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.
- 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!