Living in a van can introduce you to new cultures and perspectives, and of course, it also gives you a lot of freedom in traveling the world. However, it does have its challenges, especially when its legality is frequently being questioned. If you’re planning to live in a van soon, I am here to help you experience the van life without getting into any sort of trouble.
Yes, it is legal to live in a van! No law in the US or UK states that it is illegal to live in a motorhome, van, or RV full time. Vandwellers still have all the rights and obligations of a regular citizen. However, every city or state has its own set of rules regarding sleeping or living in a van.
In this article, you will learn why living in a van is actually legal and why some people think otherwise. The van life requires knowing where to park legally, and here you’ll find tips on where to park your van for the night to avoid being interrogated by cops or private security.
The Van Life and Its Legalities
Many have been attracted to the van life. Traveling is something that everybody loves and yearns for with all the different panoramic views one gets to enjoy every day as a van dweller or RVer. However, there is a recurring question in the minds of people who have yet to live the van life, that is if it is legal to live in a van.
No US Or UK Law States It Is Illegal
There is no law in the US or in the UK that states it is illegal to live in a motorhome, van, or RV full time. This also means that it is not illegal when an American citizen or resident does not have a physical address. However, for official and legal documents, most vandwellers use a family member’s address.
Just Like Any Other Citizen
Vandwellers and RVers still have all the rights and obligations of a regular citizen. This means they are not exempted from paying taxes and obeying the law. Despite common misconceptions, they also have the right to vote, receive federal and state benefits, and own personal properties. They are just like any other citizen with a house on wheels!
The Existence of Rules
The fact that there are different sets of rules in each city or state on sleeping or living in a van is solid proof that it is legal. Much like any other resident, citizen, or traveler, being a vandweller is legal enough to be accommodated and protected by a few federal or state laws.
Why People Think It’s Illegal to Live in a Van
There is No Physical Address
Most people would assume that having no physical address means you don’t get mail and other legal documents. This is a false assumption towards people in the van life because they do get mail from their families, personal banks, and many more, and they can still file taxes. Most vandwellers use a close friend or a family member’s physical address to receive mails and packages when they’re on the road. This is done legally to avoid being charged with address fraud. To receive mail, they use FedEx to FedEx or UPS.
Private Parking Lots
“Where do you sleep?” is a common question asked to van dwellers and RVers. People know that most parking lots do not allow overnight parking which makes them think that if it’s illegal to park almost anywhere, then it must be illegal to sleep in a van. However, there are a few private parking lots that allow overnight parking like Walmart, which is a popular spot among people who sleep in their motorhomes.
Some Cities Forbid Overnight Parking
One of the most common reasons some people think living in a van is illegal is because these people actually come from cities that forbid overnight parking. It is undeniable that there are areas that are not friendly to the van life or even motorhomes for that matter.
Where It’s Actually Illegal To Sleep In A Van
There are plenty of locations where you can park and take a nap in your van during the day. However, there are also some locations that are illegal for you to park and sleep. Make sure that you take note of these places because you don’t want to get in trouble with the law.
Private Property Lots
Parking on private properties can be considered trespassing and is, therefore, illegal. Although there are some cases where private property owners give permission to park your vehicle in their lot for a night or two, you’d still be staying indefinitely. You may be asked to leave anytime which can cause inconvenience to you and the property owner as well, especially in times of emergency. It’s definitely advised to avoid parking in private properties in general to avoid unwanted trouble.
Government Parking Lots
Although most government-owned properties are for public use, the rules for public land differ from one place to another. National forests or parks may allow overnight parking but locally, rules and regulations can be different. This is why it’s important to check state or city laws regarding overnight parking with local officers or park rangers.
Highways Or City Streets
Parking your regular car on the side of the road for a while is pretty normal. However, this is not the case for motorhomes like your van or RV especially if you plan to sleep in it! Parking by the street with your motorhome can cause a lot of inconvenience for people in the area because of its large size. Because it’s frowned upon in most neighborhoods, motorhome parking is actually banned in some towns and cities. So if you’re looking for a place to park, it better not be on the side of city streets or highways.
Where It’s Legal To Park And Sleep For The Night
When it comes to the time to hit the hay and park at night, there are plenty of locations that you can choose from and it is legal. Since there are plenty of vanlifers today, most retail stores or rest stops, allow parking overnight. The following will list the locations where you can sleep at night and park your van.
Specifically designed for trucks and other large vehicles, this is one of the most ideal places to park overnight. Complete with food and shower facilities, truck stops have the accommodations you’re going to need. You won’t have to worry about the fact that you’re not driving a truck because your van will definitely be welcome to stay for a few hours for a small fee.
Casino Parking Lots
Casino parking lots are known for overnight parking because people often leave their cars when they’ve had too much to drink or when their gambling itch starts acting up! When the place isn’t too full or when there are no special events, a casino parking lot is a great opportunity for you to blend in and park overnight. It is not, however, a great long-term solution.
Airports are an easy spot to park overnight, especially when you’re near one. It is easy to blend in with people who are there to pick someone up.
24-hour Grocery Stores (Walmart)
Walmart is a popular parking spot for vandwellers to sleep for the night. Even though it’s private property, Walmart usually allows overnight parking. Its well-lit parking lot is also a bonus to your security.
Rest stops are usually located off of highways. Even though these stops have a much higher chance of crime like robbery, this is still an area where you can park your motorhome legally overnight. Like truck stops, they also have food and shower accommodations. Rest stops have different rules per state so if you plan on staying at a rest stop, make sure you are aware of the local rules.
