Portraits of Walmart's parking-lot nomads


#1

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#2

I have spent many nights in Walmart parking lots. It's... weird. In many towns the Walmart parking lot is the only place to legally spend the night for free (assuming you have a vehicle). You'll need some way of covering your windows to block out the 500 trillion lumen flood lights. And don't park too far from the building (or some bushes) or your 2am piss is going to be difficult.


#3

I think if I was forced to live a nomadic life out of an RV, I'd probably take "nightmarish day-to-day struggle of fighting zombies alongside Dale from The Walking Dead" over "waking up each day next to a Walmart."


#4

Pffft. You're going to need that sporting goods section, come on now...


#5

I'm sure it was meant to be funny, but if you are forced to live a nomadic life out of an RV I bet "nightmarish day-to-day struggle" comes free with the territory, zombies or not.


#6

I have been chased out of a Walmart parking lot by hired security before. This was outside of Eugene OR, my friends and I (Who were on a road trip at the time) had just spent the night in my van, and the next morning as I was stretching outside of the car a guy pulls up claiming to be from Walmart, saying the store had been watching us all night and that they wanted us off their property, saying something like about how the days of Walmart being nice to people like us were long gone. He also used a lot of very harsh language. He followed us out of the parking lot and down the road for about a quarter mile before he turned around. I haven't been too fond of shopping at Walmart (And especially staying the night there) ever since.


#7

My old man is one of these nomads. A couple years ago, he and my stepmother ditched their corporate sales gigs, sold their loft and nearly all their stuff, and became professional gypsies. They drive a tour-bus-sized RV to home shows and state fairs, selling various stuff. They usually spring for a proper campground lot if they're going to be in one town for more than a day or two, but for simple overnight stops, it's usually wallmart.


#8

My mother and I were once part of the desperate when I was a child, and spent many a night camping in the Walmart parking lot. I was always grateful for the sense of security those lights provided, even if it was hard to cover the windows sufficiently to block it out. There was also some comfort in the sense of community provided by the other nomads that depended on the Walmart parking lot for security and a peaceful sleep.


#9

If you haven't seen who turns up in Walmart parking lots in the middle of the night, you might think the zombie idea was a stretch.

FWIW, it's called 'Waldocking'. Most places are cool with it, except FL - too many snowbirds moving back and forth at certain times of the year.

I wish he'd done stealth campers, though. They're way more interesting than Waldockers, since they don't have rv's.


#10

I voluntarily lived in a vehicle for several years. I had a fucking brilliant time.


#11

Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife are avid RVers and spend time in Walmart parking lots. They enjoy it and like the people a lot, apparently.


#12

Citation for this? Curious where this is on public record!


#13

This guy checked out his savings to go travel cross country and had a couple overzealous 'security' run-ins like @42isall did, but they all happened in really tiny towns, so it makes me wonder if it's just mostly a new (poor) face showing up in town making the locals paranoid, or bored guards power tripping.


#14

Seriously? Thats kinda... awesome.


#15

I've slept in dozens of Wal-Mart parking lots driving between NY and CA (8 times now, I think, along several different routes), and on a couple other trips (including a two-week trip in my dad's RV).

I didn't realize there was a friendly community, but I could definitely tell that some people were staying for more than just the night. You'll be left alone - by people from the store and from other travelers - if you want. I am pretty sure I've been to the one in Flagstaff where the photos were taken, but I don't think I stayed there - LA to Albuquerque is a single day of travel for me.

That one in Albuquerque always has a lot of people in the parking lot, but never seemed very friendly. It may be that I was misinterpreting, though... I guess in retrospect the security van driving around all night with its lights flashing may have been at least partially for our benefit and not to scare us away.

The only one that wasn't friendly to this was in Grand Junction, CO. There are signs all throughout the lot saying you can't stay overnight. Yet, I've stayed there many times - including in my dad's RV (it's a small one). I suspect that unless the store gets in trouble with local authorities, they're not going to go out of their way to enforce local laws like that... unless the managers and security people are assholes, which is more than possible I suppose.

Anyway... the last round-trip I did, I decided to go Wal-Mart free. I haven't actually shopped there in years - except when doing these sorts of trips. And what ends up happening is that you buy more than you really need - the little extra space left in my small car always ended up filled with snacks and things I didn't need.

So I mapped out all of the highway rest stops along the route, and stayed in those. Some have signs saying no overnight stays, or two-hour limit, etc... but I've never had an issue. I suspect that what they really don't want is people setting up tents and things like that. Otherwise, if you're just sleeping in your car you're not really bothering anyone.

If the lower route seems odd, it's not direct - I took a detour on the return trip so I could check Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky off the list of states I've been to.


#16

Without the traditional RV park hookups, I wonder how some of these people - especially the ones who do extended stays in campers - keep their water and power working.


#17

Is there a version of these that see themselves as cooler because they stay in Target lots instead?


#18

Obviously, you have to bail in order to get water and dump the tanks as needed. When just depends on your rig and situation. But, we're just talking about driving to the nearest place to load and dump. That's way easier than trying to pull into a park and do or un-do all the hook-ups.

There are websites where full-timers update the news on campground, rv parks, and overnighting sites like Walmart so you know where to go and what to avoid. I did it all for about a year and a half. Depends mainly on why you're doing it and your equipment. A retiree with a fancy rig and a sense of adventure vs. somebody in an economic emergency trying to just survive are going to be very different stories, even if they Waldock the same places.


#19

Staight from the esteemed Wall Street Journal


#20

I thought he was more of amotel guy.