Bob's 12 Commandments for Stealth Parking In the City
Before we look at my rules let’s define what I mean by Stealth parking. In many cities the authorities frown very heavily on people living in their vehicle. To the point where it is made illegal and if you are caught doing it you can be fined and jailed. It rarely goes that far, but occasionally it does happen. What is very likely to happen though is that if you are discovered you will be rousted out of your spot and told to move on. That is generally a very unsettling experience, so to avoid it your best bet is to not do anything to draw attention to yourself. That is what we call stealth parking. All of these rules have that one goal in mind: sleeping in such a way that no one notices you and therefore no one rousts you out of bed at night.
The closer you follow these rules, the less likely you are to get that infamous knock in the middle of the night.
- First, you need to learn the local attitude toward vandwelling so you can plan appropriately. The first thing to do is go to the Walmart nearest to where you are going to spend your time and find a manager and ask him if it is okay to sleep in his parking lot. If he says “Sure, no problem, just park over there….” Then you know that area is tolerant of us. If he says, “I’m sorry, I can’t give you permission,” then you know there is a problem. However, many Walmarts are leased from a land owner so it may just be the owner of the lots rule and not a city rule. So ask a follow up question and ask if that is a city rule. Then you will know the attitude of the city. If the attitude is very negative toward us, you need to be hyper-vigilant in following all these rules. If it appears to have a fairly relaxed attitude, you can also have a more relaxed vigilance, but never get sloppy. All it takes is one cop having a bad day to ruin yours as well with that knock in the middle of the night.
- Now I am going to suggest something that may surprise you. Go to a local police station and ask for permission to sleep in your van. I know some of you have a very low opinion of police officers, but I don’t share that. The vast majority are very good people doing a hard job well. Of course there are a few bad ones, but I think they are few and far between. So go and ask; you really have nothing to lose. But, no harm in being cautious in the lion’s den so I suggest you park far away so they don’t see your van and don’t give your name. Just tell them your job cut back your hours and you literally can’t afford an apartment. You are looking for another job but in the meantime you are staying in your van. You don’t want to break any laws and cause any trouble, but you have to live. His reaction will tell you the attitude of the local police toward vandwellers. Hopefully he will surprise you and set you up with a perfect place where you can stay without being hassled and are even protected.
- Keep your vehicle neat and clean looking as possible. If you can only afford an older van, spray paint is cheap and easy to use, so touch it up so it looks as neat and clean as it can. Wash it as often as necessary to keep it clean and presentable.
- Try not to have anything on the outside of the vehicle that makes it stand out: bicycles, roof-top carriers, bumper-stickers, emblems, weird paints or colors. Sometimes you have no choice, but avoid it as much as you can. If possible, have a local license plate but for many of us that is just not possible
- Keep yourself neat and clean as well! The best way to do that is to join a gym and go there often to shower and clean up. You paid for it, so while you are there you might as well work-out. In my life as a boondocker I have long hair, a long beard and I don’t really care what I look like. But when I lived in the city I made an effort to blend in and look like everybody else. I think that is a good strategy.
- I think keeping your heart neat and clean is as important as anything else you can do in life. I am a big believer that we reap what we sow therefore I try to keep a pleasant attitude as often as I possibly can. I intend to look every person I meet right in the eye and give them a smile and say thank you. The few times I have been rousted by the police I was pleasant, friendly and said yes sir and no sir, and none of them turned out bad. They just asked me to move and I did.
- The longer you sit in one place, the more noticeable you are, so you need two places to camp: a Casual Camp where you just sit and relax and a Sleep Camp where all you do is sleep. Don’t spend any casual time at your sleeping place. After work spend your evening at a Casual Camp like a Barnes and Noble bookstore, movie theatre, Dennnys, the gym, whatever appeals to you. At bedtime, drive to your Sleep Camp and sleep.
- Arrive to your sleeping camp as late as possible and leave early. As soon as you get to your sleep camp, jump in back and go to bed. As soon as you wake up, jump in front and drive away. That means no reading, TV or radio at Sleep Camp. It is for sleeping, not recreation. It’s much too easy for someone passing by to notice the light from the TV or the sound of the radio. Even you just moving around can shake the van and draw attention.
- Try to have at least 7 Sleep Camps and rotate every day so you only sleep in one place once a week. I suggest you get a city map and draw a circle around your work-place and gym and try to find places to sleep inside that circle. That way you drive the minimum amount.
- Most of the time you will use public restrooms to go to the bathroom and cleanup; they are on every corner and I never had a problem finding one. However, going out in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom is a dead give-away you are sleeping in your van, so be prepared to both pee and poop inside the van in an emergency.
- Moisture on the inside of the windows is also a dead give-away that you are sleeping in the van. This is only a problem in the fall and winter, but you still have to deal with it. The only good way to prevent it is to put a vapor barrier up between the van and the windows, especially the windshield. Reflectix fitted snuggly to all the side windows should prevent fogging, give you privacy and also keep you warmer. To keep fog from collecting in the cab area your best bet is a vapor barrier between the back sleeping area and the front driving area. A heavy 6-mill plastic duct taped all around the divider from front and back should do the trick. Reflectix or a space blanket will work well also and give you better insulation.
- Should you add camouflage to your van like ladders, magnetic signs, orange vests on the passenger seat and other workers paraphernalia? It’s hard to say. On one hand it makes you look less like a guy living in his van and more like just another hard working guy doing his job. On the other hand it may make someone think there are valuable tools inside worth stealing. Paying $600 for a new side window after a smash and grab is a whole lot worse than being rousted in the middle of the night. It may also make your van look like an inviting target to tag with graffiti. I had a friend with a white box van and he was constantly getting tagged. It may also be just what a cop needs to remind him that he keeps seeing your van in the area and make a mental note. You will have to decide for yourself, but I never did use any camouflage and probably would not if I had to live in a city again.
