Where could one sleep for free in Florida?
December 21, 2004 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Where could one sleep for free in Florida? Is it illegal to sleep on all beaches, or are there certain public places where you can? What are the laws regarding parking in, say, a Wal-Mart parking lot and sleeping in your car?
posted by borkingchikapa to Travel & Transportation around Florida (19 answers total)
I thought Wal-Mart encourages overnight parking for folks in campers (is that what they are called?). I'm not sure if its different for cars. Although, if its one of those 24-hour monstrosities, then I don't know if you would even be noticed, especially during the holidays.
posted by Boydrop at 12:51 PM on December 21, 2004

If you're not an axe murderer and you have a sleeping bag, I have a spare room in panama city.
posted by u.n. owen at 12:51 PM on December 21, 2004

I was in Florida recently, doing disaster relief for hurricane season. In the areas I worked, there were sometimes literally no places available, given the thousands of folks who were unable to return to their homes. During the grimmest of times, I found hotel parking lots to be useful. Sleep in a dark corner of the lot, then in the morning stroll in the back door and wash your face in the lobby restroom. There are hotels around that offer open wi-fi, so I was even able to read metafilter a bit on the laptop. Overall, however, I would say the experience sucked, and I don't recommend it. While it was better than commuting for hours to the nearest hotel room, I was glad to leave the lifestyle behind when I foud a friend who was willing to share a spare bedroom.
posted by Jonasio at 12:59 PM on December 21, 2004

A lot of highway rest areas have signs that say "no camping" but they're okay with people sleeping in their cars, usually as long as it's clear you're not living there or causing trouble. I have done this at rest areas in many states, but I'm not sure Florida was one of them. One important thing to know if you do this: bring bug screens, either for you or your car windows. The problem with sleeping in your car is that it gets stiflingly hot, but if you open the windows it gets instantly buggy.

I've also done what Jonasio describes and have never had problems. If you have slightly more funds than zero but not enough for a hotel room, you might want to look at camping guides [AAA has one, I know there are more] to find a legtimate place to stay overnight in your car or in a tent for pretty low fees. When I was travelling a lot I found that there were even some free campsites [usually with outhouses and limited running water] especially down South.
posted by jessamyn at 1:06 PM on December 21, 2004

jessamyn's right, primarily because they'd rather have you sleeping in your car at a safe rest area than deal with a traffic accident caused by a sleepy driver.
posted by u.n. owen at 1:08 PM on December 21, 2004

There are several reststops which aren't huge plazas along the Turnpike and other long stretches of road here in Florida, some of which are guarded by nighttime security. I doubt they'll mind if you're sleeping. Better off asleep in a parked vehicle than a moving one.

An increasing number of Walmart won't allow overnight parking in their lots anymore, but I really doubt anyone can enforce that at those 24 hour centers.

And to answer your question, Miami and Miami Beach police officers will probably wake you up for sleeping on the beach. There are several hostels on South Beach which are dirt cheap.
posted by icontemplate at 1:09 PM on December 21, 2004

You can check for US Forest Service, maybe, if FL has forests. I think you can camp (in this case: sleep in car) anywhere in the forest, apart from actual camp sites, for free. Of course you have to respect water sources (streams/lakes), observe fire regs., leave no trash behind, etc.

Also, if you have a map/atlas that indicates rest areas off of the major highways, you can sleep at those too. It may be quieter.
posted by carter at 1:10 PM on December 21, 2004

another resource
(note: I am not affiliated, just found it to be very handy)
posted by defcom1 at 1:29 PM on December 21, 2004

FL forests = swamp.
posted by icontemplate at 1:30 PM on December 21, 2004

FL forests = swamp.

I thought as much.
posted by carter at 2:02 PM on December 21, 2004

I slept on the beach one night at Vero Beach during college. It was during spring break, and I was dropped off by one roadtrip ride and had to wait until the morning to get picked up by the next roadtrip ride. No problems for me. But I'd recommend a hotel / hostel / campsite / couchsurf.
posted by Alt F4 at 2:27 PM on December 21, 2004

I've tried all of these and they all work fine except for sleeping on the beach. Cops generally don't go for sleeping on the beach, especially in more desirable locales. Given the choice between sleeping in a rest area and a chain motel parking lot, I'd choose the motel parking lot almost every time. I also think there are few ground rules to keep in mind:

1. Don't return to the same place night after night.
2. Have your papers in order and easily accessible for when you get rousted by the cops/security.
3. Don't have any contraband or alcohol in the car. If you must have some with you, store it in the trunk, and keep your car squeaky clean.

Sleep well, but don't be surprised by a rapping on the car window just when you finally doze off. Greet the officer with a smile and a decent story about driving and getting too sleepy to continue.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 2:40 PM on December 21, 2004

Ocala Forest is not a swamp! I don't think . . .
posted by Boydrop at 3:18 PM on December 21, 2004

The several times I've toured the US with various bands, we've slept in rest areas, we've never been hassled. We also did one hotel parking lot. This was usually a giant 15 seater van with between 3-5 people in it.

I've also slept in rest areas in my car and have never had a problem. As a suggestion though, I would think you're better off in the giant rest areas (usually on turnpikes) rather than small ones. Also, keep your doors locked and anything valuable hidden.

If you're really tired, truck stops will work in a pinch, but they're very noisey.
posted by drezdn at 5:42 PM on December 21, 2004

Ocala National Forest is not even remotely a swamp. And, there are signs posted at the rest stops throughout Florida that specifically say not to sleep in your car there. That said, I've napped there on long journeys.

If you're not an axe murderer and you have a sleeping bag, I have a spare room in Fort Lauderdale.
posted by stevis at 6:17 PM on December 21, 2004

I've never had to find a place to sleep for free in Florida, but I know someone who has.
posted by cali at 7:21 PM on December 21, 2004

It's illegal to sleep on beaches. It's usually a city ordinance, so a remote beach in a smaller town might not be as bad legally, but it's probably still very dangerous. I don't recommend it at all. What I've seen done alot -- sleep in your car close to the beach. If the cops come, your just a beach bum / surfer / etc, who drove all night and wanted to get an early start at the beach. This worked for a friend who was homeless for a month. He did have surfboards on the top of his car, and out of state plates, so ymmv.
posted by zpousman at 7:31 AM on December 22, 2004

FL forests = swamp.

This has been said before, but this statement couldn't be more wrong.

Ocala and Osceola National Forests are certainly not swamps. And certainly big.
posted by oaf at 10:57 AM on December 22, 2004

Actually, it could be wrong if I said

FL forest = pink rubber gorilla suits

That would be more wrong.

Alright, how 'bout

South FL forest = swamp. Or lots and lots of mangroves.
posted by icontemplate at 2:08 PM on December 22, 2004

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