How Van Dwellers Can Find Parking (the easy way)

 

Parking for van dwellers--especially finding the right spots--wastes time and endangers your safety. This post shows you the easy way to scout for spots.

Parking can make or break your van dwelling experience, because it’s all-too-easy to get on the shit list of local law enforcement. The first step is to know the laws of your state and city, so you know the risks involved and the importance of being prepared.

After you understand the laws, you need to find legal parking spots—and if you’re about to drive to an unfamiliar city, you might wonder how you can find parking if you can’t drive around and see the best spaces for yourself.

The answer? Do what I call virtual reconnaissance. Using a satellite-based map app, follow this formula for your first night:

  • Scout for these locations:
    • Schools—and steer clear.
    • Hotels—see if they have packed parking lots with lots of hidden parking.
    • Apartment complexes—they have marked spaces for reserved and guest parking.
    • Residential streets with plenty of cars, empty lots, and side-angled houses.
  • Mark down coordinates for the spaces you like and prioritize them.
  • Visit each one at night in order of priority until you find one that feels right. Once you narrow down a few, you can cycle between them.

Here are some examples:

Parking for van dwellers--especially finding the right spots--wastes time and endangers your safety. This post shows you the easy way to scout for spots.

The green marker shows a 24-hour gym where I have a membership. I might park there if it is busy at night based on the popular times stats from Google Maps. Being physically there, I could not see through the trees and thought nothing of it. Once I looked at the map, though, I realized that there is a school directly across the street! Common sense will tell you it is not okay for a person who lives out of their car to be this close to a school. Period.

Parking for van dwellers--especially finding the right spots--wastes time and endangers your safety. This post shows you the easy way to scout for spots.

Having lived in apartment complexes, I know that some spots are reserved for the residents, and some spots are available for visitors. This parking choice is extremely risky but may work if you are good at stealth: arriving late, leaving early, not drawing attention to yourself. It would be even easier if you knew someone at the complex and paid them for their reserved parking pass. The photo to the left shows visitor parking at an apartment complex hidden by some trees.

Parking for van dwellers--especially finding the right spots--wastes time and endangers your safety. This post shows you the easy way to scout for spots.

When parking in residential areas, it may make sense to look before you drive in circles over and over, and it’s actually very easy. I found my first potential spot to the right. The road has other cars, and trees cover much of the area. Who knows how long it may have taken me to find a spot like this at night. Next to this spot is a house with its side facing me, not any front windows or doors. It’s the perfect place to rest safely.

Of course, have backup spaces in mind. This method does not replace being there in person and getting a feel for the area. Trust your feelings.

This tool can save you time and preserve your safety. Become more aware of the total situation and locations you have chosen. You can also plan escape routes and find the nearest restrooms. Happy camping!

Parking for van dwellers--especially finding the right spots--wastes time and endangers your safety. This post shows you the easy way to scout for spots.

7 Replies to “How Van Dwellers Can Find Parking (the easy way)”

  1. escape roots, how funny. that never even crossed my mind but good idea. And I never thought about the school issue, great point.

    My regular spots were: free camp grounds, wal-mart, home depot, rest areas, truck stops. I was surprised to see some of my odd-ball parking was on your list too: side streets, apt complexes and hotels. There also was: convenience store, 24-hr McDonald’s, Hospitals and back woods. I’ve also stayed in national/state park overflow camp parking & trail heads. This is risky cause it’s not allowed but i was lucky. There’s also disbursed camping in national/state forests and BLM lands.

    I guess I can’t stress enough (if your readers see this) the importance of stealth. I was in stealth mode before I ever bought the van and chose a common minivan over a full size or my fav the VW van because they blend in much better. Who would think someone was living in a family car.

    Really enjoying your site, and getting “homesick”

  2. I live in a city apartment complex right now and am preparing for this on the road life… Your article and info about the APP is excellent… however, based on my own sightings here where I currently live, I’d say try to avoid apartment complexes. Our guests here MUST have a guest pass hanging from their rear view mirror or they DO get towed and towing trucks are always on the prowl, from about 7p in some places to even all day and night in others… so although the advice is good for smaller towns, in bigger cities it could prove expensive and kind of strange or even scary to wake up in tow…. be safe!

    1. Good call Christina! Yes, apartment complexes in bigger or even medium-sized cities can be a bad choice. It’s all about doing plenty of research and really knowing the area inside and out to know if you’re going to be towed or not. Thanks for the comment!

  3. We’ve lived in our suv for 2 years now. 24 hr parking was best, but the condensation gave us away and ruined our electrical in the winter. Still working on that problem. Finding a great spot is heaven, but with it comes all your neighbor van dwellers, which can be nice if they are clean. BAD gross experience with younger dwellers throwing their… “girl stuff” on the street 🙁 Favorite spots were on the beach, oh and motels. I would sit and wait in my bathing suit for a group going to the pool and walk in with them. Worst place. Large cities where you have to pay for parking EVERYWHERE. There we paid overnight parking and stayed in parking garages. Really nice when it’s cold outside. We love living on the road. Thanks for your share.

  4. As of Monday December 18, 2017 I am now living in my car. The last 2 nights I have slept in rest areas and I just got shoo’d out of the Walmart parking lot even though it showed up on an App for safe places to park. Its 2 am and don’t feel safe sitting in this other nearby shopping center here in Pompano Beach FL. I’ve seen several random people walking around and the McDonald’s keeps their bathroom doors locked because of vagrants leaving a mess.
    This isn’t my normal lifestyle but 2017 has been such a crappy year. I haven’t been able to find a decent job and my lease was up. I decided I’d rather struggle down in Florida instead of Indiana. Now just trying to grasp this new found lifestyle and learn the secrets to be successful at it. I appreciate any insights you can provide.

    1. Hi Nicole. I am happy to help. You are not alone. Email me anytime at jacobthenomad@gmail.com and we can start working out solutions one-on-one. I am also happy to answer any questions in the comments. Have you taken steps to make yourself and your vehicle as stealthy as possible? That will usually be the first thing I recommend. It is usually the best thing to improve your safety, and to keep those who’d want to shoo you away from noticing.

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