Updated: Jul 15
Photo source - super troopers (Fox)
Hi everybody, today we are going to cover something a little bit different that we have not covered before. Although we have never covered it before we have always believed that being stealthy is very important for FULL TIME van lifers and in the current climate it is becoming more apparent to most people.
We keep reading in facebook groups about people beeping their horns at van lifers early in the morning, banging on vans and windows at night and the most popular post we are seeing is about people getting "the knock"
The nock is when the police bang on your windows or vans at night to try and wake you up to tell you to move and this can't be pleasant and will likely leave people shaken and probably slightly upset or worried.
Why they are knocking on campervan doors and windows in the middle of the night is a mystery to us for many reasons. Firstly there is enough actual crime they could be spending their time trying to sort out and above all parking offences are a civil matter not a criminal matter but nether the less they still do it and use any old excuse they can think of to do it including welfare check, suspicious van reports or the lesser spotted this is a popular dogging location.
Thankfully I personally have never had any hostilities from any locals, a knock in the middle of the night or had any trouble from anyone anywhere in the past three years that I have been full time in my van and this is not pure luck it is by design.
I have never wanted to get the knock, I have never wanted to annoy or make any locals feel uncomfortable in their own surroundings and I just wanted to fly under the radar without having to argue my case to anybody or give them my whole life story so I learned to be as stealth as possible, now it's your turn. I hope you all find it helpful!
How To Be Stealth In Van Life And Go Unnoticed...
HOW TO BE STEALTH
Being stealth has a lot to do with how your van looks but it also has a lot to do about the way you act and conduct yourself so before we get into making your van look stealth we are going to talk a little bit about how to act in order to be stealthy.
ARRIVE LATE & LEAVE EARLY
The first rule of being stealth is arrive late and leave early, this rule is my number one rule and has never failed me, turning up somewhere just before you are ready to settle down for the night and leaving just after you wake up is the easiest way to go unnoticed.
Curtain twitchers and nosey neighbours are your biggest enemy if you are trying to be stealth and most of the time if the police are going to turn up it will because somebody with no sense of adventure has called them to report you. The best way to avoid them is waiting until it gets dark and they close their curtains to park up and to leave in the morning as soon as your are awake.
If they don't see you arrive and your van looks stealthy enough they will have no clue that you are in there.
Photo source - Daily Star
There are plenty of places to park during the day until it gets dark where you can leave your doors open, play your music at full volume, bbq and even set up a drive away awning without anybody batting an eyelid at you, so stay there and enjoy your freedom until you are ready to settle down for the night as most places only have restrictions on motorhomes and overnight camping. Then as soon as you wake up move your van to another location before you start to shower, cook or even have a coffee because again most places only have restrictions on overnight camping and also you will get your pick of the best parking spots early in the morning.
Basically annoying locals in any way or form is not the way forward at all, the key is to not get noticed by them not anger them. Don't be that suspicious van that turned up this morning and was still there at 9pm... that is asking for trouble because locals will be getting anxious be it in a town centre outside somebodies house or in a isolated car park that somebody walks their dog past three times a day.
Another argument for arriving late and leaving early is the less time you spend in that location the less likely anybody is going to randomly notice you but if they do by the time they have phoned the police to complain and it to be registered and for somebody to actually attend you will most likely be gone anyway.
DON'T PARK IN THE SAME PLACE TWICE
Ok so the title of this section is a little bit misleading and it doesn't actually mean you can't ever return to the same spot twice but the more you return to the exact same location the more likely you are to be noticed by the same person on multiple occasions. Even if you had 14 locations and you used each once every two weeks there is a good chance that somebody will start noticing you.
There are literally millions of suitable locations to park for the night, even if it is just 200 meters up the road from somewhere you have parked before it is better than returning back to the exact same spot where somebody might have noticed you before.
NEVER park in the same place for two nights in a row, if somebody notices you on the first night you can bet your bottom dollar they will be looking out for you again on the next night.
