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Overnight Parking at a WalMart

Protecting Overnight RV Parking Options: The History of Escapees’ Good Neighbor Policy

Overnight Parking at a WalMart

The Good 'Ole Days

Many of us are quick to complain about the legislative process, but most of us also zealously defend it as being the best system there is. The perk is, if you have the inclination, the time and the perseverance, you can make a difference. But let’s face it, many pursue the RV lifestyle to simplify their life, not complicate it. They would rather not spend their time trying to track legislation. However, monitoring detrimental bills, working to defeat adverse laws, and educating city, county, state and federal officials about the amazing community of full-time RVers is a commitment that Escapees RV Club continues to fulfill.

Overnight RV Parking at Retail Stores

Protecting RVers’ privilege to park overnight in places other than commercial campgrounds has been an important advocacy focus for decades. For those who have more recently begun RVing, the ability to park overnight between destinations at retail stores like Wal-Mart may seem second nature. Many are unaware that if Escapees had not taken the initiative to block new county ordinances and defeat restrictive state and federal legislation, that this choice may not be available today.

In the 1970s and 1980s, full-time RVing was scarcely discussed outside RV enthusiast circles. It was rarely reported in the media, and basically undetected on legislator radars. Some claim “these were the good ‘ole days” and many of us agree!

While full-timers were able to figure out ways to handle their mail, get cash as they traveled, and stay in touch with housebound friends and family, those things were not necessarily simple. Remember, there was no Internet, social media platforms, or even cell phones in those days. There were no precise legal guidelines available to nomads, other than those outlined by fellow full-timers and shared though publications like Escapees.

No Parking Sign

Welcome to the Limelight

It wasn’t until the 1990s that full-time RVing gained more widespread notoriety. As a larger segment of the population discovered that the full-time RVing “dream” was a realistic choice, the lifestyle became less obscure. Suddenly it seemed that a bright spotlight shone on it. At that point, county, state and federal laws quickly came into question. What address can I legally use on my driver license? Where do I register my vehicles if I’m moving around all year? Where can I vote if I’m not deeply committed to one state? How am I to handle my health insurance?

As more people questioned their local governments, state and federal agencies began to recognize that there were many variable and conflicting components in the various state regulations. Officials worked to clarify language and refine laws, but all too often the revisions created even more convoluted regulations. Backlashes from these issues sometimes proved to jeopardize the fundamental constitutional rights of full-time RVers.

"From Alaska to Montana, Nevada to Ohio, Illinois and beyond, Escapees scrambled to defeat new ordinances that would prohibit overnight parking anywhere except in campgrounds."

Welcome to Politics

The late 1990s and early 2000s proved to be a particularly critical time. Escapees RV Club refused to stand idle while fundamental freedoms were being stripped away from full-time RVers. Americans who simply chose to forego a comfy rocking chair on the porch for an up-close-and-personal relationship with the country we call home.

As we tried to help to educate lawmakers about the lifestyle, the lack of solidary within the RV industry became apparent. Industry organizations were powerful and well represented on the state and federal levels, whereas RV consumers (especially full-timers) went mostly unheard.

One of the most difficult times in Escapees RV Club history occurred in the early 2000’s. One political struggle after another seemed to surface. We were deeply engaged in a two-year battle defending close to 10,000 full-timers right to vote. At the same time, we were working to defeat a discriminatory U.S.P.S. mandate, and fighting to block unfair RV-specific taxes that affected thousands of RVers. (See the complete Advocacy Timeline for more details.)

In addition to these serious struggles, we at the Escapees RV Club found ourselves continually confronted with new detrimental city and state parking ordinances in multiple states. These assaults came in sporadic waves at first, but unbeknown to them at the time, a full-blown typhoon was brewing!

What could be best described as gut-punch hit when it was reported that ARVC had quote: “approached several state governments in an effort to get them to outlaw camping at rest areas and other sites not specifically set aside for overnight RV parking.”

To make matters worse, then Vice President and Publisher of Trailer Life Campground/RV Park & Services Directory wrote: “It is not the intention nor the desire of any division of Affinity Group, Inc, the parent company of Good Sam Club, to promote or condone overnight camping at anything other than established RV parks and campgrounds. We in fact, discourage the use of trucks stops, vacant parking lots, Wal-Marts, rest areas and the like as overnight camping facilities.”

Escapees immediately rallied its members with a “Call to Action.” They were encouraged to make their voices loud and clear! Grassroot campaigns and even some state boycotts took place. As crazy as it seems now, segments within the industry were at war with each other.

Escapees RV Club stood toe-to-toe peering down what felt like a double-barrel shotgun, as some of the most powerful players in the industry rested its fingers on the trigger.

