Parking was by far one of the bigger challenges on the road trip. When I left my parents house in Vegas on August 15, I had no idea where I would be spending the night. Somewhere in Santa Barbara, but I was definitely worried. The friend that I was visiting lives in a house in the hills, and there was no way that my 35ft school bus would fit around all those treacherous curves and switchbacks. So along the way, having trouble finding diesel, I stopped along the road, to google some campgrounds. Found two campgrounds and made some calls.
It was still prime time weather in Santa Barbara, and it didnt help it was saturday night. To that end, I landed at the Rancho Oso campground. It was pricey at $60 per night, but I parked there for a few nights. Right off the bat, I was off to a great learning experience. Not to worry about parking so much, as I had found a great place in the hills, with shooting stars, and pot luck dinners with the random people around me. I got to feed horses, and everyone was so exciting and loving on the bus. It all worked out better than perfect. This is the life for me.
However, parking does require some trial and error, reading signs, and trusting your gut. And at times, you have to spend a little more money.
Obviously, I stand out. I'm rolling around your towns and cities in a light blue School Bus, with a wooden roof rack carrying a kayak. There are curtains and an AC unit in the back. License plate "SKOOLIE." Something is happening in there. This is cool. Different. As one guy put it "Oh, you're the bus man?! We were all wanting to know what that guy is all about!" So where ever I park, I have to be conscious and aware of the fact some people might come knocking on my door, to see it and ask questions. But if anything else, they'll remember you standing or being parked somewhere for a long time.
In the 30 state road trip, 121 miles short of 10,000 miles driven, I mostly stuck to Rest Stops along the highways when I was actually moving from one place from another. In Seattle I parked in one of the northern neighborhoods, along the street. I had to fold in the drivers site mirror for clearance to the road. In Boston, I had my home parked across the street of a park in marked street parking. In Fort Collins, near my friends apartment, I parked by the school across the street, which was street parking for the apartments. Ive parked the bus in the smaller cities and towns quite a few times, never an issue.
However, READ THE SIGNS! In Boston the issue became street cleaning. I was there Monday night, and Tuesdays they have street cleaners come through. One side is every 2nd and 4th Tuesday, the side I was on was every 1st and 3rd Tuesday. In Buffalo, it became an issue of not being able to park along the neighborhood streets from 7pm to 6pm the next day. Be mindful of fire hydrants, loading areas, and any other hazards or places you might be asked to move. I have also come to realize that a 35ft school bus is not designed for downtown areas.
Also, not all the Interstate Highway Rest Stop areas are the same. Heading West on Interstate 40 into Tennessee, it was getting late and I just really wanted to park, eat and relax. Now, when I say late, this is adventure/bus time. Wake up early with the sun (The sky's awake, so i'm awake!) So late was maybe 8 or 9pm, but the sun had already set. So I got to the Visitor Center rest stop, and it was a strictly enforced, 2 hour parking minimum. So I drove to the next one, which had a huge area for parking. No visible signs anywhere. Some of the signs posted near the entrances to some of the stops say there is no camping, and no overnight parking. Make sure to follow all posted signs. There are a lot of people on the road, and its a nice thing to know that if you're on a highway, you will be able to find refuge somewhere for a few hours at night.
Rest Stops on the same highways, but through different states, are also different. Some have huge lots for a separation of campers and truckers. Most allow idling engines, so you have to listen to that all night. Others don't allow it, so those are nice. You don't ever quite know what you will come across. There were times I rolled in at 7 pm, and did not leave until 10am or so. I don't say this as a recommendation, but I was never talked to.
Signs are confusing. Some say "No Camping." So I thought, well, cant park here. Not necessarily what the sign means. Camping to me, means a tent or something on or near the ground. You don't camp in a trailer, bus, or van. You are parking. It does, however, mean that people traveling and living in tiny homes, dont bring out your lawn chairs, pee outside, set up your grill, etc. You get in at night, park for a few hours/overnight and then you're gone. You are not setting up "Camp." So, doing some research and reading peoples articles and posts from long term RV'ers, and seeing all these signs myself, you want to look for the "Strictly enforced" "No overnight parking" and most definitely, always "No Parking."
I parked at bigger store lots, such as Wal-Mart and Lowes or Home Depot for a couple hours during the day, but never overnight at any of them. Wal-Mart has a reputation for allowing Tiny Home/Home on Wheels to park in their lots overnight. Many of the ones I drove by, or pulled into, had signs for "NO Overnight or Extended parking." Some said "NO unauthorized parking by trucks, campers or RV's." There are sites that list all the Wal-Marts and if they allow overnight parking or not. I chose to be more on the road and be at rest stops, than park in those lots. I wanted a different experience, in the cities, in the woods.
Some of my favorite parking/campsite/homeishwereyouparkit I randomly found, either by driving around, or through an app I came across, which links to www.freecampsites.net
The site linked me to a really gorgeous spot, some sort of California State Recreation Area. It was a bit off the path, windy sand roads through the trees, and then coming up into magnificent views of the local hills and landscape. Sunsets, sunrises. Free. Solar panels providing the little energy I need.
I found a spot just off the local highway in Virginia. Pulled into the lot, did not see any signs. There was a commercial house building of some sort, the interior was not finished, but it wasn't a construction site. Anyhow, I backed in, parked around 4pm that day. I'm pretty much always ready to move, if not within 15-20 minutes, so if someone comes and asks me to leave, I will gladly do that. So, there is always a bit of an uneasy feeling. Worried that you might have to find another spot. So, some nights, it was a bit hard to relax.
The next day, a cop pulls in as I was eating dinner. I had planned to stay another night, since I was just standing there, and I wasnt able to talk to anyone about it. So he talks to me about the area, asks for my ID, and just asked me kindly if I would'nt mind moving. I left within 15 minutes to a rest stop a bit down the highway. The only other run in I had with police, was in New York at my friends Grandmas house. One of the neighbors just wanted to make sure she was aware there is a 35ft Blue School Bus in her driveway.
In Santa Barbara, CA, Leavenworth, WA, Erie, NY Hot Springs, AK I paid for campgrounds, usually KOA's. There is usually WiFi, you can do laundry, and they're clean. I'm not usuallya fan of these campgrounds, Id rather be somewhere further away from people and not just in a lot somewhere, as was the case in Seattle. I was literally on a rock lot, with metal fences, in the middle of a busy city. But that was the only thing in that area, and it was fairly cheap. So, unless there are things I need to take care of, like fully charge the house batteries, hot shower with the ability to dump the black water tank, laundry, etc, I try to find free things along the highways and the cities.
The ABSOLUTE sweetest spot was in Aurora, Nebraska. Site with maybe 10 RV back in sites. FREE electric, water and dump station. 3-4 night maximum. That was the coolest place. There are spots all over the US that are hidden and a real treasure when you find them. Word of mouth, through internet research, etc. I quickly lost all the initial worry that I had. I would find parking somewhere. The last night before I entered Florida, I pulled off a less busy road and got as far into the grass as I could. I was on a slant and did not sleep well. But It had been dark for a while, raining, and I had been on the road for 11 hours. I needed to pull over. If parking in a lot somewhere, you might be asked to move at some point. Which is alright if you are tired, at least you aren't driving on the road, frantic, nervous, in fear. Simply pull over. You will always find somewhere to park.
Take someone with you. You drive, and they worry about researching and navigating.
You will always find a place to park.
No Camping does not mean No overnight Parking
Google where ever you are "This city/area free camping"
Rest Areas are great for stopping, not very good for getting a good nights rest