Social Media can paint a pretty picture of Vanlife. Back doors wide open, a warm fire blazing in the background as the owners lay on the mexican blanket laden bed watching another amazing sunset. That’s what its all about right? No responsibilities, complete freedom to roam wild places and sip microbrew whenever we like. Well sorry to break it to you, that’s the scene about 10% of the time. Maybe. If we’re lucky. The other 90% of nights are spent in rest areas, down a deserted dirt road, Walmart parking lot or in a quiet neighborhood.
Our first night stealth camping was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We were scared shitless. There was no doubt in our mind that we were going to get a knock in the middle of the night from the local police or neighborhood watch. We would be booked into the local jail, the van gets towed and our road trip would come to a screeching halt. Needless to say none of that happened and we slept like babies. After that first night our confidence grew and we started gaining peace of mind that we could get a good nights sleep whenever we needed to stealth camp.
It’s never our first option, we would much rather be enjoying a nice camp spot out in the middle of the mountains or on a beach, but that’s not always possible. For all of you that can’t escape the city lights before its time to park for the night we would like to let you in on our secrets to successfully stealth camp without getting the dreaded “KNOCK”
The Later, The Better
If you happen to be in the area that you will be stealth camping, don’t blow your cover by showing up early in the evening or parking in the same spot all day that you are going to sleep. Painting a big red target on your home before you plan on calling it a night is the worse thing you can do. Increase your chances of a good nights sleep by showing up no earlier than 10 p.m but later is even better!
Early Bird Gets the Worm
You’ve made it through the night without getting the boot, so be smart and get out of your stealth campsite as early as possible. We always try for 6 a.m so that we beat the work crowd out of the neighborhood and don’t get red flagged for an extra half hour of sleep. You probably have to pee at this point anyways so go find a coffee shop or grocery store and grab a few more hours of sleep in the parking lot if you need it.
If we have extra time in the area we like to scope out a number of city streets that could be good options for a night or two of stealth camping. So what characteristics do we look for in a stealth campsite? First, there needs to be other cars parked on the side of street to blend in with. Second, don’t pick the ritzy neighborhoods or the sketchy trailer parks as to avoid problems that both ends of the spectrum can produce. Last, the less street lights and traffic the better for sleep quality and van stealthiness.
Boy Scouts Motto “Be Prepared”
All of the before bed activities should be completed before you get into your spot for the night. Cook and eat dinner in a city park, most don’t close till 10 pm and are nice areas to wind down an evening. Whatever your routine is before bed, brushing your teeth, washing your face and getting into pajamas should all be done prior to parking for the night. All of this preparation away from your stealth campsite will decrease your chances of drawing attention to your vessel from all the neighbors.
Last but not least, shut your brain off and get a good nights sleep. In the end stealth camping does you no good if you don’t get any sleep. At first it seems that getting knocked on is inevitable when you stealth camp, but it will amaze you how few people actually care about a van parked on their street for a night. And if the knock does come, it’s not the end of the world but it might be the end of your stay on Maple St.
Stealth camping was one of the biggest Vanlife question mark for us. We don’t live in a stealthy sprinter and usually stick out like a soar thumb on city streets, but we found a system and it has worked 95% of the time. Stealth camping will be nerve racking the first few nights, but if you follow the Misadventure Theories 5 Tips to Stealth Camping we can almost guarantee a quiet nights sleep in the heart of any town.