It was imperative that specific legislative bills be rescinded. Bills that had the potential to prohibit overnight parking of RVs in any unauthorized places. Bills had to be closely monitored because they were popping up across the U.S., often cleverly hidden or disguised under misleading titles. At the same time, campground owners, with the assistance of ARVC (National Association of RV Campgrounds), continued to push hard for stricter regulations. All the while, individual campground owners were complaining to their local governments about RVs being allowed to park at Wal-Marts in particular. The storm raged on.

From Alaska to Montana, Nevada to Ohio, Illinois and beyond, Escapees scrambled to defeat new ordinances that would prohibit overnight parking anywhere except in campgrounds. There were so many simultaneous cities and states reviewing their laws that media kits had to be developed so that they could be quickly disseminated to chambers of commerce, tourism bureaus, city councils, city managers and the local media, explaining the RVers’ side of the story. Once these entities were armed with more information, they, more often than not, voted to reject new tighter ordinances.

Still there was no end in sight.

Unity is the Solution

In November 2005, Escapees published an article I wrote as the acting Escapees President and Chief Executive Officer, that publicly challenged all segments of the industry to compromise and unite on the issue once and for all:

“Unity is the solution. We can avoid cities that are inhospitable to RVers and we can avoid campgrounds that belong to coalitions that fight against our parking freedom, but I continue to believe that the only long-term solution to this age-old battle is unity. To be successful, RV clubs, campgrounds and RV consumer must reach a compromise.

  • RV CLUBS must support and circulate the creed (Good Neighbor Policy) and encourage their members to abide by its guidelines.
  • CAMPGROUNDS must back off on supporting and encouraging litigation, legislation and county ordinances that deny private enterprises the right to allow RVers to stay one night.
  • RVers must agree not to abuse the system by extending their stays, even when a store manager has given them permission to do so!

Achieving this kind of unity is not going to be quick or easy. We need you to contact other clubs you belong to for support. We need you to alert us when you hear of a new ordinance or legislative bill that restricts overnight parking in private parking lots such as Wal-Mart. And we need you to stay informed so that you can assist with grass roots campaigns, when necessary, to ensure that the right to choose were we park is not legislated away by government officials or campground owners.”

Immediate results we not overwhelming, but it was encouraging to have FMCA, Airstream, and Gulf Streamers add their logos to the Good Neighbor policy. They promised to publicize the creed and pass it on to their own members. It was a good start, but it was still unknown if campground owners would support the compromise.

It wasn’t until 2006 when Woodall’s Campground Management published an article entitled: “Escapees CEO Cathie Carr Appeals for Compromise in ‘Wal-Mart’ Debate,” that a major decline in opposition became more evident.

Victory at Last!

The choices about where we park today are numerous and diverse. Whether you are new to RVing or a seasoned full-time RVer, it is important to recognize that this benefit should not be taken for granted or abused. The Good Neighbor Policy developed by Escapees, is now sanctioned by much of the industry and supported by many organizations. It stands as a shining example of what unity, honor, and integrity can accomplish.

Protecting Overnight RV Parking Options: The History of Escapees’ Good Neighbor Policy 1

Adopt the RVers' Good Neighbor Policy

RVing as a lifestyle is discovered by more people every day. It has never been more important to help educate those who don’t understand the repercussions of abuse. Using proper etiquette when parking in undesignated places will help ensure that these benefits will stay intact.

  • Stay one night only!
  • Obtain permission from a qualified individual.
  • Obey posted regulations.
  • No awnings, chairs or barbecue grills.
  • Do not use hydraulic jacks on soft surfaces (including asphalt).
  • Always leave an area cleaner than you found it.
  • Purchase gas, food, or supplies as a form of thank you, when feasible.
  • Be safe! Always be aware of your surroundings and leave if you feel unsafe.

And remember, if your plans include touring the area, staying more than one night, or necessitates conduct not within the code, please relocate to a local campground. It’s the right thing to do!

A Word About RV Advocacy

Escapees RV Club has always prided itself in weighing each issue carefully and then representing its members appropriately. We conscientiously resist speaking for all Escapees unless the issue is clear-cut. Some things are no brainers, like the right to vote. We feel there is no gray area on voting, every legal citizen should have the right to vote, period.

Other issues are not so black and white. In these cases, the club prefers to alert members and then let them voice their own opinions to the lawmakers. It would be far too presumptuous to take a firm stand when members have a wide array of opinions. In these cases, it’s the organization’s policy to provide members with specific contact information so that individuals can directly voice their opinions to the legislators and committee members working on the bills.

Timing is crucial, please feel free to alert us if you learn about a potential law or ordinance that threatens RVers’ rights. We cannot fight every fight; and, we will not win every fight we choose to fight. However, we will always fight to protect RVers rights.

