Stealth Car Camping | 8 Tips to Help You Remain Invisible

Stealth Car Camping | 8 Tips to Help You Remain Invisible
Nomads who live in a vehicle should practice these important stealth car camping tips.

In case you haven’t noticed, the stealth car camping movement has become extremely popular in the past few years.

This presents a problem for people like you and I.

Many businesses and residential communities across the country have been overrun with car campers seeking a place to crash for a night or two, and are increasingly banning this practice.

To be blunt, if you will be living out of a vehicle for any reason, the need to be totally stealth is now higher then ever.

With that, here are my personal stealth car camping tips to help remain as invisible as possible…

#8 - Have an Unassuming Vehicle

In my humble opinion, cars are the absolute best stealth camping vehicles!

Yes, they have their drawbacks (smaller size, lack of off-road capabilities, etc.), but in terms of blending in with one’s surroundings and going unnoticed, cars are definitely kings of the stealth camping road.

A car alone does NOT make a vehicle stealth however. Common-sense and simplicity are also important parts of the equation. So follow these tips religiously…

No Solar Panels and Other Fancy Electronics

I get it, and trust me, I LOVE the idea of using solar power while living in a car. This doesn’t make the idea stealth though. Nothing screams “car camper” or “nomad” more than a solar panel affixed to the roof of a vehicle.

The average, everyday person isn’t used to seeing a solar panel mounted to a car, and doing this will SURELY make your vehicle stand out to homeowners & business operators when parked.

This is obviously what you DON’T want. Use a portable power station instead. Or stay at campgrounds and truck stops, as they are more welcoming of car campers.

Same goes for things like: WI-FI booster antennas, flood light LED bars and so forth.

Rooftop cargo boxes are incredibly helpful. And if you absolutely NEED the extra space, get one. But I’ve avoided these because I’d rather have the most stealthiness (is that a word?) as possible. You should try to do the same.

#7 - Keep Your Ride Clean

An overly filthy, unkempt vehicle draws attention. Do your best to keep your car reasonably tidy at all times.

Get an exterior wash every month or so, don’t overpack the inside with stuff like a crazy hoarder, etc. A neat car is an unnoticed one!

Avoid Bumper Stickers and Other Decals

These not only make a car look trashy, but they also draw unwanted attention. On top of all that...

If someone doesn’t like the content that’s featured on your bumper sticker - political slogan, favorite band, or any other mumbo jumbo - you’re giving them a reason to dislike you. Don't seek out enemies when you need a place to sleep for the night.

#6 - Don’t Overstay Your Welcome

Rotate Your Spots

Good sleeping spots are worth their weight in gold to car campers and nomads. And once you have a bunch of them - if you treat them wisely - you’ll be able to return again & again, as needed.

On this note, don’t stay in the same place for more than 2 or 3 days, at the most. Rotate your spots often. The last thing you need is for a nosy homeowner or business owner to peg you as a vagrant person squatting on their turf.

This DOES happen. And it will not only lead to you losing a spot to sleep, but it might also turn into a police summons, a towed car, etc.

Get In Late & Out Early

If you want to be good at stealth car camping, remember that the word “stealth” is the most important one. Being as invisible as possible is key.

Always try to arrive at your spot around 8 or 9pm. And leave at 6 or 7am. You want to appear NORMAL, and blend in. You should copy this routine.

#5 - Attend to Repairs

Not everyone has the luxury of owning a brand new vehicle, but this doesn’t mean that your car should look like a total heap of junk.

A reasonably well-kept automobile helps to go unnoticed. Having a bumper hanging off your car, frequent oil spills, cracked windows and other repair issues not only looks unsightly, but they also draw attention.

Invest in your home-on-wheels, it’s worth it.

#4 - Mind Your Appearance

Right or wrong, we live in a world that DOES judge a book by its cover. This means you’re always being sized up and scrutinized by those around you.

Aside from keeping your vehicle tidy, it’s equally as important that YOU look clean & fresh at all times.

While living on the road I’ve seen many fellow stealth campers who - to put it politely - appeared severely shower challenged.

I totally understand not being able to fully bathe daily, or even for a couple of days at a stretch. That’s one of the harsh realities of this lifestyle. However…

It’s not a reason to look like a total slob.

