Category: Stealth-City Parking

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Walmart is probably the most common spot to stealth park in. But they aren’t always the best! Sometimes it is the worst choice and sometimes even illegal.

This is the second post  in a series on stealth parking. If you didn’t read the first one I encourage you to go back and read it first. After my first post many of you commented that you are outraged and offended that living in a van can be illegal. I replied that I am not offended, and in fact I am sympathetic toward the laws. I know lots of people don’t read the comments and I think this is important enough that I am going to repeat my answer here so everyone can understand my thinking:

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.

2) Wal-Mart:

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.

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This Midas was in the parking lot of a strip mall, it was the perfect place to park overnight!

Park as if you were dropping the vehicle off to be serviced. If a cop comes by, which is unlikely, tell them you are traveling, had a problem, and are waiting for the garage to open in the morning to get repairs. Many shops have a drop-off slot so it’s normal for a strange vehicle to be waiting for them in the morning. If not, when the employees get there in the morning, they will start wondering why you are there, so leave early before they get there.

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.

7) Hospitals:
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.

9) Churches:

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.

10) Casinos

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.

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This van parked in the parking lot of a Home Depot is not very stealthy because of the: 1) solar panels 2) air conditioner 3) lawn chair 4) out-of-state plates. But, he has something else going for him: the Just-Passing-Through look. That will work for awhile, but eventually an officer will become curious if he sees that van all the time.

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.