The closer you follow these rules, the less likely you are to get that infamous knock in the middle of the night.
My next post will be specific examples of where to park. But something I would like from you readers is information on your location. So if you are in Seattle and have found many great spots to stealth park, send them to me in a comment. Of course I just use Seattle as an example, I am looking for information from all over the country. If it starts to get too much for the comments I will ask that you email it to me instead and I will collect it all on a page instead of in comments. Thanks for taking the time, you could really be an angel in disguise to someone new to vandwelling!
All good tips! I love 6, and the caveat you mentioned for 2. And of course, if one does 2 with the attitude of 6, the chances of a favorable outcome are much greater 😀
were you a bit high when you wrote that
Rick, i got a good laugh out of that!! But, can you be more specific?
Thanks Christine. looks like you were paying attention in class and will pass the pop quiz no problem!
If you’re going to say you got laid off or your hours were cut back, it’s probably wise to have an answer for, “Oh. Where did/do you work?” That’s easy if you actually have a job in that city, but if not, it might be better to have a different story.
Al, one of my rules is always have your story ready, but I decided to put that in the next post with specific places. You make it really clear to have a COMPLETE story ready. I will be sure to put that in the next post.
The easiest story to remember is the true one. Unfortunately, that one won’t work for us sometimes.
While these tips are all good, I believe #6, about being polite, pleasant, and cooperative especially with law enforcement is the dramatically important one. When I lived in cars “back when,” I was an obvious traveling poverty pocket. I only got rousted a few times, and I presented a very positive attitude no matter what I felt. Keeping myself as neat and clean as I can (#5) helps with that. I always remembered that my belief about my “rights” was secondary to having the least stress available in the situation. That has been harder in obviously non-legitimate situations, such as the time I got stopped for speeding just as I pulled away from a traffic light. All the same, I stayed calm enough to avoid retribution from those crooked cops. (That was in New Orleans in the 1970s.)
I never thought of asking the police where I could stay, but I have asked store clerks or people I encounter at random about that. It gives me an idea of the local attitude, although it’s probably not as accurate as asking the police. I just don’t like talking to law enforcement all that much. I let sleeping dogs lie.
Calvin, i can’t argue with you, talking to the police must be done by each individual and in each situation. The truth is i have never done it, but I do know people who do and with good result. With a small enough town the word can get out among the police, “That guy is breaking the law, but he is okay. He’s just getting by in a bad economy.” They then become your ally and not your enemy. of course it is also possible to go the exact opposite way. There is a risk, but of you don’t let them see your van when you contact them, I think you can’t loose, and you may win.
How would a van dweller renewal driver license without a residential address?
Keith, sorry to be so late answering, you have to have a resident address for pretty much everything nowadays. Some people use the mail address of their mail forwarder, that’s what I do. But all you need is a legal residential address. I know several people who just drove around town and picked an address and chose it. No one will ever go to it to verify it and your mail will go to your mailing address.
Just to interject a female perspective… If you decide to contact the police, tell them you are looking for a ‘safe’ place to ‘shelter’ in your car overnight, and ask them if there are any churches, charities or safe free places to park; they will get the idea that you are escaping a bad situation and be more than willing to assist you. This will work best if you are passing through. (Yes, I’ve done this, with excellent results)
Keep in mind that people will make assumptions and read between the lines of what you say. You don’t need to tell them all the details, In fact if you do volunteer too many details, that can be suspicious. Just hint at the story you want them to believe, and let them fill in the blanks.
If something backfires, you can always say, “I never said ‘(your assumption)’, I simply asked for a safe place to park and sleep.” …which is a completely reasonable request, and completely true.
If you are staying for a while, you may want to consider the ‘looking for a job’ story. It’s always good to have multiple stories worked out in your head depending on the situation. Also, if you plan on passing through a place again, get a small journal and take notes of which story you used and the names of the cops you spoke with, in case you encounter them again. Do not expect to remember these things later.
So it is legal to habitat your vehicle from 6 am to 10 pm? Ludicrous! it is the legal way to say, anyone who doesn’t like the way we live can go elsewhere. So go!
If someone has a job there is a way to not v-dwell! And if that job us worth keeping, then find a way to live in the area that has it’s rules. they are entitled to not want v-dwellers in their midst, just as we are entitled to be v-dwellers. There are enough place in this world that we are welcome, why try to live where you are not wanted? Or where that kind of mentality exits> It is the same as saying we don’t want red heads, or blondes to live here. So you dye your hair or you go some where else where red heads and blondes are welcome!
Sorry, Trisha, the picture of the sign wasn’t meant to say it is illegal everywhere. It is illegal in a few places and in others it is no problem at all. That’s why I suggest you find out what the attitude of your town has first thing. And I also agree that if it is very negative then the very best thing is to move. But that isn’t always possible. A divorced forced me into vandwelling and that’s where my children lived and so THAT IS WHERE I WAS GOING TO LIVE–PERIOD! I was lucky, Anchorage is very tolerant of alternative lifestyles and I only had minor problems. But if it had been a problem i would have figured something else out.
Trisha, I was taught that we were originally set up to be a government/system of equality for all. The very heart of that statement means that no matter your stripe, you have the same right as the other stripe. To live, to work, wherever you choose, and no-one has the right to say “live over there” and when we give in to that thinking, we lose just a little more of our right to “the pursuit of happiness.
It boggles my mind that municipalities can pass laws that make sleeping in a car illegal. I believe it, but I wonder how such a law (making a legal and very human activity illegal) would stand up in court? A v-dweller is not likely to have the finances to pursue that, so the law stands. I understand they’ve probably had issues with more that one person in that situation causing problems, but it seems like other laws (public nuisance, or whatever) would be more just.
