Stealth Parking Locations: Part 2
I am sympathetic to the laws against vandwelling. 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, so where you poop is my business!
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.
When you become a vandweller who lives in a city, you become an outlaw and an outcast. We are going so far against societies norms that they can’t understand us, and humans are naturally afraid of things they can’t understand. You may have no choice but to break laws and lie to authorities. You must decide if that is acceptable to you. I am not suggesting you break the law! I am warning you that I have been forced to do so and encouraging you to seriously reconsider if you are willing to do it and live with the consequences if you do.
As you read through the places I have parked, you will see that I give some suggested excuses for why I was there. The idea is I had my story ready: If I was in front of the hospital, I knew who I was there to see, and what was wrong with them. If I said I was just passing through, I knew where I was coming from and where I was going and why. If I was in front of a car repair shop, I had already decided what was wrong with my car. The more detailed my answer, the more convincing I was, so I thought it all through before I parked.
But understand I am only telling you what I do and not in any way telling you to break the law or lie to authorities. If you decide you will, that is your decision and you alone are responsible for any consequences that may come from your actions. If at all possible I encourage you all to become boondockers because it is quite easy to live on public land without breaking the law or lying.
Here are some places I have parked in order of how good I think they are:
1) 24 Hour Grocery Stores:
Your best choice for stealth is any 24 business so there is activity from employees working inside and customers coming and going. With all that activity, it’s easy to blend in. My favorite of all is 24 hour grocery stores. Having worked the night shift in one for many years I know for a fact that everyone inside the store is much too busy to care if you are sleeping in the parking lot. Police officers came into the store I worked at all night to get a few things and use the restroom. There is no chance they could know which vehicle belongs to an employee and which might be a vandweller. Generally, we all parked pretty close together in front of the store at night. So if you find a group of cars in the same place every night, park close to them, you will blend right in as an employee.
As most experienced RVers know, Walmart (and Sam’s Clubs) love and welcome us to stay in their parking lots. Unfortunately, some cities have made it illegal to do so and strictly enforce it against Walmart. However, the enforcement is usually selective and they will not enforce it at other big-box stores. So if there are “No Overnight Parking” signs in a Walmart, I suggest you just go to another big box store. I carry a Rand McNaly atlas I bought at Walmart that also has a listing of where all there stores are and will usually call ahead to find out the status of that Walmart. Another place that loves RVers is Cracker Barrel restaurants, but I have never stayed in one.
3) Closed Big Box Stores:
If you can’t park at a Walmart, then go to another Big Box Store like Home Depot, K-Mart, Target or any other large chain stores. If the parking lot has plenty of employee vehicles, just park with them and no one will notice. But what if there aren’t any other vehicles? One idea is to put a “For Sale” sign on the dashboard before you go to bed. Use a local phone number if possible.
5) Apartment Complexes:
This is one of the very best parking places. I try to find an area with quite a few large apartment complexes. Usually the tenants will have one or two assigned parking places, but if they have too many cars or have guests, those end up parked anywhere and everywhere they can find a space. That means there are lots of cars parked out front and no one knows who they belong to or who is having visitors/guests over. It offers us very safe parking! The drawback is there is usually a lot of noise and activity from that many people in a small area.
6) Between Businesses.
As cities get more crowded, businesses are starting to share parking lots. For example, there may be a motel in the back part of the parking lot and a Denny’s restaurant in the front corner. They are both busy 24 hour businesses so if you park mid-way between them, no one (including the police and the employees inside) has any idea which you are in. You end up being very safe. Just keep your eye out for any businesses that share a parking lot.
This can be a great stealth spot. If approached by security (unlikely) tell them you are from out of town waiting to see Aunt Sue in the morning. Who would turn you away? One time I drove myself to the emergency room and parked out in its parking lot. They took me into surgery and my box van was parked there for 4 days and 3 nights without any problems. Had I been very stealthy, it would have been easy to stealth park there.
8) Motel, Hotel Parking Lots:
Medium sized is best, too small and you stick out, too big and they may have security which double checks license plates against the registry. Park like you are a guest staying there. Too far away seems odd, but too close and there will be more noise and activity.
If you are a member of the denomination, or ask first, this can work well. I went to a church once and they let me park in their parking lot and plug into their electricity. However, if I’m not a member of the church I personally avoid this one because church people tend to know each other and know each other’s vehicles. If a church member drives by and doesn’t recognize your van, he may call the police.
These are usually very accepting of RV’s and vandwellers alike. They want your business so they make it easy to stay there. I spent the night in one with a whole bunch of other RVs in Phoenix the night before I flew out to Florida from Phoenix. There is almost always security in the parking lot so I just stopped him and asked if I could play for awhile and then sleep there. He said sure and directed me to where the RVers were parked.
11) Police Station:
I know lots of you didn’t like this idea, but I know people it has worked very well for. Go in and tell the officer you are passing through and need to catch a few hours sleep. Could you sleep in their parking lot? If he says yes, you are set. If he says no, ask him for ideas where you can park. He probably will help you out, and if not, at least you have found out about the local overnight sleeping laws of that town.
12) Truck Stops:
It used to be that cars, vans and RVs were almost always welcome to park and sleep overnight in truck stops, in fact they often had a designated area for us. That is less and less true. But many still welcome us so it’s worth stopping and asking.