Escapees RV Club has many ways of addressing advocacy for all RVers

Protecting Overnight RV Parking Options: The History of Escapees’ Good Neighbor Policy 2


Cathie Carr

Cathie Carr has been intimately involved in the RV lifestyle for over forty years. She was one of youngest full-time RVers working as she traveled when her parents, Kay and Joe Peterson, launched the Escapees RV Club. She was hired to help with its administration in 1983. Her first major challenge was to create a mail-forwarding service that catered to the specific and unique needs of RVers. Today it is the largest mail-forwarding service for RVers in the nation.

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Protecting Overnight RV Parking Options: The History of Escapees’ Good Neighbor Policy 3

18 Responses

    1. I was in Rapid City South Dakota Wal-Mart Super Center last August parked under a tree for cool air for me and my dog in a camper van , and there was several RVs there as well and Wal-Mart complained there was to many people Camped in there parking lot and so management had called police to run everyone off and I had not been there very long , maybe a couple of hours.

  1. Great article Cathy. We always follow th Good Neighbour Policy and have been known to point it out to RVers abusing it. It is great to see some Walmarts have designated RV parking. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for the article. I am new to RVing. I can only drive in daylight hours as I can not see to drive at night. I just know at some point I won’t be able to find an RV park.but I am sure I will be able to find a Walmart.

  2. Thanks for fighting the good fight! Especially if its true that a million more of us hit the road last year, and another million more are expected to follow this year, we need to have some organization and agreement among ourselves as to how we plan to go about this. Just because we are not always tied to a piece of real estate, does not make us lesser citizens. However, neither do we want to become a plague upon the land, as seems to be happening in some of the big cities, like Seattle and San Francisco.

    And, special thanks for standing up for our right to vote. Voting can make a big difference – at least locally.

    An area which I believe needs attention is that of parts and maintenance for our vehicles. Mostly, we are at the mercy of predatory dealers and repair shops. They know that we do not currently have a lot of alternatives, and gouging seems to be the rule, and not the exception. A nationwide network of repair facilities and parts suppliers, who agree to fair pricing, honouring of warranties and reasonable accommodation of our lifestyle might be a useful goal. Also, I think it would be very helpful to set up maybe a volunteer network of RV savvy and experienced folks to serve a helpline for advice on specific RV repair issues, .While that might take some doing, I believe that it might go a long way towards helping particularly the new and inexperienced in time of need, as well as helping to help all of us to avoid exploitation of ignorance and/or inability. Experience tells me that there are lots of us in this community who are willing and able to share; they need only organization.

  3. Thank you for this thorough and informative article. We are new to the RV lifestyle and this information was just what we need to have positive and responsible traveling.

  4. We are enjoying the benefits of the RV lifestyle today thanks to the work of yourself and others in the past. Thank you!

  5. Love Escapees the magazine is first class and we appreciate the clubs excellent support. Is there a list of which stores welcome overnight parking. The two that I know about are Walmart and Cracker Barrel.

  6. Nice article. On the way back from southern florida in late March, I needed a place to stay in northern florida but almost all the parks were full or out of my price range due to the season. I tried several Wal Marts but they said that the local govts banned the practice of overnight parking. I am glad that you stopped this practice years ago but now the small communities are starting up again, especially in Florida. Yes, I could have found a park 80-100 miles out of the way but decided to spend my money elsewhere and drove further north. It seems that if the local businesses like Walmart would allow it, what right does the government have to stop it. Hopefully, you realize your work is not done and will continue to work on stopping this practice. Thank you

  7. The Good Neighbor Policy are guidelines and are both not comprehensive and over comprehensive. Good common sense should always prevail. I always check with the management to determine if they allow overnight parking and if they do what their policy is regarding levelers, slide outs, and area for overnight parking. If the store has hours, I always try to leave before the store opens. The Good Neighbor Policy is good for those who do not exercise good common sense, but it should be regonized as guidelines and not the law. Individual RV’ers should police themselves and not allow other RV’ers to dictate policing. I have on too many web sites seen these guidelines used to make derogatory comments against RV’ers who did not violate good common sense.

  8. Thanks for all you do. Seems like too many are closing the door on us. Perhaps there is a promotional solution where it would help to recognize us. Meanwhile I’m jumping out of the Good SAM thing.

  9. Super interesting reading this history! Thank you Escapees RV Club for advocating for the rights of RV Nomads and uniting the different players in the RV industry with a reasonable compromise!

    1. Unfortunately, many of those decisions are the result of numerous abuses of the courtesy. From overnight guests turning into multi-day stays to guests dumping tanks, abandoning trash, blocking needed parking spaces, etc, some stores have chosen to disallow overnight parking to hopefully limit the number of problems. There are also cases when the city has gotten involved due to excessive abuses and related issues that trickle into the surrounding community, leading to them disallowing any form of overnight camping throughout the city, outside of campgrounds or RV parks.
      In some cases, it may also be due to lobbying from the local businesses to drive RVers and travelers to their RV parks, hotels, etc instead of those visitors staying overnight in parking lots for free.

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