Saying that if one isn’t welcome somewhere and that such hostility is acceptable brings to mind an interesting slippery slope for me (I’m not wanting to argue, debate or offend). It hasn’t been too many years where there were incorporated towns in the South that consisted of all-white residents, with an unwritten law that anyone of color had better be out by sundown. I realize this is an extreme, and that the other commenter was in now way supporting such an idea, but accepting any such unwarranted prejudging, is, imho, going down a dangerous path.
~Naomi (one of about 100 white bleeding heart liberals in the state of Alabama 😉 ) Absher
Humanity has a long history of running off people they consider undesirable. Besides, landlords and lodging operators have far more political clout than folks without a fixed residence. Hell, where I life, renters are generally considered second class citizens and lowlifes — because “respectable” people own homes. Remember, it used to be you had to own property in order to vote. Non-landed people’s opinions didn’t count.
Indeed, Al! (and I wish there was a “like” button here. I always appreciate your comments.
Al, there is a lot of truth in that, we humans can be such animals. But then I try to bear in mind that we are in fact mostly animals, so that we act in line with our hereditary past shouldn’t come as a surprise. The bigger surprise is that we rise above it at all!! We humans are pack and tribal animals. We instinctively pack up and war with other packs and tribes. Always have, always will.
But I firmly believe we are much more than the sum of our past and our genetics. We can rise above them. That’s where the Sunday Sermons come in.
Al, see my previous answers (especially to Naomi). I will repeat it on my next post. Let me say again that I think civilization is the greatest blasphemy ever and is pure evil. There is no defense for it. But we all love our iPads so we just have to put up with it. Or do like I have done and drop out as much as you reasonably can.
Naomi, I don’t know if it is because I am on old fat white male conservative or not, but my reaction is just the opposite. I am sympathetic to the laws. First, you must understand that I think cities are the greatest horror that was ever inflicted on humans or the earth. Cities are the great Mother of all Immorality that gives birth to all Immorality committed by men. I am not a fan of cities. But once we decided to live in cities, we had to agree to some common rules or we would all die!! One of the most important rules is where are we going to get water, poop, pee and put our trash. What are we going to do with things that die? We all have to do it the right way, or we all die together of some pretty awful diseases. If you poop in the creek upstream of me, I am going to get sick!
Vandwellers refuse to follow the rules. We each make up our own rules as we go along. We poop, pee and get rid of our trash however and wherever we feel like it. Saying everyone must live in a house connected to electricity and the sewer and water system is first and foremost an act of self-protection. Only a distant second is it tribal and pack possessiveness (also known as prejudice). And there is some validity to the prejudice, many vandwellers are mentally ill or perverts. In fact at one time I think the majority of them were. Today I think the great majority are not, but there are still quite a few who are.
Or, at least that’s how I see it. But, I am often wrong.
I certainly respect your viewpoint, Bob! And I concede that *you* have been doing this for over 10 years, and I never have, so I’m looking from the outside in. I like what you say about cities, and couldn’t agree more.
I am intrigued by your defining yourself as a conservative. I believe you, but nothing in your posts has ever appeared to be conservative to me (I realize you haven’t spoken much about politics. However you define yourself, you appear to me to be an open-minded, tolerant, caring person, and that matters a lot more than political affiliations.
Thanks once again for your thoughtful comments.
~ Naomi, aka Lefty
Your alright Lefty:)
Naomi, it sounds like you believe all conservatives are intolerant and closed-minded. It reminds me of a comment in Chaz Bono’s autobiography where he expresses surprise at how kindly he is treated by his girlfriend’s conservative Christian family. You liberals need to get out of your cocoons and mix with more conservatives so that you can shed a little of your bigotry and expand your experience with the rest of the world.
Joyce, you are responding to a comment that is over 2 years old so I doubt if anyone will answer.
My only comment will be we all need to be more open and understanding of each other, whether liberal or conservative. One of the guiding lights of my life is an old proverb that says a soft answer turns away wrath. Trying to find common ground and agreements is a better idea than pointing out each others faults and errors.
Now if I could only live up to my own ideals! 🙂
“Cities are the great Mother of all Immorality that gives birth to all Immorality committed by men.”
So how do you REALLY feel? 😉
The way I see it, Bob, cities are neutral. They just concentrate human behavior, good and bad. Take the awful people out of the cities and put them in rural areas, and they’d still be awful people. Besides, rural areas have their human behavior problems, too. And it would be worse if all those generations that went off to the cities had stayed down on the farm.
Nearly all of humanity’s great advancements, from the curing of diseases to the vehicle you live in, happened in cities. I like cities. They have energy. They have ambition. They have resources. And, yes, they have their negatives too. But I get stoked in Manhattan. I have a riot of fun in San Francisco. I can find anything I need in Los Angeles. And so on.
We humans are conflicted creatures. The survival and advancement of our species was made possible by living in groups, but at the genetic level, we’re self-centered assholes. So it’s a constant 7 billion person balancing act. Your balance is out in the wilderness. And that’s good. But some other people’s balance involves cities to one degree or another.
Your commit is so true, if i just stayed out in the boonies i would feel like a lone wolf. There is just soo much more to do or see in a city, plus i love the ocean it feels like it gives me life.
To me the best location for vandwellers is the natural cool ocean breeze of California’s coast. May not be possible
for everyone, but it’s Hawaii like coastline view and weather that sure does make it feel like paradise.
Al, I don’t hate cities per say, I hate Domestication-Civilization-Cities. I see them as all one thing. It really has nothing to do with urban-rural. Domestication is the root, civilization is the trunk and cities are the fruit. Together they are the cause of all evil. They are what Adam and Eve ate in the mythical garden. Death, destruction and genocide follow wherever they go.
Unfortunately, the day is closing in when Sacred Mother Earth will finally have to rouse herself and squash it all like the cancer it is.
I’m new to your blog. I came across Van-dwelling by looking at tiny houses and RV living and realizing both, for legal and cost reasons and lack of simplicity and flexibility (freedom), aren’t a good fit for what I was looking for.
