There are many places to enjoy and while away your time in Canada – beautiful, stunning and breath-taking but with a motorhome you need some basics at the end of the day (or every few days). Namely – water, a dump station and a place to sleep where you won’t get a knock on the door at 2am telling you to move on. These necessities are not unique to Canada, as any RV’er knows, but they are not the stuff of exciting conversation or photos and videos to be saved as precious mementos.
So when it comes to crossing Canada at the end of the season (31st October is the normal ‘closing’ date for RV parks and facilities) how does one proceed? particularly given the often large distances between destinations?
Walmart – in a word. (If you are in the UK substiute Asda for Walmart and try to imagine doing this in the UK! Not something I have tried I might add …) This post is particularly related to being 5 weeks later than planned crossing Canada from Nova Scotia to the Rockies, which put us outside the RV campgrounds season. I have no reason to doubt this is just as valid in the summer months too.
It is well-known that the Walmart group will allow respectful over-nighting at their stores. This provides the motorhome traveller with a safe and ubiquitous option in practically every city and large town in the USA and Canada. There are however some unwritten rules to be acknowledged and a few tips on how to do this in style (well almost).
So the first thing to note is that there are no water taps and no dump stations (well that we have found at least) so make sure you start your hopping with a full water tank and an empty poo tank.
Secondly there are serviced toilets with hot water in all Walmart stores so make sure to use the facilities rather than your own.
Maybe it goes without saying but Walmart is a supermarket amongst other things and so, if needed, you have food and water available on your doorstep as you arrive or for stocking up before you leave.
The rule of where to park in their, quite often, huge parking lots, is away from the shopping entrances and around the edge of the parking lot. Sometimes they have a side lot which is still part of the Walmart experience and is most definitely out-of-the-way of the shoppers.
Walmart also offer free wi-fi to its customers. So as you arrive open up your device at the wi-fi page and drive very slowly around the parking area watching the signal strength of ‘wmguest’ in a lot of places we have stayed you can combine the ‘parking at the edge’ rule with good wi-fi – not always, but often.
If, like us you plan to do several days ‘hopping’ then in effect you are driving Walmart to Walmart rather than say tourist attraction to tourist attraction. So as you use the free wi-fi in the morning, before you leave, to plan the days drive, search Walmart + your destination city/town in Google and usually you will be offered quite a few options; here are a few points to note when choosing which one.
a: Pick one that is on your route out of the next city – you will probably be leaving in the morning to get a long days drive in and you will probably be leaving in rush hour, trying to drive around or through a city at rush hour first thing is a pain if you plan on 10 hours plus driving.
b: Pick one that is NOT next to a railway line – its amazing how many times as you settle down to sleep that that railway line suddenly becomes active with (in Canada at least) the most humongously long trains that seem to pass by for at least 30 minutes and then the activity continues at irregular intervals throughout the night.
c: Pick one that is open early and closes late – preferably 24hrs – having facilities available behind closed doors can be very frustrating.
d: With reference to point a: not too close to your chosen route out of the city if it’s a freeway; in fact try and find a sweet spot that is close to the where you need to go in the morning but not next to a busy highway – a good nights un-broken sleep is worth it’s weight the next day when you have been driving for 9 hours and still have 2 to go – yawn!
e: If you do see signs saying ‘parking restricted to authorised vehicles’ or ‘parking limited to 1 hour’ or some such sign. Take the time to park, rather than leave immediately, and head on in to the store and ask the customer service desk if it is okay to spend the night (just say 1 night to start with); we had this in Montreal, signs everywhere regarding authorised vehicles only. A quick word at the customer service desk and an okay from the manager and we stayed for 3 nights no problem.
In our 5 day drive from Niagara Falls to Jasper national park we overnighted in 4 Walmarts. In our mechanically challenged period in Nova Scotia we overnighted many nights too and in ALL places we felt safe and welcome, sure some places more than others but generally ‘safe’ would be a good word to describe the experience.
The points above are things we worked out along the way and have now become our default POA when needed.
If you find yourselves out of season and travelling through the great Canadian landscape then at least you know you have a fall-back stop-over almost anywhere.