Walmart is a popular overnight layover for road-weary, RV travelers. Affectionately known as Wallydocking, it’s a great way to rest without having to pay an exorbitant price to stay overnight at an RV park or campground. Walmart founder and RV enthusiast, Sam Walton, even encouraged it and remains official Walmart and Sam’s Club policy to this day. Unfortunately, stringent city ordinances are making it harder to take advantage of this popular freebie. Indeed, one news outlet recently reported that only 58 percent of Walmart stores still offer it. This lower percentage might be a good thing, however, because as we experienced recently, Wallydocking can sometimes be a “Nightmare on Elm Street,” especially as the ever-growing RV community takes advantage of this generous perk.
We were totally spent after a 10-hour day, seeing the sights in our new camper. It was dinner time and Rock Springs, Wyoming, looked like as good a place as any to get some takeout and much needed shuteye. Better yet, the city’s 6,200-foot elevation made for a relatively comfortable evening of 84 degrees with a forecasted low of 62. When we arrived at the Walmart only one other RV was parked there, a small class B owned by a couple from Phoenix who were on their way Yellowstone National Park. With a rambunctious, 11-week-old Pug with us, we opted to park in the back of the parking lot next to a freshly-mowed swath of grass. With a few trees positioned in front of us to the west, providing much-needed shade, it was the perfect Walmart parking spot, or so we thought.
After dinner, I climbed up into the cabover to relax and catch up on the news and read a few emails. I soon drifted-off into happy land, only to be awakened 30 minutes later by the wife who nudged me saying that the rock bed right next to us had just got sprayed with a heavy dose of Roundup. I hate that stuff. The weed killer invariably makes me spacey and gives me a colossal headache. Staying in our “prime” Walmart location, obviously, was no longer an option, so we relocated the rig a good 50 feet from the greenbelt. Surely, we were safe and comfy for the night, or so we thought.
Soon, the sparsely populated parking lot started to fill up with vehicles for the night. First, a travel trailer arrived, then a large class A motorhome, then a massive fifth wheel. A dozen more RVs trickled-in as the sky started to darken, then a half-dozen truckers pulled in with their heavy loads to get some much-needed rest. Even the adjacent dirt parking lot was filling-up with 18-wheelers.
Summer can be a hit or miss affair when it comes to overnighting at Walmart. This is not only due to the heat, but also the summer crowds. We can handle the summer heat with our two, strategically located 12 volt fans, but some people can’t and need to run an air conditioner. Then there are those who have to use a CPAP machine and don’t have the battery power needed to power one throughout the night. All of this usually means one thing—the dreaded generator. Several gennies could be heard chattering in the still-night air along with several idling diesel truck engines. So far, our overnight stay was anything but quiet.
Like a low-hanging cloud, the noxious fumes from the diesel engines and RV generators began to thicken over the now crowded parking lot. Predictably, the two fans in our camper began sucking-in these offensive fumes. Even the wife, who rarely complains about such things, was getting upset. So at 2230, I threw on some clothes, hopped into the truck, and slow rolled the rig to the opposite side of the parking lot where only one small class B was parked. Surely, we were safe and comfy for the night. Was it to last? Fortunately, yes. We actually ended up getting a good night sleep and were able to get some much-needed supplies from Walmart the next morning.
So what’s the moral of the story? When staying at Walmart, be prepared for the worst, or at the very least be prepared to move. The fact is overnight camping at Walmart can be a welcome respite from the road, but it can also be nightmare when crowds and inconsiderate RV owners visit. One thing we’ve noticed over the years is that some RV owners like to be near other RVs when it comes to boondocking in unknown locations—you know, birds of a feather flock together. This means when things become too crowded you might have to move to another spot or leave the Walmart parking lot entirely for a secluded parking lot or dead-end street nearby.
We actually had this happen to us last summer at the Walmart in Aberdeen, Washington. We pulled in late afternoon and found a nice secluded spot in the back corner of the Walmart parking lot. Fifteen minutes later a class A motorhome pulled-up right next to us with his front window facing our dinette window. The parking lot was practically empty, yet here was this RV literally parked just 6 feet from us, ruining our view. This wasn’t surprising knowing how some RV owners are. What was surprising is that the owner had the unmitigated gall to fire-up his generator when we were there first with all four of our windows wide open. It’s one thing to run a generator in total isolation, it’s another to run one next to another RV. Rather than confront the owner, we relocated our rig to the opposite side of the parking lot where no other RVs were parked.
Fortunately, when it comes to “urban boondocking,” there are better overnight alternatives than Walmart. We actually prefer staying at a Cracker Barrel or at a Bass Pro Shop. Due to COVID-19, the Cracker Barrel we stayed at a few weeks ago delivered our meals directly to our camper. You can’t beat that. And the great thing about a Bass Pro Shop, of course, is that they have fresh water spigots, excellent camping gear, and a terrific selection of outdoor clothing (when it comes to clothing and personal care items, Bass Pro isn’t as good as a Duluth Trading, but it comes close). Unfortunately, these establishments are fewer in number and harder to find than Walmart. Absent one of these or a vacant parking lot, we’ll have to be content with an occasional overnight stay at Wally World. We’ll just have to be on the lookout for Freddy Krueger lurking in the shadows with a generator and a container of Roundup in-hand.
Have a Walmart story of your own? We’d love to hear about it here in the comments section.