Choosing somewhere suitable to park up for the night is also very important when it comes to being stealth so in some cases just turning up late and leaving early will not work.
The more isolated you are the more likely you are to stick out like a sore thumb even in the middle of nowhere. If a police car on its rounds at night came across a van parked in a lay-by in the middle of nowhere there is a good chance they will pull into the lay-by and check your van out at the very least. There is a lot of crime in rural areas at night so suspicious vans are top priority to rural police and when they do a check on your van and realise it is registered to an address miles away from your location it will only raise their suspicions more.
Yes it 's the dream to wake up to an amazing view but is it worth the risk? The view will still be amazing if you got there after you wake up.
In most city centre or town locations the arriving late and leaving early method will work without a problem but there are a few exceptions that are likely to annoy locals and get you noticed.
Streets with limited on street parking, yeah ok we pay our road tax and we have an MOT so we are allowed to park anywhere we like but taking somebody's regular parking spot outside there house is not cool really and will get you noticed.
Just imagine the shoe was on the other foot and somebody had parked up in the spot outside your house where you park your pride and joy so you can keep your eye on it from your window. The street has limited parking and there is now nowhere for you to park your van. Not only would this slightly annoy you but it might also void your insurance policy if it was parked on another street as you have to tick a box to say it is kept at the address or on the street outside the address etc and we all know insurance companies look for any reason not to pay out.
So for the reason above don't park directly outside anybody's house, another reason why you should not park directly outside somebody's house is you might scare them. This is another thing you need to look at from somebody else's point of view.
Imagine you had no idea what van life was (as a lot of people don't) and a random van with somebody living in it was parked up outside your family house where your children play in the front garden. It has a window in the back at that is weird for a van but not only that it is blacked out so whoever is in the van can see you but you can't see them... would you be a little bit worried or would you just shrug it off? The chances are there will be a photo of your van on local facebook groups in no time at all and that is not very stealth now is it!
Also never park in a cul-de-sac as you will get noticed immediately.
LEAVE NO TRACE
So this won't really help you go unnoticed whilst you are parked up but it is a good way to keep your favourite locations/areas safe to return to if you ever wanted to. It is also a very good way to live your life in the first place so why not.
Leave no trace basically means leave the area exactly as you found it so leave no litter, don't use it as a toilet and basically keep it clean and respect it so it gives nobody a reason to have a problem with you. You could also take it one step further if you have the time and clean up other peoples rubbish and litter and leave it looking nicer than you found it.
DON'T BREAK ANY RULES
Breaking rules is the fastest way to get yourself noticed so don't break any, this means obey all parking restrictions no matter how official they are!
Photo source - https://www.outandaboutlive.co.uk/
We see posts in facebook groups on a daily basis with pictures of NO OVERNIGHT PARKING signs and NO MOTORHOME signs in car parks that are questionable in authority to say the least and a lot of people who are clued up on the law can see through them straight away and tell people to ignore the sign and ignore any tickets that they get because they are not legally enforceable blah blah blah
We don't disagree with the above in most cases however these signs tell us something very important and that is that at least somebody is getting very annoyed with people staying there overnight in vehicles and they are trying to do something to stop it.
This is no good if you are trying to be stealth, don't poke the bear. Yes you probably have a good argument if the police turn up but that involves them turning up in the first place and that is more hassle that it is worth.
Make sure if you are staying in or using a car park in and way at all to follow all of the rules on the sign including height and weight restrictions, overnight rules, park inside the bays not across three etc.
DON'T PARK IN GROUPS
This should go without saying really but park by yourself nowhere near any other van lifers and whatever you do don't set up camp near a group of other van lifers.
If you think people get nervous when one random van parks outside their house wait to see how worried they get when a group of vans park up on their street. This is a big no no NEVER do this.
Groups of vans in one location can and will be classed as an illegal encampment and the police will turn up quicker than you can say P.A.R.T..Y. it's not worth it.
Also we recommend if you park up somewhere and others park near you just move on and find somewhere else to park for the night.