13) Highway Rest Areas:
These vary by state. Sometimes you are welcome to stay and sleep, sometimes it is against state law. You are going to have to do the research for where you are at. There have been murders at rest areas, and so some people won’t stay there. However, the vast majority of the time they are safe and reasonable places to stay. Decide for yourself.
People are often overnight in the parking lots of Train Stations, Metro Rail Lines, Bus Stations, Park and Ride lots, even some Airports, etc. You will blend right in as long as they are never locked and don’t charge. The problem is there are lots of other people coming and going. I found after a while that the sound of car doors slamming barely even stirred me.
15) Industrial Areas.
When I lived in a box van I could not park in residential areas, I stood out too much. So I found an industrial part of town to fit in and looked totally natural. One area was near the docks where there were lots of warehouses; the other was near (but not in) the railroad yard. In both places I never had a problem and I even ran my generator. There were lots of other noises all night and the generator didn’t stand out at all. I sleep well with white noise (a steady, low, consistent noise) so I never had any problem sleeping. It is also a great choice for step vans and cargo vans.
Here is the final and most important advice I can give you: Be adaptable! Every situation is different so my rules and suggested locations are just a beginning place. Start with them but be ready to modify or reject them as your specific location requires. Follow your gut! You have a natural instinct tuned to your environment and if you will learn to listen, it will keep you safe.
States where it’s legal to park overnight in rest areas:
Illinois -– only on Illinois Toll Road
Indiana – only on Indiana Toll Road
New York – emergencies only
Ohio – only on Ohio Turnpike
Oregon – 14-hour limit
I don’t dispute your list, but having driven on Wisconsin Interstate highways for over 40 I have never experienced or seen anyone bothered for sleeping in their vehicles at night at rest stops. I’ve nearly always seen semis parked in the back and clearly there to sleep overnight.
I know that here in Wisconsin with all of our budget cuts that the State Patrol is stretched so thin they don’t have much time for patrolling rest stops even if they were inclined to do so.
Let me put in a plug for Wisconsin rest stops, camping overnight or not, we even have them on secondary highways with bathroom facilities and a place to picnic. I’ve driven in other states where you could go for many, many miles even on the interstates without finding a place to conveniently stop.
The list is of states where it’s specifically legal. No doubt enforcement in other states depends on several factors.
Steve, that is good to know! Every state is different so it’s impossible to give any generalities about their rules. But one thing that is true is that many states are hurting and the police are being stretched thinner. Many states are also closing many Rest Areas. it’s just something everybody will have to do their own research on.
Al, I have worked an Ohio rest area not on the Turnpike. The word from State Troopers is that the “no camping” signs apply to setting up a tent, etc. Sleeping in vehicles is encouraged for one night only to avoid accidents.
As a x over the road trucker,I have stayed in ever state in rest area’s and was never asked by a police officer to move along. But as stated ,very rough place to get rob in.We had our dog with us and took him when going to restroom,he always kept the bad people away!
Yes it is the law in many states,but they also know you need to sleep some where.
Thanks for that info Biker. I wonder if there are two sets of rules, one for truckers and another for autos? might be one of the few times when truckers get a fair break.
I have spent the night in several rest areas along I-75 and I-4 in my native Florida without a problem, lots of people do it. They are patrolled, clean and well-managed.
The CT. rest stops (Welcome Centers) on I95 are terrific. 24 hour concession building, bathrooms, DD, McD. wi-fi. Very hospitable and seem very safe, so far (3 nights.). Lots of folks/travelers around all the time.
Having just got the travel bug, more on that later, I’ve been downsizing in preparation for the van life. However, one of my favorite things to do is visit local parks! Here (in Pontiac Mich.) there are a few with long roads, and isolated tables. Well off the beaten path. The big drawback is they’re officially closed at dusk. Which I’m sure more experienced people will fid a way around.
Another thing is I’ve noticed some empty or partly empty malls. Behind one? Totally alone, but barren, no trees, just walls and concrete.
Its legal to sleep in a rest stop in California for up to 8 hours.
First let me say that I’ve read your ebook and so I’m familiar with your comments about stealth vandwelling, but it’s great to read them again along with the comments.
Those of us who choose vandwelling, or have it thrust upon us are a diverse group. We are of different ages, a variety of backgrounds and experiences, likely cover the entire political spectrum. Some of us enjoy being around people, some of us prefer solitude and our own company. What we have in common is trying to live in our vehicles the best we can, hopefully getting along as well as possible in our environment whether it is urban with people and the rules they have for their communities (we are the visitors, the nomads, the tumbleweeds) or out in the un-urban wild.
Society and civilization have their own set of rules and laws and codes of conduct for their community. That is their right within limits. Life is about choices and consequences. For those of us who at least desire to get along, our choices will be tempered by consequences and we won’t overtly choose to impose ourselves upon others–hence, the stealth aspect.
Overnight camping or sleeping in a vehicle may be illegal, but police or authorities may look upon it in degrees. If they don’t know you are sleeping in your vehicle, they won’t bother you. Even if they do know, if you are quiet and respectful of your surroundings you may well be left alone. Being vandwellers, hopefully we have learned to adapt and to move along if it comes to it. People who live in the communities, in the houses and apartments can’t simply pick up and ease on down the road.