I’ve never been able to stay in one place longer than two years, and I’ve always wanted to travel. When I try to imagine buying a home and just staying put I find it a suffocating thought. I’m happiest around nature, and sometimes I’m rather sad that I spend almost all my time working inside unable to spend time in nature. I’ve tried and tried to find jobs or a career I would enjoy. I’m young, 25 so I do have to work.
I’ve found your videos very helpful, and I’ve yet to see you say anything inaccurate which I appreciate (example reflecix is often misused but you were very accurate). You seem very knowledgeable. I’m so grateful to learn about Campground Hosting because I believe I would absolutely love doing that though it will be several years before I could make my interests in travel financially feasible. (I’m working on it).
I came across this comment thread. I was hoping you could define a little more what you mean by Domestication and Civilization. What do you see as Domestication and what are some examples of the effects of Domestication that you find are evil? I was curious and wanted a little clarification to better understand your post. (I know it is an old comment post). Thanks.
Bob, your words and perspective are radical but contain too much truth and wisdom to ignore. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience!
George, you probably don’t know how radical I am! I am constantly having to tone it down! There are still lots of people who hate me.
i’d love to meet you one day and pick your brain, hear your most radical thoughts. i find it all intriguing. i used to be a city dweller and then last summer had an epiphany and realized i had been living my life all wrong. been living out of my van since feb thanks to you and this website and your book. i still have a lot to learn!
Thanks so much Derrick! My camp is always open to you. If you get down to the Southwest this winter I’m always there.
Bob, while this is important information for your readers, especially for people who are new to the idea of vehicle dwelling, I think that they should also know that most of the time it’s not necessary to be stealthy. Being somewhat stealthy may be necessary if you have a job that requires staying in a city for months at a time but if you’re visiting for a few weeks, even an entire month, you can get be pretty blatant about it and as long as you’re not causing any problems no one cares. Trying to be sneaky about it may raise suspicions and have the opposite effect. We can spot vehicle dwellers easily so the cops can too.
Most of our overnight spots are the already reliable ones – big box stores, casinos, Cracker Barrel but we’ve stayed on the street when visiting people with very few problems. Sometimes it may be necessary to move every 48 or 72 hours to avoid getting a ticket. Moving could be as simple as circling the block and reparking. We’ve been doing this for 20 years with very unstealthy RVs and have been asked to move (very politely) twice.
I’m a little worried about your request for stealth parking spots. A couple of our favorite spots, not really stealth because it’s obvious that people are staying in their vehicles, have become a little crowed in the last few years. I’m afraid that if even more people start using them that there will be a crack down on staying and we’ll all lose some good places.
Karen, I tried to make the point that in many places stealth is not all that important. I was fortunate that Anchorage was tolerant and I never really had a problem. I probably should have made that clearer.
You raise an important and difficult question about promoting vandwelling and specifically giving out stealth camping spots. Telling others about it could easily make it harder for us who are already doing it. I can’t answer that question for anybody else, and my answer may very well be wrong.
We each have to live by our own conscious, but mine won’t let me keep what I have by withholding it from someone else. My accumulated knowledge can make other people lives much better. Not giving it to them because in the long run it probably will make my life worse just doesn’t sit well with me.
I think it is a case of where my animal pack and tribal instinct is working for my good. Those people are my pack, they are my tribe, my blood, I MUST help them. It’s my goal to never fail to offer help to a tribe member. No woman or man left behind.
I’ve seen how much you help people so I know how sincere you are when you say you must help them. Thinking about all of it though, your websites, book, blog, the rubber tramp gatherings and all the information that gets shared will most likely make the lives of all of us better, including yours. Helping new vandwellers with the basic “rules” of city stealth parking and public land bondocking will keep everyone safe, undetected if necessary and more acceptable to the stationary public.
I usually do share all of our free spots ( except for big box stores,etc.) but most of them are on public land not in the city so I post them on Jenn’s site – http://freecampsites.net/usa/ Great site – I use it a lot!
Thanks Karen! And thanks especially for all your info on handicap access; I;m sure that is invaluable to many people as well!!
I don’t know about other areas, but the three cities I lived in Illinois were extremely intolerant of homeless and Vandwellers. There were signs everywhere in residential areas and places of business prohibiting even staying parked somewhere for more than an 1-3 hours depending on the location. And this was even in some very rural small towns! For the bigger cities, there just flat out wasn’t even anywhere to park at all without paying money.
When I moved to Orlando area, there was a large population of panhandlers (many of whom may not actually be homeless, but may not be able to function in a traditional workplace for various reasons so they panhandle). In Illinois Panhandling is Illegal. Here it seems legal. Though the attitude to homeless, or non-homeless that roam around or live in Van’s is not tolerant.
So I appreciated the tips on stealth camping. They are good to keep in mind if ever needed. And even if it isn’t required, it is probably still best practice to be stealthy or considerate to do so. (I know the comments I’m referencing are old.) Just my two cents.
I have found park and rides near the NYState thruway to be of use. Perhaps other staes are similar. Also Park and Rides near a commuter bus line. Railroad parking lots are good, Metro North along the Hudson River is free on weekends. I find parking on the street in a larger (residential, not community)college town is good (during the school year). I am fortuate to drive in an area near friends who offer their driveways and nearby street parking, so I have a story if I am questioned. I volunteer at a local non profit, and can use their personalized parking space after business hours. When I travel I found parking at the Cracker Barrel restaurants was no problem; they have spaces for RV’s. Cracker Barrel used to have a map with all their locations with an indication if it was OK to park overnight. There are web sites that list which Walmarts are OK to overnight in. But as always, don’t obviously camp. No awnings, no chairs, no dumping. That’s my 2 cents.
Great, great tips, kitty! Thank you!!
Why no answers to Destiny?
As someone who is going to be stealth camping by the end of the month, this is awesome. I have been going around my part of Portland and have a list of three dozen potential spots to park that I will be rotating through. I am going to park in residential areas (I have a conversion van, pretty stealth). All these tips are great, I’d be nervous about talking to cops, though.
