Friday, March 12, 2010

Is Stealth Important?

To say that in mobile/nomadic life, this subject comes up often would be an extreme understatement. So why if it has been given so much ink in the past would I bring it up yet again? Easy answer is because it is important and has such a huge impact on Vantramping and of course I have my own theories on it that may not be typical.

By "stealth" I mean being able to hide in plain sight, to blend in and thereby go unnoticed. The first question to answer really is do we need to concern ourselves with how stealthy we are?

In my very humble opinion, one of the most important factors that determine the need for stealth is the type of tramping one intends to do which takes into consideration, the locations they might find themselves in. The first thing to mention of course is quite obvious, there is no need to be covert when you are staying at an RV park or campground. That said, the following are a few examples of where stealth is actually quite important.

One of the more common situations is for those who have a job or other reason that keeps them in a specific area for an extended length of time. Usually, this would be an urban setting where available viable overnight parking areas would be limited. Remaining stealthy would be mandatory to preserve these limited parking spots for continued use over time.

Another scenario would be while traveling and coming into an area temporarily that is known to have strict parking enforcement and no available campgrounds or RV parks. Heidi and I dealt with this often during a time we spent in Carlsbad California during spring break. We were able to find available openings in the local State RV park only part of the time, the rest we spent in carefully scouted stealth parking spaces.

Finally, one last example that does require the vehicle to at least not resemble an RV is in the case where a HOA won't allow them to be parked at the house or on the street.

It is funny to me that almost without fail, the first style rig that people think of for stealth is a work/cargo van usually white with no windows or a box truck. I know the rationale behind it and for some purposes and situations I agree with that choice but definitely not all. Much like the critter in the picture above, to hide in plain site, one really needs to look like they belong where they are. If you are staying in a box van for example, any activity noticed after dark might prompt further investigation by law enforcement possibly believing a work vehicle is being broken into. Park a cargo van by a school or playground and you might also be scrutinized more thoroughly. Conversion vans are a common sight in all kinds of areas and can make for adequately stealthy rigs where needed.

Heidi and I do our best to look like tourists. Taj, even though she has no decals proclaiming her status as a Roadtrek RV, still has all the telltale signs of being a camper. The bikes on the back and the appliance vents and covers betray her attempts appear as a typical conversion van. Of course it doesn't help either that her occupants are not exactly quiet sleepers. Heidi sounds like a herd of chainsaws while sleeping and I have been told I make strange growling noises(though I am not sure there is any truth to that).

Heidi and I don't rely on being stealthy normally but in the event we need to, we always can fallback on the following proven tips. No matter what type of vehicle you have, keeping it in decent condition and looking decent will go along way in helping you go unnoticed when needed. When choosing a parking spot, consider how your vehicle looks and where it will fit in. We typically look for multi family dwellings where it isn't obvious which vehicles belong for example, near apartment buildings, hotels, etc. If you have a vehicle that looks like a work truck, a more industrial area might be well suited. Once the parking place is identified, make sure you are ready to sleep before you pull in for the night. If preserving the spot for future use is important to you, in the morning, you should get up and drive to a different location before getting active with breakfast and yes even coffee.

Overall, the need for stealth is dependent on the situation. Knowing how to be more stealthy if the need should arrise is just one more useful skill a wise vantramp can rely on to increase autonomy and flexibility.


  1. I've stayed overnight in a car, for various reasons, on several occasions, and as long as I've stayed on the edge of a district with apartment buildings, I've never had a problem. 24hr facilities usually work well, too -- supermarkets and fitness clubs.

    By the way, did you see the "iguana sitting on a branch" in your photo above?


  2. LOL! There is an iguana in the picture? Just kidding Rob, yeah, he is being stealthy :)


  3. Mike says... "I have been told I make strange growling noises(though I am not sure there is any truth to that)."

    Are you saying we should doubt Sweet Heidi's word?

  4. Yeah Ron, about this particular topic, I think her account may be, well, SUSPECT!!!

    I had to say it and somehow, I think I may pay for it! Sure man, Thanks for stirring the pot :)

    -Mike(who is already sorry)

  5. I think Sweet Ron has said it all.. "Sweet Heidi". Now does that sound like someone you can't trust?!!!

  6. Quit hiding behind that anonymous login Heidi LOL! Yeah ya got me, but now I know :) You really are SUSPECT!!!

    -Mike(Your quiet-while-sleeping husband!)

  7. Several good points. Yes, arrive late and depart early. Apartment complexes and hotels can be ideal. Vary your routine since regularity invites scrutiny.

    Google earth is an excellent tool for spotting suitable locations in apartment, condo or townhouse developments. Scout the aerial views for parking areas offering the greatest distance from the buildings, which are generally shunned by residents, and sometimes used for stray or infrequently used vehicles. Keep in mind some may have security at night. Check a few windshields for parking stickers or hotel authorization dashboard placards.

    If questioned (on the first night) just tell em you arrived in town late and intended to be first in the rental office the following morning.