I hope to be a full time vandweller when I retire is a few years. My city has an ordinance against sleeping in vehicles and I support that. Lots of people may sleep in their vehicles for a variety of reasons, not all of them nice and benign like we are doing. People may be drunk, on drugs, mentally ill, or involved in bad things. I want those people helped or arrested, not living on my city’s streets. The police in my college town are pretty lenient about sleeping in a vehicle, but they won’t let it go on if it is not stealthy.
So stealth is where it all begins.
Steve, we are in agreement! I think it is important to understand the view point of your adversary, and like you point, out there is validity to making vandwelling illegal. Knowing that helps me to be respectful and extra stealthy where it is illegal. As more and more people are forced into living in their cars and vans, some cities are wising up and offering an area for us to stay in safety and some comfort. It seems like a win-win for everybody.
Thanks Bob for your great article – i’ve used some of your material in my most recent post. I’ve gotta agree with you though, it’s unfair to make a perfectly legitimate lifestyle illegal and persecute us when we are often better for the environment and neighborhood than those who live in houses.
Sure, there are a lot of troublemakers in RVs, but a law should not be based on stereotypes. Most RV’ers I have met have been fantastic people. A law against sleeping in a vehicle is just draconian, why should that freedom be taken away from me?
Eric, you make some great points, but my sympathies still are with societies need to make everyone conform. While I understand that need, I totally reject it and simply do not go along with what is best for society as a whole. I easily justify that by believing society is inherently evil and disobeying it is living by a higher moral standard. To me, Vandwelling is the moral equivalent to murdering Hitler or working for the underground in France in 1944. Obviously, it is a very different kind of evil! There are some who suggest we should use guerrilla warfare against society, but I don’t agree. I ONLY PROMOTE PASSIVE RESISTANCE TO SOCIETY BY DROPPING OUT.
You’re dead right. They turn us into economic slaves to control us and breed fear into us to keep us on a treadmill that kills us with stress,worry,fear and exhaustion.For what? We have to learn to “live” rather than “possess”,to simply and define our own lives to seek true freedom and happiness once we remove ourselves from the oppression.
Finding your blog and “meeting” you is to find hope and the belief that there really i8s a better way!
Bless you, Bob! You have sought and found the holy grail and that you share it with us,showing us the way, is more valuable that perhaps even you know. xo
Carly, I can’t express how much your very kind post moved me! Thank you!
One thing I noticed that here in Northeastern Ohio, some lesser-highway routes have park-n-ride parking lots.
I would advise AGAINST parking there because I have noticed (both daily and on my nightly commute) township police and nearby highway patrol units checking license plates and looking inside cars.
Might be best to stay away from those sorts of places.
Thanks White Trash, that is the kind of information that is only available locally so I’m glad for your contribution.
As a former officer, I can tell you that the police are checking the park and ride spots for stolen cars. Bad guys like those areas because they can steal a car and have it for hours before anyone knows. Drop one, pick up another and they can cross a lot of states before someone catches on.
If you are sleeping, just tell the officer you got really tired and were worried about having an accident. I never would have run someone off for that.
Thanks for that great tip Katherine!
Being from WA. State there is of course allot of coast line and with that there are Marina’s… You can park out of the way and stay for a dew days enjoying the coming and goings of boats… There usually is a bathroom and some even have showers to use… Don’t forget food places and other things to do…
Now if asked what you are doing there, just simply explain your parents are sailing in from ____ and you are their to pick them up… No worries as anything could have delayed them, but they are expected soon…
Works great in all coastal areas…
Great tip Steve!!
Apartment lots can be handy, but keep your eyes open. Where my daughter lives the police do not patrol and the owners have no interest, but the neighbors include drug dealers who occasionally kill each other. This particular place is not in the inner city but in a suburb with near-ideal freeway access. At a first glance, this complex does not appear run down; you have to look closely to notice loitering people, odd traffic patterns, and what not. No matter where you park, take a good look around.
I myself have a preference for truck stops and/or rest areas. Those are more or less “accepted” places to park, at least for a night.
Calvin, large apartment complexes tend to attract young, lower income people and they tend to have a higher percentage of partiers. So the issue of drugs and fights seems like it would be much worse there than almost anywhere else. Something to be aware of!
Enjoyed reading this latest chapter in your blog on where to park to avoid complications. I highly recommend medium sized motel parking lots as well.
I’m a former motel desk clerk and we didn’t pay much attention to the vehicle information of guest checking in. Our most important issue was getting our guests to their rooms for a good nights sleep.
Parking in a medium sized motel parking lots as benefits as well. Any vehicle that has out of state tags blend in perfectly. One move van with out of state tags will most likely go unnoticed. But, as you suggested do arrive late & leave early. This way you’ll avoid being detected by the motel management.
The average medium sized motel is an ideal place to park for a night sleep. But don’t stay there too often. You will eventually be discovered and asked to leave the property.
Bob, that is very good and helpful information Bob. Thanks so much!
