One of the simple joys of traveling with an Airstream is the ability to stop nearly anywhere with all the comforts of home. On long driving days where stops are limited to quick overnights, many Airstreamers skip campgrounds and stay in private parking lots (like Wal-Mart), driveways, public lands, truck stops, rest areas, Harvest Hosts, and all sorts of other places.
It might be a little scary at first to stay somewhere that isn't specifically designed for camping, but if you arrive near sunset and leave early in the morning, you're not camping as much as you are parking. The point of an overnight stay is simply to get a night of rest before heading out again.
Here are a few steps you can take to make these quick overnight visits easy and more comfortable.
Find a quiet and safe spot
Truck stops are notorious for constant noise all night, as trucks come and go. Highway rest areas are similar and can even be unsafe at night, so we don't recommend them except as a last resort.
Avoid obviously sketchy areas and places that look like late-night party spots.
The parking lot of a Walmart, Cracker Barrel, or other RV-friendly business is an option that many Airstreamers choose. Keep in mind that the guidelines for parking overnight in places like these vary. Wal-Mart, for example, does not have a corporate policy, but extends permission-to-park guidelines to individual store managers, based on local laws and available parking spaces.
It's a good idea to check the website or contact the management of big box stores about their overnight guidelines before parking your RV.
Wherever you choose to park for the night, if you're traveling with bicycles, make sure they're well secured against theft.
Unhitching is not required
We are occasionally asked if it's OK for the Airstream and truck to leave the rig hitched up overnight. Absolutely it is. Nothing on the hitch or the truck will be stressed by this. It's a nice break from routine to simply park and not worry about all the details of unhitching. Besides, you should always stay hitched if you're in a public parking lot.
Try to find level ground
That way, you won't need to use leveling blocks, which make it more obvious that you're sleeping inside. One of the goals of a quick overnight stay is to be subtle so people don't think you're setting up camp.
Another advantage of parking on level ground: if the trailer is facing up a slope, you may not be able to get it level without unhitching.
And even though you're parked for just one night, remember to set the parking brake.
It's OK to steady yourself
On a trailer, that means putting down the hitch jack just enough to touch the ground, so the Airstream won't be bouncing on its suspension. (Be kind to your host's asphalt and put a jack pad under the hitch post.)
You can minimize bouncing even more by lowering the stabilizing jacks. Yes, it's ok to do that even if you stay hitched but remember: If you have a trailer, don't lower the stabilizing jacks until after you've put down the hitch jack.
On a motorhome you can just put down the stabilizers.
[Optional for trailers] Unplug the 7-way
On some older tow vehicles the trailer can draw power from the vehicle battery even when the engine is not running. This could mean waking up to a dead tow vehicle battery.
If you suspect you have such a vehicle, unplug the 7-way cable when you park, and make a note to reconnect it in the morning.
It's fine to keep the 7-way cable plugged into modern trucks. Most have a device to turn off power to the trailer plug when the engine is not running.
Use your Departure Checklist
Even though you haven't really been "camping," be sure to run through your Departure Checklist before you go so you know everything is ready for travel. In particular for a quick overnight stay this includes:
- Pull up stabilizers
- Retract hitch post
- Put up and lock the steps (broken steps due to being left down during travel is one of the leading causes of service center visits!)
- Close and lock all windows and doors
- Check tire inflation
- Reconnect 7-way plug (if needed)
Thanks for all your really useful posts. When we are doing a quick stop and go we often have a Slimfast for a quick breakfast at around 6AM and have something more substantial at our first rest stop a few hours later.
Very helpful for anyone towing Airstream. Nice to see some articles about
the Airstream Sprinter Vans, sometimes feel like the Red Haired Step Child.
add to departure check list: close vents, turn off water pump, check trailer lights/breaks, check hitch.
Great blog post! One thing we experienced was a problem with the refrigerator. Parked on a slight hill over night, the next day we noticed fridge wasn’t working. We had to “burp” it. This is an involved task of removing the refrigerator, turning it upside down for 24 hours then re-installing it. We won’t make that mistake again! Solution if you have to park on a hill overnight: turn off the fridge and put some ice in it. Our experience is if you keep it closed, food will stay cold/frozen for an overnight stop.
Thanks for the note and recommendations on overnight parks. This has been very helpful.
Great post. Some truck stops like Flying J have RV parking areas that we found to be quiet. And they let you use the showers (for a fee). We always do a walk about before leaving in the morning. iOverlander is a great app to find overnight spots.
I’m retired military so I really like the red Remove before Flight ribbons :) on overnight stops I use these on the tongue jack and 7 way plug just as a reminder on a groggy morning…
Kerry, sorry to hear about the fridge thing. Yes, if you have a propane refrigerator, it wants to be operated on the level. If the slope is severe it can cause problems. This isn’t a concern if the fridge is off or if you have an electric-only (compressor) refrigerator.
Mike, I love the idea about the red “Remove before flight” ribbons!