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Free Parking

Our Wal-Mart experience was a bust last night. At 10:30, we were surprised to hear a knock on our door. The manager of the store was there, apologetically explaining that although he had no problem with us parking, the Torrance police were known for placing "very expensive" tickets on RVs parked in the lot. The security guard who had told us it was OK was not aware of this. So, off we went -- driving in pajamas -- in search of a new spot to park. (The Bolsa Chica State Beach campground in Huntington Beach, our original destination, was not an option. The gates are locked at 9 pm.)

The good news is that the L.A. area is loaded with neighborhoods and industrial areas where one can park overnight, if you are subtle. The bad news is that our trailer, 30 feet of gleaming aluminum festooned with giant colorful graphics, is not subtle. So Eleanor punched "Camping World" into the GPS and it turned out there was one just a few miles away on I-5. By 11, we were tucked away behind a few big motorhomes in the Camping World parking lot, and back in bed.

We've stayed at Wal-Marts and other such places many times, but never have we been "moved on" by The Man. Still, we always knew it was a risk. We have enough experience finding places to park that there was never any doubt we'd find a good spot. There are no commercial campgrounds to be had in most of the L.A. area, but we have a long list of free places to try:

Super K-Mart
Cracker Barrel
Camping World
truck stops
certain fast food restaurants
municipal and county parks & parking lots
neighborhoods where RVs are visible on the street
harbor and industrial areas
unnamed pullouts

The first thing to do when checking out a spot is to look for a sign that says "Overnight parking prohibited" or words to that effect. The second thing to do is to ask anyone in authority (parking lot owner, local police, security guard) if they mind if you park there "for a few hours". The third thing to do is to make sure you feel comfortable with the spot, and finally the fourth thing to do is to park subtly (no satellite dish, no awning, no slideouts, etc) and leave early. With this strategy we have successfully parked for free many times in at least a dozen different US states.

We are going to have a bunch of articles on this subject in the next Airstream Life magazine (coming out in January). We've got a piece on boondocking, another on how Wally Byam selected free parking spots in the 1950s, and a third piece on selecting a generator to use when you are parked far away from town.


I have my mind set on getting an Airstream...but at the same time I know I won't be able to boondock as easily as George and Ms. Tioga ( On the other hand, I would not want to camp somewhere that I would worry that I might get a knock at the door in the middle of the night asking me to leave.

How was it driving on Highway 1 through Big Sur? Was it hard to maneuver the turns?

Rich ,I can't wait for my next airstream life mag. to arrive,john.

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