Should I build a stealth campervan? Or should I forget about stealth and build the type of campervan that I want?
Most of us have asked ourselves questions like these prior to converting our own campervans. And after two years on the road, we firmly believe that building a stealth campervan is not only a bad idea, but also undermines your pursuit of living your van life dream.
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What Is A "Stealth Campervan"?
Stealth camping means to sleep overnight, usually in an urban environment, without drawing attention to yourself from strangers or even the police. A “stealth campervan”, therefore, is a vehicle designed to help someone stealth camp safely.
This means a stealth vehicle is designed to draw as little attention to itself as possible. This is usually achieved by keeping the outside of the campervan plain, basic, and, oftentimes, looking as similar to a construction/commercial vehicle as possible.
To achieve a truly stealthy campervan, people opt to forgo installing windows, ventilation fans, and even solar panels. These types of installations are usually dead giveaways that the vehicle is intended for living in.
Why Do Some People Desire A Stealth Campervan?
Though everyone lives their own version of “van life”, most people’s basic requirements are the same; stay safe & sleep overnight without being disturbed.
Whether we use our vehicles to travel or simply to live frugally in our cities, we want to live in our campervans without drawing attention to ourselves from antagonistic groups of people.
Therefore, a logical conclusion might be that in order to keep safe and remain undisturbed, we need to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves. And to achieve this, we need a stealth campervan.
Reasons Why A Stealth Campervan Is A Terrible Idea
Given the temptation to outfit a van to be as stealthy as possible, we believe designing and constructing a fully stealth campervan isn’t the way to go, no matter what it is that you want to get out of your van life experience.
We list our reasons why below.
1. Most Stealth Vans Fool Neither The Police Nor Would-Be Thieves
Campervans are becoming more ubiquitous by the day. Clearly “van life” is a growing trend and is here to stay. And therefore, more and more people are familiar with the common characteristics of a campervan.
- Are there solar panels affixed to the roof of the vehicle?
- Does the vehicle have a ventilation fan installed?
- Are there windows in the rear of the van?
- Are the license plates from out of state?
These are all dead giveaways that the vehicle is meant for living in.
And though a stealth van MIGHT fool the odd neighbor or two, they don’t fool the police or would-be thieves who are trained to look out for parked campervans, no matter the level of stealth.
2. Not Looking Like A Formal Campervan Looks Creepy
Even if you forgo all exterior installations, like a ventilation fan, or windows, let’s face it, commercial-looking vans that are parked in an unusual spot look creepy. A foreign-looking van in a neighborhood looks clearly out of place and sticks out in people’s minds.
Foreign vehicles or suspicious vehicles also attract attention and curiosity.
What’s inside the van? Who does it belong to? What is it’s purpose?
And when people don’t trust an unknown vehicle, they end up calling the police to investigate.
You may score free, undisturbed nights some of the time, but if you keep trying to stealth camp your way through van life, you will get plenty of knocks on your door.
3. A Stealthy Campervan Sacrifices Too Much Comfort
In order to really pass your vehicle off as an innocent commercial van and not a campervan, you’d have to sacrifice a lot of comfort.
This means forgoing a ventilation van, no solar panels, and usually no windows. Doing this you will achieve a perfectly bland, unassuming van exterior.
Can it be done? Yes.
But does it make van life enjoyable?
Without a fan, or windows, or even access to solar power, the internal comfort of the van is drastically reduced. Can you imagine trying to stealth camp on some street during a hot and humid summer night with your doors closed and unable to circulate any air inside?
Living in a vehicle long term already has it’s inconveniences. And without access to natural light or air circulation, or solar power, trying to live a stealthy lifestyle only exacerbates these inconveniences and makes van life harder to do in the long run.
4. There Are Many Legal & Safe Places To Park For Free
When traveling, there are enough free and safe places to park overnight that don’t require you stealth camp.
Authorized Parking Lots
Certain stores often allow overnight parking for campers. These stores include Walmart, Cabellas, Cracker Barrel, Home Depot, and Sam’s Club. Though not all of these stores allow overnight parking, so it’s best to ask a manager of the store to confirm.
Truck Stops & Rest Areas
When you’re on the road, major gas stations targeting the trucking business allow for overnight parking. These include businesses like Pilot and Flying J.
Many rest areas along the highway also allow for overnight parking.
BLM Land & National Forests
Especially if you are traveling in the western US, there are plenty of free overnight camp spots out in nature. Search online for locations of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land and national forests. Almost always there will be spots dedicated for campers that are legal, safe, and free.
Use The iOverlander App For More Information
We always use the iOverlander app to help give us suggestions where we can legally park overnight for free. If you’re not sure where you can park, give this app a try.
Alternatives To A Stealth Campervan
In our case, just because we don’t believe in building a pure stealth vehicle doesn’t mean we didn’t style our campervan a certain way to draw less attention to ourselves.
In fact, if you look at our campervan in the picture above, you’ll notice a few things we did to reduce attention.
1. Keeping Our Van The Manufactuered White
We kept the outside color of our van the same white as when our vehicle rolled off the factory floor. This, to some degree, helps keep our van looking like a regular commercial van.
2. Smaller RV Windows
Instead of going for the full frame windows in the back of our campervan, we opted for smaller, “half-slider” windows from Motion Windows.
3. No Roof Rack
We chose not to install a roof rack on our van’s roof to help keep the top of our van more streamlined and less of a head turner.
The downside to this means we ended up bolting our solar panels right onto our van’s roof, which means we will always be at risk for water leaks in the future.
4. Keeping Our Cab Clean
When we park our van in urban, public settings, we try to reduce our chance of theft by keeping the front of our can as clean and free of possessions as possible.
Your Campervan Is Your Home. Make It Comfortable!
Making your van comfortable and truly livable is the sustainable way to live and travel in your campervan for the long term. And we believe in order to create a livable campervan, above all, you need good, natural light and good ventilation.
For us, this means forgoing a truly stealth campervan look and installing windows and a ventilation fan on our roof.
We’ve traveled and lived in our campervan during hot and sweaty seasons, the rainy season, and through some pretty chilly winters. And a big reason why we were able to get through tough climate conditions is because the inside of our van is livable. We can get lots of natural light and a good breeze, when we need it.
Having good light and air in your van keeps you healthy, both physically and mentally. And when you’re healthy and happy in your home, you’ll have the energy and enthusiasm to really get out there and explore this world.
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