An Ode To Trucks Stops & an RV How-To For Staying At Them

I sort of love truck stops. I love how they’re self-contained cities that come together and apart every day. I love that you can buy nearly everything you ever dreamed you might need or never knew you always needed at them. And when driving around the country in an RV, I just love that they exist.

When navigating life in an RV, you encounter all kinds of things that don’t come with instructions. I want everything to have a sign, all the time, telling me how it all works. But life isn’t like that. RV-centric places aren’t like that. And truck stops certainly aren’t like that.

So if you’re an RVer intimidated by truck stops, read on for instructions. At least according to what I’ve been able to figure out so far. And you too, can enjoy a sunrise over a truck stop.

flying j

Tips for Choosing a Truck Stop

You’ll see throughout this post that my best tip is to choose a Flying J or Pilot as I have found to them to be by far the most RV friendly, but you can get a lot of great info from the AllStays app. Entries look like this and tell you not only how a location has been rated (mostly by commercial drivers) but what amenities it has (probably don’t go to that second one):

allstays truck stop review truck stop review

Tips on Staying Overnight

truck stopYou can totally stay overnight. Especially if you stay at a Flying J or Pilot (which is now one company called Pilot Flying J, but their locations are still separately branded). They are totally friendly to RVers. The web site very explicitly confirms it:

“Had enough driving for one day? Pull in to one of our RV reserved parking spots or any other open parking space. Grab some dinner, stock up on supplies, and spend the night to get ready for that long drive ahead of you tomorrow.”

I love staying someplace I am explicitly welcomed.

I have found that other truck stops have signs stating parking limits of 4 hours or less. I pulled into a Love’s that had signage restricting parking to one hour. I called and the manager said I had to come in and get special approval to stay overnight. (She followed that by explaining she had to make sure I wasn’t going to block her handicapped parking in front on the store, although I’m not sure why I, or anyone else, would be in danger of doing that.) Which didn’t sound welcoming at all.

truck stopIf the truck stop you plan to stay at is not a Flying J or Pilot, you should probably call ahead or ask a desk clerk, just to be sure, unless you see signage or an online notation that RVs can park overnight.

I’ve stayed at lots other truck stops (including lots of Love’s and many independent places), and most of the time when I asked, they seemed confused I even asked first, but then there are those places that said I needed special permission, so you just never know.

It’s much easier for me to sleep if I’m not worried someone is going to bang on my door at any second yelling at me, and it only takes a minute to ask. (I tend to call vs. go in as you’ll see later in this post.)

truck stopDon’t park where a truck would park or block where trucks might need to drive through or in any way get in the way of the trucks. They get grumpy.

This isn’t really an issue for an RV like mine that can fit in any parking spot, but I often see larger RVs that can only park in the truck areas. If you ask inside, they’ll often steer you towards parking lengthwise in normal parking spots on the edges of the parking lot if it’s big enough, but this isn’t always an option, so depending on your length, you might not have a choice.

The AllStays app generally notes the number of (truck) parking spaces each truck stop. If you have a long rig, you might want to avoid truck stops with less than 50 spaces and the ones noted not to have much space. AllStays is used by commercial drivers as well as RVers so the truck stop comments have a lot of information about the lots that are stress-inducing. (To see this in action, just check out YouTube, where drivers love to post videos of crazy lot situations.)

truck stopIt might be noisy. As you’ll see from the next tip, I drive around a little and try to find a quiet spot, but I honestly have never been bothered by the truck noise. Mostly I have my fan or furnace on and the white noise totally blocks out the trucks. But even without that, the trucks are mostly white noise themselves.

Once, I stayed at a truck stop that played music on the outside speakers all night. I couldn’t make it through the entire night. (I even went inside to ask about it, and they said the music was just on all the time and there was nothing at all they could do about it.)

truck stopDrive around and scout the place out before settling on a space. I often have found quiet spots out of the way, on the edge between the car section and the trucks section. I try to back into a spot with a wall or hedge behind it so that people and cars aren’t coming and going right next to my bed while I’m sleeping.

