Last Updated on January 2, 2022 by Douglas
Lately, the concept of living out of your car or van has been trending over the internet. Van life has been around for quite some time, but advancements in technology have made this lifestyle more appealing for many people. Technology has made it easier for van lifers to stay connected to the world while living on the road. Around 50% of people who try out this lifestyle end up fully committing to it. This is because you get to enjoy a different kind of freedom and also save a lot of money while living on the road.
Whether you get into this lifestyle for the long run or for a few months at a time, stealth camping can be a very enjoyable thing to do. It’s an amazing way to stay overnight at different places without having to worry about lodgings.
What is Stealth Camping?
Stealth camping is basically the act of sleeping in your vehicle in a place that has not been specified for camping. Don’t worry, it isn’t illegal, stealth camping lies in the grey area between legal and illegal camping. As long as you do it right, you will not have to worry about getting into trouble with the authorities or being a nuisance to anyone else.
In the US, there are loads of places where you can camp for free. National forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property are both places where you can camp for free. Around half of the people who live on the road prefer to camp in these spots. While these places are safe, they are generally far away from cities and towns. Having to go out of the way for overnight camping every time can be a hassle. This is why some people prefer to camp in parking lots and city streets instead.
Now, people often debate over what kind of camping should be considered as stealth camping. Most hardcore campers believe that you aren’t stealth camping if you’re sleeping in areas that are designated for camping. According to them, sleeping in your vehicle in places that aren’t supposed to be camping spots (such as parking lots and residential streets) is counted as stealth camping.
Stealth camping is a delicate balance between enjoying the thrill of camping in your vehicle while also ensuring your own safety and well-being. The tips that we’re sharing in this guide will help you figure out how to maintain that balance.
When Should You Try Stealth Camping in Cities?
For people who travel a lot, stealth camping is a great way to save money on overnight stays. However, you should only consider stealth camping in cities if you have an appropriate vehicle. For urban stealth camping, setting up a tent is never a good idea. This is because a tent will not be able to ensure your safety while you’re sleeping. Also, sleeping in a tent in a city will lead to most people thinking that you’re homeless. Within towns and cities, you should only stealth camp in a vehicle. You can keep your camping tent for when you plan to camp in the great outdoors.
What Not to Do When Stealth Camping?
Like we mentioned before, you should avoid stealth camping if you don’t own a car. Setting up a tent in an urban area is definitely not a safe option. Also, before you stealth camp, you should take your current lifestyle into consideration. If you have a family to take care of or other responsibilities that you cannot shun, you should avoid stealth camping. This is because stealth camping introduces a lot of changes in one’s lifestyle. And these changes can quickly become chaotic if you dive into this lifestyle blindly.
Stealth camping and van-lifing are ideal for people who want to become digital nomads or want to go on trips for extended periods of time.
Is It Illegal to Stealth Camp?
Stealth camping is not completely illegal. In most cases, it ends up in a grey area where it’s neither legal nor illegal. To be on the safe side, you should always go through a state’s laws regarding camping and living in your vehicle. In some states, sleeping in your car can be an illegal activity. Also, you should avoid parking your vehicle in areas where parking is prohibited.
If you don’t do your homework before you park your vehicle somewhere for an overnight camping session, you can find yourself in trouble. Vehicles parked illegally can be fined and even towed.
Will Sleeping in Your Vehicle Land You With a DUI?
DUIs are awarded to people who drive under the influence. Sometimes, when you’re sleeping in your car, a police officer can think that you may be under the influence. In order to avoid this, you can do a few things:
- Don’t sleep in the driver’s seat, a person sleeping in the driving seat can be mistaken as a passed-out drunkard. When you get ready to sleep in your car, you need to make sure that you don’t give off the impression of someone who is drunk. You should prepare yourself in a way that leaves no space for assumptions. The best way to do this is to sleep on your backseat instead.
- Make sure your keys aren’t in the ignition, leaving your keys in your ignition makes it look like you were planning on driving. If a police officer confronts you, they may assume that you were going to drive even if you weren’t in the driver’s seat. In order to avoid this, make sure that your keys are stored somewhere else. You shouldn’t keep them on your person as well. Find a safe soft in your vehicle where you can leave your keys. Keep in mind that this spot should be easily accessible to you.
