July 16, 2014
I’m now entering Week 7 of living in the van on the road. I’ve been to Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, and Utah thus far. Living mobile is nothing new for me, as I’ve urban/stealth camped in Phoenix and Tucson during the winters months. But in those cities, I know my safe havens: where to park, where to get free Wi-Fi so I don’t have to use my own, and can always shower at one of the gyms I’m a member at. It’s a completely different story when you’re traveling to places you’ve never been.
These four corporations have been awesome throughout this entire adventure…and some of them may surprise you.
Love’s Travel Stops
Aptly named, Love’s truck stops have been one of my regular camping spots. I’ve yet to run into a rude employee; in fact all of them are really nice and professional. Though I’ll never understand how a urinal can become filled with pubes, the bathrooms are generally clean. You can also purchase Wi-Fi that can be used at any Love’s in the country, while some of them offer free Wi-Fi. Showers are always clean and unusually nice, but are also pricey ($10 – $12). However twice on this trip, I’ve filled up my gas tank and the Love’s clerk gave me a free shower. I’ve parked at one Love’s truck stop for three straight days and never had a problem.
The food is poisonous, the customer service generally sucks, and the bathrooms are scary. But one thing you can always count on with McDonald’s is good coffee, free refills, and free Wi-Fi. Its not unusual for me to find the Golden Arches, start up the generator to charge the battery bank in the van, and sit inside for 6-8 hours working and charging all my computer, hot spot, and phone batteries. When I leave I’m completely wired (from two or more cups of coffee), have everything charged up, and can enjoy two days of non-generator power in the van…meaning I can camp in remote areas.
I do have to give credit to a McDonald’s in Ogallala, Nebraska. Though I’m pretty sure the clerk was hitting on me (I’m too old to even recognize that stuff anymore), she actually came out to the dining area twice and refilled my coffee. Thank you!
It seems almost every Wal-Mart has signs in the parking lot that say something to the effect of “No overnight RV parking. Violators will be towed.” Despite these apparently inert warnings, there are always several RVs and vans parked in their lots. The Wal-Mart in Flagstaff looked more like an RV park than a department store. One guy I spoke to at a Wal-Mart in Wyoming told me he had been parked in the same spot for more than three years without any trouble.
I assume the idea behind Wal-Mart’s lenience (assuming you’re not acting a fool in the parking lot) is that they know you will be coming in and out of the store buying stuff. I do in fact get ice, propane, food, and beer at Wal-Mart all the time (unless I’m in Colorado…where Wal-Marts can only sell that “3.2” beer), and count on them for camping spots regularly. There always seems to be a strong 4G connection with both my hot spots at Wal-Mart’s too.
Pilot Flying J
Jimmy Haslam, the owner of Pilot Flying J and the Cleveland Browns, was recently ordered by a federal judge to pay $92 million in fines basically for advocating douchey customer service policies. That being said, Flying J are sometimes the only show within a 50 miles radius in some areas, so choices are sometimes limited. But there is always a place to park and usually a TV room for you to sit, charge everything up, and get out of the van for a while. I’d like to say more positive things about this place, but since they take pride in screwing people out of their hard-earned money, I only use these places when its absolutely necessary.