Sometimes I’ve had a hard time finding a vacant hotel room while driving crosscountry because the crews for major highway projects have taken all the rooms. That can be a good thing for vandwellers in converted commercial vans and box trucks, because the hotel parking lots will have a lot of other commercial vehicles to blend in with.
Also, there’s a place near me that seems like it would be the perfect stealth camping spot. There’s a Pep Boys next door to a U-Haul place. A cargo van would fit right in, even without U-Haul graphics.
Al parking between a Pep Boys and U-haul sound perfect to me! You could be an employee or customer of either one and nobody has any way to know. The one risk is that some U-hauls like the gates over night so you would NOT one to be inside.
I do love your blog. I’ll take issue with the comment since it was reposted. Devil’s advocate time!
“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.”
Maybe, if by self-protection we mean:
*rejection of the Other
*projecting our fears of our own economic anxieties onto ‘dwellers.
* protection of property values and bourgeois pseudo-respectability. Things over people, yay!
Oh, they’ll /say/ it’s about safety and welfare but this is a fig leaf for middle class anxiety. For more on this topic:
Veblen — http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/833
Babbitt — http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1156
Littering/dumping is illegal and rude. I wouldn’t think a ‘dweller would do this any more than the average joe. Look around at the litter on the ground — is there a van nearby or was that thrown out by smug suburbans or poorly-behaved urbans?
Pee is not a health hazard. It can be an aesthetic problem if concentrated in one spot. But no one has a problem with dogs and cats peeing on the grass. Why not? It’s clear we are talking about social conventions and not health.
Crapping on the ground would be rude and unhygienic. I’ve seen poop on the ground once, and it was a place where apartment dweller children played. I’ve seen pics/video of squatter camps where mentally ill and desperate folk were huddled and they weren’t strict in their hygiene. I don’t see poop flung over parks or walmart parking lots, excepting dirty diapers that disgusting home- and apartment-dwellers throw out of their family sedans and mommy vans.
The time will come when the fictions and pretense of “polite” life come crashing down with the card-house of the economy. I suspect the ‘dwellers will do better in such an unfortunate situation.
In short, I am much more concerned about the middle class’ willing to pee on dwellers’ heads than I am about ‘dwellers peeing on the ground.
Fratermus, no doubt there is a lot of fear of vandwellers in most people. We are different and we are all inclined to be afraid of people who are different, that’s just basic human nature. We are pack animals, and if you aren’t part of my pack you are a threat that needs to be dealt with.
We Vandwellers have specifically rejected “normal” peoples packs and have made ourselves outsiders. I don’t think it is fair to blame them for reacting negatively. If someone told me my whole way of life was wrong and they rejected it, I would be offended and pissed. but that’s what I write every day so I don’t blame people if they don’t like it.
A gentle and thoughtful reply, sir. Thanks for your input.
BTW, I don’t see the link to your kindle book in the sidebar anymore. I do see the one for the free reading app. The link to the book itself would be something like:
Perhaps I’m missing the link or my browser isn’t rendering it? I just bought the book but had to search for it.
Fratermus, thank you. The ad is still there, I suspect the reason you don’t see it is you have a pop-up blocker turned on that prevents it from being seen by you. I need to put link in for people with pop-up blockers. Right now it is just the pop-up.
Thanks for reminding me, I need to get that done!
Good tips and information as usual! I’m currently staying with a relative, but will be heading back out as a full-time van dweller sometime this summer. I have lived in both a van and car in the past (the van was definitely preferable).
My usual spots when living out of a van were grocery stores and Walmart lots as you mentioned. I also used to throw in an occasional night at a local state park when I could justify the extra few bucks for a camping fee (I even stayed a few nights without paying during the off season – in late and out early, of course).
Living out of a car presented more challenges, but Interstate rest areas were always an option (depending on the state). I frequently ended up in mixed residential/commercial areas where the vehicle could belong to any of the area residents/visitors or to an employee at any of the area businesses. I was banking on anonymity and it worked.
I did always find it stressful though so the info you provide is quite helpful. My plans for this coming year include a whole lot more boondocking and less urban stealth dwelling.
Robert, I found stealth parking to be very nerve-wracking for a long time. There is constant noise and activity almost everywhere you go and if there isn’t then you are alone somewhere and that can be very spooky by itself. After awhile I settled down and doors slamming and snowplows and street-sweepers didn’t bother me so much anymore. AS you learn the ins and outs of it, it gets much easier and eventually becomes very comfortable.
I know that I wish this information was out there when I was forced into vandwelling so I am glad to play a part in getting it to those who need it.
There is also a Yahoo group for Walmart RV Parking. They keep a pretty current update on which Walmarts allow overnight parking and which do no. A few years ago Lake City, FL decided to forbid overnight parking at the Walmart there. We boycotted the city and began a campaigne of phone calls, emails, and letters and within a week the Ban was lifted.
This issue about Wal-Mart and other parking breaks down to this… KOA who charges to stay and pays taxes to the local governments started this campaign to ban Wal-Mart parking on the basis that it cost them money and in return cost the City money in tax revenue… So certain cities where greed is there motivating fact, came up with these regulations to force you from places like Wal-Mart into pay sites in the city like KOA in order to collect taxes… So don’t blame the businesses, be sure it is the City greed… Just move on, cause fines will follow, they want your money… Always follow the money when things dont make sense…
Steve, that is very often true! But very often Walmart does not own the land, they lease it. The landlord can forbid sleeping in his parking lot because of insurance issues. in that case it has nothing to do with the city or Walmart.