Stealth Camping vs Campground Camping
Camping grounds will often have facilities that can make your overnight stay more comfortable. However, a lot of camping grounds have a fee that you need to pay in order to stay there. In stealth camping, there aren’t any fees that you need to pay, but there aren’t any facilities that you can use either. However, other than this drawback, stealth camping is more fun; you have a lot more freedom regarding where you want to stay. You can also spend the night within a city instead of having to go out of the way every night.
A lot of people enjoy the thrill of stealth camping. Every night comes with a different experience since you’re constantly changing your camping spots. The thrill factor is certainly fun, but it can also lead to fatigue. The best way to stealth camp is to mix and match; spend a night at a camping ground every now and then in order to relax.
Things to Consider When Preparing For Stealth Camping
In order to have an enjoyable stealth camping experience, you need to undergo a bit of preparation.
Choose Your Vehicle
The right vehicle is essential for stealth camping. You need something that doesn’t stand out too much (like a bus or RV), smaller vehicles such as vans and SUVs are what you should keep in mind. Your goal is to have a vehicle that looks as plain as possible. You don’t want to give the impression that someone is camping in your vehicle while it’s parked. Any exterior fixtures that you have on your vehicle shouldn’t stand out either.
If you have a van, you’ll have more than enough space to set up a bathroom in it as well. Vans are ideal since you can setup a complete camping solution in them. SUVs and smaller vehicles are less noticeable than vans, but they don’t have a lot of space to offer.
You should make an extra effort to keep your vehicle’s interior as clean as possible. A clean interior will make your vehicle more comfortable and also more presentable. If someone does end up inspecting your car, you will have a lesser chance of getting into trouble with the authorities if your interior space is clean and organized. Remember, maintaining a good impression of yourself is very important when living on the road.
Your vehicle needs to have the right equipment in order to function as a stealth camping rig. Since you want to be stealthy, you’re going to avoid getting equipment that’s too conspicuous. Here’s what you should get:
Get blinders or a dark-coloured curtain for all your windows. These will help you keep your interior dark while also enhancing your privacy.
If your vehicle doesn’t have a sunroof, get a small fan that can be mounted inside. This will help with ventilation and keep your interior comfortable. You can open your windows for ventilation as well, but no more than an inch. Open windows can compromise your safety.
A small, dim light source should be kept on hand as well. You can use this in case of an emergency.
Having a defensive tool is essential when you’re camping. Make sure you have something like pepper spray that you can use in case of danger.
If your vehicle doesn’t have a bathroom, you should have a water bottle for urinating in as well.
Camping of any kind involves a degree of risk. Stealth camping is no different, in fact, it can be slightly more dangerous as camping in the city can expose you to malicious people. In order to avoid danger and stay safe, here’s what you should do:
- Take Note of your surroundings, don’t park in areas where the crime rate is high or there are signs of bad activities going on. You should always scout a parking space before actually setting up camp.
- Avoid dark parking spots, vehicles parked in dark areas can attract unwanted attention. Parking in a well-lit area will keep you safe and also make you look more inconspicuous. A vehicle that’s parked under a streetlight will look less suspicious. And as long as you have curtains or blinds, you won’t have to worry about you’re the light outside disturbing you.
- Always keep an exit route in mind. You should always have the option to readily exit your vehicle when needed. Avoid blocking your doors with objects.
- Make sure that your keys are always accessible. Avoid keeping them on your person, but make sure that they’re in a secure place that you can reach easily.
- You should make a habit out of rotating camping spots. Don’t use one parking spot twice. Always have at least 2 or 3 parking spots in mind when you’re staying in a city.
- A stealth camping vehicle is loaded with stuff that you own. This is why it’s unwise to leave your vehicle unattended for long periods of time. If someone manages to break into your vehicle, you can end up losing a lot more than just spare change that you left in your glove compartment.
Pro Stealth Camping Tips
These are a few things that stealth campers pick up as they become more experienced:
- Always cover all of your windows
- Don’t spend too much time awake in your vehicle once you have parked it. This increases the chances of you getting caught.
