A few days ago we started to talk about van life and we listed all the pros and cons of living in a van.
If the willingness to endure all the cons in order to enjoy all the pros had the best over your decision and you opted for this kind of lifestyle, then we can get to the next level and explore the many van life tips and ideas.
What are the best hacks for living in a van? What are the ultimate ideas that you could apply to your new life in your new vehicle? Here are Apache Pine’s best tips for living in a van.
The ultimate van life tips
The best way to keep your van life safe and unbothered is to blend in with the rest of the vans that drive around and that are not lived in. So when creating your van, don’t make it too easy to understand from outside that you live in it.
This will allow you to park it more easily on the side of the street if you don’t know where else to park and it will also keep burglars away, as they won’t see it as a vehicle containing much stuff to steal.
So in a way, the best thing you can do to keep your van safe is to embrace the stealth van life and not stand out too much. This is going to be very useful when living in urban areas especially and a bit less necessary when spending time in natural environments. Nevertheless, never make it too obvious.
Also, don’t be too flashy in terms of colors and stickers. Even if you can easily find a legal parking spot where to spend the night, not everyone appreciates van lifers, relating them to a culture that, unfortunately, falls victim of many unpleasant prejudices. Someone might notice that you are spending more than one night in the neighborhood and might report you to the police, or target you in other ways. So be polite and don’t attract too much attention.
Also, blackout your windows or use curtains so that people can’t see inside and realize you sleep in there.
If you have a luggage carrier on your roof, make sure people can't see what you carry on it, so it will be safe and untouched, and your privacy will be respected.
For the same reasons, move around as much as you can. When in the city, never park for two nights in a row in the same spot, especially if you are boondocking. Not only it’s not safe, but it might draw people’s attention and you might end up being bothered by them or the authorities. If you want to “disappear” for a few days, consider the option of staying at a camping site, where you can also wash your laundry and take showers easily, or in natural environments not far from the city in general.
Generally speaking, move around.
Where to sleep when living in a van
The most important thing when picking a spot where to sleep is to make sure that what you are doing is legal. This not only will allow you to not be bothered by the authorities, but it will also allow you to draw less attention.
When out in nature, some places require a permit. Some of these permits are daily permissions, some others allow you to stay as much as you want. Some others will just allow you in, but you will still have to pay if you want to sleep there too. Many Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service allow boondocking outside many of their developed campgrounds.
The best way to understand how it works is to do your research and plan ahead of time, so you won’t end up with unpleasant surprises.
When you are in a city, the best place to park is where you see that other cars are left too. In many cities is perfectly fine to park on the streets in the same places where locals park their vehicles too, as far as you are 100% sure that what you are doing is legal. This should be pretty much your mantra.
Another thing you might want to consider is to speak with friends who have a garden and ask them if they can host you for a night or two a month. You can pay them back with a dinner, or some other kind of treat, or you might offer to watch their dog, their house, or water their plants while they are gone.
If you are a member at a gym or if you hang out somewhere where you pay for a service or a product and they have a private parking spot, you might want to ask them to spend the night there, so you will be safer and legal.
As we said earlier, you might want to consider the hypothesis of a camping site for a few nights every now and then, or the parking lot of motels and similar places, where to pay for a shower the next day.
Where not to sleep when living in a van
Of course, common sense here plays a big part and after a little while spent living in a van you will know how to recognize these places at a glance. Generally speaking, avoid all spots that are illegal. If something can’t be done, don’t do it.
If you are looking at something legal, then ask yourself if that same place is sketchy. When you are in a city, try to understand which one is the good part of the city and which are the places that you really should avoid. If you don’t see any car parked around you, then don’t park there yourself either.
If you are in a rather residential area, avoid parking in front of people’s houses, as they know which are the cars that usually park on that street and they might get suspicious. This is true, of course, unless you have some friend living there or if you bonded with someone in the community.
What to do if you get “caught”
Given that you are doing something that, as we said, is 100% legal and given that you know that you are not breaking any rule, then what to do if authorities knock at your door while you are inside the van or you are sleeping?
Now, there mainly are two “schools” for this. Some people just don’t answer. If they are completely and absolutely certain that what they are doing is legal, then they just keep it quiet and pretend they are not in there.
If you don’t want to “risk” it or if you are not so positive, then the best thing to do is to open the door and talk to them. Be honest and be collaborative: they are not bad people to scare away, they might just want to check if everything is okay, or they might got a phone call from someone in the neighborhood and they are doing their job.
If they ask you if you live in the van, then you might tell them a little white lie and explain that you are just traveling and spending the night there to move on to the next city the following day.
Unless they told you everything is perfectly fine, we advise moving the van as soon as the authorities go away and pick a place where you won’t draw so much attention.
Keep it clean
This is probably one of the most precious advices of all times. Keep your van clean and tidy. Address a couple of days a week to drive it somewhere where you can clean it properly, taking out stuff and air what needs to be aired. You can even take it to a car wash station, just don’t draw too much attention on the amount of stuff you have in your van.
Keep your things tidy. Assign a place and an order to everything, use your space smartly and in general try to invent storage place even where you didn’t think it was possible. If you want to be a van lifer, you must be clever and enrich your van with smart solutions that will allow you to store your stuff more and better.
Also, keep yourself clean too. Keep your hair washed and trimmed properly, don’t slack on your decor and in general don’t overlook the importance of minding your own hygiene. It’s not just a matter of common sense (hint hint!) but it’s also and foremost a matter of health. The amount of diseases that you could get for not being clean and tidy enough are many and unpleasant, and you might end up having to disinfest the whole van after - which could be quite uncomfortable, as you won’t have a place to sleep.