Remember the couple in there RV in Utah who were attacked while they were sleeping and had to kill there assailant in a Walmart parking lot? They are now suing Walmart and there insurance rates are going to go up. It is a much more complicated issue than KOA or city greed.
Thanks for the link Charlene! i used to be a member of that group and it was very good! if you stay in Walamrts much it is invaluable.
I live in one of those in-between places where it would be easy to stealth camp without being really notices. I’m in a mobile home park (terrible for stealth camping since people tend to know whose vehicle belongs here), but I am on a city street and across the street is a huge apartment complex which frequently has cars parked on the street and nobody really pays much attention thinking it is just someone from the apartments. There are license plates from a number of different states as well.
At this moment there are 2 conversion vans parked across the street from my house. Now I have seen them go to the apartment building across from me, but had I not I would just assume they belonged somewhere over there.
My city has 2 universities and a technical college so it’s not unusual to see vehicles with out of state plates parked on the streets. Also, there is a lot of tourism this time of the year and so lots of vehicles with out of state plates are parked on the streets for that reason.
Sounds like you could stealth camp there no problem Steve. That’s a great combination of in-between and a large apartment complex. Now all you have to do is move into a van!
On one trip up to Racine, WI we asked a city cop working in McDonalds where a good place to park would be without risking being wakened in the night and he said anywhere! In fact he made it clear they were too busy fighting crime and answering calls to care about vandwellers at all. However, Florida is bad for street parking and there are lots of cops there. We like parking in bar lots. They think we took a cab home. Works like a charm!
Bars are a good idea — until there’s a fight in the parking lot. 😉 But I guess you might be able to find a date there.
A very good point Al. I considered including bars and decided against it. There are a number of ways it can go very badly wrong.
Marshall, many places are struggling with this economy and with big budget cuts in the police budget. But there is no way to know about a specific state or city without asking. That’s why I recommend asking a police officer to judge there attitude.
I know people who have stayed at bars with success. BUT, it is more complicated than that. The laws of having alcohol in your vehicle (van or RV are terribly complicated). if you have any alcohol in your rig, I would NOT stay in a Bar parking lot.
Bob; Thanks for the tips. I’m trying to make it from my home state of FL to visit family in MO and CO. To save $ on motels, I’m sleeping in the back of my pickup. Timely advice just when I needed it!! Thanks.
Glad to be of help psp! Have a great trip, you are passing through some beautiful country.
Wonderful information, as usual. After reading these 2 posts and the comments, I better understand your stance regarding the applicable laws, and agree with them.
I have learned so very much through the blog and the websites. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I meant to say, I agree with you . . .
Thanks Naomi! I try to maintain a balanced viewpoint of looking at both sides. Sometimes I totally fail but I do try.
I’m not on the road yet but when I was traveling to the doctor every month. A 3 hour ride one way, there were times on my way home I felt my self drifting off. I pulled into a small park area that I had seen many times on my drive, put my seat back and went to sleep. I didn’t care who saw me. 4:30 in the afternoon with traffic and people around.
I didn’t have any problem. No one bothered me and the area is patrolled by troopers.
Maybe I was lucky, maybe it was because of the time of day. But I’d rather pull over and sleep than have an accident. But my car was empty, no luggage and I am a female and older, so maybe that’s why no one bothered me.
I have been tossed out and slept in my car. I had no idea where to go but even then no one bothered me.
I am soon going to do the boon camping so hopefully I will be okay. I am just thankful I have found these sites so I can keep my independence and get to travel.
kathy, a cop would really have to be very hard-hearted to NOT be sympathetic towards a female forced to live in her car. he has a mother, sisters and female friends so I am sure he would hate to see that happen to them. And today there are lots of people right on the edge of living in there cars. i think we are still going to be seeing many more.
That’s why I recommend becoming allies with them. Once they know you are not a bad guy, just a good guy caught up in hard circumstances, I think most of them will want to help you, especially an older female!!
When you are ready to start boondocking, you are always welcome in my camp. I want to do everything I can to make it the best possible experience for you!
This article really spells out the benefits of living in a passenger or cargo-based vehicle. Very nice job. Though there are certain benefits of hauling around an old travel trailer, stealth is NOT one of them. One look at my rig and there’s little doubt about who I am and what I’m doing there. Not a lot of story options!
For what it’s worth, I suspect that highway rest areas in the southeast have the reputation of being problematic. I personally haven’t had any problems west of the Mississip’, but I still notice that more stripped-down rest areas tend to lack people just seeming to be hanging around unaccounted for.
Again, out west, truck stops have been very good to me, though I personally prefer larger ones out of guilt – truck drivers don’t have it so easy, and don’t have the options I do for sleeping locations and time of day. If a smaller truck stop like a Pilot fueling station shows signs of being jammed early with spaces filling fast, I’ll find somewhere else. Too, large truck stops offer a slight chance that an idling diesel engine will be a least a few yards away from my bed.
