Maybe you’re planning a long road trip and want to cut a few expenses along the way by sleeping in your car. But now that you’re looking into it, you’re finding more and more people are saying you need to be careful where you park.
But is it illegal to sleep in your car, and if so, what are your options? We’ll walk you through everything you need to know before you hit the road. That way, you can focus on a relaxing and enjoyable road trip instead of stressing out about where you can lay your head at night.
Is It Illegal to Sleep in Your Car?
The answer is a little more complicated than you might expect. The rules vary from state to state, and they don’t always make a ton of sense.
We’ll break down some of the most and least restrictive states here. That way, you can more confidently map out your road trip!
Most Restrictive States
If you’re planning an extended road trip, try to avoid stopping overnight in these states. They have some of the most restrictive laws in the country for sleeping in your vehicle.
We know you can’t take a road trip to Hawaii – but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention their restrictive car sleeping laws. First, sleeping at overnight rest stops is illegal. Second, you can’t live or sleep in your vehicle on any public roadway from 6 pm to 6 am.
If you’re driving in Hawaii and need some shuteye, find a hotel or a friend to let you sleep on their private property.
In Tennessee, you can only stop at rest stops for two to three hours, regardless of whether you’re sleeping. Furthermore, it’s illegal to sleep in a vehicle that’s on either public or private property. That means Walmart, rest stops, and just about everywhere else is off-limits.
North Carolina and South Carolina
Both states make it illegal to sleep in your vehicle – no matter where you’re parked. Furthermore, North Carolina limits stopping at rest stops to four hours, meaning that you can’t just black out your windows so you’re not seen.
Least Restrictive States
If you’re looking for a safe place to get a little shuteye, these states make it easier than anywhere else. Please note that some cities in these states still might have strict restrictions against sleeping in your vehicle.
If you’re looking for a state that makes it easy to sleep at rest stops, Nevada leads the way. You can legally park at any rest stop for up to 24-hours, and they even allow camping outside the vehicle. This is a state that you want to stop in to get a little shuteye.
The biggest state in the continental United States has some of the laxest car sleeping laws.
You can stop and sleep in your vehicle at any rest stop for up to 24-hours, but camping is not allowed. As long as you stay in your car and move along before the next day, you should be left alone.
It might be small, but if you’re in the North East looking for a place to sleep, they have some of the most relaxed rules.
If you stop at a rest stop, you can sleep in your vehicle for as long as you’d like. However, you cannot camp there. If you’re looking to stop for a day or two, you won’t have any problems, though.
Like some of the other less restrictive states we looked at, West Virginia allows you to stay overnight and sleep in your vehicle at rest stops. However, you cannot camp in your vehicle.
With 50 states and thousands of cities, tracking down where you can and can’t sleep in your vehicle can be exhausting. But if you want a state-by-state breakdown of where you can and can’t sleep in your car – check out the comprehensive guide here!
What if You’re Using a Camper/RV?
Just because you can’t sleep in your vehicle doesn’t mean you can’t use a camper or an RV to do the same thing. Just be aware that the rules for campers and RVs vary from state to state – and from rest stop to rest stop.
You’ll still need to track down local laws, but most rest stops will have signs posted letting you know if they have RV or camper parking available.
Furthermore, as long as local ordinances allow it, most Walmarts will enable you to park your RV or camper in an overflow parking area so you can sleep for the night. However, they typically do not allow you to stay long term – this is true for rest stops too.
Where Is the Best Place to Sleep in Your Car?
Whether you’re looking for a one-time stop or you’re looking for a more mobile lifestyle, there are multiple places to look for a place to park and get a little sleep. Below are the three most popular and accessible.
If you’re only looking for a few hours of sleep, a rest stop can be a great choice. Some states ban sleeping in your vehicle at a rest stop outright, but many others allow you at least a few hours before you have to move on. If the state allows it, a rest stop is a great place to stop for the night.
Superstore Walmart is one of the most popular places for road trippers and RV enthusiasts to catch a little shut eye. While some Walmarts have started cracking down against people using their parking lots to sleep, most openly allow it for a night.
It all comes back to a corporate policy put out by Sam Walton himself to allow passing motorists to use their overflow parking for the night if it’s available.
Finally, the best option for sleeping in your vehicle is a campsite. While campsites aren’t free, they are significantly cheaper than most hotels.
The best part is since you’re paying for a spot, you never have to worry about a pesky manager asking you to leave or a nosy cop tapping on your window to ask how long you’ve been there.
Places to Avoid Sleeping in Your Car
Just like some areas are better than others to sleep in your car, there are also areas you should avoid to stay out of trouble.
City Street Parking
Just about every city has city ordinances against sleeping in your car while parked in a city street parking spot – regardless of whether your vehicle is legally parked or not.
If you plan to use city street parking for overnight sleeping, be sure to double-check the local laws, so you don’t have to worry about a police officer waking you up in the middle of the night telling you to move.
Any Side of the Road
It’s illegal in most states – but even in states where it’s perfectly legal, it’s still not safe. When you’re on the side of a road, you’re at a much higher risk of passing motorists hitting you.
Furthermore, since you’ll likely be sleeping at night, you’ll be much harder to see, especially since your lights won’t be on.