Sounds like you are getting it all figured out Izaak! I understand the reluctance to talking to cops. I am too. It will work for some but not for all. I think very few people are willing to give it a try–me included!
Here’s two tips. For painting your vehicle, consider plasti-dip. You can get it in a spray can. Google ‘plasti-dip your car’ to see how people paint there entire vehicle. It’s great if you get tagged, because you can take the plasti-dip off in sheets.
The other tip is to get a gym membership at Anytime Fitness. They have 1700 locations around the US and most have private showers. If you are a member at one, you are a member at all of them.
I totally agree with the idea: using plasti dip the vehicle because of that is very simple and flexible way to re-color. You can find many way to remove plasti dip
Love your tips, wondering about auto repair for solo women. I have had lots of trouble getting repairs done and/or priced reasonable. Recently I bought a 2017 and will just trade it in March of 2019 (to avoid the repair ) It is expensive and I can not do any structural work ofcourse. Ideas and how do you handle repairs and maintenance?
I’ve also noticed that parking along the curb in front of very large apt complexes seems like a safe bet most of the time. They have so many people coming and going as well as cars that don’t have designated parking spaces that are parked along the curb as well. The end result is that you’re lost in the crowd and the residents don’t really care what’s going on in from of the complex.
CAE, large apartment complexes are one of the very best places to stealth park!
I recently wound up in Logan, Utah after a long day of driving and parked on the street at the university. I sleep well with lights & noise. But check the signs! I had no trouble overnight, but moved up into the sun when I woke up and after looking around the campus & making breakfast got out to drive & found a parking ticket under my wiper! Somehow I hadn’t even heard them. I had missed the sign because it was up high on a telephone pole. Only $20 – but next time I’ll be more careful.
Also – I’ve read that in some areas in CA certain sections of some church parking lots are designated for people to park & sleep. Only sleep. But that’s all we need. I haven’t tried it, yet, but intend to sometime, asking very nicely, of course.
Wouldn’t it be ‘unChristian’ of them to say to say ‘no’? 🙂
m.a. I am not one to comment on “Christian” or unChristian”!
just a joke, Bob. Smiley face…
m.a. me too!
Great rules bob, although I find that I violate several of them regularly. I tend to stay parked outside of my school most of the time, but my van had become part of the neighborhood instead of standing out. And ppl are fairly accepting and laid back in Washington. Everybody knows what I’m doing here and I haven’t been disturbed in half a year and counting.
Right, Cyrus. That’s the thing about rules, they are made to be broken. Like all generalities, none work everywhere. I should have made it clear these are just a beginning point, that each must be adapted to your specific environment.
Good info. I managed to spend allmost 5 months in Key west , Florida doing stealth camping in a 20 foot RV. One important point you made that I used daily was to have you day parking place as in a little park by the beach that I spent most days parked at , and then have your sleep parking place. That varied for me in Key West. But, I did manage to find some pretty good spots for night parking. Not the easiest place to boondock in an rv but doable if you are in a van or very small rv.
Thanks for that Sue. I understand that the Keys are hard to camp in, but I have heard from other people who were able to just like you did, but I don’t think they were in an RV. That makes it much tougher! Nothing like camping in paradise!
This was 43 years ago when I was 18, I was driving my van across the country. I didn’t have enough money to pay for gas [even when it was 27 cents a gallon]. So I went to college campus bulletin boards, and either wrote down a note or posted a note about riders with gas money seeking a ride. Usually worked best on a Thursday or Friday [before a weekend] for travel on a weekend. I remember I was in san Francisco, and caught 3 paying riders from there to Denver who paid my gas and bought fast food along the way for me. We took turns driving around the clock, and drove straight through to Denver. I got there late at night maybe midnight, so I just slept there on the street in front of my riders house. Maybe I wouldn’t have been bothered if I would have pulled into the driveway, rather than just being on the street. I got a knock on the window at about 6AM, and it was a Denver policeman telling me that I couldn’t sleep there. Ug. So I politely asked them if I could just sleep for a few more hours, and they’d never see me again, heading east on I-70. They said no, so I said, OK, I’ll leave in a couple of minutes, as soon as I get my heater warmed up[it was winter].
This is a great post. I was wondering why 12 commandments? Is it like when Mel Brooke’s Moses came down from the mountain with 12 commandments but he dropped and shattered one of the tablets so he just said, Ummm… here’s 10 Commandments.” : )
Michael, there is a very long, convoluted explanation for that, but I will to try to simplify it: I failed math class! Thanks for any comparison to Mel Brooks, but he did it because he is a comic genius, I did it because I am the opposite of any kind of a genius!! Really though, the number kept changing and I forgot to correct it at the end, and now I am too lazy to change it.
But if you insist, we can go with the comic genius idea!! I can live with that!
I myself, am not a big fan of most cops. Why not just call into the non-emergency line to the dispatch center? The thing is yes there are nice guys out there but then there is always the cop on a power trip or having a bad day. Plus there is the chance that they will either follow you back to your van, or radio ahead to another cop to watch where you go. Also if they told you no to sleeping at night in your van, they may make it a point to go “van hunting” and keep an eye out for anything suspicious. Although, I do say valid point on if they accept the idea and give you a nice and safe place to park.
Grant, it’s just an idea to give you other options, I doubt if many people do it.
Regarding the sign “HABITATION IN VEHICLES PROHIBITED 10PM – 6AM”, Trisha – in an early reply – came back with “So it is legal to habitat your vehicle from 6am to 10pm? Ludicrous!” This brings up an additional idea that I gleaned from a stealth van-dwelling site some time ago. Yes, technically it DOES mean you CAN inhabit your vehicle between 6am and 10pm! Some stealthy types look for these types of signs, shift their sleeping schedules (with an alarm clock) and are ready to drive down the road during the technically ‘closed’ hours. A point to consider if you’re in ‘unfriendly’ territory for a while.