Boondocking in remote areas, this rig is heaven if you can locate a suitable spot and get to it. Long-distance travel is a bit of a noisy nuisance and requires detailed preplanning for stops. Traversing within urban areas, it’s a rolling migraine. Reading about stealthy urban boondocking has a morbid fascination to me. Keep ’em coming!
Doug, you lay out the basic argument very well: Freedom Versus Comfort. You have MUCH more comfort than any van, but MUCH less freedom. All that comfort makes it large, cumbersome, and obvious, killing much of your freedom! A van is stealthy, easier to drive and hide and fits in small areas easily. But NOT MUCH comfort comparatively!
You make your choices and dance with the devil that brought you!
Bob, Once again, an excellent post.
I just returned from a weekend visit to the Ft. Walton Beach area in Florida’s panhandle. It was about a 5.5hour drive for me & going and returning I kept an eye out for possible stealth parking spots when I take off in my van.
I too thought of posting for sale signs in my van at night; the difference being park at high visibility places where OTHER FSBO vehicles are parked!
Also, I had sent a friend an email two days ago mentioning my weekend trip/stealth parking. She responded with a list of people she knew along the way who she had already contacted & asked if they’d let me park at their homes if need be!!! How wonderful is that?
And, the medium sized motel I stayed at Saturday had stealth parkers there & the staff knew it. I asked about it and they said the owner had decided they spent enough using their laundry & vending machines and had even been a deterrent when some cars were broken into!
BTW, I put a deposit on a 94 Ford Econoline high top conversion van with 114K miles. One step closer to freedom.
Good for you Suzann, you are taking steps to make your dreams come true. And you found the secret to finding stealth parking spots, just keeping your eye out for them. There are so many variables that a Deneys in one town might be a terrible spot, but in the next it might be perfect. Just keep your eyes open and look for opportunities, that’s the key!
That’s terrific about the deposit on the van. It sounds perfect, especially with just 114k!
How strange it is that when governments get broke liberty becomes more easily attained.
Very good point Stan! I am a believer that the government that governs the least governs best and this is a good example of that.
I should have said, local govrnmts that can’t print their own money.
The anti-spam word ate my comment for about the tenth time. Is there some reason these cannot be clear enough to read?
I’m sorry Calvin, I am such a non-geek that I have no idea how to change that. it’s amazing to me how many of them are really hard to get right, not just here but everywhere. There is a constant battle between us and the spammers and that is the collateral damage.
But I do have a suggestion; after the second time I would have cut and pasted it so I didn’t have to type it again! there are so many ways to loose work like that I have just gotten in the habit of highlight->cntrl-C most things before I hit send or leave the page.
I have a run of the mill older minivan that I sleep in. In Sept or Oct I plan on going to the beach area cities, Torrance, Carson, Harbor City, Long Beach etc and stealth camp. What do you think of stealth parking in 24 hour businesses. I feel like my minivan would blend in nicely. I also could probably stay at my 24 hour fitnesses in the areas as well. I’m on Medicare and California’s MDs and Cataract surgeons take Medicare for full payment. Here in AZ they do not, nadda.
I’m just looking for more ideas. I did it for a few months but that was thirteen years ago.
I’ve bookmarked your website. It’s so good!!
Hi Phyllis, I no longer stealth park and I have never done it in the Lower 48, just Alaska. But I have a friend who lives and stealth parks in Long Beach and she has very little problem. She is in a high-top conversion van and your min-van is MUCH more stealthy than her van so it should be VERY EASY for you to park there.
I’ve never done it, but my understanding is that actually parking on the beach is pretty hard in CA, but in the city shouldn’t be problem for your mini-van.
24 hour fitness centers should be GREAT for stealth parking.
CA is miserably hot in the summmer, I suggest you try driving up into the Sierras to get out of the heat. I was a campground host in the Sierra NF above Fresno, CA in the areas around Shaver Lake. It is gorgeous and cool. You could easily spend your entire summer camping there and never have a problem with the rangers.
I think most police will be as accommodating as they can be if you play the “I need to find someplace to park and sleep or I’ll fall asleep at the wheel” card. They don’t want you getting into an accident.
Also, sleeping in rest stops is legal in California. The signs usually say there is an 8 hour limit, but the Highway Patrol have better things to do than come by and check who has been parked for how long.
I think you’re right Keith. I’m rarely on freeways but if I need to sleep in a rest area and it’s marked “No Overnight Camping” I’ll stay anyway. If confronted I’ll say basically what you said, “I can break this law or kill someone on the road when I fall asleep at the wheel!”
I traveled quite a bit in California in the Fall of 2012. I was in a conversion van with between one and three other people during the course of the trip. We spent the night at many rest stops. All of the ones we slept at had signs saying they were there to enhance road safety (as in giving sleepy people a place to sleep so they wouldn’t fall asleep at the wheel) and that drivers were allowed to stay for up to eight hours. We often stayed longer than eight hours, and were not following any of the rules for stealth. We never even saw a cop, much less were approached by one. (Not saying that others shouldn’t be stealthy in California, just saying that we weren’t, at that time, being stealthy.) We often met other van dwellers at these rest stops in the morning, people who had also spent the night.
We parked and slept in Venice Beach, California, on a residential street, just a few blocks from the beach. We only did that one night, and I was very careful to read the street signs before parking. Again, that was 2012, so I don’t know if the climate for van sleepers has changed there, but it might still work, at least in a pinch for folks passing through (as my friends and I were).