Personal grooming, wearing clean clothes and other sanitary upkeep is VITAL if you truly wish to remain stealth. It’s hard blending in when you look like a freight car hobo.

Do your best to remain hygienic on a daily basis. You needn’t look like a fashion cover model, but should be properly washed & clothed.

On days that you can’t take a shower, give yourself a baby wipe bath. Go into any restroom and clean your body with the wipes, especially sweat-prone areas like your armpits, face, privates, etc. This is not only very effective, but it’s super refreshing.

Truck stops are fantastic places to grab a quick shower if you can’t access a gym, campground, etc. If you've never used one before, check out my handy article: Showering at a Truck Stop | How-to Guide for Car Campers

#3 - Use Window Covers

Making a vehicle your home is sometimes tough enough on its own. You don’t want to add to that by giving up your privacy and living in a fishbowl.

In my opinion, window covers are MANDATORY items for stealth campers. Without them, you won’t be stealth for very long.

Whether you choose to construct these or buy them is up to you, just make sure you have a good set before hitting the road.

If you’d like an EASY tutorial on how to make your own window covers, as I did - or the best places to purchase them - check out my article: Car Camping Window Covers [How to Make & Where to Buy]

#2 - Act Like a Ninja

One of the most common mistakes I see rookie stealth campers make is being much too active.

What I mean by this is, once you’re in your vehicle at night, unless it’s an absolute necessity or emergency, avoid getting in & out on a frequent basis.

I’ve seen campers getting out to smoke every 30 minutes or so, to check things on their car, to walk to a nearby store, and so forth. As a general rule…

Once you’re in your car for the night, STAY THERE!

While I hate sounding like a broken record, I’ll repeat again…the ultimate goal is to have it appear that your car is simply parked overnight with NOBODY INSIDE.

Entering & exiting your vehicle repeatedly WILL eventually raise eyebrows. And once this happens, you open yourself up to a door knock from the cops, security guards, business owners, homeowners, etc.

I rarely (unless I urgently have to go #2) leave the confines of my car once I’m settled in for the evening. You should do the same.

Stealth issues aside, another reason to remain in your vehicle after hours is safety. Any time you leave the sheltered cocoon of your car - especially at night - you run the risk of being victimized. Yes, this is fortunately rare, but it does happen, and serves as another reason to be ninja-like.

Be especially mindful of the noise you make your car! Loud music, videos or conversations will alert others that there's someone inside the vehicle. Not very stealth-like!

#1 - Loose Lips Sink Ships

The camping community as a whole - especially nomads & stealth campers - is one big fraternity. A brotherhood of kindred spirits.

It pays to be kind, courteous, and to treat others with respect. Just as in everyday life.

But in my opinion, there’s friendly, and TOO friendly.

In most cases - unless you really know & trust someone - you should never give up your good sleeping spots.

The reason why is simple: Because telling every person you meet about your spots can cause them to become overcrowded. This is extremely bad.

Remember that awesome commuter parking lot you’ve been staying at, which allows campers to stay overnight without any hassles? Well...

Tell that to another nomad and word will soon spread. Within a few months that place is overrun with a fleet of other campers, and is drawing a lot of attention. Then…

One day soon your awesome sleeping spot starts getting patrolled at night, or has “No Overnight Parking” signs posted.

This happens more than you think. Don’t create problems where there are none.

Here's another reason not to tell others about your spots: you don’t know how they live their lives and operate. Are they good campers who follow all of the best practices I’ve mentioned in this article? Or are they troublemakers or unsanitary individuals who will attract a lot of eyeballs and create drama?

Inviting strangers into your home (sleeping spots) usually leads to bad things. Keep your best spots in your back pocket, just for you and your most trusted of friends.

Final Thoughts

The stealth car camping lifestyle is now immensely popular. Because our numbers have increased dramatically within the past few years, it’s becoming harder and harder to remain 100% stealth. Even worse...

The publicity this movement has attracted has made the public more aware of our habits.

What this means for you & I is that we have to work much harder to remain invisible and be good stewards of this community.

Stealth camping in vehicles is under attack in most places across the U.S., and it’s being banned more and more with each passing day. Don’t add further fuel to the fire!

Always act sensibly, responsibly, and try to follow these tips religiously. Doing so will help ensure we have the freedom to stealth camp for many years to come.