« Grapevine, TX | Main | Hanging Out at the Hangar »

Courtesy Parking Tips

Courtesy parking is great, and we love to do it. It saves money, it's usually fun, and we often get a local tour guide in the package. But if you plan to courtesy park your RV, keep in mind a few things we've learned over the past couple of years.

First off, unless your host has a similar RV to yours (particularly in terms of length), they will probably underestimate the amount of space you need to park. Several times when planning to courtesy park at homes of people who don't own an RV themselves, we've heard "Oh, no problem, we have plenty of space for you." Then we get there and find (a) low overhanging trees that would rip off the roof air conditioner; (b) an impossible turn in the driveway flanked by brick pillars; (c) no turn-around, so we'd have to back in for a long distance; (d) a wildly unlevel spot -- or, (e) all of the above!

It's hard for non-RV'ers to appreciate that a 30-foot trailer and tow vehicle amounts to a train nearly fifty feet long, and turning such a beast requires a LOT of space. You can't expect them to be able to visualize what you need, so the burden is on you to ask specific questions -- and be ready to go to Plan B if you get there and find an unsurmountable obstacle.

We've had people break out the pruning shears to trim back a bush so we could get in. In California we had to have three people to keep the Airstream from falling into a ditch while simultaneously passing under a massive branch with about 1 inch to spare. In Massachusetts we had to dodge old stone walls. In Connecticut, we had to borrow boards and blocks to lift the tongue four feet just to get close to level. In Michigan we had to back up 200 feet of S-turning driveway, in the dark!

My rule now is simple: if it doesn't look good, don't try to get in. After all, nobody's guaranteeing you'll be able to get back out again without damage.

Another thing your hosts may not understand is the need for hookups, if you are staying more than one night. We often courtesy park for several nights, which means we prefer to plug in to electricity and connect to the water, too. Murphy's Law says that most of the time, the garden hose bibb will be on the other side of the house. Your host may not mention that until you arrive. Since it's not a good idea to get your drinking water through their standard green garden hose, you've either got to have a lot of spare white hose with you, or do without a water connection. Best to arrive with a full fresh water tank, just in case.

Electric is easier, since everyone has a garage outlet or an exterior power outlet. Then you just need 50-100 feet of ordinary electric cord. We don't bother with a 30-amp extension cord, since hardly anyone has a 30-amp outlet available.

You're really lucky if your courtesy parking host has a place for you to dispose of graywater. More often, your gray capacity will be the limiting factor to your visit. If our host offers a way to get rid of it, that's great, but we don't like to put them on the spot by asking. The last thing we want to do is have a neighbor complain after we're gone, and ruin the courtesy parking opportunity for everyone.

Speaking of neighbors, one of the first things we ask people who don't own an RV is whether they have zoning or neighborhood deed restrictions that prohibit or restrict RV storage. This is for our protection as well as theirs. Nobody wants to get a call from an authority saying, "You've got to move that thing or be fined."

Good courtesy parking etiquette means that the host is not obligated to provide anything other than a parking space. We don't expect hookups, but we appreciate them when available. Most people will offer right away. Some will even offer dinner, and want to have us visit for a while. This is what we like, but we always stress that our hosts are under no obligation at all. They shouldn't feel like they have houseguests to entertain, feed, or keep company. We don't ask to use the shower, borrow the telephone, or get a ride into town.

On the other hand, when a host offers a nice bonus, like high speed Internet access, we usually accept. If they have wireless Internet in their house, you can often pick up the signal outside without coming in to bother them. I now carry a Linksys WRE54G "wireless extender" that I can plug in outside to repeat the wifi signal -- which means I can pick it up easily from inside the aluminum skin of the trailer.

The last tip is to bring little gifts with you. We travel with tiny boxes of chocolates, "nips" of maple syrup, special Vermont cookies, Airstream Life magazines, Macadamia nuts, coffee, and other things to give our hosts. Hosts don't usually expect anything except your company, so they are always pleased to get a little symbol of appreciation. If we stay for a long time, we usually take our host out to dinner, too. The money saved by not getting a campground at $20-30 per night can make for a very nice meal at a local restaurant.

Finally, when you are looking for courtesy parking, the easiest thing to do is just ask people you meet. Many people will say they don't have space, but once in a while you'll score a nice spot to stay and end up seeing things you would never have seen otherwise.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Please enter the security code you see here