Here’s an example of where I’ve parked just on the other side of the truckers. (Although this isn’t ideal; I should have backed in. But this was one of my earlier truck stops.)

truck stop parking

This is a much better parking place:

truck stop parking

And this spot is just about perfect:

truck stop parking

Look at how peaceful my view is:

truck stop parking

 Tips on Truck Stop Showers

As I have written about here before, I love truck stop showers. They are by far the cleanest, most luxurious showers I have found anywhere on the road, fancy RV parks included.

Truck stop showers, unlike a lot of RV park and campground showers, never have bugs or cold chills or only cold water or open pipes instead of shower heads or a rope that you have to hold down to keep the water on. Yes, that last thing only happened once, but still. I’m still bitter about it.

You get a huge, private bathroom with great water pressure and shower heads and plenty of hot water, and most even come with a towel! (Here’s a YouTube video someone made of a Flying J that begins with the shower.)

truck stopTruck stop showers are $12. Everywhere. $12. I happened upon a $6 shower at an independent truck stop once and I was completely in shock. Because no matter where you go, you’ll always pay $12. (Unless you buy more than $500 a month in gas at a Flying J/Pilot, which gives you free showers for a month, but as much gas as you might go through in an RV, that much gas is probably unlikely.) If you react to the price with “$12! That’s crazy! I’ll just go someplace else!”, the clerk will be highly entertained.

Bonus updated tip: During a discussion in the Roadtrek Facebook group, we started talking about whether a couple can take a shower together ($12 total) or not ($24 total). And generally, couples can shower together! (Which doesn’t mean they have to be in the actual shower together. They can just go into the room together.) You can ask for extra towels in that case and some truck stops have “team showers” (for instance a married commercial driving team), which are larger.

truck stopWear flip flops. This isn’t really a dis on truck stops. I recommend flip flops for showers at campgrounds and RV parks too. Always pack flip flops in your shower bag.

truck stopSpeaking of, have a shower bag! Again, this isn’t really truck stop-specific. I have a little travel toiletry bag (with duplicate items from my RV shower) so that I can just grab it and go and don’t have to pack and unpack anything every day just to take a shower. I keep it out of the way on my bathroom floor.

truck stopYou don’t need to bring in a towel, but you may as well, just in case. I’ve never encountered a truck stop shower that didn’t provide at least a bath towel (and sometimes a whole set of towels), but I always have a back up with me.

Most of the time, you can just leave the towels in the room when you leave, but one independent truck stop I stopped at had a towel drop near the front counter.truck stop shower

truck stop shower

truck stopYou probably need your own toiletries. Most truck stop showers provide soap, either as one of those little wrapped travel soaps you might get a hotel off the highway or in a bulk pump in the shower, but not always. I’ve gotten a little bottle of shampoo once (I still used my fancy shampoo instead) and I’ve never gotten conditioner.

truck stopThe private bathroom is really secure. Flying J/Pilot generally has a 4 digit code printed on your receipt that you use to unlock the door (you sometimes have to wait for your name to be called/displayed on a monitor that tells you which room number is yours), but other places just give you a key.

 Tips on Coffee

I dunno. I’m just not a coffee snob, especially in the morning. Sure, I can tell the difference between bad and good coffee, and one time, I stopped to get coffee at McDonald’s and they accidentally gave me someone else’s with 4 sugars in it (so said the side of the cup, I realized way too late) and I had to throw that right away (obviously, blech), but mostly I just need drinkable caffeine.

truck stopTruck stops always have tons of coffee choices, with names like “morning thunder” and “extra extra bold buzz this coffee will really keep you awake and bouncing around and can you tell we are drinking this coffee right now as we brainstorm coffee names”.

truck stopIf you use a travel mug (which I do anyway to keep my coffee hot and to keep the bugs out when I’m wandering around a campground in the morning), you get the refill price, which tends to vary in price (based on who is ringing you up and how large she decides your cup is) from $2 to 50 cents.

truck stopMany truck stop chains have loyalty cards (and Flying J/Pilots take Good Sam cards in lieu of theirs), which either give you a discount on each cup or build up to a free one.

truck stopMostly, you’re going to find powered creamer and maybe some weird pump-driven non-dairy creamer liquid. I try to keep milk in my refrigerator to add once I get back to my RV.