Peter that is a very good tip! I worked third shift for many years so I slept during the day and there is no doubt it is much easier.
Some cities are getting around that by making it illegal to “live” in your car.
I get around the whole issue by avoiding cities like the plague!
I ‘m 62 live in California currently, have my Medial Marijuana card and wondered if traveling with my medicine would be a problem as long as my card is current……anybody know the answer??? I worry about traveling to conservative states, which I want to see.
Your medical card will not do anything outside the state of CA(though I believe Nevada was working on accepting out-of-state cards).
As a current resident of Utah and former Wyoming resident, I can tell you first hand that being caught with marijuana in your car is no good.
It’s easy enough to be discrete if needed, but if you’re going on the road, I suggest only bringing edibles and make sure the packaging doesn’t have anything incriminating on it.
Thanks Emerson, those are good ideas.
This post is 5 years later, but it is still a federal crime to transport cannabis or related items (CBD, THC…) across state lines.
woops, hope that worked. Damm puters.
If someone knocked on your vehicle (and they could not see you)why would you respond?
Michele, there is no certain answer, but if it’s a cop and he has reason to fear for your afety he can break your door and come in. Or, he can have you towed.
Those are unlikely and some people don’t answer. It’s a call you have to make at the time.
Bob, you are a Godsend!
As a woman on her own, I feel like it would be easier to find places to stay. I can’t picture a police officer telling me I can’t spend the night somewhere that looks safe. Especially if I have a good story to tell. My main concern is security. We all know that women who are alone aren’t safe in the world. So what do we do if the person knocking on the window isn’t a cop?
Always being aware of our surroundings is a basic part of our daily lives. Men don’t walk around at night with their keys clutched in their hand. Or pepper spray. It’s our “thing”. It’s like an instinct.
So, my question is…do I need to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon? Can you even cross state lines with one? I don’t even know that much.
I’d love to spend my retired years traveling, but fear is a really big problem.
Ann, I understand how you feel because I hear from many women just like yourself who either want or need to live the mobile life but fear holds them back. Here are my thoughts and suggestions:
1) I’ve know hundreds of solo women vandwellers and RVers and they all felt the same fear but soon found it to be unfounded. They were much safer and more secure on the road than they were at home.
2) I’d encourage you to follow these blogs by solo women travelers, all of them felt the fear you have and all found it unfounded. I best most of them would be glad to help you overcome your fears.
3) I’d suggest you join my forum where there are many solo women travelers who would love to answer all your questions.
4) Getting a CCW is a very good idea. It will calm your fears and make you stronger. 30 states offer reciprocity, in other words, they honor each other CCW–your CCW works in all those states. Several states consider a CCW to be a god-given right and every resident can automatically carry concealed. Arizona is one of them and I’d encourage you to move to it for many reasons only of of which is the CCW. Here is a site you may want to read and specifically a map with reciprocity.
I hope that helps.
Thanks Bob, that really is very helpful. I knew there had to be at least of few single women out there, but I had no idea there were that many.
Ann, you’re very welcome. I know this is hard to believe, but your fear is the product of a lifetime of societal indoctrination. Most women find that when they go mobile, it slowly falls away and eventually is gone.
So vandwelling with two large dogs would probably be difficult and not very stealthy right? What is your opinion on the Class B camper vans that re more stealth in appearance?
Tammy, will you be living in a city? If you are in a city then no, the two dogs will be a problem for stealth. Their breathing will fog up the windows and walking them will be obvious. The Class Bs are not very stealthy because of the vents for the systems, most people know that Class Bs are or living in so their first thought is to wonder if someone is sleeping in one. They also stand out so people take note of them.
The biggest problem with the dogs is simply the room they take and their need to get outside to potty and run free. I had one 80 pound dog and that worked well for us in a van. Because I’m a boondocker he could run free during the day and we would walk morning and night.
But I can’t image how another big dog would fit it, there just wasn’t enough room.
I forgot to mention that I am in Michigan so I would be facing some nasty winter weather.
Tammy, you can live in the cold in a van but it will mean getting a heater and that will be a problem with two dogs. Either they can brush up against it which could hurt them, or they could knock something over on it which is a fire hazard.
I had a dog once knock a pillow off my bed up against the heater and it started to smoke and smolder. If I hadn’t been there it could have been a disaster.
Make a fake car like a real car and put electric motor in it and buy a used vehicle and rip the dam vin number off of it and lic. plate also and then put them suckers on the fake car.. he he… then, my friends, sleep in it only at truck stops and interstate rest areas, I used to be a semi truck driver OTR with CDL Class A and buddies let me tell you from exp. that I know… so there… and if someone says u can rent out the use of their driveway and park there.. better be a dead end road with no other houses who might have neighbors complaining to the cops about a new car they don’t know… crazy, but true.. as some ppl are like that, trust me. 3 areas to park only those mentioned, not the rest of bob’s crazy parking area ideas.. no, no, no.. those won’t usually work and are always too risky..I lived out of my car for about 1 year part time.. so I know that side also.. not just trucking.
hackedcat, those ideas work for me and others I know, odd we have such a different experience.
Bob: About the address used for a drivers license:
Some states, NM is one example, gives you a paper license good for 45 days. They mail your hard license to the mailing address.
I am older than 75, so, my state requires me to renew (for free) every year. I use may UPS physical “mail box” address. It has a street address and a #123 like an apartment number (but it is my box number).
Erwin, yes, my home state of Nevada does the same and mine also goes to my mail forwarder.
Hi bob my name is John I am starting to set up living out of a van I am going to tried in my brand new suv for a van and start living the simple life and not be paying a high rent payment my main concern is a address can you give me some help with this thanks john
John, I’m going to be doing a sries on this again, but for now here is what you need to do:
1) choose a state of residence
2) get a mail forwarder in the state–that is your mailing address.
