Van life isn’t just about mountain views and wide-open spaces (although we are big fans of those!). Urban van life can provide an affordable alternative to rising housing costs, and the freedom to choose your location coupled with city amenities. We’ve taken a look at van life in a city can look like in our new YouTube series, Van Life(style). Now we’re giving you our best tips and tricks for making urban van life as safe and easy as possible.
OVERNIGHT PARKING AND SLEEPING
One of the most common questions we get about urban van life is, where do you sleep when you are in the van in the city? The go-to spots are generally residential neighborhoods or business parking lots that allow overnight parking, but this varies widely between each city.
Check iOverlander and FreeCampsites.net for commonly used spots. Many of them come with photos and reviews from other van lifers and overlanders who have stay in the spot before. If you are using these types of sites, try not to park directly at the pin drop. Go a few blocks away so the exact pin location doesn’t get overused.
There are two hard and fast rules of stealth and urban van camping: be safe and be respectful. All of our tips for where and how to sleep in an urban area have to do with one of these two rules.
Your safety is the number one priority. If you find yourself in a bad neighborhood, it is worth taking the time to drive across town to park in a safer location. Keep your van locked at all times while stopped, even (and especially) if you are inside of it. If you can, find different places to sleep each night, or keep a handful of places on rotation. Mix it up and keep your habits unpredictable to avoid unnecessary interest in you and your home on wheels.
Make your van as stealthy as possible. Use window covers, keep any identifiable features on the outside of your van to a minimum, and avoid opening your sliding door. If you get the dreaded “knock,” keep the doors locked, move to the driver’s seat, and roll down the window part way. Avoid “the knock” and any expensive parking tickets by always paying close attention to street signs and parking limits.
In each place you park for the night, have a clear exit in case you run into trouble. Make sure you have a clear path to drive away quickly at any time, know where your keys are, and keep your driver’s seat clear of clutter so that you can easily make an exit if needed.
The second priority when van camping in urban areas is to be a good van life ambassador. Be respectful of peoples homes and neighborhoods. If you park in front of someone’s house and they ask you to move, be courteous and move to the next available parking spot. When you are at your overnight spot, don’t play loud music or set anything up outside your van.
Be aware of your surroundings, don’t park in front of driveways, gates, etc. Dispose of waste properly and treat residential neighborhoods as you would a pristine wilderness area: leave it better than you found it.
If you park in the lot of a business that allows overnight parking, such as a Cracker Barrel, casino, or Walmart, go inside and at least get a coffee or tea in the morning if you can. You don’t have to spend a lot, but it is pretty cool that certain businesses allow people to sleep in their lots overnight, let’s return the favor!
For a glimpse of what van night life in a city looks like, check out our YouTube video “Van Life: City Nights” below.
DAYTIME TIPS AND TRICKS
When it comes to urban van camping, it is best to arrive late and leave early. Only use your sleep spot for sleeping. This means you If you need a place to park during the day to do work, explore the city, or just hang out and relax in your van. Utilize public parks, libraries, shopping mall parking lots, and other places where parking for an extended period of time is free.
Take advantage of shore power whenever you have it. City living can mean less time spent in the sun to charge your house battery via solar and less time spent on the road charging your house battery from the alternator. Be smart about power consumption during the day to ensure you don’t run out at night when you need power the most. When you need wifi, use free public spaces like the library to avoid unnecessary expenses that might pile up at a coffee shop.
If you need a place to spend the evening, make dinner, and relax before heading to your overnight spot to sleep, we recommend using public parks and urban trailheads. These places generally close around sunset, which is a great time to put up your window covers and drive to your sleep spot for the night. Don’t sleep where you plan to spend most of your time during the day and move your van first thing in the morning so you don’t draw attention to yourself.
Take advantage of the city amenities such as gyms, rec centers, laundromats, and coworking spaces. These are some of the biggest advantages of living the van life in a city instead of a mountain town or rural area. You have access to all the resources you need to make van living more comfortable.
Make sure to check out our YouTube video “Urban #VanLife: Day in the Life” below!