Tips On Getting Gas

I realize I’m sounding like a Flying J/Pilot commercial about now, but I promise I don’t know them and they are not paying me for this post. (Although, if anyone from their company is reading this, feel free to randomly send me money!) But you can use your Good Sam card at their pumps for a gas discount. Other chains give gas discounts with their loyalty cards, probably. But I’m loyal to them, so I wouldn’t know (ha!).

Presumably truck stops have lower gas prices because they buy in some serious bulk to cater to all those trucks. I don’t know if that’s true, but at the very least, they tend to be a lot easier to get in and out of since they’re a lot bigger than regular gas stations.

Propane and Dump Stations

Many truck stops have these! I use the AllStays app to find out. Again, some chains have loyalty cards that give you discounts on the dump station. I’ve paid as little as $5.

Wifi

I have a monthly plan with Flying J/Pilot, which typically works great (and often five or more different wifi points are available to accommodate the traffic). Many trucks stops have fast food restaurants (like McDonald’s or Denny’s) attached to them with free wifi. Of course, I sometimes just use the hotspot on my phone.

Laundry

I’ve never done my laundry at a truck stop (I generally do that once a week or so at a campground or RV park) but most trucks stops have laundry facilities.

Business Services

Many trucks stops have printing/scanning/faxing and mail services, along with services like Western Union and ATMs.

Gyms/Game Rooms/Haircuts/Lounges/Etc.

Yeah, some have massage services that I’m not too clear on. And I’m too vain to get a haircut at a truck stop. I saw a post about one truck stop with a dentist! But mostly, I’d suggest asking the staff about use of things like the gym. At times I’ve seen notations on AllStays for particular locations that certain facilities are for commercial drivers only.

Shopping

This is the best. I love wandering around and checking out all the random stuff for sale. It’s like walking around Amazon.com.

truck stop shoppping

truck stop shopping

Tips On Being A Woman Alone At a Truck Stop

Not long ago, a guy said to me that surely all the commercial drivers who saw me at truck stops just assumed I was a prostitute. Um, thanks? But seriously, I have never gotten that vibe at all. (Although I see a few YouTube videos show some places that do have that vibe.)

I mean, be careful, sure, just as you would anywhere.

I will often pull into a place late at night and not get out of my RV at all. That way, I know for sure there’s no random serial killer or axe murderer hanging out who has seen that I’m a woman alone and has followed me back to my RV, waiting for me to fall asleep. I wait until morning to get gas and stock up on groceries.

But I feel safer staying at a truck stop than I feel staying most places. It’s open 24 hours a day. It’s well lit and well staffed. I don’t park in the middle of the trucks — I park on the non-commercial side — so I’m never alone and hidden away. Mostly the showers are right off the main store area, but even the few times I’ve had to walk through the TV lounge area to get to them, no one has paid any attention to me. Everyone is watching the game, or getting food, or doing whatever in the little time they have before they have to get back on the road.

There’s no reason commercial drivers would be more dangerous than anyone else we might encounter in the world. My grandpa was a truck driver and he was just about the awesomest.

Bonus Tip!

Bobtails are trucks without trailers. So you can totally park where you see these signs.

bob tail parking

 

If I Believed In Puns, I’d Write Something Clever About the Badlands Here

I know. You think my life is all miracles of nature and a life fully lived and exhilarating freedom and adventure. Majestic vistas, interesting strangers, the glory of sentence fragments.

But no.

I mean, yes.

But also no. Sometimes it’s not any of those things at all.