3) drive around your new town and find a house for sale and use that as your physical address. No mail will go there, it will go to your mail forwarder, and if any ever does go to the new address, they will just give it back to the USPS as undeliverable–they don’t know who used to live there. It won’t be a problem because no one has the time to physically check to see if you live there.
So I’m guilty of one sin; combining casual with sleeping location, but of course, if the sign says, “No outlet” and there are generally truckers parking there it is the golden spot. Until some fool comes around and trashes the land which gets me PO’ed. My philosophy is simple, respect the land and the people, and enjoy the opportunity to be low profile (use a quiet gen, be comfortable, listen to Pink Floyd – High Hopes AND smile.)
I am considering the keys, but upon doing additional research I realized it is going to much more difficult then I expected. I am that nomadic musical enlightened musician who happens to embrace the unknown. Anyone have any tips for full-timing the keys on the low? ( o_O )
I’m sorry, I’ve not camped there so I don’t have anything to contribute. But, here is a post on other places to camp for free and easy in Florida. http://www.cheaprvliving.com/boondocking-2/free-winter-camping-and-boondocking-in-florida-for-vans-and-rvs/
Great read here. I am a retired cop and even I am wary of them at times! I have become quite the libertarian in my declining years LOL!
But the reality is that there are good and bad cops, just as there are good and bad plumbers, school teachers, barbers and medical professionals.
As yet, I have not done much beyond gather resource materials for going vanlife.
My plan is to find the right van to meet my needs and leave it and live in it on my land in here in the wilds semi-rural Florida. As I already have electric and an artesian well, my creature comfort level should be fine. Setting the van up with the correct amount of insulation to complement the a/c will be monumental,as the heat and humidity, even at night can be more than a bit sticky.
Florida is a good state as far as CCW permits. I believe our reciprocity is currently up to 38 states. My Glock is seldom out of reach.
As to doing a preemptive visit to the local PD, YMMV! Best to be prepared to be told to “move along”….as cops hate the paperwork of report writing and may see you as a report waiting to be written.
I enjoy your take on life. Cheers!
Steve, thank yo so much for your view from the other side! It’s very helpful! It sounds like you have a very good plan for van living, I wish you the very best with it! Bob
17 years ago I was traveling through OK and stopped to sleep at a rest stop somewhere near Tulsa. It was August (rainy season) and hot so the humidity was awful! I tossed and turned for about an hour until it hit me to wet down a sheet and then roll up in that. What a lifesaver to cool down and get to sleep!
Cemeteries! Yes that’s right. I travel all over the country to Retriever Field Trials. Every mall town has a cemetery, and nobody bothers you there. I get off of work and drive until around 1 AM, and am usually gone around 6 AM. I set up a tent/cot in just a couple minutes, sleep like a baby, and fold it up in the morning. I have done it multiple times per year over the last 15 years, and have never been approached by anybody.
That’s creative thinking!!
When you go to the back of the van to sleep, do you change into pajamas or sleep in clothing? I don’t mean the clothing you wore all day long, but maybe a sweatshirt and sweatpants? I was wondering, just in case someone knocks and you have to leave the area.
deanne, I sleep in sweat pants or sweat shorts, depending on the weather. For just the reason you say, if I have to get up and go outside for any reason.
One time when i was traveling to an appointment across the state, I couldn’t afford a hotel. I put my twin sized mattress in the back of my minivan and asked at Walmart if i could spend two nights there (and told them the situation). They were fine with it since it wasn’t long term. I drove up day before the appointment, slept, went to appointment and did some other stuff in the city, then slept again and drove back. I did get food from Walmart so i didn’t have to use a cooler which would have taken space.
I am in the process of converting a ford transit connect van into temporary sleeping quarters. I’m a flight attendant and currently based in a different city from my residence. You have given me some valuable information to work with. Hopefully I will only spend 8-10 nights in the van monthly.
I’m in Payson, AZ and when I was living full time in an old class C RV, I had several different places/parking lots where I would sleep. The main thing here with finding a parking lot that’s OK to sleep is the signs that might be posted against it. For example, in one shopping center there’s a Basha’s store on the west side with signs posted against overnight parking, but then the rest of the shopping center on the east side has no signs against it. Also, the local Walmart allows overnight RV parking if you’re passing through, but if you make a habit of parking there every night, they get wise that you’re a local and give your license plate to the local police. The city of Payson frowns on RV dwelling. So as you pointed out, it’s good to have a number of different sleep spots if you’re in stealth mode.
I’m still in Payson but I finally got low-income housing. When I was living in my old RV I never traveled very far because the tires were bald, I didn’t trust it mechanically to get up and down the mountain roads, and I didn’t have the money to fix it up. Otherwise, I would’ve been traveling around the way that you do, Bob.
BTW, even though I’m in an apartment now, I still enjoy watching your videos. I continue to watch “just in case” I wind up living in my car. In these uncertain times, you just never know.
Bob, I’ve been watching your CheapRVLiving channel on youtube. You’ve created a much needed service and website to help new people acclimate to Van-dwelling. You provide information on items van dwellers could use to get themselves situated comfortably. Bravo. Been telling my wife when I get my son out of the house after he turns 18, we should transition.
My TWO CENTS. In Raleigh NC the apartment complexes are watched. If you do not have a visitor sticker from the person you are visiting in your window, or you are not parked in the visitor space YOU WILL BE TOWED. The towing companies search their partnership lots at 3 AM and take you away. They might be surprised to have you come to the door though.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO CHANGE THESE LAWS? It seems more and more people are becoming unable to afford to live in a home And some don’t want to. I’m lucky I work at night and I could take my vehicle to work. And I could go to any large shopping mall in the day.
I noticed above one other person said what I was thinking and that was to actually get my truck to be familiar to everyone so that people would just know that this truck is always around here and there.
I don’t know about going somewhere that I don’t work. The vehicle I want may get lousy gas mileage.
