Living life on the road is easy…at least, that’s what the conversion-van-driving Instagram crowd would have us believe. Despite those selfies, not everyone can afford to “rough it” like this.

If you’ve ever slept in your car, you know that the experience can be far from a glamorous. Not everyone chooses to sleep in their car. Lack of affordable housing and life transitions are just some reasons more people are considering using their cars as a temporary housing solution. These transitions might include things like:

  • Being between jobs
  • Having to find a new place to live on short notice
  • Waiting for a lease to begin or a home loan to close 

Some families are also cutting hotel costs this way while traveling. Regardless of what might motivate people’s choices to save money by living in their cars long-term or even temporarily, it’s possible to make these kinds of decisions without sacrificing more than you have to.

Here’s some information that we hope can help you make choices that save you money and keep you safer.

Getting Good Information is #1

You aren’t alone. The number of people living in their cars has increased dramatically over the last two years. As a result, cities are making adjustments to existing parking rules, or ordinances.

These ordinances spell out where you can park a car, for how long, and your relative rights and responsibilities. Ordinances also include consequences for ignoring these rules. (If you are interested in what an ordinance might look like, here’s an example from the state of North Carolina that addresses towing illegally parked vehicles.)

Ignoring the rules can add trouble to an already troublesome situation for many. No one wants to be woken up in the middle of the night and asked to move—and getting your car out of impound isn’t cheap. Veteran car-campers likely have a good idea of the do’s and don’ts of overnight parking. If you found yourself in this situation, do you know what to do?

“I’ll just ask my friend where they park.”

Don’t: Assume that that friend, friend of a friend, or website is correct. Rules vary by state, by city, and even area of the city in which you park. And the rules are changing. For instance, both Boise and San Diego recently repealed a previous ordinance that banned sleeping in your car.

Do: Get parking rules from the most reliable source possible. Many city websites have a section dedicated to parking enforcement. The actual ordinance may not be online, but an email or phone number for the department will be. Other places to call for reliable parking information include homeless shelters and police departments.

“I’ll just park somewhere and see what happens.”

Don’t: Try to wing it without knowing the rules. Public streets, city parks, and city streets all have varying rules about when and where you can park. You may get lucky once or twice, but no one wants a knock on the door at 2 AM by a code enforcement officer (or anyone else for that matter) asking you to explain yourself. Generally speaking, you will be given a warning and asked to leave within a certain period. Failure to obey the rules or repeated violations can result in parking fines, traffic tickets, and even trespassing charges.

According to one Boise officer I spoke to, their law enforcement generally tries to educate illegally parked drivers first. Below are some common questions many people have about overnight parking with answers we hope will help.

Do: Think of the financial consequences of making a mistake. Fines, towing costs, and missing out on paid work hours are just a few of the obvious costs of parking in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Can’t I just park at Walmart parking lots? What about churches, rest stops, and truck stops?”

Don’t: Rely on rumors or assume the kindness of strangers. Not every church, big-box parking lot, or rest area allows overnight parking.

Although a lot of Walmart stores do still allow overnight parking, not every single one of them does. It is up to the store manager and restrictions do apply. Here is what Walmart has to say about it:

While we do not offer electrical service or accommodations typically necessary for RV customers, Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers. Consequently, we do permit RV parking on our store parking lots as we are able. Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on availability of parking space and local laws. Please contact management in each store to ensure accommodations before parking your RV.

Church parking lots are private property. Some post parking rules that are visible to would-be car campers. Some do not. Though churches might be a little more understanding if you park illegally, however, you can still be warned and/or charged for trespassing. Rest stops are frequently used by long-haul truckers and road-trippers as a place to, well, rest. But overnight parking is usually prohibited and rules are usually posted onsite.

Do: Do your own research. If you are a student, you may find that your school has resources to help you, like this one. And, keep looking for other places in your budget you can cut costs.

For instance, reconsider your current car insurance plan. Your insurance needs may be different now if you’re living in your car—even if you aren’t driving it. In most cases, you’ll still have to carry some kind of insurance on the car but certainly, you won’t want to pay for more than you need. Do you keep valuables (like a laptop) in your car? What happens if you are involved in an accident while parked? What if you are towed? These are all important considerations that can change your insurance rates.

Insurify is your first stop when it comes to car insurance savings. It just takes a few minutes to enter your driver info, let us know if you’re already insured, and set your ideal deductible limits to get anywhere from 6 to 20 free and accurate car insurance quotes. The average Insurify user saves $489 a year on their insurance premiums. That chunk of change can have some real impact in the long run.

Don’t: Assume that a poor driving record means you can’t find a better rate. Even if you typically find it harder to cut insurance costs because of things like a DUI on your record, there are more and more affordable options these days if you can find them.

“I understand the rules, but what about my bad back? My privacy? My fur-baby?”

Don’t: Forget to make considerations for safety and comfort. Sleeping in your car overnight doesn’t have to be uncomfortable, embarrassing, or unhealthy.

Do: Review blogs, podcasts, and apps that can help you be successful in your environment whether it’s a temporary change or long-term solution. For example, here’s an SPCA article related to cars and pet safety.

If you’re online searching for overnight parking…

Do brush up on your vocabulary. You will be more successful with your Google searches and phone conversations if you know and understand some keywords you may or may not be familiar with. Some common phrases for searching parking rules include:

  • Parking enforcement
  • City parking ordinance
  • Vehicle habitation laws

Don’t give up. Getting insurance just like asking for information regarding overnight parking isn’t hard—but sometimes it can feel that way especially when we are already stressed or in a hurry. The more you understand, the more likely you are to make a better decision for yourself or your family. Often shelters and non-emergency police numbers can connect you quickly and easily to other helpful services. Your local 211 is always a good resource on how your jurisdiction handles these issues.

Insurify is one of many steps in your savings journey, but it’s certainly one of the easiest. You’d be surprised how easy it is to cut mandatory costs in just a matter of minutes. Compare quotes, unlock discounts, and secure savings with Insurify today.

Jeannette Wisniewski is a technology writer whose passion is encouraging people to engage with technology by making it more understandable and more interesting. Though she enjoys writing business copy for a wide range of subjects, she is most inspired by emerging tech and its applications. She is a graduate of San Jose State University, a Georgia Peach at heart, and happy to call Boise, ID home.