I’d been wanting to check out dispersed camping: that is, driving up to the beauty and isolation of public lands and staying as long as one likes. Lots of national forests have free camping at what they call “primitive” sites, which are designated RV sites but with no hookups. Dispersed camping is a step beyond. You just drive out onto public lands and stop anywhere.

I drove out to the Fort Pierre National Grasslands in South Dakota, admired the beauty and splendor, etc., and drove down a dirt road that ended with grasslands, a no hunting sign, and a group of white-tailed deer.

ft pierre grassland dispersed camping

I had been driving away from the malevolent cold, and it was a fantastical 68 degrees. I had full bars of 4G. The sun was setting. Life is wonderful.

Grasslands boondocking

I checked the weather and saw that the cold had decided to chase me down and temps were going to plunge overnight. I figured I should turn on the propane so the furnace would be ready when I needed it. I walked outside, scaring the deer who adorably bounded away, and turned on the propane. I heard a faint hiss. And the vague smell of propane. Wait, is that right? I turned off the valve and the hiss continued. For about ten minutes.

Dear readers, truth is hazy and shifting and ethereal but one truth never changes: it’s difficult to enjoy nature when mixed with terror of a propane explosion.

I asked the ever-reliable Roadtrek Facebook group what they thought. They did not think much that was good. I called a nearby RV repair place. The guy I talked to said it was probably a leak but it should be fine if I just left the propane off. I could have it looked at in the morning.

It’s not as easy as you might think to have a restful night’s sleep with the looming threat of explosion and/or slow poisonous death.

I thought I might make the evening more peaceful by removing the skylight covers so I could enjoy the night sky (mostly void, partially stars). A couple of days earlier, I had been driving down the highway and heard what sounded like a great shattering above my head. Which is weird, right? I pulled over at the first exit and checked everything. Nothing was out of place. Nothing was broken. So who knows, I drove on.

Only now I removed one of the skylight covers and found this:

roadtrek skylight

Well at least the loud shattering sound made sense now.

The next morning, I drove to an RV repair shop in Rapid City. And here’s where I start making snap judgments based on little information and skewed experience. Because I’m sure Rapid City is a lovely city with lovely people if I just get to know it, but Rapid City did not endear itself to me.

The guy at the repair place said he couldn’t fix either problem and gave me the addresses of two places that could. He said the propane leak was in fact a leak, but had to be taken care of by a propane dealer and the place he was sending me to would fix it for sure. He said he was also sending me to a glass place that would appear to me as though it dealt with residential glass, but that actually was great with all kinds of crazy sizes of windows on RVs and he sent people there all the time and they were the best. They’d have me fixed up in no time.

Well, sounds good so far. What a wonderful day!

“Wait, who sent you here?” Said the propane guy, hostile and aggressive, clearly irritated that someone was interrupting his day. “I don’t have anyone here to work on that.” Well, OK then. I asked if he had any recommendations. He called a guy. The guy declined to help. Propane guy number one I guess assumed I could hear the voice on the other end of the phone because he didn’t relay this information. He just looked at me with the kind of stare that means “why are you still here?” or maybe “how did I get saddled with this lady’s problems?”

Onward to get the glass fixed. Maybe the propane guy called ahead because the glass guy was in solidarity. “We don’t work on RVs.” I tried to explain that I didn’t actually seek him out to cast evil into his life, but just that the RV repair place had sent me over. He said maybe someone could put repair tape on it only everyone was at lunch until 1 (it was 12:50), so…

I was in the middle of asking if someone would be available at 1 to do that if I waited when he got a call. Without a word, he started talking on the phone as though my mouth were not open in mid sentence. I waited a few minutes until it was pretty clear he was going to stay on the phone until I left.

Dejected, I trudged on. I called another propane place, a bit down the road. They tried to patiently explain that I had an RV. I needed to call an RV repair place to get my RV repaired. They gave me a number. I called the RV place. They patiently explained that I had a propane issue and needed to call a propane place to get it fixed. I tried explaining the infinite loop I had found myself caught up in. The person on the phone seemed sympathetic, but ultimately unhelpful.

