Where do you park?
Livin' in a van in a city actually kinda sucks.
There are a lot of benefits to living in a van, and I know many people who chose to do the vanlife thing in a city. It's great for them! But in my experience, it kinda sucks. That's why, after getting stuck in Grand Junction Colorado for a week and then getting even more stranded back in Santa Cruz for a few weeks, I decided to put together a little guide for staying happy and sane in the van in a city/town. Hopefully this will help y'all out if you have to hang out in a mechanics shop for a bit longer than you would have liked.
1. Where do you park?
When I park in the city I try my very best to park in front of or nearby my friends houses. This is the ideal scenario. That way I have people near me who know what I’m doing and who I am in case of an emergency. This also means I can have access to a bathroom, and typically a wifi connection as well. I also make sure to switch it up as often as I can so I’m not becoming a burden on my friends! Remember, if you stay at someones house (or in front of it) do your best to still be a good house guest. Take out their trash, do their dishes, cook them a meal, buy them a six pack and don’t overstay your welcome!
If you don’t know anyone in the city you have a few options.
Walmarts. It’s not great but it goes.
Nearby BLM land. If you are in a city that is surrounded by BLM land (Bureau of land management) you can park legally on that land for 14 days, it’s public land and it belongs to you!
Stealth camping. Stealth camping is parking discretely on neighborhood streets and hoping no one notices you. This is my least favorite way to camp but I’ve done it and it goes. Stealth camping is staying up late and getting up early, moving your van as often as possible and hoping for the best. Things that help when stealth camping include cracking your windows so your breathing doesn’t fog up the windows, getting ready for bed and THEN moving to your place to sleep for the night, leaving your lights off once you get to your spot and going straight to sleep. It sucks, but it goes.
2. Where do you get water?
I get water in 3 places. The gym, gas stations, hose water from a friends house, and other. My gym, and many other gyms, has a little water filling station. This is the easiest place to fill up on water. The second place you can get water from is gas stations. Most gas stations have a spigot on the side of the building where you can fill up on water. Hose water from a friends house is self explanatory, I wouldn’t recommend doing this all the time, unless you have a really good friend who doesn’t mind. Finally, some places give away water for free! Like public parks, and some gear shops. Gearheads in Moab Utah gives away free water all the time. So keep your eyes peeled and get creative.
3. Where do you shower?
I shower at the gym. Having a gym membership is crucial to living comfortably in a van. If you don’t want a gym membership, or you are only passing through the city you can usually purchase a shower for $5 or so from the recreation center. This has been my beta for most cities I pass through and it seems to work well. Other places to look for showers include hostels, public pools and some major gas stations as well.
4. Where do you go to the bathroom?
I have a Nalgene water bottle that I pee in! When its full I dump it on some plants or down the storm drain. If I have to poop I make it to the nearest gas station or public restroom. This is another reason that parking near your friends houses is good. Also, I haven’t personally done this but I know a lot of people who have and that is making good use of wag bags. Wag bags are little portable toilets that you can buy at any outdoor shop, and you just do your business in them and then throw them away. Its mess free and easy to keep around! I keep one in my van at all times for emergencies. But the easiest thing is to go to a public bathroom, think parks, gas stations, libraries, coffee shops and so on.
5. What do you do about safety?
Safety is really just being smart. The safest place to stay in a city is 20 miles out of it. Less people = less crime. But when staying in a city I always lock my door. Park my van near my friends houses if I can, keep my valuables out of sight or on my person and be in constant communication with the people who love you and tell them where you are. Safety is important.