THE FOUR WEIRDEST PLACES WE'VE SLEPT WHILE TRAVELING
I’m sorry if this is your first time here. We’re about ready to get to know each other real quick.
Josh and I travel on a tight budget, which often times means a lack of plush pillows and oversized king beds. This also means a hefty list of weird AF places we’ve slept while in a pinch.
I am attributing this entire post to being young and dumb. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it.
A Homeless Encampment Outside San Francisco (With a Giant Unicorn)
While living in a van, you camp in some incredible locations. The world is your campground. But that world gets a little tougher and little dirtier when you find yourself attempting to explore urban areas. In most of the United States, you can easily get away with parking overnight in a Walmart parking lot. However, in California Walmarts are rarely open 24 hours. It actually makes sense, given that full tent cities would erupt in every 24-hour parking lot.
We eventually learned that park-and-rides offered the best spot to sleep without incident. There was one specific park-and-ride in Half Moon Bay that we always saw a sign for, but never could find. One night we learned that it was hidden behind a local grocery store.
When we arrived, we found exactly why they made it so hard to locate. We were first welcomed by a 7-foot tall sparkling unicorn sticking out of the woods. Plastic tables and pitched tents spread out every direction, an old RV permanently situated in the back corner, and a couple other vans sat in the parking lot. No commuter cars. No anything else. I will tell you this, even rain doesn’t stop the party in that place. #nosleep
A Drainage Tunnel in Italy
After a day of traveling in Northern Italy, we hopped off a train in a tiny town with not much more than a single street of cafes and shops. It was already dark, and we spent time watching Italy in the knockout rounds of the Eurocup with a group of locals sitting outside a small bar. Around 10 pm, the last train for the night left. Wild camping is technically illegal in Italy, but there was nowhere to go and the tiny town offered no solutions.
We searched on satellite maps and saw a small patch of woods about a mile outside town. We walked in the darkness and arrived only to find the woods on a steep hill and tangled in thorny bushes.
I figured we’d be sitting in a park until 6 am when the first train arrived. Suddenly, Josh says he thinks he found something. And by finding something I mean a drainage tunnel just tall enough to fit our tent and filled with massive spiders and a dead bird sitting about three feet from the entrance. Yes, it happened. And no, I didn’t sleep well.
A Bush in Northern Spain
If you think you won’t ever fight with your significant other while traveling, that’s really cute. An elongated fight between Josh and I led to us sitting silently in a patch of bushes overlooking the ocean in A Curona, Spain. By the time things were solved the sun had set, we were miles from the train station and had already walked close to fifteen miles that day. Mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted we said ‘screw it’ and slept in that same bush.
The perks of being young, dumb, and able to sleep just about anywhere. On the bright side, we had an epic front-row seat to the sunset over the north Atlantic Coast.
A Roadside Ditch in Croatia
Croatia’s awful train system is made worse in the peak of summer tourism. We tried for hours to catch a train from the capital of Zagreb to the coastal town of Dubrovnik (shout out GOT fans). The night before the bush escapade, we had slept in the Zagreb train station because we were kicked off a train we were told had seats available.
The next night, history repeated itself. After we hopped on the 9 pm train to the coast, we soon realized that there was no room and the crew kicked us off once again. Hostels were completely booked, so we hopped on a different train heading toward Bosnia and jumped off in a remote town hoping to sleep or camp nearby.
About twenty minutes after attempting to make our beds in the open-aired train station, a group of local kids came around for a party. We ditched, found a ditch, set our tent up mangled in roots, and finally managed a few hours of sleep for the first time in a few days.
Here’s the thing, I love traveling but hate planning. So it’s quite often we end up in towns/cities/countries having exactly two hours to find a place to stay that doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars thanks to last-minute pricing.
But with every awful night sleeping in a hammock above a colony of fire ants, comes great stories of amazing places I’ve spent the night. Under the Northern Lights in Iceland. In a Treehouse in Kentucky. On a cliff overlooking the Colombian mountains.
I’d like to say I’m over this phase of my life, but then again I can picture myself booking a plane ticket to Greece and arriving with a single backpack and a smile on my face.
Shalee Wanders is a female travel blog that focuses on encouraging young adults to explore the world and challenge themselves outside comfort zones. Born and raised in Michigan, she shares her tips of the Midwest, the United States, and beyond. You can follow her travels on Instagram at @shaleewanders.
Soulful adventurer. Probably lost. Definitely eating ice cream.
In her late-teens, Shalee drove out of her small hometown watching the sunset behind her along the two-lane highway. Her ventures began in Michigan, where she taught herself to travel on a budget. Today, Shalee shares her tips and stories to thousands of readers interested in adventure, budget, and outdoor travel. Learn more about her here.