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Stealthy VanDwelling – An Alternative To A Traditional RV

Why Stealth RVing?

Some people love the idea of living in an RV, but don’t have the money – job, savings, or pension – to support it.  One option available to folks in this situation is to try and live an ultra-frugal RV lifestyle.

One of the largest costs for many ‘traditional’ (I’m not sure that is really the right word for anyone who lives in a recreational vehicle, but I will use it nevertheless) is the cost of campgrounds of RV park sites.

While it is possible to find cheap or even free sites in some place, many times they will have restrictions as to how long you can say.  Also, sometimes these lower priced sites are not in a great location – they may be way out in the middle of nowhere, next to a loud interstate or railroad, or in a somewhat dodgy urban neighborhood.

Why A Van?

The way some people get around having to pay for camping sites at all is by choosing to live a lifestyle heavily dependent on stealth parking.  The main requirement in order to be able to do this successfully is possession of an RV that does not look like an RV.  For this vans are ideal!

A van can look very commercial.  This means they can be parked many places inconspicuously where a regular RV would stand out like a sore thumb.  People who own vans can frequently get away with spending a night for free in an office district or near a warehouse without drawing unwanted attention from the authorities.

What Type of Van?

I am not talking about a Class B Motorhome like those from Roadtrek, which are blatantly residential – I mean a regular commercial van.  Preferably a white one that is in good shape, if it has some decals indicating it belongs to some kind of business so much the better.

You should also avoid buying a van that looks…well…creepy.  We are all familiar with the stereotype of the beat-up panel van that looks like it belongs in an episode of Law & Order – SVU.  If you are going to live in a van buy one that looks respectable.

The intent is that the local police or sheriff won’t figure out you are actually inside that van parked on the side of the road.  The hope is that if the van catches their eye they will just figure it belongs to a local business and not be bothered by it.

How to Avoid Hassles from the Authorities

While your presence – as long as you behave yourself and don’t make a mess – really does any harm to anyone, a lot of people will be uncomfortable at the idea of someone living in a van, especially nearby.  While I will leave the psychology of this for another article, it is fact that you will have to deal with anytime you stealth camp anywhere people are likely to observe your vehicle.

An attractive vehicle is an important starting point, but being discrete matters even more.  Don’t setup a chair outside of your van; keep all your gear inside.  Keep the rear doors closed as much as possible and access the van from the front if possible.  Make sure your windows are covered – preferably by a dark tint.  Cute fluffy curtains may hide the fact that you are inside, but they do suggest the vehicle is lived in.

Don’t stay to long!  It is important to note that this type of stealth living really requires you to move on a regular basis – preferably daily.  If you spend a week parked in warehouse parking lot, it is likely that eventually you are going to draw unwanted attention from either the owners of the local constabulary.

Is Stealth Van Living for Everyone?

The answer to this is definitely no.  You have to be pretty good at handling the stress of never knowing when someone is going to come and demand to know why you are camped somewhere you strictly shouldn’t be.

I really wouldn’t recommend this lifestyle to anyone unless they are in dire financial straits.  If you are pulling in much over a thousand dollars a month you should be able to afford to buy a cheap used ‘real’ RV and pay to camp somewhere legitimately.

Alternatively you could just take that van and go boondocking on BLM land in the middle of nowhere,  but that is assuming whatever income you have is portable…another subject altogether!


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