I drove on, fueled by a new goal: to get out of Rapid City. I really needed to get some work done and my whole morning was taken up in futile wandering so I figured I’d drive on a bit, find a place to work and once I was caught up, evaluate my best next step.

I spent the next five hours driving down a lonely road with no cell signal and no towns. After a couple of hours, I stopped worrying so much about the impossibility of getting work done and started worrying I would run out of gas. I finally followed a sign to a gas station at some point off the endless road, so at least I was able to continue on.

The point I’m trying to make here is that I left the infinite loop of Rapid City only to end up in the hundreds of endless miles of no propane repair, no cell service, and no handy public libraries. So I kept driving.

(If you wondered why I was late in returning that email, well, there was the infinite loop and also the endless road. I have wifi now. So expect to hear from me soon.)

Mostly, it all looked like this:

Montana

Although sometimes, it looked like this!

montana elk

I finally made it, in the dark and cold, to a truck stop. And discovered that my down comforter keeps me surprisingly warm on cold nights.

Before all of the infinite and endless, I drove through the Badlands, where I saw lots of prairie dogs and whatever these guys are:

badlands

Also the actual badlands:

badlands

The thing about working while living on the road is that you still have to do the actual work. You can’t just flit from propane dealer to RV shop to National Park no matter how attractive that proposition might sound.

Which brings me to Bozeman, Montana. Or, that’s what brought me here I mean. I found this little resort in the middle of nowhere with great wifi, lots of comfortable rooms for working from, a fireplace in my room, and — get this — a soaking tub. I immediately booked a second night. I’m the only guest here. I got here in the middle of the afternoon, starving, and they made me soup and salad and hot tea.

Sure, that whole propane and glass situation still needs to be worked out, but for now, I’m going to take a bath and enjoy the view from my window.

bozeman mt

A Few Days In the Life. The Cold Life.

cold

That photo above is what I woke up to on my phone this morning. I’m very confused. It should never feel like 12 degrees.

A couple of days ago, I was in Hudson, Ohio, and it was 73 degrees. From there, I ended up at Indiana Dunes State Beach, and OK, maybe it wasn’t summer, but it was a lovely, crisp fall: autumn leaves, clear blue skies. Scarf and boots weather. Low 60s maybe.

Indiana Dunes Beach

Even though I knew that I was in the middle of North America, Indiana did a pretty good job of convincing me I was at the ocean.

The beaches of Indiana…

A photo posted by vanessajfox (@vanessajfox) on

Being the off-season, it had the air of an abandoned ghost town. I pulled my mobile office into the empty parking lot and worked all afternoon. indiana dunes Eventually, I ended up in Madison, WI.

You might think my life is all beaches and wifi, and sometimes that’s true, but my route from Indiana Dunes beach to Madison went like this:

First, a meeting in Illinois (the Indiana campground had a great shower and I showed up to see people in person looking like an actual professional and not a wandering hobo. I think).

The person I was meeting with had told security I might need extra room when parking and when I pulled up to the gate, they had an escort waiting for me and brought me to several spaces they had reserved with traffic cones. So that was fairly awesome.

Next, I had a few work projects that I really needed to complete, so I parked in an Illinois travel plaza (which is basically a mini airport terminal without the airport and instead with just the Aunty Anne’s Pretzel place and the Starbucks and the weird kiosks selling cell phone accessories and earrings and it is built over a highway and also there’s a gas station). Not the most glamorous way to spend the afternoon, so maybe I should have left that part out.

I had a call with a client in Australia in the evening, but I miscalculated the time zone difference (crossing time zones plus calculations to a time zone that’s tomorrow plus Google Calendar coming up with times that are even more wrong can do that) so I got the call as I was driving down the road, listening to the latest Welcome to Night Vale episode (come home Carlos!).

