Choosing Where to Sleep
I have some Instagram friends who think I park Wanda under billboards that read “Rob the Van Under this Sign”. And although some of them live in large, dangerous cities, they are convinced that as someone sleeping in my van in the middle of nowhere I am certain to be the victim of a violent crime.
Do I worry about where we park at night? Of course. I just trust that the same Chihuahua that can bite my hand while clipping her nails will bare those teeth and go for the jugular of any intruders.
Seriously though, safety while traveling is a major concern and we do our best to be street smart.
The first time a car pulled up in front of us, at 2am, and we were backed up to a sidewalk we made a note to always look for a way out of a parking spot and parking lot. And I’ve learned that no matter how many times I think I hit lock on the remote, before I crawl into bed I physically test that sliding door handle one more time. It’s humbling how many times it has actually opened!
I try to convince myself that those sounds I’m hearing at night are just a raccoon raiding the nearby trashcan. History is a great indicator of the future! But I just can’t help adapting to being a light sleeper when I’m on the road. Depending where we are, it is not unusual for me to peek out the front windows two or three times per night to investigate disturbances in the force. What I really want is a periscope but I haven’t found one on any of the #vanlife group forums.
Being safe is often a reflection of WHERE we choose to spend the night.
As I drive, Jenni generally researches where we will spend the night. We like to have a Plan A as well as B and sometimes C. One time we drove through a West Virginia town and passed on a casino and a Starbucks before we agreed to pass on the entire town and drive another half hour!
Quite often we contact churches to see if we can use their lots. So far I’ve stuck to my Methodist denomination and have never been turned away. Their mantra is “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” To that I would add “Open Lots”. My only criterion is that they must have a website.
In one instance a member of the church invited us to park in their personal driveway and even hookup to their electricity. Now that’s an open heart. My Instagram friends are not so trusting. They thought this hospitality could be an attempt to kidnap us and chain us up in the backyard. Seriously! I have to get more trusting friends! Ha! By the way, we’re great social media friends with that kind couple now.
Driveways in general have been good for us. Sometimes you score a pizza, beer, or hot shower. We’ve yet to just sleep on a city street. We were prepared to do so in Boston but the hill we were parked on would have had us sleeping upright!
People tend to think you can sleep at any Wal-Mart but this has changed over recent years. Besides, you’ve seen the memes of people INSIDE the store; imagine what they could be driving OUTSIDE the store. Our favorite go-to is Cracker Barrel. They normally have an area reserved for buses and RVs in the back and if you get there by sundown you can usually have the pick of the lot. We travel self-contained but occasionally it’s nice to just grab dinner to go or a coffee inside without firing up the camp stove. Be warned, you are almost always guaranteed neighbors all around you by morning. As a camper van it can be a shock to slide the door open at sunrise and be face to face with a fifth wheel.
Campgrounds have been enjoyable when we needed electricity for a cold night or a long luxurious hot shower. (Our hot shower is 2 cups of boiling water added to a gallon of cold water in a pressure washer; you can linger as long as you like but that water’s not getting any warmer!)
Of course, campgrounds will cut into your travel budget too.
We agree that the sketchiest place we’ve slept thus far was a County Park along the Gulf Coast outside Corpus Christi, TX. We typically read any signs prohibiting parking and adhere to them. I’ve been told by a dude on Facebook that we shouldn’t have stayed overnight here but the only sign I saw said not to block the boat ramps and we clearly left those for the vehicles that were dumping bodies during the night. When we got there we parked four spaces over from an older model green van. During my midnight and 2AM surveillance I noticed the silhouette of a large dog in the cab but no people. Then, at 7AM, I could see a pair of boots moving on the other side of the van. At 7:30 AM the driver, we think a woman, pulled the van forward and backed it into another parking space ONE MORE AWAY FROM US!
Why do I feel like she is writing a blog at this very moment about the sketchy white van with a dude that kept eyeing her dogs during the night?