Vanlife Stealth Guide: Everything You Should Know


One of the significant parts of living on the road is stealth camping. There are a couple of meanings when it comes to stealth camping. Some say it’s parking on the streets where you are not supposed to be, and others say it is any type of caping where nobody knows that you are inside the van. Either way, knowing how stealth lives is a crucial way to begin your journey on the road.

Know everything that you are supposed to when it comes to stealth living. In this article, I will talk about the different things and factors you have to know when you want to live a stealthy life. Hopefully, by the time end of this article, you will know the ins and outs of living a stealth life in your van.

1. Prepare Your Van for Stealthing: The Key to Perfect Stealth

Vw, Volkswagen, Car, Automobile, Vintage, Bus, Type 2

When preparing your van for stealthing, you need to choose a van that can easily blend in. A standard white cargo van and minivan will be the perfect vehicle to use. Other choices that you may have for stealth living are construction vehicles and box trucks. Skoolie bus and VW bus, on the other hand, are not a good idea to buy.

Make sure that you do not have stickers and decals placed on your vehicle as they can attract attention. Also, don’t hook up anything on the outside of your vans, such as bikes and kayaks. Generators, as well as vent fans, will drag too much attention to other people. If you have solar panels or ceiling fans, make sure you get a roof rack.

Buying a portable travel toilet will also be handy when you are staying on parking lots and streets. When you do have a portable toilet, there’s no reason for you to leave your van to go to the bathroom. Making your van windowless and tinted will avoid any feeling of being too exposed.

Choosing simple colors is the key to making sure that your van will stay stealthy. White is the most common color that van lifers choose. It will be a great cover as a working van. Other colors that work as well are grey, black, and silver. Make sure to avoid red or green since these colors are too catchy.

Though red or green may not be as bad since they can be used as something you can blend in with. However, it may not be a good idea to use these colors if you are parking or staying in remote areas.

2. Keep Lights Low: Stray Away from Detection

When staying in stealth, you have to make sure not to use your phone or anything too bright. The light stands out when you are hanging around in your parked van. It doesn’t matter if you have tinted windows. If there is any bright light that is inside your van, it can still be noticeable. 

However, if you can’t sleep and need a phone to do so, it is best to keep it in the lowest setting and under your sheets or blankets. Also, if you do want to use your gadgets, it is best to pull your shades as far down as they can go. By getting used to these habits, you will avoid dragging attention to your van. It will also keep those knockers away.

3. Keep Your Van Clean: Prevents Looking Homeless

Keeping your van clean is pretty obvious. It will prevent you from looking homeless, and people will not think that you live in a van. Making sure that you keep your car washed and the insides sparkling clean is essential. Also, you should always be clean and well dressed since it would give the people no idea that you are living your life on the road.

You need to make sure that you park somewhere that is already cleaned. It will prevent people from thinking that the trash that might surround you is yours. You don’t want other people blaming you for other people’s trash.

4. Know When to Arrive and When to Leave

Knowing when you should arrive and when you should leave is the key to van life stealthing. Make sure that you arrive late at night and leave early in the morning. When you park at night, you need to make sure that you are ready for bed and no other activities will be done. Cover all your windows and keep the lights out.

Don’t open the doors or take any objects out of your van while staying in a parking space. Also, make sure to eat before going to your location and don’t drink a lot of liquids. Unless you have a portable toilet where you can go anytime you want during the night. If you don’t have a portable toilet in your van, it is best to plan out the location that you are going to.

Make sure to keep everything in your van and move as soon as you wake up in the morning. It is best to wake up as early as possible so that you wouldn’t seem suspicious to other people in the surroundings.

5. Be Aware of Surroundings At All Times

Van, Car, Nature, Brown, Automotive, Old School

Make it a habit of being aware of your surroundings when trying to find a location to stay in. Use your instinct to know what is a good parking spot and what is not. It would be best if you got comfortable with the idea of a stealth van living first before you can get a hand in picking the right parking spot. You can start with parking overnight in legal store areas first, then make your way to different locations.

Over time, you will recognize city streets better and park in an area with a clear exit. Make sure to keep your doors locked and keys nearby in case of emergencies and other situations that may happen. Don’t try to stand your ground and confront talks if someone approaches you while in the van. 

Also, feel free to drive away in places where you don’t feel safe and park under a streetlamp or well-lit area. I usually choose parking spaces that are well lit so that I can see my surroundings during the night. If there’s a noise outside, I can just look out and see what the commotion is about.

6. Know Your Exit Route: In Case of Emergency

When choosing your parking space, it is crucial that you scout your parking space first. Plan out an escape route and envision how you will drive away in unexpected situations. Check if you can easily get to the driver’s seat as well. When you feel threatened, you need to know if you can move your rig anytime.

Make sure to keep your phone nearby in case you would need to call 9-1-1. Also, having a wasp spray can come in handy because it can shoot up to 15 feet and can be painful to someone’s face. Now, if you can, consider sending your location to your friends and family. This would give you peace of mind knowing that someone knows where you are. Situations like this are perfect when you are camping alone on public lands.