I pulled into a strip mall parking lot in the dark, and balanced my open laptop on the passenger seat. Call complete, I drove on. I needed gas so I pulled into a Travel Center (which is a particular brand of truck stop). As you all know, I love truck stops. As I’ve written about here before, I feel really safe, they have great showers, hot coffee, groceries, and whatever else I might need. Like a kettle powered by a cigarette lighter.

I generally stay at Pilot’s/Flying J’s or Loves, since they specifically cater to RVers (dump stations, propane fill up, loyalty cards, Good Sam discounts, and most importantly, they have official overnight parking policies that explicitly welcome RVers).

Even though I often see Travel Centers included in lists of truck stops with overnight RV parking available, I’ve never stayed at one. Their web site doesn’t say RVers can stay overnight, just that they have ample parking if you stop for a meal break.  But, clearly they are cool with trucks staying overnight, as a ton of them were parked out back. And this was a full-fledged truck stop with showers and laundry and a gym. Also, it was nearly 9pm. So I pulled into a corner. Right beside the sign that told me I was welcome to park for up to four hours. Thanks for nothing, Travel Center.

My AllStays app noted a couple of Walmarts not too far away that supposedly allowed parking, but some commenters noted no overnight parking signs. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this here before, but I really, really hate being somewhere I’m not supposed to be. Some people are invigorated by the thrill of getting away with something. I get anxious and have to take a Xanax.

I called the first Walmart. The guy I talked to said, “well technically I can’t tell you that you can park here, but I can’t tell you that you can’t either.”

What? What does that even mean?

Which is what I said to him, basically. He said he was a bit hazy on the details, but he thought that the city had passed an ordinance that RVers couldn’t park there overnight but that they never tell people no and that in fact, a trailer was out in the  parking lot right now that had been there for about six weeks. He thought maybe they lived there! And no one had told them to leave. So that didn’t seem like an ideal situation from any angle.

I called the next Walmart on the list. The woman I talked to said that yes, I could park there, but I would have to come in and give them my license plate number and driver license information and they would call it into the police to “register” me. Also they were closing soon. I asked if they could just take that information over the phone since I might not make it there before closing. She told me no, it had to be in person and then gave me some rambled explanation about stolen cars?

I pulled out the app again. A state campground was only a couple of miles from me and according to the web site, was still open for the season. As readers of this blog know, I try to avoid getting to a campground in the dark, but I figured this was worth a try. It was, in fact, completely dark when I pulled in. And then when I got to the campground, gates barred the entrance. Which really didn’t seem like a good sign.

Back to the app. A KOA was about 10 minutes away, and didn’t close for the season for two more days. Here’s the thing about KOAs. They are nothing if not reliable. With most campgrounds and RV parks, who knows what might happen when you get there, particularly after hours. A KOA will have a night registration area with all available sites clearly marked. KOA it was. It was a tiny KOA right off the highway: just a wide open field with RV sites. Perfect.

I filled out the card, put some money in the envelope, and dropped it into the slot. It was a little chilly and just starting to rain. I went to sleep, happy for a place to stay. I woke up to a light dusting of snow and an ice-covered RV.

HOW WAS IT SUDDENLY WINTER? madison wi koa In a different lifetime, I lived in Madison, WI: newly married, a job writing API documentation in the telecom industry, sure my life was set in stone. I was 24. (Insert older, wiser, and jaded laugh here.) But one thing I brought with me from that lifetime to this one? The knowledge that Madison has a Lands’ End store.

I had another call with a different client, and thought I might just have enough time before to run in and stock up on things that are warm. I really, really needed some things that were warm. I did speed shopping, Lands’ End style, and got back to the RV, bags full of warmth in hand, just before the call was supposed to start. So I once again balanced the laptop on the passenger seat and had the meeting from a parking lot.

I thought I was driving away from the cold, but it just kept getting colder. I stayed at an RV park that night, but mostly just used it for the parking space, since it was too cold for the heat pump and I had to use the furnace. (The heat pump runs on electricity, so requires that I’m plugged in, but the furnace runs on propane, so I can run that anytime. The heat pump blows only cold air once it dips to around 35 so it was of no use to me.

