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Van Dwelling/Parking

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Selecting a Parking Spot

The choice of a parking spot is one of the most critical decisions a vehicle dweller will make. The choice of parking spot for a night will have much to do with safety, security, quality of sleep, and avoidance of police. Considering the fact that more and more communities are passing laws that make it illegal to sleep in a vehicle, stealth is of utmost importance if in the city. If one is boondocking in the wilderness, this is of little consideration. So, the choice of parking spot creates an incredible challenge. Let us consider several different scenarios, and analyze the pros and cons of each.

Forested Wilderness[edit | edit source]

From the standpoint of safety, security, and a quiet night's sleep, nothing is likely to be better than a heavily forested location miles and miles from civilization, parked next to a creek or river. The serene surrounding and gentle sound of flowing water quickly settles me down and allows me to get right to sleep. This is usually known as "dispersed camping" or "boondocking". It is allowed on many types of public lands. Sometimes a permit in required from the government agency that manages the land.

Finding such spots is not difficult in some parts of the country, such as the Rocky Mountain region, Pacific Northwest, and central Appalachians, but may be much more difficult in other parts of the United States. Your mileage may vary in other countries.

A significant downside to living in these areas is also the reason you are there: The remoteness. Being so remote also means you are far from gas stations and grocery stores and other conveniences of modern life.

Desert and Plains[edit | edit source]

Parking in a remote area typically avoids problems from other people.

There is a lot of this land and many people congregate for certain seasons in these open areas. You can usually be closer to civilization and have more of a community atmosphere, but noise and other things that come along with being around other Homo sapiens can be a negative. I have never done this before, so somebody else could fill this in better.

City Camping: Residential[edit | edit source]

When van dwelling in an urban environment, you pretty much have three choices of places to park: Residential, commercial, and industrial areas.

The beauty of residential areas is that it is usually common to have cars on the street at night, so it is potentially easy to blend in, depending on what kind of vehicle you have. It is less common in wealthier neighborhoods to see vehicles on the street, and you should also be aware of crime rates in the neighborhood you choose to inhabit.

Living in a large cargo van makes me shy away from parking in most residential areas, as the vehicle just doesn't fit in as well.

City Camping: Commercial Areas[edit | edit source]

An RV parked in an urban area.

Retail and business sectors are my preferred parking areas for my cargo van. It is not unusual to see large cargo vans, box vans, and other commercial-looking vehicles in these parts of town, since many businesses use them as service and delivery vehicles. When stealth is of the utmost importance, commercial/business parks are the cream of the crop. Not only are larger vehicles commonly parked overnight in these parts of town, it is also common to see smaller cars in these areas because there are night crews doing stocking, cleaning, customer service, etc. It also helps to strap a disguise on your van. So if you park by a plumbing supply it helps to put magnets on van that says "Bobs Plumbing" and add PVC pipe on the roof.

City Camping: Industrial Sectors[edit | edit source]

Industrial zones are typically noisier and dirtier than most other parts of cities. These areas are also more likely to have 24-hour operations, which mean more people coming and going during the night. Private security is also more abundant near industrial facilities. This increases the likelihood of somebody seeing you come and go, or of having your window tapped on in the middle of the night. In large metropolitan areas, crime rates also tend to escalate near large industrial areas. To me, these are all reasons to avoid industrial parts of town.

Designated Sites[edit | edit source]

A camper van in a rural area.

If one is driving an RV, there may be campsites that allow one to park without worry of concealment. These sites also often provide a variety of amenities. Of course the downside to this service is that it costs money, which adds up to considerable amounts for long term van dwelling.

Summary: The Best Parking Place?[edit | edit source]

I personally find the best possible parking spot to be a quiet, low-traffic dead end piece of road with several other vehicles parked nearby on the border between a middle-class residential neighborhood and a large office or retail park. My van typically fits in perfectly in this sort of place and I tend to feel safe and secure knowing other people are nearby.

Other Ideas[edit | edit source]

Finding the perfect parking space can be a challenge.

Many websites offer tips on parking. In general parking relates to the concept of movement discipline. Have checklists in the vehicle (a good idea in general) like those of an airline pilots, and go through your checklist each time you move the vehicle.

Here are a few discreet parking strategies.

With intent to leave:

  • Park in areas of high visibility to deter theft.

With intent to stay:

  • If you have a cohort, they can park the van for you practically anywhere that allows overnight parking. To external observers it would appear as though your cohort had simply parked the van and left. If you have a van with a barrier you may consider simply getting in the back of the van to start with (although that may arouse suspicion), or driving into an alley or some unobservable place and transfer to the back there.
  • Park in the very early hours of the morning, and shut your door as though you had left.
  • Park so as to obscure visibility of your entrance.
  • Park the van as if to leave it overnight and return to it later. Be aware of who is watching you. Not recommended in residential areas where you cannot be sure if you are being watched, except for late at night.
  • Always park near other vans.
  • In winter park in sunlight, and summer in shade. Try to find areas which will consistently be in the sun or shade as the day progresses.
  • Avoid parking in front of someone's house in a residential neighborhood, unless you plan on leaving early in the morning. Some residential areas that are mainly apartment complexes are better, where the people living there don't own the property, but people who own their own homes tend to believe that the curbside in front of their house is their property too, even though it is city property, and they might call the police on you.
  • If you need to be in a city, try parking near a college or university. It is borderline acceptable that some college students are poor and live in vehicles, and most of the facilities on college campuses such as bathrooms, gym showers, and library are available to anyone.

Also truck stops, rest areas and Walmart lots are usually good spots to park and sleep.