7. Always Keep A Look Out for Street Signs

two white-and-red signages

Parking in large cities can be difficult and challenging because there is always limited parking. There are plenty of rules and regulations to look out for when you are parking in large cities. When parking in cities, you have to look out for private property signs. Make sure to avoid parking in lots with private property signs because there is a big chance that you will be towed.

Look out for no parking signs, no overnight parking signs, and sweeping street signs. When you are wondering if you can park in a particular location, the best thing to do is ask. If you are planning to park in businesses, grocery stores, or gas stations, always ask if they allow overnight parking.

There are some locations where they allow overnight parking for vans and RVs. At most times, security guards and attendants don’t have an issue with you staying in that particular area. All you need to do is be respectful and follow their guidelines.

8. Always Exit From the Front

man opening vehicle door

If you are heading somewhere to eat or maybe to use the bathroom, you need to make sure to exit through the front doors. This is in cases where you feel 100 percent uncomfortable with your surroundings. When you open your doors to the side, it will draw more attention to you and will show people passing by what you have inside your van.

When this happens, it might draw attention to thieves, and you will be vulnerable to people taking your belongings. It’s like you have placed a target on your back. However, if you get out from the front side of your car, they can hardly see anything inside.

9. Different Parking Spots Are The Key

Parking in different parking spots is the key when a van is stealthing. Make sure to not park in the same area two nights in a row so that you don’t attract any attention. Map out at least seven to ten different locations when you are stealth camping for long periods of time. If you stay in one spot for too long, people may get concerned when parked in business parking lots for more than a night.

Always play it safe when you are picking your parking spots. Having a well-thought-out plan is the key when you want to have a stealthy life while living in your van.

10. Choosing the Right Location

Knowing the right location to park is something that you should get used to. If you are new to van life, you will eventually get better at choosing the right location over time. Make sure to look for businesses like Walmart and casinos. Some branches encourage 24-hour parking. Always call ahead of time so that you can ensure they offer overnight parking.

Always remember to be respectful of their parking spaces. Do not set up camp in the parking lot unless the establishments allow it. The following will talk about the different locations that you can choose for parking.

Retail Stores. Retail stores are one of the popular areas where you can park overnight. Doing proper research on different retail stores is important especially when you are planning your life on the road.

Walmart.

Some Walmart branches have free overnight parking, and it is one of the best last-minute sleeping opportunities that you can choose. This is the best location because you have a shopping and free bathroom within your reach. However, as I’ve mentioned above, not all Walmart stores offer this option.

Just to ensure that they offer this option, go inside and ask the store manager if it is okay to spend the night in their parking lot. Other locations may be illegal, so it is best to check ahead of time to avoid run-ins with the security.

Image Source: Walmart Corporate , CC-BY-2.0

Cabella’s. Cabella’s works the same as Walmart, and they cater to more RV and trucker crowds. They have a separate parking location behind their stores for people who have their life on the road. The place is not open overnight, so you would need to find a place to use the bathroom when you need it.

When you don’t see a sign indicating truck or RV parking in a specific store, make sure to ask the store manager first before parking in their lot. I have parked a couple of times in Cabella’s, and it is such a wonderful experience since you don’t have to fight with other customers for parking. Having a designated area is a plus when it comes to parking lots in Cabella’s.

Cracker Barrel. Cracker Barrel is all over the United States, and they offer overnight camping in their parking lots. Like Cabella’s, they have parking signs indicating they allow RVs and buses to park in their lots. Also, keep individual sections open for early deliveries in the store. If there are other vehicles that are in the designated parking lot, make sure to speak to the manager first.

It is a safe place to park overnight, which is why this is one of the popular choices of people on the road.

Image Source: Jonathunder, GFDL 1.2

Casinos. Casinos are open 24-hour a day and are a great space to spend the night. Since it is open all night, you have the freedom to use the bathroom and can buy cheap food when you feel hungry. Also, it is a place where you can have some fun and run some slots if you want. However, not all casinos are going to be open to overnight parking.

Make sure to check inside first and have a plan B if you are not allowed to stay overnight at a particular casino. I have tried staying overnight one time in a casino, and I did have some fun when I couldn’t fall asleep as fast.

Image Source: Casino.org

Hardware Stores. Aside from restaurants, groceries, and casinos, you can also have a choice of staying overnight in hardware stores such as Home Depot or Lowes. It is a perfect time to get anything fixed on your van when parking in spaces like these. Again, you need to speak with management ahead of time to know if they do allow overnight parking.

Now, just like the other stores, not all branches allow overnight parking. If you can call ahead of time and plan out where you can park, it would be a great habit to have.

Image Source: Coolcaesar, CC BY-SA 3.0

Rest Areas and Truck Stops. Another popular choice of places where you can park overnight is rest areas and truck stops. Now, there are some truckers that will inform you that overnight stay is reserved for the workforce only. If this is the case, you don’t want to get in the way of someone working. It is best to look for another spot to park overnight.

