As a single campervan gypsy couple you have 2 natural enemies: aggressive local residents and thieves. Police will rarely act on their own without a call from residents, guards on duty or passers-by. Therefore you need to align your street sleeping tactics to minimize these main 2 risk factors.
- Buy a motorhome that looks like a normal van. The more windows, bicycles on the back and plastic boats on top, the more unwanted attention you will get where ever you are.
- Develop a great mindset: It is always good to be observant, self-confident (even if you are not!), use common sense and trust your judgement. Having been on the road for a while and reviewing hundreds of comments I would perfectly agree with Jojo about the right wildcamper’s attitude: Be respectful – balanced with a bit of cheekiness and you’ll usually be ok.
- Look out for local tipps about the country you are staying in. Good spots in one country can be bad ones in another. See the links at the end of the article.
- Keep fuel / water / gas / electricity / food on a high level and refill/-charge as soon as possible. Make sure your toilet is empty or carry a second cassette.
- In a City: Choose a quiet residential area with enough street light. You don’t want to stand on a busy street in the center, and you don’t want to be in a dark area either (danger of muggers, drunkards or gangs). Other options: supermarket carparks are a good choice, especially in the out of summer-season (in UK Tesco or US Walmart is usually accepting motorhomes), or local sports or football centre parking. If you find a carpark next to a nice looking restaurant or pub, ask the owner if you can sleep there and buy your meal/few beers there in return.
- On a Highway: park on highways between trucks or in the parking area of the restaurant. Don’t park on small parking places without 24h restaurants.
- Countryside: search for quiet road laybys and dirt roads. Take care for wet/uneven terrain though, especially when it’s raining!
If you see a nice farm with enough space for parking nearby, ask the owner if you can stay and eventually offer some money – most farmers will allow you to stay if they like you and not take any money.
Avoid popular beach parking and parking alone on designated wild camping sites especially in the south (Spain, France, Italy) – danger of muggers is high.
- Never park if you are in doubt – Always trust your gut feeling!
- Prepare yourself to sleep on your daytime spot (beach, supermarket carpark, etc.): eat your dinner, brush your teeth, prepare the bed, water, etc. Then drive directly to your night spot, turn off the lights and go directly to sleep. This way you will get minimum attention from troublemakers.
- Park in a way that you are hidden between other cars. If you are abroad, foreign number plates are drawing attention to muggers. Try to hide them as good as possible. Take down you national sign on the back if you have any. Don’t park your vehicle on the edge – if you are on a typical wild camping spot, park close to other cars and make contact with other campers to form a little partnership of convenience.
- Always face with your vehicle the way you will exit. In case of emergency you want to be able to start off immediately.
- Take your overnight stop as late as possible, at least after dusk – and leave in the morning. Change your spot the next day. If you visit one spot regularly, you draw attention to residents and police. It may be helpful to spy out for a good spot during daylight, though.
- If you are snoring, stop it. Go to a specialist, use an anti snoring device, stop drinking alcohol, anything. Snoring in a hidden campervan is dangerous. Suitable plastic tools to put in your mouth are available from 25 GBP in a big pharmacy.
- Do it like Rambo in his Vietnamese cave: Use a blue stealth light if you need to see anything in the van. Don’t use a torch, because the cone of light can go through curtains and draw attention to you. Eventually people think you are on a break-in and call the police.
- Close the curtains well. Eventually make a light check in stealth mode with the curtains closed on a neutral place to see if passers-by would uncover your hideout. Improve your light camouflage.
- Never leave anything valuable on display, and always lock your vehicle. Don’t sit with your iPhone or Laptop in the car during the day when you want to sleep at this spot.
- Don’t drink excessively – if you are asked by the police to move on, you should still be able to. Drunk in charge laws are eventually applicable, so remove your keys from the ignition and hide them.
- Close the windows (if possible) to minimize your risk of getting drugged through a knock-out spray.
- Avoid eye-catching steamy windows by installing proper ventilation – or putting cat litter in old socks and placing them in a car.
- Close your vehicle well and don’t open for people knocking – except insisting police officers.
- Buy a big dog bowl, put little rests of food inside and leave them outside the van. Bad people are maybe not scared off by alarms or human confrontation but a big dog ..
- Netiquette: Ask for permission if you stay on somebodies land, don’t play music, speak loud or make a party during your overnight stop. Don’t leave rubbish, empty your toilet in the bushes and don’t run the engine at night to charge batteries. Don’t leave awnings out, tables, chairs or washing. Avoid everything that can make hyaenas angry or draw attention on you.
- And remember: Wild camping is fun and quite save if you use your common sense.
If someone approaches your van it will be in 99% of the cases a reasonable, well-intentioned person. And if you ask for help, in 99% you will get it.
Resources for wild camping
http://www.campervanlife.com/locations (Basic Information about Countries and Cities)
http://www.wildcamping.co.uk (Info about wildcamping, big forum)
http://www.furgovw.org/mapa_furgoperfecto.php (extensive map with Aires in Europe)
http://airecampingcar.com/ (Aires in France)
http://www.spain-in-a-campervan.com/tag/wild-camping (Information about wildcamping in Spain)