Before we start our journey into the wonders of parking hunting I thought a little disclaimer is needed: I am BAD at organizing my journeys and on planning my parking spots. Like REAL bad. I more often than not leave things last minute and improvise.
The Kangoo is tiny and really does not look like much from the outside. This means that it’s fairly easy for me to park in most places without really getting noticed. If you have a bigger van, or something that does look like a motorhome from the outside, you might it more challenging than me to find overnight spots.
That said, I have learned a few tricks on how to find cool overnight parking spots in urban areas that I thought I could share with you all.
1. CHECK FORUMS, SITES AND APPS
Aaaaah the wonders of the web. By simply typing “overnight spot/free parking+ your location” you should be able to find forum threads with vandwellers /campervan fans. This is particularly true for touristic areas or urban areas.
My favorite app is certainly Park4night. I only recently discovered it and has really came useful in a couple of instances. It’s basically a map where people can add and rate parking spots for vans/campervans. It’s particularly popular in France, but people have really started adding up parking spots also in other EU and non EU countries. If you don’t have an app friendly phone, you can also access it through the site. The only drawback of this site is that is making great parking spots accessible to everyone so careful to add your hidden gems! Lovely Viki from vanillaicedream told me that she added the parking spot she used to park her van and the day after someone was parked at her place, something to keep in mind when uploading parking spots.
I find the use of forums and apps especially great if you need to find a parking in the city, as it can be a struggle to find free spots.
I know I know, not a really fancy tip, but apps, sites and google search is a very effective way to find last minute parkings.
I already mentioned on my How to: shower while travelling in a van blogpost that I have used Couchsurfing to have showers in winter. Well CS call also be useful to find a parking spots, especially in urban areas where parking can be a nightmare! By using CS you’ll not only get a free, safe parking spot for the night, you’ll also get to meet locals with whom have a chat and share a beer. BIG bonus. Even if you can’t find anyone with a parking space available, you will be able to get tips on where it’s safe to park.
3. CHURCHES & GRAVEYARDS
If I planning to spend the night in small villages, I usually look for the local parish or graveyard. They usually have a parking nearby and are super quiet at night. Graveyards also usually have a little fountain were you can top up your water if needed. Perfect spot unless you’re afraid of ghosts. I never had any issues sleeping in church parkings, but be aware that you’ll probably be woken up early by the bells, especially on Sundays!
4. LOCAL PARKS
Parks are probably my favorite place to park in urban areas. Most of the times parks have good parking all around it and are relatively quiet at night. Parks is the closest you can get to nature in a city and it’s a great spot if you too are traveling with dogs. Big parks are the best in by opinion, as you can drive around it and see what’s the quietest spot. Also, big city parks usually have public toilets you can use during the day. It’s not rare to find other vans/motorhomes parked around parks in cities, there is a reason why! Careful though, some parks are also the meeting place for young thugs at night, look out for empty bottles around you’re parking place, you don’t want to be woken up by drunken people or worse having people trying to break in your vehicle.
5. PUBS PARKINGS
More often than not, pubs owners will let you park in their premises for the night if you go and eat in the night before. You can either contact them earlier to ask if that’s possible, or ask directly when you’re there. Just be friendly, explain that you’re traveling and show you’ll be no bother. This is a particularly practical solution in the England, Wales and Scotland.
6. INDUSTRIAL PARKS & SERVICE STATIONS
Certainly not the fanciest or prettiest option, BUT it can be a good last resort. Industrial parks are usually quiet at night, and there are plenty of parking spots. Yes, there will be the occasional truck passing by at improbable hours, but there are worse things. Careful though, industrial parks can be quite isolated so if something happens there wouldn’t be anybody around to help. Service stations are usually noisier but there are always people going around so although they aren’t pretty, I feel safe when I park there. Motorway service station are the best, so if you are desperate for parking, you can always take the motorway section next to you, stay in the nearest service station in it and then leave at the next exit. I’ve done that a few times in France were I couldn’t be bothered to find parking.
7. RESIDENTIAL AREAS
Residential areas can be quite tricky, as it really depends on the neighborhood and on the size of the city. It will be easier to get unnoticed in the suburbs of a big city, then in a very small town. The more movement there is, the least people will see you’re there. If you are parking in a very small town, in front of a house, chances are that they WILL see you and get concerned! If you have a very scruffy looking van and you park in a very posh neighborhood you will also likely draw attention. I never park directly in front of a house, I always try to find a little stretch of secondary road where there aren’t any house doors/gates facing in that direction.
8. TIPS FROM LOCALS
This is something I don’t do often, as I am always concerned to let strangers know what I am up to. However, if you are having a chat with a local and you have a good feel for them, you can ask where it would be a good place to park in the area. You don’t have to mention that you’ll be sleeping in the vehicle, you can just say that you need to leave your van somewhere for a couple of days and you need a free, safe spot (little white lie here).
Those are just little suggestions that came from my experience in urban areas. If you live in a different continent, you might have a totally different opinion on which are the best urban spots (eg. Walmart in the US).
Finally, by trying for yourself you’ll develop a good sense of what is a good spot and what isn’t. It all comes with trial and error. Thinking of the first parking spots I choose makes me cringe and laugh at the same time (parking on the side of an isolated road just out of Calais? BAD idea!). You will get better at recognizing good parking spots with time, so be persistent. Also, accept that you won’t be able to find the dream parking spot every single night. Sometimes you’ll have to adapt to sleep in OK places, wake up and move on. That’s part of the deal 😉