Stealth Camping

When I first downsized my belongings I found I was left with less material possessions than I had imagined possible at the start. I began my downsizing as an effort to declutter my over-flowing kitchen cabinets. During the process I realized I was existing in the shadow of a former life. Here I was a mother who no longer had children at home yet every where I looked in my home the stuff I was caring for, cleaning and maintaining, was the possessions of a mother whose children still lived with her.

When I had finished reclaiming my space I realized I didn’t have enough stuff for the one bedroom apartment I was living in. I stumbled across stories of tiny houses at this time and loved the idea of them but not so much the need to find a place to park a house of this style.  Sure, I had friends with land that might have been open to the idea of allowing me space to park my home but what would happen if zoning regulations at some point forbid tiny homes in that community.  Similar situations had already been passed so this was a real concern.


My next thought was a small RV. With my adult children living in two different parts of the state I could easily move back and forth between them and be able to live in my RV on their property. I dismissed this for two reasons. First, keeping a RV warm in the winter months isn’t easy and the other was that my youngest son didn’t have room to park such a vehicle by his home.

Recently, I’ve been seeing more people talking about living a “Stealth RV” lifestyle.  For those of you who aren’t familiar, stealth simply means that these people are choosing to park on the streets, often in residential areas, or in places like WalMart parking lots.

Most stealth RVers are living in their vehicles illegally – because zoning laws say so.  In residential areas it is illegal to live in a vehicle because people fear the homeless will move onto their street and reduce property values.  They also fear the intentions of strangers near their homes and thus their families.

As I continued to ponder this, I circled back to the idea of parking on the street instead of paying for a campground space. Aren’t the streets public spaces, therefore established for the commons?  Therefore, if there is space set aside to park a vehicle on the street shouldn’t we then be allowed to sleep in said vehicle?

I understand the fears homeowners have of strangers. I also understand the fears of strangers causing destruction on their property, I have a damaged fence where someone trying to park too close to my fence hit it and rather than offer to help repair the fence drove off and I am outside picking up trash that is tossed onto my property regularly, as well.

Yet, I started to think about this issue from another point of view.  What if we all gave up our big homes and acquired a small dwelling.  If we had homes as small as an RV, even a larger model, we wouldn’t be able to surround ourselves with so many material possessions. Aside from the issue of the fuel needed to move a camper van or RV wouldn’t this be a greener way to live? There are fewer resources needed to build them versus a house and while the insulation in a vehicle is much less than that of the walls in a house the sheer reduction in square footage needed to heat would seemingly reduce the amount of energy we need to heat them. But maybe because they are less insulated we would resort to more of a nomadic lifestyle to avoid long term stays in the worst of winter.


We’ve all seen images of Native American teepees. The tribes that lived in Teepees did so to move around.  No they didn’t have the same motivation we currently have to move around – just to see the country – they did it because each area provided them with some necessity of life.  Winter camps were where they hunkered down with their stores of food to ride out the cold and harsh conditions. As spring arrived and food stores were running low they moved to a location where they could find new edible vegetation and thawed streams for fish.  As summer progressed they moved again to where different vegetation grew. In each location they would put up food to  hold them over through winter when fresh food would be unavailable to them.

They lived and traveled as a community. We don’t even know our next door neighbors any more. Which way of living sounds better?

It may seem I’ve lost my mind but this makes sense to me. No, not stealth camping on streets but rather to embrace a modified nomadic lifestyle where I could move around familiar areas where I could forage for food and other necessities.  Stealth camping just reminded me of the possibility we gave up when we chose to follow the European model of living rather than the Indigenous example we found when we first stepped foot on North America.

We chose a lifestyle that has us all tied to a system that requires we work for an income solely to hand our wages over to pay for the basic necessities of shelter, food and water, and clothing.  We increase our hours of work to then pay for the various other material and entertainment luxuries we use to fill our non-work hours.

As one who has taken on the job of restoring an older home, I can attest to the amount of time and resources it takes to complete the task. One day this home will show it is loved again but will still need maintenance and the daily tasks of normal upkeep.

Stealth RVing isn’t for me. I think it would be a stressful life worrying about when the police would be called. That said, I do see why many are choosing to give up homeownership and being rooted to one place.  It would be nice if we could find a middle way that would help us all live more sustainably.






  1. I’ve heard of people going to live on cruise ships permanently, instead of going into a Rest Home. Apparently it is about the same cost, they have hospital facilities and all needs are met. There is company and new sights to see – hmmm.


  2. Anne…I have often read of the cruise ship retirees, and wondered if it really was similar cost. If so, it sounds like a great option…

    re the “stealth camping”…you know, Lois, yrs back, when I was a young adult, I would’ve loved this…My own little place…

    now, well, I need my “facilities”, grin..

    having said that, I think society in general, is much too rigid in what is “right”, and if it works for anyone/anyone can make it work, they should be left alone. Maybe counties/cities could even set up shower/washroom/laundry facilities (similar to maybe campgrounds), where folks could “round out” their needs.


    • When I was younger I used to do a lot of traveling. I would sleep in my car rather than paying for a room. Showers were always available at truck stops. Today that lifestyle wouldn’t work for me but if one wants a nomadic lifestyle bad enough I think they will find a way to make it happen.