From 2010 to 2012, I traveled across the country (again in the conversion van), staying primarily at WalMarts and truck stops. I always called ahead to making sure parking overnight was permitted. In all that time, I think only one truck stop told me that we could not sleep in their parking lot.
Once at a truck stop outside of large city in Kentucky (can’t remember which one now), the truck stop employee said I was welcome to stay in the parking lot, but there was so much shady activity there that I should expect a cop to knock on the van in the middle of the night and question me. I politely thanked her and moved on down the road to the next truck stop. I simply did not want to get woken up in the middle of the night and questioned.
At almost all truck stops I stayed at, there were separate parking areas for passenger vehicles and rigs, so I never worried about taking space needed by a sleepy trucker. In the places where I did park with the rigs, I looked for a small space where I could squeeze the van in, a place a trucker couldn’t use. I never had a problem.
I also had the experience of asking to park at a WalMart, being told yes, then seeing the no overnight parking signs. I went ahead and parked, and luckily cops never bothered me. I assumed in such situations that the signs were a formality and did not lead to any kind of enforcement.
I always figured that if I had permission, I didn’t need to be so stealthy, at least when it came to the authorities. However, stealth might also be important in order to keep away regular citizens who might want to mess with us for any number of reasons (robbery, rape, drunken hassling, among others).
Thanks for that great report NMLady! Very helpful!
I love your blog and it makes me want to get in the van and go! I’ll probably be part-time for the next 5 years or so, but hope to retire to full-time.
I used to travel in my little Toyota Class C and in the midwest, you can’t swing a cat without hitting a tribal casino. I never had a problem, even with the ones with security. When I was at a conference in a swanky Houston suburb, I blacked out my windows and slept comfy in the parking lot of the Hyatt that was hosting the conference.
However, the Class C is more vehicle than I need for my current plans, so I finally hunted down a Ford Transit Connect. A former ADP vehicle, it is white and has no windows (what I lose in light, I gain in privacy.) Friends ask if I am going to paint it. No way. A white Ford Transit is common as dirt and virtually invisible. A stealther’s best friend. Also, as a woman alone, nope, I’m not traveling a thousand miles away from my home base. Nope. I’m a courier out delivering parts. I know of one big shopping center in Kansas City that has 12 white Fed Ex Transits parked in a row. I could probably pull into the end of the line and never be noticed as long as I left before they opened.
If any of your blog-dwellers are ever on highway 69 to Kansas City or highway 54 from Wichita, the Walmart in Fort Scott, Kansas (10 miles west of the KS/MO line, 90 miles south of KC) is very welcoming. There are always RVs (stealthy or not) and big rigs parked there. After I knew what to look for, I can also pick out a few that live there. Nice bathrooms, excellent deli, great Mexican place right across the street, nice grassy area for discreetly walking your dog, and easy on/off to both highways.
See ya on the road! Although, in a white Ford Transit, it is unlikely that you will notice me. Terri
A lot of us are ex military and if you belong to VFW or AMVETS or American Legion, the comrades will normally welcome you overnight parking–and you can have a few beers too!
Very good point Mike! Thanks for reminding us!
In a similar vein, a full-timer I know is a member of the Elks and he routinely receives permission to park his Class B overnight at Elks Clubs throughout the country.
These are all good options you gave. I lived in a van the summer of 2010 in West Seattle due to economic circumstances. A few additions – Look for places that may have little foot traffic (a walkway that has been overgrown with foliage). Look for tall hedges that block people from seeing your van from the house. Avoid parking in from of any windows. There are many places in West Seattle and the locals are pretty relaxed about it. There was a school that I loved to park beside on a side street. However, when school started back up I avoided it as I didn’t want to be thought of as a creepy man in a van.
Thanks Nunya for those great tips–very helpful
Thanks for all the work that you do Bob!
Just some points to be aware of based on my own research and thinking on the topic-
-indicating that a vehicle is for sale whether on public or private property is illegal in some areas, so you might actually draw attention immediately.
– parking a commercial vehicle (definitions of “commercial” vary widely) in a residential neighborhood for any length of time can be illegal if you aren’t actively working.
After giving this some thought I realized the if you plan to vandwell in your local area it can pose different challenges than if you are traveling. Staying in one community (for me that’s a collection of small towns, each under 20,000 people that are right next to each other) poses different and significant challenges than if I were more mobile or in a larger metropolitan area.
The smaller the town the more likely we are to be noticed, and the same goes for length of stay. If you add on top of all that my vehicle would be somewhat distinctive, I think I have a problem over the long haul. The only thing I can change is to make the vehicle more generic, and that might not be a good option.
I run a small home service company and the vehicle you drive for work should look as professional as possible. I also have to carry many, many tools and small to medium size parts. That lends itself to a small cutaway box van or similar. That would work fine for van dwelling as far as space goes but not so great for long term stealth. A over-sized or distinctive vehicle that is seen parking in different areas will likely draw attention.
After giving this some consideration, I’m toying with ‘workdwelling’ (did I just coin a phrase?) with vandwelling as a possible backup.