Photo Source Bristol Live
Finally before we move on to how to look stealth we thought we should mention you should sound stealth too.
Just think if you are laying in bed and you can hear people walk past your van they are quite likely to be able to hear any noises you are making in the van. You can soundproof your van to extent but unless you spend a fortune doing it you are going to need to keep quite quiet in your van.
If you are in a location with lots of traffic this will help a lot but if you are in a quiet location your sounds will travel quite far.
Things that have nearly caught me out before are my van alarm going off because I forgot to turn off the motion sensors with the key fob, text messages and phone calls, alarm clock on my phone and many other noises that are normal in the day but sound deafening at night.
If you are wanting to watch TV, films or listen to music at night make sure you use headphones whilst trying to be stealth.
HOW TO LOOK STEALTH
As we mentioned above being stealth has a lot to do with how your van looks and the more your van looks like and actual campervan the harder it is going to be to look stealth and go unnoticed. In our opinion you need to decide what you want more an awesome looking campervan that everybody is jealous of or a stealth camper as they are very different things.
With that being said this means that there are some vehicles that it will be pretty much impossible to be stealth in like the VW transporter vans or a motorhome home for example.
So the main objective is to build a van that is awesome on the inside with all the bits and pieces you need to live but looks like a normal van or something other than a camper from the outside.
This can make things a bit complicated as a lot of the bits you want for a camper are visible from the outside so the only option is to get creative...
There are some pretty die hard van lifers out there who have not even installed windows in their van to be as stealth as possible however if you are trying to be stealth it is a good idea to be able to see what is going on around you for many reasons like making sure the coast is clear when exiting the vehicle or incase you hear a noise and want to check it out without getting out of the van.
In most situations too many windows will give you away or make you stand out at least especially in tourist locations. One way to be stealth is to just install one bonded window on the sliding door. This way you can always see out of the side that you are going to get out of so you don't accidentally walk out into traffic or exit the van when a nosey neighbour is walking past, also if the window is on your sliding door and facing the curb your van will look like a normal panel van to anybody that drives past on the road. If you are parking near houses you can turn the van so the drivers side faces them so it looks like a normal panel van to anybody in the house looking out of windows.
With one bonded window on the sliding door your van can easily be mistaken for a workman's crew cab van instead of a camper and is far less likely to be bothered by anybody especially parked up in lay-bys or at the side of roads in towns and cities.
You could take the crew cab idea one step further and this is also a good idea for security too, leave a well used hi vis hoodie or vest hooked over one of your seats and leave a pair or two of large workman's steal toe cap boots with rolled up socks in them on your front seats whilst you sleep. I bet nobody messes with you then. If you want to go even further and stay off of all radars you could also get some fake decals for the outside of your van made up with a fake name for example...
F Murphy & Sons Tarmacadam
Would you mess with F Murphy or any of his sons? They sound like they know how to handle themselves...
The observant among you might have noticed that above we said "in most situations too many windows will give you away".
The reason we used the word most is because there is an awesome way to have as many windows as you like without making your van look like a camper and that is by making your van look like a mini bus by adding bonded tinted windows all the way around. This is also a really good option if you want an awesome looking camper as you can make it look like a luxury shuttle bus so you can add some awesome external mods and give it a funky paint job if you wanted. Roof vents and antennas would not even look out of place.
This is a really good option if you can afford for many reasons for example nobody will mistake it for a builders van and break in to steal power tools, nobody will think a mini bus has a bed in, lots of windows for a 360 degree view and you won't look out of place in tourist areas/car parks.
Don't forget though blacked out windows have their faults, if you are in the van with your lights on at night they become very see through and will give you way. You will need to get or make some black out blinds and make sure there are no light leaks or people will notice you a mile off.
If you are not keen on having windows all the way around your van for privacy reasons or because things will be built in front of them, why not consider attaching them to the outside so there are windows all the way around but only cutting holes in your van for the ones you will use.
So we take back our earlier comment that you need to choose between an awesome looking van or a stealth van because as you can see below pretty much any van in any colour will look pretty smart with blacked out bonded windows all the way around without looking like a camper van as the picture below illustrates.