Aside: when the technician at the RV dealer went through orientation when I picked up the RoadTrek, I noticed that the thermostat had both a heat pump and furnace option. I asked him what the difference was and he looked at me like a deer in headlights and changed the subject.)

The next morning (that of the feels like 12 degrees noted above), I did some laundry and checked out the vast collection of romance novels available in the laundry room.

I drove a while, found a coffee shop in a little town where I had some lunch and got some work done, and then drove a little more. But really, what I wanted was a nap. I had no use for an RV park: my laundry was done, I would keep warm with my propane-powered furnace, and the last two parks I’d been to had shut off the water at the sites for the season, so I couldn’t fill my tank even if I needed to.

Truth be told, I could have napped in a Walmart parking lot, then worked a bit more, then stayed overnight. But I feel a little weird about hanging out in a Walmart parking lot all day. (Although I can’t imagine anyone would even notice, as it would just look like someone had parked there and gone shopping.)

I saw that a state campground that was open all year was not too far ahead. And here I am.

Here’s the thing. I paid $27 for the night.  It’s only $27. It’s not a big deal. But it also seems kind of dumb. The ranger had told me that the water was off for the season, which fine, I have plenty of water in my tank. But I guess he meant all the water in the park, not just the water at the sites, because the bathrooms and showers are locked up tight. I’m not using the electricity, so I’m basically paying $27 to park here vs. parking at Walmart for free.

Yes, it’s a lovely view, although I’ve had lovely views at Walmarts too. Here are pics of a couple of my favorites.

At this Walmart, I parked by a peaceful stream, beside a quiet picnic area:

walmart

walmart

At this Walmart, I was right on the water (you can see the little “exit” sign on the back window, which for some reason I find hilarious and therefore haven’t taken it off):

Pop quiz! Riverfront campground or Walmart parking lot?

A photo posted by vanessajfox (@vanessajfox) on

And it’s seriously too cold to go out exploring or hiking or whatever I might do to enjoy being in nature vs. at a Walmart.

When I got here, it was completely empty but a truck camper, a popup van, and a group with a tent have all arrived since then, so now the place is only mostly empty. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one here with my own bathroom so I’m not sure what everyone else is doing. I especially am not sure how the tent campers are going to make it through the night without freezing to death.

It’s pitch black outside though, so I can’t tell if anyone’s still out there. Maybe they’ve given up and have gone home.

In any case, I did take a lovely nap, and I have full 4G bars, so I got a little work done and might even watch a movie later. I’m toasty warm. I have the furnace set to 75 degrees.

This is what it looked like before the pitch blackness:

woods

woods

Tomorrow, I’ll bundle up in my Lands’ End finds and maybe check out this dispersed (free of both cost and amenities) camping spot near the South Dakota badlands.

Folly Beach and James Island: Choosing Peace and Quiet

“If you have a bad feeling about someone, don’t worry about offending them. Just run. Being polite is how you get your purse stolen or your “purse stolen”.”

-Lena Dunham’s mother, as quoted in Dunham’s new book, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman tells You What She’s “Learned”

I read that last night, lying in bed, looking out my window at the star-filled sky, in the overflow parking of the James Island County Campground. (I wasn’t reading and looking at the stars at exactly the same time, obviously. I’m not quite that good at multi-tasking.)

By happenstance, running is exactly how I ended up in the overflow parking of the James Island County Campground.

I had spent the day at Folly Beach. I parked right by the ocean and worked from my Roadtrek.

Since I didn’t really need hookups or the hassle of checking into a campground, I stopped for the night at the nearby Walmart (which can be a pretty low maintenance way to enjoy an area).

My approach to everything on this adventure is to not do things that stress me out for no reason. I mean, what’s the point of that, right? People often ask me if it’s scary to park for the night at a Walmart or truck stop or whatever but it’s not. In fact, I’ve mostly only gotten that apprehensive, an axe murderer is on the loose and and tracking me down feeling at campgrounds, not for any other reason than they tend to be absolutely pitch black at night. And apparently I’m afraid of the dark.

