When you picture a 29’ Class C RV, “Stealth” isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind. But in my young RV Life, I was determined to be a stealth-nomad, flowing in and out of cities, flying under the radar and living free!
I’m not quite sure where the idea came from, but for some reason, when I first starting living full time in my RV, I equated “full-time RVer” with “Outlaw”. Who knows where I got the idea -or maybe it was just an excuse to let my inner outlaw/rebel come out to play. Or maybe, since,I was dropping out of society and living on the fringe, I thought I was suddenly invisible. Whatever the reason, I was convinced that normal rules and laws no longer applied to me. I scoffed at “No Parking” signs and laughed at warnings of “No Trespassing”. Nope- I’m FREE: mere mortals’ rules don’t apply to Tilly, Capone and me!
Boy, did I get a rude awakening!
Yeah, my 29’ Class C RV and me – not so invisible. And as FIVE security guards, cops and property owners told me in my first eight weeks of my new life, laws most certainly DO apply to me! Perhaps even more so now that I was living on the fringes; and in some peoples’ eyes a dirty, freeloading, homeless vagrant. (I also thought showering didn’t apply to me anymore either! When I do something, I go All In! lol).
It was a real wake up call.
I’d read a lot about stealth camping before I started my new life and I knew a 29’ monstrosity like Tilly would never exactly be “stealthy”. Still, being the rebellious person I am, I was determined to make it work. I spent about two months pushing my luck, determined to find places to ‘stealth’ camp in cities and towns around the Bay Area. I had some success, but also had more than my share of knocks on the door in the middle of the night or early in the morning, making me mosey on down the road!
Here is what I learned about stealth camping in a Class C RV:
No Trespassing means NO trespassing – even if you THINK no one is looking! Seriously I’d be on a desolate road or a gravel parking lot that seemed like no one EVER goes to, and sure enough, I’d get a visit from a farmer in a dually pick-up telling me to go: even when I gave them my “I’m a woman alone and need a safe place to park” spiel. They were nice about it, but still kicked me out.
Street Parking – In cities where you can find street parking, warehouse districts work well. You can even turn on the generator, because no one is around on nights and weekends. And on weekdays, it’s so noisy with big rigs, no one will notice your generator running.
However, it’s not always easy to find street parking. It’s amazing how many cities make it illegal to park on streets overnight. Just because you find a warehouse or commercial district, doesn’t mean you can park there. Woodland, CA for example, just off I-5, has absolutely NO Parking on any commercial or warehouse streets in the entire city! So, you either have to keep searching, go to another city or just take your chances (like I did and got kicked out in the middle of the night).
I’ve also had good luck parking overnight on streets near medical offices, apartment complexes and parks and baseball fields. As long as they’re away from houses and there aren’t any “No Parking” signs.
I also found that community colleges can be good places to park: when school is not in session (often Sundays and vacations). Otherwise permits are enforced and I learned the hard way, campus security will knock on your door at 7 am with an actual police officer and ask you to move. But if you know for certain the campus is closed, it can be a great place to park AND get free wi-fi! I stayed at a Community College in California for two or three nights.
New housing subdivisions are also great stealth camps! I’ve spent four or five nights in areas where new houses and neighborhoods are being built. The streets are there, maybe even the foundations of houses, but they’re not occupied yet. Park there when construction crews aren’t working or get in late and leave early before they get there. I stayed in one for 2 nights in a row and was never bothered. (Do a google search for “Model Homes” and you can often find new developments)
Walmart. We all know that Walmart is RV friendly and you can often park overnight there. Unfortunately, many cities aren’t as accepting of this practice and have local ordinances making it illegal to park overnight in Walmart parking lots. So, before you go parking in any old Walmart, check ahead of time to make sure it’s ok. Here’s the resource I use: http://www.walmartlocator.com/no-park-walmarts/. I’ve also seen RVs park overnight in Walmarts on the Do Not Park list (Medford, OR, for example). If you’re in a bind, go in and ask management. You may be able to get away with it if local law enforcement is lax.
I’ve stayed at a couple of Walmarts – one was loud and a little sketchy (Rancho Cordova, CA) and the other, quite pleasant (Gardnerville, NV). While Walmart is never my first choice, it works in a pinch -and beats getting a knock on the door in the middle of the night!
I’ve also stayed near Truck Stops, off remote country roads, boat launch parking lots (I got lucky on that one, the next night they closed and locked the gate!), residential streets where the houses are behind big brick sound-walls, dead end streets, parking lots behind warehouses and local and regional park parking lots that didn’t have “No overnight parking” signs.
Tips for successful stealth camping in a Class C RV:
- Don’t attract attention to yourself: If you must park someplace where sleeping on the street would be frowned upon, do your best to stay under the radar. Walk your dog somewhere else, so they don’t see you coming in and out of your RV. Leave your lights off or put up blackout curtains. Don’t run your generator and don’t put out your slides if you have them. Parking your RV on the street is not a problem – SLEEPING in it is. So we want to give the impression no one is inside.
- Explore the city or town you’re in for the best spot: Some of my best spots have been discovered by driving around. And sometimes, I just have to take a chance. Recently, in Medford Oregon, I camped near a warehouse in a gravel lot. I felt safe and slept well. I decided to stay put for a few hours in the morning and work and drink my coffee (it was a Sunday). I got a visit from the property owner telling me I couldn’t be there (even though there were no Private Property or No Trespassing signs). He was nice and explained that they’d had a lot of problems with vagrants. “in fact”, he said, “It’s not safe for you to be here.” Of course, “safe” is relative and the ‘vagrants’ could very well have been people just like me. Nevertheless, I moved on.
- Use Google Maps and Google Earth. This is one of my best resources for finding areas to park. You can look for parks, forest roads, commercial centers and medical parks and get street level views. This is very helpful! You can also Google search “warehouse space for lease”. This usually gives me an address so I can find the warehouse district.
- Ask people. I was once kicked out of a community college by a Police Officer who, when I asked where a better place to park might be, gave me the name of a business owned by a friend of his who wouldn’t mind me being there overnight. Of course, the conversation was completely off the record. But he was very helpful. As a woman, I find most men want to help me if I pull the “I want to feel safe” card.
All in all, my outlaw days are mostly behind me. I prefer the safety and solitude of the forest and no longer need to stay near cities and towns. But there are times it can’t be avoided and I’d rather take my chances stealth camping than spending $35-$50 to stay in an RV/Trailer park jam packed with residential mobile homes.
What are some of your questions/concerns/experiences stealth camping? I’d love to hear from you.