Bonded windows are the way forward when trying to look stealth and you can get some that slide open too so you can let some fresh air in.
The other types of windows like the type they use in campervans or motorhomes will obviously make you look more like a campervan or motorhome.
Portholes style windows and the small vent windows look really cool however they will give you away as a self build camper straight away as you rarely see them on anything else
There are a few good places to get bonded windows from that will sell all the windows for most vans. The less popular ones like the middle ones on each side cost less but the more popular ones like the sliding door window and the barn door windows will cost you more. Check out these websites below...
UP ON THE ROOF
Roof fans like the Maxxair, solar panels, antennas and anything else that most campers have on their roof are not common on normal vans and will make you stick out like a sore thumb.
Most vans don't have any of these things so will look out of place on a panel van. Yeah ok you can get flexible solar panels that are very low profile and roof fans that are low profile and this might go some way toward being a stealth in some situations but as soon as you are near a house or any building with second floor windows you are busted. Were not saying don't install stuff on your roof as some things you might want in your camper require things to be installed on your roof but once you do you might have to choose less populated locations to park up at night and follow the arrive late, leave early rule.
As we said above though if you are going for the minibus look for your van then you can get away with putting much more on your roof without looking out of place... please see below
It is pretty hard to get a TV or WIFI signal in the back of a van because of the way the signal works. They both work via line of sight so being in what is essentially a metal box isn't ideal.
So the only way to get a decent signal in the back of your van is to install some antennas to the roof of your van and as we just said anything on your roof will make you sick out like a sore thumb if you choose the wrong type.
So for a stealthy looking WIFI antenna we recommend this awesome, low profile and discreet puck antenna by Poynting, As an amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases
LTE MiMo PUCK style antenna, white
Poynting LTE MiMo PUCK style antenna
These Poynting antennas are awesome and are actually made for the transport industry so would not look out of place on a mini bus or van to some extent.
They are low profile and look nothing like a traditional antenna at all so could be mistaken for a small roof top extractor fan.
They are also 5G ready for when it becomes more popular, made by a really good company and not a bad price at all. If you didn't know already you can't use external wifi antennas with a mobile phone you will need a MIFI router with 2 x external antenna ports. We have already covered this in multiple other posts so if you wan't to know more please check out the post below...
When it comes to a TV antenna we are quite lucky to be honest as the antenna that in our opinion is the best on the market is already quite low profile and discreet as it is but not only that it is magnetic so you can choose when you put it on your roof rather than having it up when being discreet is essential.
So for a TV antenna we recommend the same one we recommend every time and that is the Necvox 536...
Necvox Antenna Ant-536 Digital Freeview TV Aerial Caravan Boat Car Camping
SKYLIGHTS AND ROOF FANS
Mini buses also are quite likely to have some sky lights and extractor fans built into the roof so if you are clever about the type you choose you can still fly under the radar.
Don't worry we will have more options below for people not going for the mini bus look but if you are then you could install something like these.
It is not uncommon to see skylights/windows on the roofs of mini busses and as long as they don't stick up too far they will not look out of place no matter how wide they are. If you really want to make it look like a mini bus then we recommend a style that is very common on them...
Fiamma Vent 50 with Blind Motorhome Caravan Campervan Rooflight Skylight White
You might recognise this style window from busses or coaches and unlike the hinged skylights that open from one side these push up and pull down. This means that even when it is open it will be much lower profile.
The model above is also not see through unlike a lot of others so nobody can watch you from upstairs windows. If you paint it and colour match them to your van they will look like they have been factory fitted.
Another option for skylights is to go for some big ones so they look a little bit like a sun roof and as they are pretty much as wide as your roof for some reason they look like they should be there.
For this we recommend these....
Dometic/Seitz Heki 2 Rooflight 960 x 655
These skylights are awesome, top quality and come with some cool added extras that make them ideal for stealth van life.
