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