Thanks for your insights! It is very heartening to see the shared knowledge here!
It is amazing how they impose these laws on us to lock us into the system and stop us from being free. Thanks for the great article.
I have the standard stealth sprinter dressed up like a commercial van. I’ve even gone as far as incorporating an LLC in my home state and titling/registering my stealth sprinter to that company. I find this beneficial for mutiple reasons: I actually do a lot of work as an independent contractor and having my home-on-wheels titled to my business limits my personal liabilities. Additionally, it was cheaper for me to acquire commercial vehicle insurance versus personal vehicle insurance because I had a DUI a few years back. My company is as a courier. Because the vehicle’s GVWR is under 10,000 pounds I don’t need a US DOT number, MC (Motor Carrier) number, or IFTA (International Fuel Tax Agreement) registration posted on the side of my vehicle. I used a generic 3 letter acronym for my business name. (For example: JLY, LLC) Most people just assume those are my initials. I have the magnetic door signs that I can add or remove at will, and they match the plates and/or registration & insurance on the vehicle. It’s completely blacked out and I keep the customary high visibility safety vest hanging on the passenger seat at all times! In my experience, a vehicle that looks commercial is much less likely to be fussed with by the locals and/or the authorities. And while I agree that it may make the vehicle more susceptible to a would-be burglar, picking the correct places to park can help mitigate that risk. Further, because my company name is so generic, (Not listing any specific trade like “plumbing” or “electrical”, for example) the would-be thief is taking more of a mental gamble when choosing to break into my van because for all he knows, it could be full of grandma’s “Depends” underwear and not a thousand dollars worth of valuable tools or copper wire…Becauase it’s soo well disguised as a working van, I’ve found that I can basically park anywhere in the urban center that would normally allow overnight parking. My first choices are the major chain truckstops (Pilot/Flying J, TA/Petro and Loves). Never once have I ever been bothered at a truck stop with this van. I can run the engine and/or generator all night long if I want to, and it’s entirely usual looking activity. Even after staying at one location for up to 3 consecutive nights! And Wal-Mart is my go-to second choice. Additional options in a pinch include hotel parking lots, business parks, and on the street near construction projects. I always keep a dummy package in my van and some doctored paperwork in the event that I am pestered so I can just alibi that “I’m parked here overnight because I have to deliver this package first thing in the morning!” My system and my van work wonderfully. Just some tips! [There is ALWAYS a loophole. Legal research is your friend :-)]
I would add to look up the city ordinances online. For example San Gabriel, CA has a city ordinance that you cannot park your vehicle on the street from 2-6am. I didn’t know this and I got a ticket, even though there were no signs on the street. If you want to park your vehicle during those hours you need to purchase an overnight permit. Anyone who wants to stealth park in Los Angeles might have a difficult time with permit parking, just depends on where in LA, it’s a huge suburb. I would say stealth park in a nearby city like Rosemead or San Gabriel. It’s a thousand times easier to get a parking space and it’s not far from the downtown area.
I forgot to mention–Any time that I’m stealth camping in an urban setting I turn on my car alarm. I have a very bright blue blinking car alarm that you can see from across the street. People tend to think they will set off their alarm easily by being in the car. The only time my Viper alarm goes off is if I’m trying to open my car with my key or I put my key in the ignition while the alarm is activated.
FYI–In regards to my post above–The temporary overnight pass in San Gabriel, CA is 4 dollars you can purchase them at a kiosk outside the police station.
I also wanted to say I really appreicate the tips. Thank you Bob!
When I was living in Hawaii I found myself having to live in my van because of high rent and too many bills. I spend one year living in my Honda Odyssey van in Oahu, Hawaii and found it to be much easier and simpler than what you describe for van living in the states. Because of the weather you don’t need heaters and blankets and a lot of clothes. You can live year round in T shirts and shorts, used for sleeping also, or capri pants. At night I covered myself with a sheet, or if it was cool with a large beach towel. If it was cool during the day, a long sleeved denim shirt would do. Also I didn’t have to make a bed for the van since I slept on the back seat. I normally sleep on my side anyway and with a couple of pillows I was very comfortable. There was no need for a poop bucket, portable shower, generator or stove. For cooking I used a small electric skillet and a hot water pot that plugged into the cigarette lighter using an inverter. And there are 7 bathrooms around Kapiolani Park at the end of Waikiki, three of which are open 24 hours. There is one that has indoor showers, 4 or 5, besides the ones on the beach which are outdoors. Kahala Beach Park also has 6 indoor showers. While it is illegal to sleep in your vehicle I was never surprised by a knock at my window in the middle of the night. However, I did practice some of the rules you mention for stealth parking, just out of common sense and being a woman also cautious about strangers wandering about. I now live in Las Vegas, but if I ever have to live in a van again, I think I’ll move back to Hawaii. Thanks Bob, for all the useful information you publish. I watch all your videos and enjoy them tremendously. You’re a very positive and caring man and truly appreciated.
Just a heads up – these days if you want a license that will also work as photo ID, you will have to get a “Real ID” license, which requires 2 docs that tie you to a real physical address. If it were me, i’d ask a friend to sign a residency statement that i live with them (and use a piece of their mail to prove it’s a real address).
I work for a DMV and happy to pass along any other tips. Not vandwelling yet, but certainly intrigued with the idea!
I stay around the Berkeley, California area. The best local gyms are the Touchstone climbing gyms, like Berkeley Ironworks or Great Western Power Company. The membership for these is expensive however (~$84/mo currently), so the next best gym would be the Y (YMCA) in Berkeley. I park in the residential areas behind UC campus, on the south side behind downtown. The advice I was given, which you’ve mentioned, to circulate around several different spots and never stay over two days seems to be the acceptable attitude around this area. The nearest Walmart is about 25 minutes (drive) away. I am not sure of any truck-stops like Loves in this area. I would love to know if anyone knows of any.