By this I mean blinds and fly screen so no annoying little flies can get in but more importantly a built in blind so nobody can see you through your massive roof windows when parked near high buildings.
There are lots of choices for roof fans and again there are some that will make your look more like a camper than others.
One kind of extractor fan that a lot of other types of vehicles use that would not look out of place on many types of vans including mini busses is a wind operated extractor fan like the one below.
ICC Small Low profile rotary roof vent for vans buses - BLACK - wind driven rotating ventilator
ICC Small Low profile rotary roof vent for vans buses - White - wind driven rotating ventilator
The wind operated extractor fans have both good point and bad points, on one hand they require no power to work at all and look at home on the top of pretty much any van or bus but on the other hand they only work in the wind so unless you are driving or it is windy they are pretty useless.
They are perfect to extract whilst driving though unlike a lot a roof fans that can not be used in transit and this is why they are used on many vehicles.
Another small, round, low profile extractor fan that will not look out of place on your van and can be used at anytime is this type...
DASNTERED 12V Top-mounted Round Air Vent, 60CFM Ventilation 12V RV Motorhome ABS Caravan Roof Exhaust Fan Ceiling Mount
When it comes to roof fans for campervans the best option on the market by far is the Maxxair however they are hardly discreet and as soon as anybody saw it they would automatically know that your van is actually a camper.
There are multiple reasons that Maxxair are the best on the market but the main ones are the fact you can use them in the rain and in transit.
With this relatively cheap cover below you can turn pretty much any 40cm x 40cm (or smaller) roof fan with a side hinge into a fan that can be used both in the rain or in transit with the added bonus of it not actually looking like a campervan roof fan at all, it could even be mistaken for a refrigerated van or a food van from a distance. If you paint it the same colour as your van it will be a lot more stealth...
Camco - 21014 Roof Vent Cover - Allows High Flow Ventilation Into Your RV, Rain or Shine
These roof fan covers are very easy to fit and come with everything you need in the kit, they are a life saver if you already have a roof fan fitted that you want to disguise so you can be stealth and they are awesome in the summer for when you want to leave your vent open and fan on all night without anybody knowing.
If you have one of these covers fitted this eliminates the need for an expensive like the Maxxair as now any fan can be used in the rain or in transit so you can get away with using something a lot cheaper and be just as happy.
As the two remaining features that set the Maxxair apart from other units are the remote and the fact that you can set it to extract air out of your van or blow fresh air into your van we recommend something with both of those features. The build quality will be nowhere near as good as the Maxxair however it will be protected against the wind and elements by the Camco cover so will be protected.
35*35CM Open Roof Vent Crystal Fan Camper Van Motorhome Caravan Skylight 3speed
Solar panels are something that pretty much everybody will want on their camper as they are amazing for off grid power to run all of your lights, accessories and equipment..
The problem with solar panels are they are not stealth AT ALL and as we mentioned above even the low profile flexible panels can and will be seen from lorry cabs, upstairs windows and even if you're parked at the bottom of a hill and somebody is at the top of a hill... they will be able to see them.
And that is just the low profile flexible ones the normal type that most people have on their vans that have a metal frame and then have to be stuck to raised brackets are obvious to people walking by let alone upstairs windows.
So what can you do?
If being stealth and going unnoticed by absolutely everybody is essential to you then it is a good idea to not have solar at all as there is no real way to disguise a solar panel and have it work efficiently at the same time.
To have an off grid camper you will need another super efficient way to charge your leisure battery off grid and the answer to that is a B2B charger.
B2B chargers charge your leisure battery as you drive from your alternator kind of like a split charge relay does however a B2B charger will charge your batteries higher and quicker than a split charge relay could. This means that unlike solar your can't just park up in the same place for days on end and have full batteries day in day out, you will need to drive your van on a regular basis to charge your batteries.
The higher the amp rating on the B2B charger the less time you have to drive to charge your battery but you don't want one too big for your battery as this can cause over charging problems and dramatically reduce the life of your battery.
