iOverlander – How to find a place to stay on the fly

This post is about the iOverlander App. It is the best tool I know of that finds you free or very cheap places to stay when traveling and exploring the outdoors. It’s geared toward RV travel, but it can be very useful for finding places when traveling by car, van, bike, or even walking. Many of these places come with incredible scenery too.

Sunset near Manchester, CA
An example of great scenery at a free location near Manchester, CA

Here’s how we will break iOverlander down:

  • Background
    A short story about how I stumbled across iOverlander. If this sounds boring to you, then skip ahead.
  • Description
    How iOverlander works and can improve your ability to road-trip without having to worry about accommodations.
  • Demo
    What you can do with iOverlander and how it looks (with pictures).

Background

After exploring California last summer, I determined that finding [legal] places to stay can be the most challenging part of exploring. If you are passing through unfamiliar territory and you don’t know anyone in the area, it can be a little tricky.

The first week in California was easy for me. The Sierra Nevada is covered with National Forest. As long as you can find a decent forest road, you should not have a problem finding a (usually peaceful) spot to park for the night. Once I made it to the coast however, things changed significantly.

If you have ever been to the California coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco, you may have noticed that there are NO OVERNIGHT PARKING signs everywhere. How could that be?

Every year, people from all over the country arrive in California intending to drive the Coastal Highway, often in RVs, camper vans, or trailers. That takes up a lot of space on the highway, especially when they have to park. Parking along the highway is banned throughout much of CA-1’s length. You can only park along certain stretches that are maintained by the state, usually for a fee. Of course there is also the option of a campsite, or a hotel along the way (if you can find one). Much of the coast is undeveloped, so it is difficult to find accommodations on the fly during the busy season. I got a taste of this when I got to the coast.

Do you know a place where I can crash?

During my first few weeks on the road, if I couldn’t find anywhere to stay, I had simply Googled free campsites along my route. However once I dropped into Big Sur (and throughout most of the previous week) I had no phone service. I was able to find a spot which I had found on freecampsites.net earlier in the day. That was good for one night, but I didn’t want to rely on the internet every day.

When I arrived at the “campsite”, there were about a dozen other folks at the location already. One of the girls at the site asked me if I found the spot using “the app”.

The App she was referring to was iOverlander.

Description

The app is great for 3 reasons:

  1. No service required: All of the data is synced in the app to use offline. If you do not have service, you will still be able to use the app and all of the data within.
  2. Tried and true: All of the data is free-sourced from users. Any location recorded in the app is initiated by someone who actually stayed there with details (some more than others) about their experience. Not every place known to man is in the app. It’s just what people who use the app choose to share.
  3. Freedom: The app is free to download. Also it gives you a lot of free places to stay.
Dixie National Forest - 08-14-2019
An example of a “wild camping” in Dixie National Forest – all national forests have dispersed camping areas

iOverlander is a modern truckers’ road atlas. It lists thousands of places to stop for supplies, accommodations, and sight-seeing. Primarily the app contains accommodations, and they range from wild camping (essentially free “campsites”) to actual hotels. iOverlander also has filters for the type of place you are looking for. You can either view places via the map or a list of nearby places.

Links to iOverlander:

Android
IOS
Link to iOverlander website

iOverlander map around Grand Canyon and Zion National Park
Plenty of places to stay – iOverlander map around Grand Canyon and Zion National Park

After finding out about iOverlander in Big Sur, I used it exclusively for the remainder the trip if I couldn’t find anywhere to stop for the night. Sometimes there were too many options for one area.

If I found a place to stay using iOverlander and people were already at the site when I arrived, I was often asked if I found the place using “the app”. There was usually no further clarification on which app we were talking about. As I found places using iOverlander, I soon realized that tons of people were using it. Most of the sites I visited were fairly large too; so we usually had no problem fitting several vehicles at each site.

Demo

If you read my spiel above, you probably got tired reading it or you have already downloaded the app and ignored the remainder of this post. But just in case you haven’t done either of those things, here is a little screenshot magic to see how the app works.

Demo Pictures (click to enlarge)

Hey thanks for reading

I hope this was another enlightening post for you. For the record, I did not receive any kickbacks for this post from the app developers or anyone else; free advertising I suppose.

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