Driving across country where to stay (no hotels).
March 27, 2008 1:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm driving across country in a month (Oregon to NY). I drove out here 2 years ago and stayed in hotels both nights on the way out. I don't have the funds to do that this time around. Any advice about sleeping in my car at rest areas? I'm trying to marathon it and camping would probably slow me down more than I'd like.

Is it better to stop at highway side rest areas or pull off into cities and try to find a parking lot that won't boot me out? I'm going to have many of my belongings with me and won't be able to stretch out in back. Thanks!
posted by huxley to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I know for a fact that the Wal-Mart in Kalispell encourages car-campers, and it's a consensus that all of them are cool with the concept. Basically, it's free night security for Walmart.

When I road-trip, I often will pull into the parking area of a campground after hours, sleep, and then leave before opening hours. Rest-stops, my experience, are kinda skeevy.
posted by notsnot at 1:41 PM on March 27, 2008

I would do the rest areas over the cities (purely from a safety perspective), but if you're a male traveling alone, you might attract attention from highway police patrolling rest areas looking for the kind of men who "cruise" rest areas looking for anonymous sexual encounters - speaking from personal experience here. As long as you have your story straight they shouldn't hassle you too badly, though.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:42 PM on March 27, 2008

I am a male traveling alone. My only concerns are that much of the NW trip I don't have experience with. On my trip out I was almost exclusively on highway 80 (Destination was Tahoe), and on the way back I'll be cutting through central OR, Idaho, Utah and meeting up with 80 in Wyoming. I know the rural areas of those states can be pretty massive. Anyone have experience with a similar trip or advice on which cities along that stretch are good spots to end the day. I'm leaving from Eugene OR.
posted by huxley at 1:49 PM on March 27, 2008

I drove from New York to Washington three times (and back) in the late 1990s - and slept in the car most nights. I chose well-populated and well-lit rest areas on the interstate that were filled with big rigs doing the exact same thing - sleeping for the night. On other trips, I had slept in towns and more often than not got awoken by cops late at night and told to move on.

As for sleeping, I had a bag and I just kicked the seat back as far as it would go and slept right there in the driver's seat - both back seats and the passenger seat had my worldly possessions occupying them. Ear plugs and a hat pulled over my eyes kept noise & light at bay. No, it was not the most comfortable, but I was concerned with getting to Oly as fast as possible.

I never had any problems with anyone bothering me at all - but I can only speak from my experience. I think the key is parking in a busy, well lit area. I drove on I-80 and I-84 pretty much the whole way - it has plenty of large, busy rest areas. When in doubt, I found lots of trucks and followed their lead.
posted by gyusan at 1:50 PM on March 27, 2008

The highways from Eugene west don't generally have a lot of rest stops available for use. They are generally two lane stretches, some with no services for quite a while. Most of the big towns have a Wal*Mart though, and if you're doing the drive in 3 days, you'll be well out of OR by the time you need to stop anyway.
As far as Interstate rest stops, my general practice in a car is to find a spot over by the truckers to stash myself.
It's generally a bit more secure, you're less likely to be hassled by security patrols, and it avoids people peering into your window as you sleep, which happens a lot if you park in the "car area".
Caveats to this are, it can be a bit noisier in the morning when the truckers get up and leave, and you need think through where you are in relation to trucks leaving. You don't want to get sideswiped by a half-asleep truck driver because you parked in his blindspot.
posted by madajb at 2:45 PM on March 27, 2008

I've done Maine to Eugene several times (Male, alone) and have never stayed in a hotel. I'll second the truck areas of the rest stops instead of the car areas. From Eugene through the Dakotas, you shouldn't have any trouble finding a safe spot to pull over and rest.

Good luck.

Don't forget your books on tape/CD/Ipod!
posted by GoodPuppy at 3:24 PM on March 27, 2008

I've done this a few time (female, alone) and I slept in rest areas BUT I would sleep during the day and drive at night since it felt safer to be sleeping during day light hours for some reason. Also, truck stops were always cool with car sleepers as far as I could tell.
posted by yodelingisfun at 4:06 PM on March 27, 2008

On the interstates, just stay at the rest stops. They are reasonably frequent until you get into the eastern third of the US -- from about Chicago on, good rest stops are few and far between. (But then, you can drive from Chicago into NY state in one long day.) In the west, they are almost always well-lit, patrolled, and safe to sleep at. I've never been rousted by police, but if you tend to get profiled a lot, you probably will be.

In small towns, Walmarts tend to be ok with people sleeping the parking lot, but not always. I would never drive into a large city to sleep -- freeway rest stops or small towns feel much safer to me for sleeping in a car.
posted by Forktine at 4:36 PM on March 27, 2008

I've never had problems sleeping in Rest Areas. On the off chance that a cop would have hassled me, I figured I'd just say that I was resting for an hour or two to prevent an accident.

Otherwise, when I've slept in my car in non-rest areas, I did big chain store parking lots during the day or truck-stops.
posted by drezdn at 4:45 PM on March 27, 2008

Thanks all, feeling good about rest areas. I figured it wouldn't be much of an issue but wanted some other opinions. I have friends in Chicago and then yeah I'll just drive like crazy till I'm where I want to be in NY.

And yes.. thank god for Ipods / Books on tape. I think the solo drive is an exhilarating experience and I can't wait.
posted by huxley at 5:03 PM on March 27, 2008

Sounds like you're cool with the rest stops and may be all set, but I have done the camping thing with very little lost time. Particularly your first couple nights (until you hit farmland). Both National Forest land (always) and BLM (usually), you're allowed to sleep as long as you're just something like 100' from a road, so it's not very hard to find a place to park, walk 50 steps, lay down your bedroll and sleep. For me, laying down was a bit more comfortable than sleeping in the car, and I felt more secure tucked in the bushes (female traveling alone) than at a rest stop where people could see me sleeping.
posted by salvia at 8:29 PM on March 27, 2008

Ahem, where is my grammar? I meant, lying down.
posted by salvia at 8:30 PM on March 27, 2008

I slept in rest areas on I-80 on my road trip this winter. I found I felt much safer and therefore slept much more soundly when I was parked near truckers. I also had a can of pepper spray, which I kept near me, more for peace of mind than anything else. Male, travelling alone, never got hassled by anybody (in fact, some truckers gave me a jump in the middle of Wyoming when it was -7 and my battery ran down).
posted by PhatLobley at 10:56 PM on March 27, 2008

If you 're bothered about your odor after driving halfway across the country, most truckstops have shower facilities you can use for 5 dollars (or they did a few years ago last time I drove cross-country).
posted by xanthippe at 10:38 AM on March 28, 2008

If you want hints on how to make the trip comfortably...

1) Have your shoes readily available. For me, I always wake up in the morning having to go to the bathroom, and nothing makes the car camping experience as uncomfortable as searching for shoes on a full bladder.

2) Shave your armpits.
posted by drezdn at 10:43 AM on March 28, 2008

I've driven cross-country a few times and stayed in my car. Keep in mind that you can sleep in a lot of places during the day. Rest stops and wal*marts, but also anywhere with a reasonably large parking lot.
posted by nameless.k at 11:06 AM on March 28, 2008

Maybe it's because I am 6'2", but my body hates sleeping in the car. I can set up a tent in 5 minutes and be asleep inside in 15. It's not that much work to get a much better night's sleep. And you are going to be in some of the best part of the country for outdoor sleeping. But if you really can't afford 20 minutes a day, do your thing.

Speaking from experience, don't listen to Wagner's complete ring cycle while you drive through North Dakota and Montana.
posted by billtron at 7:59 AM on March 29, 2008

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