I think I can acquire a small commercial space for less than what I’m paying for my one bedroom apartment ($1049) and hide in plain sight. If it’s properly located it would boost my business and lower my expenses. Because I do 24 hour emergency service I could plausibly explain away my presence at any time. A year or two of work dwelling would move me out of debt and onto solid financial ground.
In some ways workdwelling is akin to vandwelling(counterculture, money saving) and in other respects it’s the opposite (no freedom of mobility)
Just thought I would throw out some things that haven’t been covered before.
PS- many blessings to you all!
Thanks stilldeciding, those are great tips.
“Workdwelling” is very different from vandwelling, but could also be a great idea. If you can get a commercial space that’s yours alone, you have some advantages:
1. Increases the visibility and credibility of your business
2. If you can live in it, you can eliminate the cost of housing, and the cost and time of commuting
3. Unlike rent on an apartment, rent on a commercial space is tax-deductible against your income. So even if the rent on a commercial space is MORE than an apartment, it may be less after tax.
I don’t know if you’ll be back to see this, but
I saw a place when I was planning a move, that was a four office rooms and a center waiting area. It is in a small town off the once busy area, now all the action is diverted. It is a main floor windows everywhere, but the only office for quite a few feet.
I thought if my family moved in there to live, would someone come by and insist that we have an employment functioning out of the place.
I thought since I have a pool table I could call it a pool hall. But we decided not to move.
Hello everyone and Bob!
I am a Widow and just about to turn 53. Van dwelling is my dream for the future. My youngest daughter is in high school and as soon as she is in college i will be off. I am searching for a van now. i will buy the van for myself and turn my car over to my daughter. I have read other blogs and have a few questions.. My goal is stealth. i want to be able to park wherever. I have read that the high top is invaluable but is it worth making your van more noticeable? Also i have been looking at some great deals on retired comercial wheel chair vans. How hard is it to remove the comercial wheel chair lifts?
A what not to do.. Returning from a tennis tournament in Cinncinnati I beganto get white line fever. Pulled off at the next exit and turned into the first field I could find, parking under a single large Oak tree. I think car could be seen from freeway. 90 minutes later I woke to bright headlights and flashing lights behind me. The Ohio state trooper was nice, just checking that everything was OK. said I could sleep there till morning, but after that rude awakening I got back on the road an drove on to home. Single car in a field, visible from freeway… Not a good idea LOL.
People just love their cars. Care and maintenance receives a great deal of attention. Many don’t stop at this – they go to lengths to accessorize their automobiles
SURVIVAL/DANGER/URGENT/TOPSECRET/VAN/CAR/CAMP/CAMPING/INFORMATION/DANGERCLOSE/=]Do i have ur attention good listen up close. I’m retired/disabled cop also a union laborer. When touching on the parking issues lets get to the root of the problem here. The problem is not sleeping or parking,or being in your vehicle correct, of course not, the problem if there is one, that u cant park and sleep in your vehicle.
Is it illegal to park your vehicle hum nope.Is it illegal to pull over take your medication again nope. Is it illegal to pull over for water,to sneeze,cough again nope. So armed with that knowledge lets revisit the question at hand. “its against the law to sleep in your vehicle” the key word is sleep here because thats how the law is written see. Its not against the law to blow nose while parked,its not against the law to rest your eyes, nor is it against the law to meditate with your eyes closed now is it again nope =].
Its all very simple, the law/federal state local ordanance rules no sleeping in your vehicle.The EASY/PEASY answer is you where NOT sleeping. Don’t be tricked into admitting your sleeping in your vehicle when u absolutely know for a fact that it’s against the law. Admit to anything else is fine but sleeping oh no no no no never no. I consider it good advise never admit to sleeping in your vehicle to ANYONE AT ALL because a witness can used against you.
But let’s just say for poops farts and giggles that u want to play it closer to the fire well you could say something like. [oh i pulled over to rest and must have dozed off]now wait just a minute dont fall off ur chair laughing. this might just work you parked ur vehicle guilty you were asleep guilty again you knew it was against the law and u did it anyway. Whoa boy hold your horses here, i parked yes i fell asleep yes i knew it was against the law yes. i did it intentionally absolutely not sir. When the subject of sleep comes up You did it yesterday and You should be good for at least two more days.=]
I found this material after my divorce and i relized i couldnt afford two households like bob said it was impossible. My first thought was a hotel whew expencive camping again whew expencive. luckily i had good parents moved in there and no problems. me and my dad had always worked to gether i know some dont have it that good ive seen my fair share of bad families broken homes and the liek i was just one of the lucky ones.but if i hadnt i know how valuble this info would have been.BOB WELLS i gove u the rights if it is ever in question to repost move copy paste whatever u wish to do with this text however u see fit.i believe your work is going to good use. Let me give u a pat of the back (if that was to hard i apoligize but it was my intention for you to feel that long after i was gone)
your friend scoot thats scoot at firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. i almost forgot as any good martial arts teacher will tell you the best defence is not to be there when the deadly blow comes. my the sun always hit ur panels and when it dont the rain fills ur water botles and brings u stores of food and pleasant dreams. HAPPY TRAILS MY FRIEND AND GOD BLESS YOU ALWAYS YOUR COMRADE SCOOT