Can You Sleep in Hotel Parking Lots?
Yes, you can sleep in hotel parking lots. But if you’re caught, you’ll be kicked off the property–trust me, it’s happened to me!
Hotel parking lots are one of the most convenient places to stealth camp in a van.
I’ve had a range of experiences with sleeping in hotel parking lots. Anything from the dreaded “knock”, kids partying next to my rig, and police showing up at midnight.
But despite some questionable experiences, hotels are still one of the best in-a-pinch camp spots when I’m just trying to sleep in my van for a night. Because urban van dwelling has its pros, but can still be challenging.
Stealth parking when you’re not familiar with an area can be intimidating, so here are my best tips from learned experience.
How to Stealth Camp at Hotels
1. Do a Quick Google “Safety” Search of the City
If you’re just arriving in a new city – especially a big city – it can be difficult to know the safer and riskier areas. Sometimes I’ll do a simple “is X city safe?” Google search and scan through top results. The results usually include a comparison of the city’s crime rates to the rest of the nation.
You have to take results with a grain of salt, because we all know the internet will make things sound as terrifying as possible. But if you observe surroundings and do a safety search that shows unsafe results, you can make a more informed call on whether to stay or look elsewhere.
You can also do a Google search such as, “safest areas in X city” to help narrow your hotel search to those areas. From there, I plug in “hotels nearby” in Google Maps, and it will show all hotels in the area.
If you find a strip of hotels, or a few hotels in the same plaza, these are always great to target. Mainly because two or more hotel parking lots overlap, so they aren’t necessarily monitoring which guest is in which lot.
2. Avoid Tourist Cities
From my experience, you are most likely to be noticed camping in a hotel parking lot in tourist cities (especially on the West coast). If you can find a smaller, less popular city on the outskirts of a major city, you’ll have lower chances of getting caught.
In fact, lots of hotels throughout California have gates for paid parking, so you can’t even enter the lot.
Since van life is a lot more popular on the west coast, it’s not surprising that hotels are more aware of people overnighting in their parking lots. That being said, there’s only been a handful of times I’ve had issues out of the loads of nights I’ve overnight parked in a hotel.
I’d rate California the most difficult state for overnighting in a hotel parking lot. The only other state I’ve had an issue with was one time in a tourist city in Colorado.
Arizona, Oregon, Idaho, and lots of the Midwest have been smooth sailing for overnight hotel parking. Generally speaking, it’s safe to assume you won’t have an issue.
3. Target 2 or 3-Star Chain Hotels
Best Western, Holiday Inn Express, Super 8 and Wyndham hotels are the ones I look for first. Their protocol should be the same across all of their hotel chains, so if I was successfully able to stay at one, chances are good I can go unnoticed at another.
I typically avoid mom-and-pop or local hotels – this is just personal preference. They tend to be smaller hotels than the chain ones, so it’d probably be easier to notice my van. I also avoid high-end, expensive hotels because they most likely have stricter protocols in place and will check license plates throughout the night.
4. Show Up After Dark & Leave Early
If I know I’m doing a “hotel night” in a city, I’ll usually work from a coffee shop or public park until dusk and then head to the hotel. Showing up after dark significantly lowers your chance of hotel staff noticing your rig pulling in–especially if you’re in a more distinct rig.
I try to leave hotel parking lots by 7 or 8am. You may think, “why leave early? I already successfully stayed the night so what does it matter?” Well, the more hotels across the country start noticing this as a problem, the more they’ll try to stop it. So, for the future of hotel parking and others out there, please leave early to avoid being noticed!
There was one situation where I was noticed and asked to leave in the morning. But I was new to overnight camping in hotel lots and being very naive. I had my side door open, making breakfast on my stove! Live and learn…
5. Pull In Through a Side Entrance
Many hotel parking lots have multiple entrances and exits. Choose an entrance that allows you to skip going past the front-desk, pull-up area. These areas are typically where the receptionist keeps an eye on new vehicles arriving.
6. Park in the Back But Away from Staff Areas
I recommend parking away from the hotel building and in the back of the lot. Aim for whichever area looks like it will have the least traffic throughout the night.
Just be sure to avoid parking near maintenance sheds that are typically at the back of the lot, though. I once parked next to a hotel’s maintenance shed and a staff member noticed my van. They had the manager come out and I was asked to leave…so, avoid parking next to maintenance sheds or areas that staff may frequently pass by.
I was once caught in a wild storm with flash floods occurring in a tourist city in Colorado. I made an emergency stop in a hotel for the night, but I parked right in the front. Around 1am, the manager knocked on my van and told me to leave.
7. Enter Ultimate Stealth Mode
Once you’re parked for the night, the goal is to act like you aren’t even in your van. No one should hear sounds or see light coming from your rig. Put window shades up, turn down the volume of your Netflix show, and get cozy. Keep a pee jar (I prefer Nalgene bottle) so you can quickly go to the bathroom at night if needed.
I don’t leave my van once I park in a hotel lot for the night. I’ll wear headphones if I want to watch shows and only use my small kitchen light instead of my ceiling lights.
8. Consider Which Night of the Week It Is
Hotels will always be busier on weekend nights than weekday nights. Weekend nights can be good though, because you’re more likely to go unnoticed. A van in a full parking lot stands out less than an empty one, and staff is busier. But you’ll also deal with more crowded lots and having to stay extra stealth because of more people around. And, if you’re like me, have a party start next to your van (one of them even kicked my van!).
I prefer weekday nights because there are more stealth parking spots available, with less traffic. There have been times I’ve passed up a lot though, because the parking lot was TOO empty and I knew I’d stick out way too much.
9. Don’t Steal Continental Breakfast
Some van lifers have joked about sneaking into the hotel for breakfast in the morning. I’m not here to be a Debbie Downer, but I recommend not doing that, for a few reasons:
-Hotel breakfasts are usually terrible, anyways (haha)
-You’re increasing the chances of getting caught (and ruining it for the rest of us!)
-Try to simply respect you got a free and safe place to stay for the night
Overnight stealth parking in hotels can be a really convenient resource when you’re in a pinch! It always gives me peace of mind knowing I have it as a backup option. I hope these tips serve you well on the road.