Vanlife has been widely glorified on social media, and it really can be an awesome way to live minimally and travel, and live life to the fullest for those with a perpetual travel itch. Still, the realities of vanlife, like any other lifestyle, are not always Instagram perfect. This can even be true when you’re renting a camper van, however well you might plan your trip. 

One of the major question marks in most people’s minds about setting out on a van camping adventure is where they’ll be parking, especially if there’s more than one destination. Of course you can plan this out and avoid any mishaps, but many people may want to take a more spontaneous approach. In either case, it’s a good idea to know your options. 

So, here are some guidelines on the types of places you might want to park. 

Public Land

This is usually what we expect from camping, as it includes national parks, state parks, and BLM land. While you can pay for the campgrounds with facilities, there’s also plenty of dispersed camping that’s free for up to 14 days, and BLM land is typically free as well. There are even apps for finding the free camping spots. 

Of course, when you choose the free spots, you get seclusion and low cost, but not facilities like wifi or showers, so that’s something to keep in mind. The more secluded campsites also tend to be somewhat harder to get to, down long and/or bumpy roads. For the adventurous, the pristine nature and seclusion can be well worth it. 

Urban Steal Camping

This is a riskier form of camping, where you essentially park overnight on streets, in neighborhoods, industrial areas, or otherwise in urban environments. While it’s not always technically illegal to do so, various places have different attitudes about it, and if anyone complains, there’s a chance you may get kicked out by security or even the police. 

The best way to go about this type of camping is, as you might have guessed, to be stealthy. Don’t make it obvious that you’re camping, try to block out any light from coming out of your windows, leave as early as possible in the morning, try to park in places where there won’t be too many people around, and accept the possibility that you may be asked to leave. 

Parking Lots

On the other hand, there are some nights when you may end up simply hunkering down in a parking lot. It’s not glamorous, but at times it’s the most practical choice. One added benefit is that you are near everything you might need, so it’s not a bad option for one night if you want to go for a supply run between destinations. 

You’ll want to stick to the larger big box stores, those that are most friendly to overnight parking are Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, Bass Pro Shop, Cabelas, and generally grocery or hardware stores. It’s generally always a good idea to call and ask. 

Private Land

This is one you’ll be paying for, but it can be a great option and relatively private at times. There are various website that serve as platforms for landowners and campers to find one another, and among them is Air BnB, where campsites are often listed just like lodging. 

Other places you can find landowners willing to host campers is on:

  • Boondockers Welcome, where you only have to pay a yearly fee of $30 and then the hosts you find let you stay for free (for brief stays).
  • Harvest Hosts allows you to park at farms, wineries, breweries, and similar businesses for $79 per year, although you’re sort of expected to purchase products as well. 
  • HipCamp is basically a camping website exactly like Air BnB.