- Don’t take too long in one spot once the night is over. Try and move on before 8 am
- When you’re about to leave your camping spot, make sure that you haven’t made any mess.
- If you ever get caught by a police officer, your best bet is to act dumb and stay friendly. Cooperating with the authorities will increase your chances of getting away without being awarded any penalties.
Steps For Selecting a Stealth Camping Spot
Selecting a good spot requires research. You can use Google maps, along with other apps as well in order to identify all the prime spots in your area. However, we would suggest that you take some time to do some good old-fashioned digging as well. There are factors that cannot be assessed through apps alone.
Scout Areas Yourself During Daytime
There are a lot of things that you can miss if you begin scouting camping spots in the dark. Daylight scouting can help you fully assess a spot. There’s a lesser chance that you will end up missing details that can get you into trouble later on.
Talk to The Locals
Striking up a conversation with a local is a great way to learn more about the area. You can get information on camping laws, what’s the safest spot for camping, and more. You can even ask people if it’s okay to park your car in front of their property for the night. You can try asking the police for advice as well, however, police officers tend to be uncooperative in helping stealth campers.
Don’t Park in Your Spot Before It Gets Dark
Even after you’ve found your ideal spot, you shouldn’t park your vehicle before it gets dark. Parking earlier can increase the chances of you being detected.
Trust Your Gut
If you’re parked somewhere and you feel that your spot is being compromised, you should always play it safe. Move from your spot as soon as you feel that you’re about to be caught or you’re unsafe.
Find Useful Apps & Online Forums
One of the best things about this day and age is that being connected to the rest of the world is so easy. There’s a plethora of apps and websites that you can visit to get useful information about stealth camping. You can use apps to find the right spots no matter where you go. And forums are a great place to share your stories and learn from other people’s experiences.
Free Overnight Parking Spots
For beginners, it’s always better to start slowly with stealth camping. Instead of starting off with risky parking areas, you should stick to safer spots. This also holds true for expert campers; parking your vehicle in a safe area every now and again can always be relaxing.
There are a few businesses that let you park your vehicle in their parking overnight without any charge. These businesses include:
- Sporting Goods Stores
- Hardware and Auto Parts Stores
- Truck Shops and Rest Areas
Keep in mind that not every business will appreciate your parking overnight. This is why it’s always good to ask someone before you set yourself up for the night.
Managing Work While Stealth Camping
We all have responsibilities that we need to take care of. If you’re planning on becoming a van lifer, you will need to work in order to have an income. Working on the road can be tough at first, but you get used to it. And there are always tips and tricks that can help you out.
Find The Right Place
Working inside of your vehicle is not an option. Instead, you should look for places where you can set up your workstation. Libraries and coffee shops are always good options. You can find peace and quiet, internet access, and stay there for long periods of time.
If you have to work from inside your vehicle, make sure you don’t park in the same spot where you plan to sleep. Designate a different spot for working and a different one for sleeping.
You need to have internet access if you want to get any work done nowadays. Wi-Fi access isn’t a problem if you’re working in a coffee shop or library. However, if you’re in your vehicle, getting access to Wi-Fi becomes tricky. You should always have a data plan on your phone as a backup. Keep in mind that cellular data plans can be quite pricey.
Find a Place to Shower
Maintaining your hygiene can be tricky when you’re on the road. You need to look good when you want to meet a client. Luckily, there are places where you can go to shower. Community centres, campgrounds, and public pools are all great places for showering.
Remember to Stay Organized
As someone who’s living off the grid, being organized is very important. It maintains your quality of life and keeps you functional. Make sure that you have schedule for each day and make sure that you follow it.
Living on the road can be fun, exciting, and also challenging. And stealth camping makes it all the more fun. You can reduce your living expenses by a wide margin and also enjoy a degree of freedom that one can never have when living in one area.
Stealth camping can be challenging and also rewarding. You’ll get to experience the world from a totally new point of view. Stealth camping can be daunting at first, but once you learn the ropes, you will realize that it can be fun to move from place to place and live on the road.