One of the best things about owning a van is stealth camping. Prior to buying our van we owned 2 Class C RVs & 2 Class A RVs. And there is no way that you can stealth camp in one of those vehicles. They have one purpose only and that is to live in them, even if only when on vacation. If you are parked somewhere overnight a motorhome, trailer or 5th wheel, then it is obvious that you are trying to spend the night somewhere without having to pay for a campground. And you definitely cannot park on a residential street without calling attention to yourself, if for no other reason than you are so much wider than a car. But with a van, even those with modifications such as air conditioners, most people aren't aware that it is a campervan. You can be parked right out on a residential street in a large city overnight, and nobody will know that you are living inside unless you decide to reveal it.
Now I know that one of the reasons that the van life appeals to people is the dream of constant travel, camping on BLM land, getting back to nature. But that is not always the reality. If you are living in your van and are not a digital nomad, you may be commuting so to speak to work every day. Which means that you will need to find a place to park your van/home each night undetected. Now you could pay a monthly fee for a campground, but typically that will not be any cheaper than paying rent, and not the reason that you chose van life in the first place. If you are careful about not spending the night in the same spot every night, it is most likely that you will be able to just park on a residential street undetected. In order to do this, I would like to offer up a few tips.
- Keep your van looking clean and inconspicuous. In other words, if you have lots of stickers, or spray paint, you will stick out.
- If you have windows in the back of the van, get a dark tint put on them, so that people cannot see in during the day. And remember to have a shade or curtain to pull at night to block out the lights and activity that is happening inside of the van. Even dark tint will allow people to see in at night if there are lights on.
- Do not use reflective/insulated window shades on the front windows. It makes it too obvious that you are inside. Instead, use a tension rod to hang black room-darkening curtains directly behind the front seats. And make sure that if the lining is not black (as it most of the time is not), that the lining is facing the rear of the van. That way, anyone who walks by and looks in the van, will not see any lights that may be on, and will not be able to see past the seats. This will give the appearance of it being a cargo van. The insulation on the curtains will help keep the heat in on cooler nights and makes the space smaller that needs to be heated or cooled.
- Do not have your side or back doors open. This will just make it obvious that you have living accommodations inside.
- Eat prior to settling down somewhere for the night. The less activity the better.
- Scout out where you are going to park prior to settling in for the evening. Look for any signs stating no parking, no trespassing, private property or parking for residents only.
There are a number of places that you can stealth camp in a city.
- Residential side street - I prefer to do this on streets with apartment buildings. That way you aren't parking directly in front of someone's home that may get suspicious.
- Motel parking lot - I personally have not done this, but have a friend who has done it many times. The trick is to not be obvious. You may draw attention if you park too far away or too close.
- Hospital parking lots that do not have paid parking- Who is to say that you aren't there to visit somebody. You just cannot make a habit of going to the same one too often for obvious reasons.
- 24-hour businesses such as Walmarts. But always look for signs that say that you cannot park overnight.
- If you have a membership at Planet Fitness, which is open 24/7, then make sure that you have their sticker on your van. That way you can spend the night in their parking lot, and any security patrolling the lot will just assume that you are inside working out. Again, you probably don't want to make a habit of doing this too often, at least not at the same one.
- Camping World - Usually they have a place that you can park outside of their lot. If you are asked why you are there, just say that you are waiting for them to open in the morning.
- Casinos - Some casinos will let you park overnight in a van or camper, but they expect that you are actually going to go inside and gamble. And since they have video cameras in their parking lots you may want to actually go in. But you don't need to gamble. They have public restrooms so that is the perfect reason to go inside.
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