel.com readers share their observations

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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.

Theresa O.said:

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.

##RVT1073

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Lonewolf
1 month ago

Man some of the comments, like from Deb or Marybeth, you have to wonder what planet they are from. This IS an article about RV’ing and one of the many facets of the lifestyle, travelers on the move looking for a convenient safe overnight stay. Although many who have spent a night at Walmart may have witnessed squatters that think WM owes them Free accommodations, I don’t believe that is the majority at all.

Earlier this year my wife and I completed a 7000-mile cross-country trip through 24 states. We stayed at quite a few WMs, especially on the dead-head return trip. I can’t think of a single instance that we were denied an overnight at a selected overnight. This included several WMs that had signs posted “No Overnight Parking”. Always we either checked in to the Customer Service Counter to ask permission, or my wife called ahead.

The gain for WM for our stays was over $1000 in purchases for supplies, mostly groceries, and beverages, but also things like DEF for my DP.

T Hartman
1 month ago

We have spent almost 6 months on the road this year. We stop often at Walmart. In inner cities, they can be rough, but we have never had any problems. We normally try to stay just outside the big cities and they haven’t really changed.

pursuits
1 month ago

It is all about cultural changes. People who have self-respect for themselves and a respect for others behave appropriately. Those attributes are declining rapidly as entitlement takes their place.

Janet
1 month ago

I never understood Walmart parking lots to be destination RV parks for any reason; not planned overnight camping which is what I’m reading here in every post. I have always thought the practice of overnighting at Walmart (using it as a generic descriptor for any business parking lot) was used as a haven for travelers who were so tired it was NOT SAFE for them to keep driving to their next RV park or whatever other destination. You park, you sleep for a few hours, period; then you leave. No slides, no levelers, no grills (fix a sandwich inside if you’re hungry). Theoretically, you never even open your doors or go outside, except maybe to go into Walmart or check on your toad. It’s a stopover, not a campsite. To plan your trip taking advantage of Walmart’s generosity is just cheap and inconsiderate regardless of what kind of rig you have. Sorry. Just my opinion.

BlueBird86
2 months ago

Roswell, NM Wal-Mart is plugging a long at basically normal. There’s not really much in the way of campgrounds/rvparks that are convenient to staying in town. What there is has some “interesting” rules. And you have difficulty taking an RV downtown as there is no place to park.
As for the trash in the Wal-Mart parking lot. It’s all over NM. No one picks up the parking lots, they just wait for the wind to blow it someplace else. Of course the wind blows in new trash.
We park the truck camper in Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Dollar Tree, Big Lots, Harbor Freight and Hobby Lobby about once or twice a week (depends on how often we take the dog to the dog park in town) and leave the dog in it while we shop. My daughter parks the truck overnight in her store’s parking lot so she isn’t driving home in bad weather or if she has an 8 to 10 hour time between work shifts. We have been told the “correct” way to to park in the camper. We just laugh and walk away.

John Koenig
2 months ago

Although I have NOT “overnighted” at a Walmart in several years, back then I did see more than a few RVers abusing Walmart’s hospitality. I can understand Walmart’s decision to cut back on overnight parking by anyone when relatively simple requirements / standards are so blatantly ignored by a few. I can’t remember seeing a fuel station that did not have garbage cans at the pumps. RVs and cars need to fuel up; as a paying fuel customer, you’d be entitled to deposit a bag of garbage. Of course, a fuel station is not a municipal waste disposal facility and should not be treated as if it was. Sadly, there will always be people who have NO sense of personal responsibility. There needs to be some way to go after the “slobs” who ruin things for people who ARE responsible.

Anthony Martin
2 months ago

Hello..I work at a Walmart in Arizona..I have been asked to watch for overnight parking and all day parking for RV’s and vehicles..Just because their is no signs or a “nice manager” allowing this….It is prohibited due to liability…The question is..” Do you take full responsibilities in your vehicle journeys?” We have had medical emergencies from just walking up to a vehicle to do a ” Welfare check” …..

BlueBird86
2 months ago
Reply to  Anthony Martin

https://corporate.walmart.com/frequently-asked-questions

Can I park my RV at a Walmart store?
While we do not offer electrical service or accommodations typically necessary for RV customers, Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers. Consequently, we do permit RV parking on our store parking lots as we are able. Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on availability of parking space and local laws. Please contact management in each store to ensure accommodations before parking your RV.

david
2 months ago

It’s all about morality, and each year it’s getting worse.

CeeCee
2 months ago

This year we haven’t stayed at a Walmart. However, the WM near our suburban home, which isn’t conveniently located for overnight travelers, occasionally has beater RVs staying for 2-3 days. During our recent stay in Kalispell, MT, NO stores permit RVs. Housing prices are out-of-sight and RV parks are filling up with displaced renters. We spoke with several who are worried about wintering their families in their RVs through a Montana winter.

Bill
2 months ago

The root of all this is called ‘capitalism’ which has replaced democracy as the principle behind the existence of the USA.
As long as rents are allowed to skyrocket and housing prices soar this Wal-Mart issue will exist. Oh, and keep wage growth to a minimum to tie it all together. Fortunately for the carpetbaggers there are is enough wealth around to support them…

Ellen
2 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Pretty sure your definition of capitalism is a little off. And America is not a democracy, and never has been.

Gary
1 month ago
Reply to  Ellen

Thank you!

