If you read the first part of Electricity, Restrooms, & WiFi, Oh My! you know I am writing in response to a post on vaninspirations by Liselle. When Liselle first started living in her van full time, she wondered how she could charge her phone and use the restroom each night before bed without spending a lot of money. I suggested she spend her evenings at public libraries, then started thinking of all the other places folks could hang out, access the internet, charge electronics, and/or use the restroom while spending little or no money.
Part 1 of Electricity, Restrooms, & WiFi, Oh My! covered public and university libraries, as well as corporate coffee shops and restaurants. Now on with Part 2!
Chain bookstores often allow or even encourage people to hang out without requiring a purchase. There’s sure to be a restroom on the premises, and there’s typically free WiFi available. Try to find a comfy chair near an electrical outlet for charging, or if there’s a coffee shop area, look for outlets there.
I’ve noticed that in some big cities, larger grocery stores sometimes have a snack bar type area, ostensibly so people can eat the deli food or pre-made sandwiches they’ve just bought. If there are electrical outlets in such a seating/eating area, it might be a good place to hang out after grocery shopping to charge electronics. Grocery stores almost always have restrooms, and these days some of them even have free WiFi.
Here’s the deal. Stores want to make it easy for people to spend money. If a potential customer has to leave the store to attend to a bodily function, that customer might not return to make a purchase. So if you’re in a place where items are for sale, there’s bound to be a restroom.
Last summer, I frequented a Target store offering free WiFi. (That was in California, but maybe it’s a national trend.) The store also had public restrooms and an in-store Starbucks with seating. One evening I went into the seating area to look at photos I’d just purchased and found people hanging out, playing one of those card games like Magic without even a cup from a purchased beverage on their table. I didn’t look for electrical outlets, but if there was at least one there, it would be a great spot for accessing the internet and charging up with no out of pocket expense.
Shopping malls might work for passing time with access to restrooms. Food courts in malls are usually so big that no one would notice how long someone has been sitting at table. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a mall, but they may routinely offer WiFi and electrical outlets. Lots of people do the mall walking thing, so one could probably get in some exercise while waiting for that last visit to the restroom before bed.
Another place I don’t have much experience with but might work is a hospital. Or course, there are public restrooms in hospitals. There are likely to be people passing time in cafeterias and waiting rooms, and it would seem logical to offer electrical outlets to the people there. In my experience (in towns of 8,000 to 85,000 people), I’ve never seen a security guard challenging anyone in a hospital, but I’ve heard lots of intense activity happens in inner-city hospitals. Again, experiences differ depending on the community. If I were looking for places to spend my evenings, I might scope out a hospital to find public access restrooms, electrical outlets, etc., but I would not try to use hospital facilities too often. While no one may think twice about seeing the same person repeatedly in a library, mall, or on a university campus, the person repeatedly in a hospital waiting room might attract attention.
A Greyhound bus station might work occasionally too. Friends and I once slept for a few hours on the floor of a Greyhound station when we had no tickets, no money, and no plan. There are usually people hanging out there, even when there’s not a crowd waiting for the very next bus. (People hanging out could have been dropped off early or could be waiting to receive money through Western Union.) Five years ago when I was riding the ‘Hound regularly, I saw that bus stations had begun to provide “charging stations” (rows of electrical outlets, usually above a counter) so people in the waiting area could charge their phones. Greyhound stations definitely have restrooms, and I guarantee no one will think it strange to see you brushing your teeth in there.
Hotels can usually work for a restroom break, For best results, pick a hotel that’s part of a chain and has a lobby. Nearly every hotel lobby has restrooms. Stroll in casually and confidently and find the restroom. If you’re feeling bold, find an electrical outlet near a comfy chair in the lobby or in the business center. If questioned, you can say you’re supposed to meet your mom there. (You might not look like you belong in the lobby of a La Quinta Inn, but your mom probably does. On the other hand, no matter what you look like, savvy hotel workers know you might have money in your pocket to rent a room or drink in the hotel bar.)
If you just need to use the restroom and pass some time, parks can be a good bet. They usually have restrooms (cleanliness may vary) and tend to be open fairly late. If you are a van dweller/rubber tramp, parks are a good place to cook and eat dinner, and you’ll probably blend in with the other people hanging out there. I’ve also encountered parks with WiFi access.
If you’re in a town where a friend lives, arrange to spend the evening with that person. Your friend will probably allow you to charge your electronics and may even invite you to stay for dinner. You’ll have restroom access before you drive off to park for the night, and your friend may offer you a shower. In addition, you’ll get to spend time with someone you like.
Recently, I learned about Catholic Worker hospitality houses from friends who do volunteer work with a Catholic Worker group in Las Vegas.
Each Catholic worker community is different as far as what sort of services it provides. The Catholic Worker Movement website states,
Catholic Workers live a simple lifestyle in community, serve the poor, and resist war and social injustice. Most are grounded in the Gospel, prayer, and the Catholic faith, although some houses on this list state that they are interfaith. Each Catholic Worker house is independent and there is no “Catholic Worker headquarters”.
Some Catholic Worker communities publish newspapers and some provide services for homeless and poor folks. Go to http://www.catholicworker.org/communities/directory.html to find…”a list of all the Catholic Worker communities that we know about, indexed by state or country.” Some hospitality houses let folks do laundry and/or take showers and just hang out.
I hope these ideas help van dweller/rubber tramps/traveling folks find places to meet needs that can’t be met in their vans. If readers have other suggestions, please leave a comment with your ideas.
Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/view-of-books-in-shelf-256421/.
If you are older, most cities have Senior Citizens Centers where they have books, puzzles, games, etc ongoing. A great place to spend a rainy day or evening.
That’s great advice. Thank you. I am not yet officially a senior, so I didn’t think of the senior center. From what I’ve been told, most senior centers serve a free/inexpensive meals on weekdays. In the town where I am currently staying, the senior center has a computer lab open to anyone and an exercise room.
I do not think it would be unusual for the same person to be seen at a hospital for a few days in a row. Hospitals are boring and kind-of depressing…visitors don’t just stay put in the hospital room of their friend or loved one. Visitors often take breaks from the sick person by roaming around, stretching their legs, getting a bite to eat or a cup of coffee, visiting the chapel for some quiet meditation, sitting in the lobby while on their phone. I would probably ride around in the elevator a little first, kill some time before sitting down and plugging in, at least giving the illusion that I’m visiting someone.
All good points, Midge. Thank you for your comments and suggestions. And thanks for reading!