For example a 110ah leisure battery only has 55ah of useable power
That means that with a 60amp B2B charger it would take less than an hour driving to take your battery from 50% (empty) to 100% (full). However this is too quick to charge this battery and a 20 amp B2B charger is what is needed to get the full life span out of your battery, this would require you to drive 3 hours a day just for battery power. If you are likely to drive this long each day then no worries.
Driving for 3 hours a day isn't something that most people are likely to do so if you only have a 110ah battery you would need to go for a higher amp B2B charger and change your battery more often.
The ideal off grid set up for van without solar would be a top quality large capacity battery with a high max charging current and a high amp B2B charger, this way you could go for a few days at a time without driving but when you do drive it won't take long to charge you up at all.
For this we recommend a Rolls solar S12-290AGM battery, they are top quality and have a whopping 1400 cycles at 50%
This battery is 260ah at a 20ah rate so will give you 130ah of useable power before you have to drive your van to charge your battery.
Rolls S12-290AGM Deep Cycle Series 12 Volt Battery
Bigger batteries have a much higher charge rate so you can use a much higher amp B2B charger with them, this makes a huge difference. Being able to put 60ah of charge back into your battery for every hour you drive will make a huge difference to the amount of useable power you have to use. So instead of having to drive for three hours for 60ah of charge you will only have to drive for one and this will not do any damage to your battery at all.
This battery has enough battery storage for a few days though so you could drive for an hour a day or park up off grid for a few days then drive for just over two hours for a fully charged battery.
The 60 amp B2B charger we recommend is the Sterling power...
Sterling Power 12v 60amp Battery to Battery Charger BB1260
These units are really good and probably the best choice on the market for high amp B2B chargers, they are also very simple to install and a total game changer for people who need a lot of power in their vans.
If you have a smaller battery and would like a lower amp B2B charger please check out our top 5 B2B chargers post below...
If you think that you are 100% going to need solar but still want to be stealth we have a few ideas.
As being stealth is only really important at night in most circumstances and solar doesn't actually work at night anyway you could think about getting yourself a folding suitcase solar panel with a built in charge controller. This way during the day when you are parked up somewhere you can just hook it up and let it do its thing. You can put it near your van or on the roof and it will do a decent job at charging your batteries on a sunny day.
There are a few obvious downsides though. You will need to keep your eye on them or somebody will either mess with them or steal them, you have to physically set it up each time and you need somewhere to store them when they are not in use.
However if this sounds like something you can live with please see below...
Renogy 200 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Suitcase with Voyager - 20A PWM Waterproof Charge Controller
And our final option for solar will only really work when you are not parked near buildings etc but will make you more stealth to people on the ground and in other vehicles and that is a roof rack.
Roof racks don't look out of place on any kind of van as long as you choose a roof rack that suits your van.
Roof racks will also go along way to disguising other things on your roof that we mentioned earlier in the post too like vents and antennas etc
Just make sure you get one that does not look out of place on your van. If you have a beaten up transit don't get a roof rack that you would see on an off road adventure vehicle, if you have a van that is done up like a luxury mini bus don't get a builders roof rack with a roller on one end. Make sure it suits the van and people wont give you a second glance.
A well placed piece of guttering on each side of a transit with a builders roof rack will hide pretty much anything in the middle of the van.
Where as the kind of roof rack you would fit to a luxury mini bus often has sides of some type already. With this type of roof rack even a fixed ladder on the back or the side of your van would not automatically make you look like a campervan...
Photo source - https://www.aluminess.com/roof-racks/
As you can see from the pictures above it is pretty hard to see much from the side but from above it will be an instant giveaway.
The right type of roof rack not only makes your van look awesome but can disguise it as something else allowing you to hide in plain sight.
I will use this photo to make a point I made earlier too, the van in the first photo above has no windows so nobody is going to look at it and think camper, if it had one window on the front panel you would think exhibition van for events, if it had windows all the way around you would think team mini bus however if it had one window on the front panel, nothing on the middle panel and a small vent window on the back panel you would automatically think camper. So remember windows are very important!