Suru
2 months ago

I live in a semi-smallish town of about 30,000 people. We have a smaller Walmart in town with a small parking lot. On the weekends in the past our Walmart would have at most 3-4 RVs overnighting in the parking lot. During the week there might have been one or two. Now all week long there are at least 7 to 8 RVs and more on the weekends. Some have set up residence. They take up about a 3rd of the parking lot. Recently there have been some problems with the RVers parking and blocking the driveways. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before RV parking is banned there.

Steve H
2 months ago

The first Walmarts we saw banning overnight camping were in Colorado ski towns years ago. And those were banned by city ordinance, not the store manager. In 2016, we stopped at a Walmart in a small, rural Missouri town on US 36 for groceries that had signs that read “No truck, trailer, or RV parking”. Within the past five years, every Walmart in the Denver metro area have posted “No overnight parking” signs, but those are all due to city ordinances. The Denver metro bans were a response to homelessness, but the ski area bans were aimed at “ski bums”. And I have no idea why the Missouri Walmart banned large vehicle parking. So, not all Walmart parking bans are just “anti-homeless”.

In 2013, we went to the Walmart in Whitehorse, Yukon, for new truck tires (long story). The parking lot was completely rimmed with RVs with their slides out, awnings deployed, stairs and jacks down, lawn chairs and grills under the awnings, and even trailers without TVs attached. So that’s not new either!

Lee Ensminger
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve H

We saw the same thing in 2014 at the Whitehorse Walmart. Ratty looking RVs were plentiful, and it was obvious that a number of them had been there for quite awhile. I don’t know why they put up with it. Canadians are polite, but they shouldn’t have to be doormats!

Steve H
2 months ago
Reply to  Lee Ensminger

Be interesting to know how many of those RVs had US state license plates vs. Canadian province plates. I didn’t pay any attention to that.

Jake
1 month ago
Reply to  Lee Ensminger

I overnighted in that Whitehorse Walmart on the way to/from Alaska. Enjoyed walking from there into town, to restaurants, etc. There were a few ratty RVs and van dwellers, but most seemed to be passing through–even if they were grilling outside. I since read elsewhere that that Walmart has since banned overnight parking.

Ron
2 months ago

As a society we have become very disrespectful and believe rules don’t apply, especially since 2016. Walmart and all freeloader parking lot camping should be banned.

Lee Ensminger
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron

Nice try, Ron, but 2016 has nothing to do with people acting like self-centered idiots at Walmart AND campgrounds.

Bill
2 months ago
Reply to  Lee Ensminger

Yes, it does…

Lee Ensminger
2 months ago
Reply to  Bill

No, Bill, it doesn’t. I’ve been RVing since the 1980’s, and there has always been a certain percentage of people who don’t know how to behave in society, and think that “freedom” translates to “I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, and to heck with anyone else!”

Lois
2 months ago
Reply to  Lee Ensminger

I’ve read all the responses. I’m back to reply to your post. The most replies I’ve seen here. Yes, a growing percentage of self-proclaimed “mannerly” people without respect for public property or RVers. We stopped overnights about 4 years ago. Due to “free”; people picnic, party ,visit loudly with family from vicinity and the list goes on. We plan our stops with CG reservations now. Almost 17 years on the road. Sometimes we say “Oh no, now we’ve seen it all “. Life is too good to settle down to S&B. Safe travels.

RallyAce
2 months ago

In many cases the ban is not instituted by WalMart but rather by local zoning ordinances.

Bob p
2 months ago

Perhaps it would be more informative to view the statistics by region, i.e. what areas had the the worst problems. We live in the south and have traveled primarily in the south and have used many Walmart parking lots without problems being visible. When we did see problems it usually involved someone with a license plate from the northeast. Usually the only time I see license from the northwest and west is in FL resorts or on their way there. I imagine the NE is in their raising, parents are to busy to spend anytime teaching their children right from wrong so they raise themselves and do a poor job of it. Sorry that’s my opinion.

Cheri Sicard
2 months ago
Reply to  Bob p

Who do you suppose keeps such statistics Bob? The government? Wal Mart? The phantom RV Police? I believe I did state in the article that the closer you are to an urban area the worse it will be. That is as close as you are going to get to “statistics” on WalMart parking. Unless of course, you would like to start a research project Bob.

Larry Lee
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheri Sicard

There are websites that have kept track of which Walmarts Do or Don’t allow overnight parking. It would be simple to check those out noting the dates when they changed from Do to Don’t and where the Don’t’s are located.

Cheri SIcard
2 months ago
Reply to  Larry Lee

Since that exists what possible need is there to recreate it here ?

Diane M.
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheri Sicard

Cheri, he does say at the end that it’s his opinion, so not really based on anything other than his own imagination and stereotypes. As someone with license plate from the Northeast,I beg to differ. Most of us do spend time with our children teaching them right from wrong.

Jerry
2 months ago
Reply to  Bob p

I don’t think parenting has anything to do with it. Keep in mind we are typically talking about folks with money here.

The worst behaved are the half million dollar rigs, be it a fifth wheel, super c or motor coach. Slides out, jacks down and generators running.

Not to mention the last Wally world we tried to stay at had the lot congested with 3 motorcoaches towing 30 foot enclosed trailers. Ridiculous

It isn’t simply the rich and entitled.

Then again we have van lifers going #2 in their 5 gallon bucket in plastic shipping bag then dropping it in the parking lot.

One stop in Georgia the grass in the parking lot islands had a nice even coating of dog crap.