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Arizona Van Dwelling: Basics For First-Time Phoenix Campers

I’m leaving Phoenix until at least November of this year. I’ve lived there for a good portion of my life while in a van, so know the ins-and-outs. Its best to avoid all together in the summer months, which, heat-wise, span from April to October. But for whatever reason, some van and RV folks love the heat and will live there all summer. More power to you. March and April are still bearable months however, so this guide will help anyone traveling to the desert capital find a few parking spots, amenities and other friendly spots.

Tempe, Mesa, Chandler Van Parking & Free Internet

I typically stay in East Valley cities (Tempe, Mesa, Chandler). During the school year, one of the places to get free internet is Arizona State University in Tempe. Hayden Library has free WiFi for those with their own computers. There are a few public computers too if you need them; and plenty of electrical sockets all over the building for charging. Hayden is open from 7 a.m. until midnight Monday through Friday for non-students. It also has good hours on weekends. Street parking north of University Avenue in downtown Tempe is free after 6 p.m. You can camp overnight, but make sure you’re gone by 8 a.m., as that’s when meters are enforced (8 am – 6pm).

Parking is free south of University Avenue close to campus after 10 pm, but you must be gone by 6 a.m. on that side of the road. There are a few parking spots on Myrtle Avenue at the very end of the street before it curves around south of University to Mill Ave. If you can get one of those spots, ASU guest internet works well there so you can use it from your van if you have your own computer. You may have to register an email address to use it though. Parking on both sides of University is free all day and night on Sundays (same deadlines to leave on Monday).

2) The Xtreme Bean coffee shop on McClintock and Southern Avenue in Tempe is a go-to location as well. Its open 24/7 on Friday and Saturday nights (open until 11 pm on weekdays). You don’t necessarily have to buy anything, but just get a $2 cup of coffee. You get fast, free internet and you can charge your computers, phones and whatever else in the “dark room.” It gets noisy on weekends as they have open mic, but its a really laid-back place. I parked overnight in the lot several times a week sometimes without issue, but still don’t make a habit out of it. The parking lot across the street where McDonald’s is located is also a good spot to park overnight without issue. But again, don’t make it a habit.

3) Walmart stores are NOT van-friendly in the East Valley. The one on Dobson and the Loop 202 in Mesa used to be cool, but don’t park there unless you like harassment. The one on Elliot Road and Priest is hit-and-miss. Do it at your own risk. I’ve camped at the Walmart on Alma School Road and Warner in Chandler a few times without incident. The good thing about this one is that if you park close enough to the building there is free WiFi. I’ve also parked at the one on Raintree and the Loop 101 in Scottsdale without incident, but I haven’t done it enough to say its safe.

4) Love’s Truck Stop down on I-10 and Sundust Road (by the Wild Horse Pass Casino) is a good spot to park overnight without incident. Plus if you pay $5, you can get 24 hours of fast internet, and the signal is strong even from your van in the parking lot (even for video streaming). Showers are $11 there FYI. Of course the casino across the way is also ok for overnight parking, but I’ve only done it one day at a time. The McDonald’s right there has very fast internet and charging stations. Just buy a $1 cup of coffee and you can chill there for hours. Sometimes the internet is strong enough for you to get a good signal in your van if you’re close enough to the building.

5) Miscellaneous: McDonald’s on Elliot and Priest has strong internet and charging stations. If you’re in need of food and shower for free, the First United Methodist Church on University Avenue in Tempe offers a community service of free meals and showers from 6 a.m. – 11 a.m. on Mondays and Fridays. They’ll provide you soap and shampoo if you absolutely need it, and even give away used clothing if you need it (I’d suggest shower shoes though). Show up EARLY (like at 6 a.m.) or you’ll be waiting forever for a shower.

North Phoenix & Scottsdale Parking & Free Internet

This is the only other side of town I spent significant time on, so here goes.

1) McDonald’s on 7th Street and Cactus Road (FYI, Cactus and Thunderbird merge into the same street at like 24th street) has strong internet and charging stations.

2) Burger King on Cactus just off Highway 51 has strong WiFi and charging stations.

3) There is a huge parking lot on the NE corner of Greenway and 32nd Street with a car wash, Filiberto, Goodwill, etc. Pick a spot with little light after dark and you’ll have no problems with overnight parking.

4) The Talking Stick Resort & Casino on the Loop 101 and Indian Bend is ok to park overnight if you’re discrete about it. If you park near all the RVs, you should be fine. But don’t make a habit out of it.

5) Albertson’s on Indian Bend and Hayden Road in Scottsdale has been an emergency spot for me. But only stay there one night at a time and spread it out. I’ve never had issue, but have only camped there maybe 10 times total in my life.

Hope this helps. Happy van dwelling!

2 Comments

  1. Toupalumma Toupalumma

    Thank you so much for publishing this information. I’m planning to van dwell in the Phoenix area this coming winter (2016-2017), so I was just getting started searching for this kind of info.

    • Joan Mertz Joan Mertz

      Can you give me any info where to get a suitable van. How do I get started. My lease is up December 31

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