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The van life is becoming increasingly popular, with more and more people looking to trade their house for a van.
Maybe it’s the increase of van life posts on social media, or maybe it’s the desire to go back to basics and travel the world in simplicity, but van life is a thing.
However, is it legal? Sure, traveling in a van is okay. But what about living full time in one, what about sleeping in one?
Despite van life offering plenty of freedom and traveling opportunities, it also comes with many challenges, and it isn’t always as glamorous or easy as you think. Even sleeping in the van overnight can be a huge struggle, as you can’t just park your van overnight anywhere you want.
There are no laws that outright make living in a van illegal, but there are plenty of laws that regulate other aspects, such as sleeping in a van, which is a pretty big part of living in one. So let’s start there!
Is it legal to sleep in your van?
Sleeping in your van is a pretty big part of living in one, so the laws surrounding this specific aspect can determine whether it is or isn’t possible to actually go full-time with the van life.
Truth is, sleeping in your van is sometimes legal, and sometimes illegal. It depends on where you are, and where you’re parking the van to stay overnight.
The main rule is usually to not park your van somewhere where you might be trespassing, on private property, or somewhere that might cause a disturbance. As that will very quickly get you a parking ticket, a fine, or even your van towed away. And that would be less than ideal.
However, there are some parking lots that allow overnight stays. There are also special stops along long motorways and similar that are designed for drivers to take a nap, and some of these also allow overnight parking stays.
In some countries they also just outright allow you to sleep in a van, no problem. But the US tends to have more of an issue with it.
It’s important that you research the location where you are so that you know whether you will get in trouble or not for sleeping in your van. Check each city and state individually.
There aren’t many laws that stop you from sleeping in your van, but there are plenty that regulate it. Some cities, like San Francisco, have a law that makes it illegal to sleep in your van between 10 pm and 6 am…which is basically the entire night.
There are plenty of states that outright ban sleeping in your van overnight, so that’s essentially a no on van life in those places. Of course, some are stricter than others.
So, for example, some states will ban overnight sleeping in your van but will allow it if you’re in a specific area, such as a motorway pit stop or a camping space.
Others are way stricter, like California, as it doesn’t allow overnight sleeping in your van anywhere. Not even on your own private property! Pretty harsh, if you ask us.
Where to sleep in your van overnight:
As you might have started to guess by now, finding a place to park your van so that you can legally sleep in it overnight…is no easy task. Basically, van life isn’t as doable as one initially thinks.
But some people do it. All those social media posts…some people are clearly traveling the world in their van. So where are they parking it for an overnight stay?
Well, as having a van thankfully allows you to drive to different places with ease, it’s often worth researching specific cities or locations that allow you to legally sleep in your van overnight.
It might not be the exact location where you want to go and visit, but it’s worth going there to park overnight, and then drive to the desired location in the morning to spend the day. It’s all about weighing the pros and cons, and being strategic!
But by far, the easiest way to sleep in your van overnight is to just find a suitable campground. Some of these can be free of charge, but most often you will have to pay a campground fee for staying overnight. Although this fee is usually pretty cheap, and it often includes access to toilets and other facilities.
Since van life is becoming so popular, it’s actually becoming easier and easier to find places where you can stay overnight, despite all the restrictions. A quick google will find you the nearest campground or legally overnight stay location.
And there are also plenty of smartphone apps that are dedicated to helping you with the van life, and that form a network of all the viable overnight locations so that you can plan your route beforehand!
There are also plenty of forums where you can talk to other people living in their van for tips and tricks on where to stay overnight.
Tips to sleep in your van overnight:
Okay, so if you can’t find a suitably legal place for an overnight stay, or you’re somewhere where you aren’t sure of what the rules are, there are a few basic tips to make sure you’re as safe as possible.
Although the safest way to sleep in your van overnight is by doing so in a campground, as they are designed for such a thing!
- Don’t draw attention to the van:
It’s always best if your van looks like any other regular van that is simply parked there. People don’t need to know that you’re in there, sleeping.
Make sure you have tinted windows and that everything is tightly locked and secure!
- Be stealthy:
People don’t have to know that you’re arriving on-site and parking your van for an overnight stay. The trick is to arrive as late as possible, and to leave before people have even started waking up!
It will be as if you were never there, but you will have gotten your sleep to keep on traveling and living your adventurous van life.
- Find a safe place to park:
It’s always best to avoid parking near main roads, as there is more of a risk of a collision and accident taking place. Find a safe parking space!
- Always turn off the engine:
When it’s cold outside, it’s very tempting to keep the engine running throughout the night so that you can have the van heating on. But never ever do this.
There are vans that are specially equipped with heating systems that don’t require the engine to be on, and otherwise, you can use extra blankets or something else. Keeping the engine on can be super dangerous, and you could die of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Overall, the key to a successful overnight stay in your van is to do your research beforehand, to prioritize safety, and to be smart about it all.