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:
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.
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.
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!