      I do think we need to be less rigid, as you say. When I first started blogging it was because I was put down so by those around me for wanting to live in a tiny space. It’s assumed that one reaches a particular age we “should” have a certain lifestyle and all others are considered bad, or worse a symbol that we are failures.


  3. oh…was going to mention, just in case any try this “stealth camping”…

    the original WalMart Owner started this, and I believe it continues today…
    all campers/rv’s/camper vans are entirely welcome to park in WalMart Parking Lots…


    • Yes, WalMarts do still allow people to camp overnight in their parking lots. The theory is that it is well lit and with the cameras therefore safer. Myself, I can’t imagine living in parking lots.


  4. I can see the advantages of going smaller cause I have done it. I think any living option is a good one if you have your mind and reasonable health. Nursing homes are designed for folks who have lost one or both of those things. I’ve seen that option up close as well with my mom. There is no substitute for that kind of living when you need what offers.


    • Elaine, I have only ever been happy in small dwellings. I am thrilled to hear you aren’t regretting your move. You struggled so with saying good bye to your townhouse that I wondered often how you would adjust. Glad to hear it’s been good for you.


  5. Ah, Lois. The one size fits all doesn’t work here either. That’s why we have so many options. I’m as small as I can get for now. Next stop, probably a shared room in a nursing home. I’m still offloading in preparation for that. In the meantime, I enjoy being able to get a call from my older legally blind neighbor to drive her and her cat to the vet and back. I want community and connection. I’ve wandered the world with only what little we could carry. No mementos or books, nothing to connect us to anywhere came along. It was a stark life. This one of too much is the other end. Working on balance. But I no longer see well enough to wander so I’m making my home more friendly to the limited sight. It doesn’t work for others but they get to choose their own way. I was never very fond of big houses so I choose to no longer live in one. I think the living on a cruise ship is the stab at humor that has been circulating for years. It really isn’t viable unless you are independently wealthy. 🙂 I’m quite happy here and will soon be even happier when more is gone. Very freeing, like you said.


    • Between your eyes and my limited mobility we might actually have enough skills between us to make one complete person capable of traveling again. 🙂

      Yes, I too want community and have a little of it here, it’s just different from what I am used to.

      I shudder at the thought of a shared room in a home. I am such a loner that the idea of not having a door to close myself off from everyone else seems too much. I wouldn’t care if I had a room the size of a box as long as it was private.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. A lovely British movie comes to mind (2015 I believe) called The Lady in the Van, starring the wonderful Dame Maggie Smith, funny, sad, delightful – and a true story! Highly recommended.


  7. I can vouch for the fact that we need a lot less to live in a small space. When we are on the road we happily live in a 19 foot van. If the weather is wet though there is no place like home. That said even our home is half the size of our last one. I’ve noticed that permanent residents in Aussie ‘trailer parks’ seem to be a happy bunch with a sense of community that has to be as a result of living closer.


    • Yes, rain and other inclement weather would make one feel trapped in such a small dwelling if it lasted for more than a day or two.

      I’ve also seen those who live in campgrounds or even marinas have a sense of community we don’t have in typical neighborhoods. I miss the closeness we used to have with our neighbors when I was younger. I wonder if we are ever going to realize how good we used to have it and form those bonds again.


  8. It is funny that you wrote this post as I was pondering thoughts of the same. I live in the Pacific Northwest region of America and deal with an average of 7 months of rainfall which starts in the middle of fall and can last sometimes close to summer. I thought, “Wouldn’t the natural thing to do is migrate South each year”. Another interesting fact is that I work in the field of Code Compliance in a large City. I deal with people who are “Stealth Camping” all of the time. I have come across a few wonderful people who do this and simply have to let them know the City ordinances that apply to RV’s and Motorhomes parked on the street but I have found that the majority of complaints I have dealt with are surrounded by older rigs, some more than 30 years old that are falling apart, do not have proper registration and have not been inspected for safety. I have dealt with many who dump human waste on the side of the road and others that are set up for prostitution and drug sales. This is one of the reasons that most Cities have elected to create ordinances to protect citizens. Another reason is that many people simply go overboard and park huge 35-40 foot motorhomes on the street. Just like a truck it makes it difficult to see traffic coming when making a turn or children getting off of a School Bus and crossing the road. What I have learned is that if I ever chose to make the decision to live as a nomad it would be in a newer Class B motorhome like a Road Trek or similar. They are the size of a full size van and fit into most parking spots in a city. Another option would be to book a spot in a campground seasonally but I know that most campgrounds are booked up completely over a year in advance. I am hoping that some investors realize the opportunity that exists for purchasing land and building new campgrounds. It seems like there should be more of them and it would create competition to keep rentals low. Maybe there are regulations that restrict these too. If so that needs to change.


    • I can only imagine how depressing it would be to have rain for so many months straight. Here in my area winter, and snow, can last six months of the year. We have a joke about our weather. It goes, almost winter, winter, still winter, and road construction (to repair the potholes from the freeze-thaw cycles) which doesn’t really come to an end because the roads are repaired but because winter has arrived again and the work must cease.

      Like you if I ever purchased a motorhome it would be the smaller model. I can’t imagine living in some hugely long vehicle.

      It only takes a few bad eggs, as they say, to ruin a good thing for the rest. It sounds to me that you have run into more than a few who are making the concept of stealth camping impossible for those who treat the neighborhoods with respect.

      Liked by 1 person

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