While passing motorists should stay on the road, drowsy or drunk drivers can accidentally leave their lane and hit you. Furthermore, emergency vehicles might end up using those lanes and not see you since you don’t have any lights on.
It’s almost always illegal, and it’s never safe. Find a better place to sleep in your vehicle.
In every state, you need permission from the property owner to sleep on their property – regardless of whether or not you’re in a vehicle.
This is why Walmart parking lots are so popular – the company actively allows motorists to utilize their overflow parking for overnight stays.
Where Is the Best Place to Sleep in a Camper/RV?
If you’re traveling with a camper or an RV, you have more options. Many states extend the amount of time that both campers and RVs can spend at rest stops before moving on.
This makes rest stops far more viable options. Most rest stops that allow overnight parking for RVs and campers will have designated parking areas and signs letting you know that overnight parking is allowed. Just be sure to check before hunkering down for the night!
Another great place to check is Walmart. Many Walmarts will have designated overnight parking areas for RV and campers. However, this is becoming less and less common, so don’t be surprised if a manager asks you to move on after settling in.
Finally, just like campgrounds are great options for cars, they’re great for campers and RVs too!
Tips and Tricks for Sleeping in Your Car
Always plan your trip out ahead of time. While it’s fun to hit the open road and see where it takes you, the fun dries up quickly when the police are waking you up from your slumber.
If you plan on driving without a destination in mind, come prepared to pay for a hotel or campsite, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally breaking local laws.
However, once you’ve found somewhere you can legally sleep in your car – there are a few tips and tricks you can use to make things a little easier.
First, find a way to block your windows. It’s a little extra privacy that makes it a far more enjoyable experience. That way, no one is peeking in your windows while you’re sleeping, and if you’re technically not allowed to sleep in your vehicle but can park it overnight, no one knows you’re in there!
Second, bring pillows and blankets. It gets cold at night, and your car isn’t filled with comfortable places to lay your head. Pillows can turn those hard armrests into a comfortable elevated pillow.
Keep in mind, your car will be off, which means the heat won’t be on. Your vehicle doesn’t have insulation, so it’s going to have trouble retaining heat. Blankets can help you stay warm even on cold winter nights.
Finally, earplugs or noise-canceling headphones can help you drown out the sound of nearby traffic or the sound of people shuffling past your vehicle throughout the night.
If you’re a light sleeper, earplugs or headphones can be the difference between a restless night and a full 8-hours.
Things to Avoid When Sleeping in Your Car
Almost every state makes it illegal to be under the influence of alcohol while sleeping in your vehicle. It doesn’t matter if the car is moving or not. Don’t plan on “sleeping it off” in your car – while this is better than driving, you still might be slapped with a DUI.
Furthermore, never assume you’re allowed to sleep somewhere. Double-check the state and local laws before hunkering down. Moreover, just about every city has laws making it illegal to park on public streets and sleep in your vehicle.
Finally, never park on the side of the road to sleep. This isn’t just illegal, it’s incredibly dangerous.
Things to Avoid When Sleeping in Your Camper/RV
Just like with a car, you should never pull your camper or RV to the side of the road to sleep. It’s illegal everywhere, and it’s dangerous since passing traffic might hit you while you’re sleeping.
While some states will allow you to sleep in your camper or RV while inebriated, you shouldn’t unless you’re at a designated campsite. Even in the states that allow it, you might find yourself in trouble if you need to move your vehicle after you’ve had a few drinks.
While sleeping in your car can be a great way to save a few bucks on your next road trip, if you don’t think it through, you might run into a few unfortunate hiccups. Below we’ve highlighted a few final pitfalls to look out for.
Bathrooms Are Important
Your home has a bathroom; your car doesn’t. It’s easy to overlook this necessity because you always have one handy, but when you’re road-tripping, you might find yourself without one – especially if you plan on sleeping in your vehicle.
Make sure to consider where you’re going to use the bathroom when planning your trip and sleeping arrangements!
Where Will You Shower?
Just because you’ve found a bathroom to use doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods just yet. While you can skip a shower for a day or two, if you’re on an extended road trip you’ll need to find a shower eventually.
If you’re only sleeping in your vehicle for a night, it doesn’t matter too much, but if you’re traveling for a more extended amount of time, you’ll need to find a public shower or carry a washcloth, wet wipes, or anything else that might tide you over until you can shower.
Don’t Forget About the Food!
Without any refrigeration, your food is going to spoil rather quickly. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up spending more on food than you want. Find foods that don’t need to be refrigerated for your road trip!
Get Road Tripping!
If you were looking for a straightforward answer to the question of whether it’s illegal to sleep in your vehicle, you’re probably a little disappointed. That’s because the answer depends on a wide variety of factors – chiefly what state or county you’re in.
While sleeping in your vehicle isn’t as easy as it could be due to various laws that change from state to state – with a little planning and preparation, you can navigate the chaos for an enjoyable road trip.
Plan to stop in states that let you sleep at rest stops, and if you can’t find somewhere that will allow you to do it legally, find a campground that will let you park for a fraction of the cost of a hotel!
Don’t let these patchwork of laws deter you from the road trip of a lifetime!