Also, some rest stops have free overnight parking or camping, and it will be up to you to assess each rest stop. You need to make sure to check if it is a legal option to have or not. Some of the good places that you can go to are those along the highways. Those that are not open to overnight parking will usually have signs with restrictions or hourly parking limits.

Never park in a parking spot intended for semi-trucks since they require special long pull-through spaces. If you park near spots for semi-trucks in these cases, you will have a bigger chance of finding some damage to your van.

Campgrounds. Campgrounds are one of the safest choices for you to park overnight. It is also popular amongst van lifers and RVers alike. They have access to bathrooms and other amenities such as Wi-Fi. In some campgrounds, they charge you entrance or overnight stays fees.

Planning your travels and choosing the campgrounds to go to is essential. You should know which campgrounds are close to your destination and what is the cheapest one. Planning is always the key if you want to live your life on the road.

24-hour Restaurants. If you want to park in 24-hour restaurants, you need to make sure that you bring earplugs. However, if you don’t mind the noise of car doors opening and closing, it is an excellent place to stealth camp. These restaurants are accustomed to different types of vehicles in their parking lots. With this said, it is less likely that someone would be patrolling their parking lots.

Places like Denny’s or Mcdonalds are some of the parking lots that you can take advantage of. Since the restaurants are open 24 hours, you have access to food and restrooms throughout the night.

11. Avoid Residential Areas

Residential areas are usually in front of people’s houses. Never a good idea to stealth camp in these locations because there’s a big chance that the police will be called because homeowners can get suspicious. Now, those people who live in the neighborhood would most likely know the cars that are parked on their street.

With this said, when they see a new vehicle parked on their street for a long time, they will get curious and concerned. If you don’t have any choice, make sure to park on a side street where there is plenty of space between houses. If you park directly in front of a home, you will likely catch the homeowner’s attention.

Also, find an apartment complex instead of a private home. Apartment complexes are large and have more people and cars coming in and out. This would be your last resort when it comes to parking in residential areas.

I have never tried parking in residential areas because of the reason that people might get suspicious. However, I do know friends who do, and they don’t have a problem parking in residential areas if it’s just a night.

12. Don’t Park in Nearby Public Restroom

Make sure that you choose a parking location that is nearby a public restroom if you don’t have a bathroom in your van. It is also not great to brush your teeth where you are parked because it can be obvious to some people that you are camping there. Before heading to your parking spot, make sure to try to go to a gym first before heading to your parking spot to get ready for the night.

If you have no choice and can’t find a nearby public restroom, make sure not to drink any liquids within a couple of hours before going to bed. The best solution for this problem is to buy a portable toilet. One of the popular choices when it comes to portable toilets is the Porta Potti.

The Porta Potti is versatile, and it is top of a line portable toilet that is best for van lifers. It has a sleek design and a homelike look. It comes with a comfortable seat height, which is perfect. It has a battery-powered flush that you can take advantage of, and it is easy to use as well as clean.

It has an ergonomic carrying handle and an integrated paper holder for convenience. There’s a tank indicator on the Porta Potti so that you know how much water there is on the tank. It has an odorless and leakproof feature that is perfect for keeping overnight. It also has a sealed valve to prevent odors from escaping. The cost of the Porta Potti is $165.

13. Always Plan Out Your Defense: Make Sure to Be Safe At All Times!

Planning out your defense is one of the most crucial things that you should think of when stealth living. Remember, when living in a van, you are a magnet to thieves. Having said this, make sure that you can attach bolted locks on your doors that can be released from the inside. Also, the best thing to do when you are living in a van alone is to take self-defense classes.

Of course, avoiding the situation is always the best defense. Avoid any remote area and something that feels sketchy. Now, if you choose to carry firearms, it can be a heavy responsibility. Also, there are different legality with firearms in different states, and it can be very tedious.

Pepper spray comes in larger cans and is about ten percent as potent. However, it would be best if you took note that you are likely to get a back spray on yourself when used in a van. It may also not be a good idea to use when you are in a van because you are backed away inside and can’t drive away. With this said, it is still best to bring pepper spray along with you at all times.

14. Never Argue With Police or Security

Always remember to never argue with police or security that may come knocking on your window or door. When you are stealth camping, it can lead to police knocking at some point. If this happens, you just need to be courteous and respectful. Don’t hide out in your vehicle if they approach you.

The reason why police will check on them is it is likely that someone called them. Now, you have to know that it’s rare to get ticketed at the first office. There is an exception to this, and that is if you parked in illegal areas. If they do knock on your window and ask you to move, make sure to ask them for a suggestion for a better place to park.

Make sure to note the place where you were called out, and don’t park there again. It is not a big deal from time to time, so don’t let fear discourage you from enjoying the freedom of living in a van.

Conclusion

Living stealthily in a van may be hard at first, but as long as you know what to do, it will be a piece of cake. When living as a full stealth camper, you have plenty more to be aware of when building your van. Always keep in mind that you need to blend in and remember that you are living out of a van and not in it. Stealth living is a great way to avoid paying rent and fees and gives you more time to enjoy the place that you are staying in. Happy stealth living!

Ash

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