Places like Walmarts and truck stops are well lit and have people coming and going at all hours, so while my curtains give me a dark, peaceful cocoon for a restful sleep, if I hear a noise, I can just look out and see the lack of monsters and axe murderers around me.

But if I feel nervous, I just drive away. Not because I actually think I’m in danger, but who can get a good night’s sleep if they’re worried about monsters under their Roadtrek.

They Walmarts I’ve stayed at have felt really safe. Most are open 24 hours, generally other RVs and trucks are there, and they’re surrounded by roads and street lights and civilization.

Once, I drove up to a closed Walmart at about midnight and the parking lot was completely empty. A McDonald’s in the parking lot was still open and was surrounded by partying kids, hanging out by their cars. I’m sure those kids were all sweet and lovely, even in a rowdy drunken state, but I drove on to a quiet truck stop and had a restful night surrounded by truckers.

Back to the Walmart at Folly Beach. I read in the Allstays app that the store wants RVers to stay in one particular corner, and sure enough, I saw a travel trailer parked there. The corner was far from the store and a little hidden, surrounded by trees. As I drove past the trailer, it didn’t look like it had pulled in that day. It looked more like someone lived there. Several shopping carts full of 5 gallon paint cans and other assorted items surrounded it and it may have been on blocks rather than levelers (I didn’t want to slow down too much or look too closely). No one seemed to be around, but it looked a little sketchy. I normally park just a few spots down from other RVs (as a courtesy to Walmart so RVs don’t scatter around the parking lot and take it over), but this time, I parked pretty far away and in a different row. All was quiet, so I settled in for the night.

Then the owners of the trailer came back. And brought their friends. They roared in, and once they got out of their trucks, they started yelling at each other across the parking the lot the way drunkish bros tend to do (which I get is a stereotype – some drunkish dudes get quietly weepy and play love songs about ex-girlfriends on their acoustic guitars, but these weren’t that kind of bros). One guy was carrying a case of beer.

And then they started up their generator. At 11pm. I looked out from over my curtain and saw one guy sort of ambling around the parking lot, smoking. He wandered somewhat close to my RV then away again, then sat on a curb for a while.

Nope.

Now, these guys had no idea that I was a woman alone. And probably they were so caught up in their revelry that they’d never even notice my Roadtrek. Even if they knew both of those things, they’d probably not give me a second thought.

By why stay someplace that makes me uncomfortable if I don’t have to? That’s certainly something I’ve finally learned after 42 years.

So I drove off.

I had heard good things about a county campground a couple of miles away so I drove over. You know much I am not into driving up to campgrounds late at night, and it was after 11pm. But James Island county campground is a delight. You drive through (flat, nicely paved) winding roads to a gate with a call box. A ranger is on duty 24 hours a day and is available all the time by cell phone. I picked up the phone and the ranger came over. He told me the campground was sold out, but that overflow parking was available. That sounded dismal, but better than the sketchy dudes, so I paid my $25 and followed him. We ended up in a beautiful meadow, surrounded by woods. This is overflow parking?

James Island Overflow Parking

Several other RVs were parked in the lovely, peaceful meadow so I pulled in at the end and watched the stars while I read my book.

$25 might seem steep for parking in a meadow, but you get access to the dump station, bathrooms and showers, miles of hiking trails, game room, and the rest. You can rent a bike and meander around the lake. Go fishing. Do you laundry. Grab some wifi (they have free wifi!). Basically take full use of the campground in all ways other than electricity and water. Plus you get to camp in a beautiful meadow.

The campground also has a daily shuttle into Charleston, and after driving through the city and finding it a little troublesome in my Roadtrek, that sounded like a good idea too.

So the next morning, a spot had opened up, and I booked it for two more days. Honestly, I would have been happy hanging out in the meadow a couple more days. But this is pretty good too.

James Island Campground