We did our first overnight in a WalMart parking lot the other day. It’s an axiom among RV’ers that WalMart will allow RV’s to park in the fringes of their parking lot for overnight stays, providing a safety cushion for a road trip where you either can’t find a place to stay or just want a safe place to get some rest for the night before heading out the next morning.
The official stance on this little perk from WalMart corporate headquarters is not really clear, but it seems that you can count on the big W for a free spot to spend the night if your travel plans call for one. The RV grapevine says that each individual store can opt out of the overnight parking rule, and that you shouldn’t extend your slides, put out your grill or lawn furniture, and that you shouldn’t stay more than one night. The offer looks suspiciously like a marketing gimmick to get you to spend money at their store, but what the heck. You can always find something you need at a WalMart, right?
There have been disappointing reports of individual abusing this good hearted offer. Stories circulate about RV’ers spreading out their RV slides, setting up their canopies and cooking out, staying for several days in a row, and even one sot who reportedly dumped his Black Water tank in the WalMart parking lot before leaving. I’d like to thank that individual for giving us all a bad reputation to overcome.
We also understand that there’s a certain etiquette to observe to keep us in good stead with the Walmart establishment and help keep this good deal alive. After parking on the outer fringes of the parking lot where very few cars can be found, one should approach the store manager with your most courteous smile and tell him/her that you are going to purchase groceries here. Once you’ve established that you are going to spend money in their store, politely ask permission to stay overnight, making sure they know you will not extend any slides, set up any outside equipment, and be gone first thing in the morning.
For us the opportunity arose when we wanted to get to the Kentucky Horse Park Campground outside of Lexington, KY early on a Sunday morning. We had tickets to a Bluegrass Festival held at the park starting the following Thursday. For ticket holders there was a keen little deal offering Primitive Camping spots on a first come, first served basis starting on Sunday. Being newbies and never having seen the park, we figured that a free-for-all for available space would occur on Sunday, so we needed to get there early. It turns out that wasn’t really necessary, but that’s another story.
So we departed from my brother’s house outside of Nashville on Saturday morning and headed up Interstate 65 to the Bluegrass Parkway towards Lexington, and as we got close to the park we scoped out the WalMart stores in the area, picking out a store within easy reach of our ultimate destination.
As we approached the store’s parking lot we were surprised to see something we have never seen before, a WalMart “Neighborhood Market”. Instead of the standard store taking up an entire city block with its enormous building and expansive parking lot, this store was a scaled down version tucked in to a strip mall alongside a dozen other stores. It took up the space of a medium sized grocery store, with very few open spaces in the parking lot. We immediately assessed that this was not where we would be spending the night.
So Carrie scrambled to program the next available location into our GPS while I glided down the street ready to change direction on short notice while hoping I wouldn’t need to lurch across several lanes of traffic to make my next turn. She fortunately got me on the next route right away without having to make any U-turns, and within another 20 minutes we were approaching WalMart #2 for the day.
We quickly surveyed the parking lot and headed for a remote corner close to the loading dock and parked Sanctuary along the edge of the lot behind a parked Semi. We shut things down, grabbed our shopping list, and headed for the entrance, asking the friendly Greeter where we might find the Manager.
I gave my little speech about grocery shopping then politely asked about staying the night, and we obviously weren’t the first RV to make this particular request. As long as we were parked in the back corner we could stay the night. We assured him that we would be gone in the morning and thanked him for his kindness. It wasn’t quite like asking to take his daughter to the prom, but I was a little nervous about being granted permission to stay.
After loading up on groceries for our week’s stay in the area, we headed back out to Sanctuary and had dinner. After cleaning up we spent a quiet evening reading and surfing the net on the Wifi generously provided by the Lowe’s Hardware store across the street. We felt that there wouldn’t be much traffic noise through the night, and the street lamp overhead wouldn’t be much of a problem, and not long after dark we turned in for the night.
I don’t remember if it felt like part of a dream or not, but somewhere in the night I started hearing the familiar sound of a weed whacker. Someone was trimming the grass around the perimeter of the parking lot in the dark! I rolled out of bed to check the time, noted that the clock read 2:30 AM, and wandered back to bed thinking, “nothing is free”.
Fortunately no additional landscaping or other Saturday night activities took place in our corner of the Lexington KY WalMart parking lot for the remainder of the night, and we woke to a quiet Sunday morning. As several early risers arrived, we had a quick breakfast and headed off to our final destination. An early morning fog closed around us at the first traffic light, but the sunrise burned it off during our short drive to the Horse Park Campground, and we checked in for the next stop on our journey north for the summer of 2015.