For some van dwellers the whole point of the experience is to live life just below the radar so to speak. Most urban settings try to discourage, or have ordinances that make living in a vehicle something that the local authorities frown upon. To that end the information contained in this article is not intended to guide you in any efforts to circumvent any known laws or regulations.
The key to being stealthy is to not draw attention to yourself. The more “normal” you look for your surroundings the less likely it will be that some dude with a badge, gun, and drug/explosive sniffing dog will be giving your vehicle a thorough going over.
It would seem obvious that parking your plain white windowless van in front of the nearest federal building in the middle of the night might not be the best idea. Surprisingly the obvious is easily overlooked. Simple innocent mistakes will make you stick out like a sore thumb when all you want is a good nights sleep.
When someone is looking for vehicles that don’t belong what are the 4 items that will immediately send up the red flags.
1. Appearance: Is this the type of vehicle that should be parked in this location. A white cargo van would seem normal when parked on the street in front of a business that uses that type of vehicle. Delivery/service trucks belong in the industrial parts of a city. Park in front of a house in a residential section and the phones will be dialing in a matter of minutes. On the other hand a conversion/window van doesn’t look out of place in a residential setting. The same goes for a mini-van, the kind every soccer mom drives.
2. Light: Any light that escapes, and is visible from outside your van, is a dead giveaway. We all know that lights on means a drain on the battery, something not normal when an empty vehicle is parked for the night. If the smallest amount of light is visible you will be investigated. A windowless cargo van equipped with a commercial bulkhead behind the drivers compartment can eliminate this problem. If your van was setup in the snow belt it likely also has an insulation package that covers the bulkhead with a thick layer of foam that has a vinyl surface. By installing a door or covered passage through the bulkhead you can still have access to the cab, making a quick and easy escape possible when needed.
3. Movement: Unless you’re a 75 lb lightweight who can levitate, moving around inside your van will be visible from the outside. The simple act of rolling over in bed will cause your home on wheels to rock back and forth. Add squeaky springs and you might as well have red lights and an alarm announcing there’s someone inside.
4. Noise: The obvious would be a TV or radio playing, but you might not even know you snore like an old dull saw trying to cut timber. If a passerby even thinks they heard something they will freeze in their tracks until they confirm what and where the sound came from.
Conquer these four basic issues and likely the police cruiser on patrol won’t blink an eye at you. That is of course assuming that your only spending one night. Being in the same place night after night is still likely to draw unwanted attention.