It can’t all be mom and pop coffee shops and pristine natural campsites, sometimes you’ve gotta hop on the stellar wifi at Starbucks and sleep in a Walmart parking lot. This is the reality of vanlife. Luckily, these two massive corporations always make you feel welcome.
As much as we like to support local businesses wherever we travel, we often find ourselves at a couple of major chains that provide consistent and invaluable services, especially on those long travel days. I’m going to name them here–try not to get mad. The two massive businesses that people who lead our style of nomadic lifestyle are sure to find themselves, whether they want to or not, are Starbucks and Walmart.
You’re so right, they don’t need my endorsement, but they’re getting it anyway because they’re too damn useful not to call out! And it’s not just that they provide invaluable services to van dwellers such as us–we’ll get to what those services in a minute–but that they deliver them with smiles on their faces, making you feel welcome time after time.
Seriously, what’s in the water at these places that makes their employees be so glad to be at work? Making coffee doesn’t look that fucking fun! Why are you all singing?
I reached out to both Starbucks and Walmart to ask about their policies about welcoming travelers either to camp in their parking lots or hole up for hours on their wifi and electricity, and was able to get the attention of a media representative of each.
First off, Walmart. If you’ve never stayed overnight in a Walmart lot, know that it isn’t the KOA. They don’t have the cleanest bathrooms, there’s no place to shower, and you’ll have to buy the bean-bag-toss game if you want to play it. But, so long as the store or city doesn’t have a policy against staying overnight there, you are welcome to do it. We saw more than a few people ostensibly living in the Walmart parking lot, especially in those warmer blue-collar cities in the southern U.S.
“Typically, we do allow RV’s/Campers in our parking lots — at the discretion of the store manager. If it is a leased space, permission must be granted from the Property Manager,” says Khim R. Aday of Walmart’s Corporate Communications.
“We consider this an extension of customer service and are more than happy to accommodate members of the RV community as they travel. We value RV travelers and consider this an extension of customer service. We ask that you be good neighbors and follow the policies and procedures that store managers have in place.”
So, don’t piss on your tire because you’re too lazy to walk into the 24-hour bathrooms, or fling your garbage out the passenger window as you pull out of the lot after a solid eight-hours. The cart kid has better things to do (like gather carts) than pick up after your lazy ass.
We consider this an extension of customer service and are more than happy to accommodate members of the RV community as they travel. – Walmart
Speaking of spending eight hours in one place, you’ve no doubt noticed, if not been, that person who walks into Starbucks at 8:30 am, sits down at a table against the wall, plugs their laptop into the wall, logs onto the wifi, orders a small coffee, and then proceeds to use said table as their office for the entire day. At no point will that person be asked to leave, or even to stop downloading those massive files.
“We believe a coffeehouse should be a welcoming, inviting and familiar place for people to connect, so we invite our customers to stay as long as they want…within the posted store hours though, of course,” says Mary Saunoris, Associate Communications Manager of Public Affairs for Starbucks Canada. “Wherever your favourite Starbucks store is, it’s not unusual to see people meeting up with one another, chatting over a coffee, reading a book in a quiet corner or catching up on some work. An added bonus to sticking around at one of our stores? If you sign up for Starbucks Rewards, refills on brewed hot or iced coffee or tea are on us!”
That small coffee goes a long way with free refills.
— Li et Co (@lietcoinc) January 10, 2017
But, again, while you gulp down your third cup and gobble that steady wifi, it may be wise to ask yourself if you’re being a good neighbour.
“We welcome our customers to make themselves at home and love that it is the third place for so many,” says Saunoris. “If you’re visiting a busy store, it’s always nice to free up any chairs that you’re using for personal items so others can sit. If you do have devices plugged in, once they’re charged up unplug them and see if anyone else might need to top up their power too.”
As to why they’re all so god damned smiley all the time, it’s not because they’re getting paid like the C-suite. As we overheard one employee say, “I don’t get paid the big bucks, I get paid the Starbucks.”
We welcome our customers to make themselves at home and love that it is the third place for so many
“While coffee is definitely the heart of Starbucks, our employees are more than employees, they’re partners,” says Saunoris. “Starbucks cares about what is important to partners and focuses investments on partner experience based on their feedback. We make sure everything we do is through the lens of humanity – from our commitment to the highest quality coffee in the world, to the way we engage with our customers and communities to do business responsibly.”
What she means, I think, is that they listen to their employees, like actually listen, and then act on what they’ve learned. We’ll keep this strategy in mind next time we’re making management decisions.
All this to say, by all means support the local businesses wherever you can. They’re a great way to get to know a community as you travel. But don’t stick your nose up at the big boys when you’re on that epic road trip. These two at least, are sure to come in handy.