Public Lands Campground
Public lands like national parks and forests (e.g Yellowstone or Yosemite park) are one of the most popular campgrounds for vandwellers and RVers. It’s almost always full during holidays so it’ll be a good idea to call in for a reservation.
Another public land that accommodates vandwellers is the property managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). 99% of their thousands of acres are free for recreational purposes.
State Or City Park Campgrounds
City or state parks allow free camping or parking especially when they are located in a remote area. This means to say that some of them charge parking fees but of course, this will depend on its location. Unlike national campgrounds, state or city parks can’t really give you enough privacy. However, they do offer food, electricity, and water services so be ready to spend some cash when you park in places like these.
Another popular area for overnight camping and parking, independent campgrounds offer amenities that include trash receptacles, showers, restrooms, electricity, and general stores. Because they are independent, thereby privately owned, they charge parking fees that range from $20 to $40 a night.
Tips On Overnight Parking
Here are some tips to follow if you are looking for a place to park legally overnight.
Live A Stealthy Van Life
Stealthy van life means you’re always ready to go go go! It gives off the appearance that it’s just like any other vehicle and that you don’t actually live in it. The practice of living stealthily allows you to park with ease, without anyone noticing your business.
A couple of tips to live this way is to park late and leave early wherever you are. This is especially helpful when you’re parking in Walmart or any other 24-hour stores. Also, make your van look less conspicuous. Having a colorful and vibrant design is something that would definitely grab attention and would cause people to notice your parking habits.
Do Not Park In Neighborhoods In Unfamiliar Cities
Needless to say, if you are in an unfamiliar city, then you wouldn’t know whether or not you’re in a bad neighborhood with high crime. In addition, you also wouldn’t want people waking up from their homes and finding that there is a large van in their area which might cause them to call the police on you.
Avoid Big Cities
Los Angeles and New York are one of the big cities that most RVers and vandwellers avoid. Not only are their rules quite complicated and unfriendly to motorhomes, big cities mean lots of people and lots of cars. With the size of your motorhome parked in there, you might cause inconvenience to other people and to yourself! If you really want to stay in the city, you can always park outside of the city when it’s time to sleep.
There are plenty of areas to park overnight, especially outside Los Angeles. You can always do your research to avoid the hassle of searching for a place to park your van. There are also various apps you can use that will guide you in these cities.
Avoid Dark, Secluded Areas
It is always advised that one should park in areas with adequate lighting. Even if it’s a spot where it’s legal to park, dark, secluded areas will encourage criminals to take action. Do not take that risk, there will always be a better spot where it’s safer.
Avoid Areas With Party Evidence Like Beer Bottles
There are always empty parking lots that attract crowds, especially where overnight parking is allowed. However, some vandwellers have actually experienced that despite looking like a decent place to park in, they would find huge crowds coming in late at night to party.
To save yourself from this situation, look for signs like empty beer bottles and garbage because there are usually a lot of them. If you prefer this company, of course, you can always stay and party along with them!
Obey Local Parking Signs And Laws
Local parking signs and laws are always different everywhere. Before settling in an area, make sure to educate yourself on its laws. You can read them on their official websites or you can always ask local police officers or park rangers.
The Infamous and Dreaded Knock
The knock is definitely not something you would want to experience in the middle of the night. Other than it disturbs your peaceful sleep, it might just bring you bad news like illegal parking! There are ways to avoid cops and private security knocking on your door, and if this is something that’s inevitable, you will find that it will be very easy to deal with (as long as you’re not up to something illegal)!
How To Avoid The Knock
Follow The Rules And Tips On Overnight Parking
If you follow the rules and tips on legal overnight parking, then the dreaded knock is something you won’t have to worry about. As long as you are parked legally, you’ll be fine.
Park Where Other Cars Or Vehicles Are Also Left Overnight
Parking where there are other vehicles in the area is an important thing to note. Not only does this mean that it’s legal, but it could also mean that there are also a few people sleeping in their own cars or vehicles. This could be a good addition to your security.
Ignore The Knock When You’re Sure You Are Parked Legally
Although this is a disputable subject, a lot of people actually advise that if you are sure you are parked legally and that you didn’t do anything wrong, just stay quiet and ignore the knock. In special cases, you could encounter an unfriendly cop or private security officer who’s just looking for trouble just because they can.
How To Deal With The Knock
Ignoring the knock is not something you should always do. The better option is to always answer and be nice. Vandwellers and RVers actually find it easy to deal with the knock because it’s only normal for these officers to ask legal questions. A good tip is to actually have a pleasant conversation with them and perhaps give them a tour of your place!
Cooperate With The Cops Or Private Security
It can be uncomfortable for some people to be interrogated but cooperating with the cops or private security is always advised. To do otherwise will not help your case, so if you want to stay parked, allow yourself to be saved from the trouble by listening to these cops. In the event that you are, in fact, parked illegally and you didn’t know, comply immediately and ask for advice on where to park your motorhome legally.
Know Your Rights
Although you’ve been taught to always cooperate, it is also important to know your rights to protect yourself from unnecessary pressure or intimidation.
Despite popular opinion, living in a van is actually legal. If you are indeed interested in living the van life, it is important to always stay smart to avoid experiencing trouble down the road by being updated on local laws and documentation on overnight parking. Knowing the legal and illegal places to park not only helps in backing yourself up in case the knock ever happens to you, but it also helps massively in giving you a smooth and enjoyable van life.