Photo series Waking Up At Walmart documents people who live in the store's lots.

The chain has a policy, at most stores, to let travelers spend the night for free in their vehicles.

That means a lot of RVs that didn’t quite make it to their destinations, and roadtrippers who didn’t want to shell out cash for motels.

Photographer Nolan Conway spent three weeks taking the images.

Before starting the project, Conway stayed in Walmart lots himself while on the road.

You never know exactly what you’ll find at Walmart, Conway says. He once saw someone hauling a 100-year-old trolley, parked in the lot as shoppers walked past to buy disposable trinkets.

He's seen people staying in tricked-out RVs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and others staying in beaten-up trucks.

Homeless families sometimes stay in the lots, sleeping in their cars.

It wasn’t easy to approach people to take the shots, since the vehicles were essentially their temporary homes.

"Someone’s so vulnerable in the car that you don’t want to knock on their window; it’s kind of a scary situation,” Conway says.

“I’d usually stop about 20 feet away and wave to try to get their attention."

But he finished the series, and even found some sense of community among fellow nomads living on the road.

Now, as he drives across the country working on new photos--and needs a last-minute place to pull over late at night--he still often stays in Walmart lots.

Keep scrolling for more images.

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2014-01-03

Co.Exist

The Hidden Ecosystem Of The Walmart Parking Lot

Stick around outside a Walmart long enough and you'll notice that a lot of people actually live there. In a new series, photographer Nolan Conway documents these parking lot nomads.

Pull into a Walmart parking lot late at night and you’ll probably run into a few RVs that didn’t quite make it to their destinations, and roadtrippers who didn’t want to shell out cash for motels, all taking advantage of the chain’s policy, at most stores, to let travelers spend the night for free.

It’s a world that photographer Nolan Conway spent three weeks documenting in a series called Waking Up At Walmart.

Photos by Nolan Conway
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Before starting the project, Conway stayed in Walmart lots himself while on the road. The experience brought back an early memory. "I think I was in middle school when I first saw a car that someone was sleeping in—it had a broken window and it was packed full of their belongings," Conway says. "It had a big impact on me. Years later, when I was actually staying at a Walmart, it came back to me, and I wanted to pursue the series."

You never know exactly what you’ll find at Walmart, Conway says. He once saw someone hauling a hundred-year-old trolley, parked nonchalantly in the lot as shoppers walked past to buy disposable trinkets. He's seen people staying in tricked-out RVs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and others staying in beaten-up trucks. Homeless families sometimes stay in the lots, sleeping in their cars.

Photos by Nolan Conway

It wasn’t easy to approach people to take the shots, since the vehicles were essentially their temporary homes. "Someone’s so vulnerable in the car that you don’t want to knock on their window; it’s kind of a scary situation," Conway says. "I’d usually stop about 20 feet away and wave to try to get their attention. Depending on where you are, there could be homeless (and carless) people going around begging from people who are in their cars at Walmart. Sometimes I would be confused for those people and others wouldn’t want anything to do with me."

But he finished the series, and even found some sense of community among fellow nomads living on the road. Now, as he drives across the country working on new photos—and needs a last-minute place to pull over late at night—he still often stays in Walmart lots.

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5 Comments

  • Jo De

    Ran into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas one summer hanging out in his mobile home in the WalMart near Port Jervis.

  • When I lived in a van I used to sleep at a 24 hour grocery store parking lot. This was over 20 years ago. The lot was always well-lit, and most of the time, no one really noticed if you came in at 2am and used the washroom.

  • Donna Smallin Kuper

    It's true. We frequently overnight at Walmart in our motorhome. It's easier to just pull in and stay the night than to set up at a campground when we intend to move on early the next day. It's a smart policy of Walmart to allow overnighting at their stores. I spent $100 there the other day stocking up on food! That was in Buckeye, AZ just a few days ago. We blog about our experiences about full-time RVers and in one post, my husband writes about our experience of overnighting with dozens of RVs that were parked at the Walmart in Bozeman, MT back in August. You can read about and see photos here: http://www.flyingthekoop.com/.../the-good-the-bad-and.../