A list of popular honeymoon destinations would probably include tropical islands, luxurious resorts, maybe cities with centuries of culture, but it’s unlikely the list would include Walmart’s parking lot. But after a great day spent exploring Charleston we took our first foray into urban camping.
Our first stop was the gym. For $22 a month (plus some annual fees) I got the black card at Planet Fitness, which lets me use any location in the country and bring a guest in with me. In researching this trip I learned that many people will sign up simply for the access to the showers while living on the road. Kate and I want to use the rest of the gym as well as the bathrooms, and we got a good work out in before getting cleaned up for the night. Going into it I had this preconception that Planet Fitness was cheap so it couldn’t be very good, but so far I’ve been very happy with how clean and spacious the facilities are. Granted, we’ve only be to two locations so far, and I am by no means a big gym rat so maybe my bar is just set really low. Still, something I worried might be an unpleasant hassle turns out to be pretty enjoyable.
Clean and happy, we drove up to Walmart in Mt Pleasant, the suburb north of Charleston. We drove around the parking lot debating what made a good spot, feeling like at any moment someone was going to kick us out. Not too close to the store obviously, but at what point is this no longer Walmart’s lot but one of the other store’s in this shopping center? Directly under a light is not great for sleeping, but that shadowy corner back there looks creepy. Clearly nowhere near this sheriff’s car. We had done our homework and knew it was fine for us to be here, but we still felt like criminals. And while we looked around as if we were casing the joint, we began to see that we were not the only ones spending the night here. The giant RV parked across half a dozen spots on the outskirts was pretty obvious, but that van in the corner and the Subaru with tinted windows, a couple other vehicles might also be our temporary neighbors. It was as if this parking lot, the most mundane thing imaginable, had been revealed to contain a world that runs parallel to my day-to-day but I was never aware of. Who were these people? Fellow travelers going cross-country on a budget? Or are some of them here not by choice but by necessity? I knew nothing about our fellow denizens, but somehow their presence made me feel a little more comfortable there.
Our secluded but inconspicuous spot selected, we went inside for an easy dinner. Neither of us were really all that hungry, so we just got carrots and snap peas with hummus. Cheap and healthy. We ate in the front seats listening to the podcast S-Town, then we got the car organized and set up the bed. We got it done pretty efficiently, but we’re still working out exactly where everything gets stowed and that slowed us down a little. We hopped inside, put up the curtains, and were surprised at how warm it was despite the temperature dropping into the 30s. Something was sticking out of the top of the milk crate, which made the lower platform angle up a tiny bit and shift when one of us moved, but it was just below the threshold of annoyance that made it worth fixing. We were also trying to keep a low profile and didn’t want to get out or have the lights on.
I did not get a great night’s sleep. Though more comfortable and roomy than we expected, the platform is still no bed and will take some getting used to. A bigger adjustment is getting comfortable sleeping in a Walmart parking lot. I’ve spent nights alone in the wilderness and woken up to wild animals investigating my tent, but 1) it’s been awhile and 2) generally I’m more afraid of people. I’m also finding it’s easier to be brave by myself but afraid for two of us. Though the night passed completely without incident I kept waking up to make sure everything was ok, and was relieved when I woke up to hear the birds singing for dawn. Apparently Kate had an even worse night, listening to me snore as she played sudoku on her phone and kept watch.
I’m realizing that I’ve made this sound pretty rough, yet as we got up in the morning and crossed the parking lot to get a coffee with one of our many Starbucks gift cards (thanks everybody!) we were in good spirits and ready to do it again. The tent is definitely bigger and more comfortable, but we felt empowered knowing that we can spend the night in the car, and that Walmart is a safe place to do it. The next time will be easier, and eventually what feels difficult and weird will become routine.