Is It Legal To Live In A Van?

Is It Legal To Live In A Van

As the #vanlife movement continues trending on social media, more and more people have decided to trade in their standard houses for a home on wheels. 

While living in a van can offer you the freedom to travel the world, it also comes with its own set of unique challenges.

For me, one of the hardest parts of living in a van is finding places to sleep each night without waking up to a ticket on the windshield. I’ve even been kicked out of a parking spot at 1 am because I didn’t know that there was no overnight parking allowed!

Stories like these from myself and other van dwellers often raise the question to new travelers: is it legal to live in your van?

Is it legal to sleep in your van?

Depending on where you travel and where you decide to park your van for the night, it is not illegal to sleep in your van! Just make sure you are not trespassing, parking on private property, or causing a disturbance, or else you may end up with a ticket or could get your van towed.  

When it comes to sleeping in your van, each city and state has a different set of rules. I always research where I am going beforehand to make sure that I am not breaking any laws. For example, in San Francisco, it is illegal to sleep in your vehicle between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am. 

Overall, there is no federal law that discourages people from sleeping in their vehicles. 

Where is it illegal to sleep in your van?

Over 20 states have laws that ban people from sleeping in their vehicles overnight, including Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. 

Each state has its own unique laws about sleeping in your vehicle, and although one state may allow you to sleep in one specific area, others may not. For example, rest stops are generally acceptable places to sleep in your van overnight, but this is illegal in California. 

It is illegal to sleep in your van on private property, such as personal driveways or privately owned parking lots. Property owned by the city or municipality is also illegal to park on overnight. 

Where is it legal to sleep in your van?

In my experience, one of the best places to sleep in your van is in Walmart parking lots. Not only do you have the option of using the bathroom in the morning, but many Walmarts also give you access to free Wi-Fi! Additionally, Walmart parking lots are kept well-lit throughout the night, giving you an added sense of security. There are Walmart stores located all across the country, making this a very viable option for your next road trip! Parking policies can differ at each store location, so look for a sign allowing overnight parking or talk to the store manager if you are unsure. 

Other stores that generally allow overnight parking are Cabella’s, Camping World, and Sam’s Club. Again, be sure to look for an overnight parking sign as not all of the locations allow this. 

Some highways have designated rest stops where you can legally sleep in your van, depending on the rules of each state. The majority of these rest stops have bathrooms that are open 24 hours. However, this option may not be suitable if you are a light sleeper, as traffic sounds can be quite noisy during the night. 

Truck stops, such as Love’s and Flying J, are another great option for sleeping in your van! The majority of truck stops have attached restaurants, laundry services, and shower facilities that anyone can use for a small fee. 

Depending on the municipality’s parking laws, you can also sleep on public streets or in residential neighborhoods. Although late-night parking is generally free, this option has its downsides as there are typically no bathroom facilities nearby. Make sure that you stay quiet when parking overnight in these areas as you can get a ticket for causing a disturbance.  

You can also legally sleep in your van for free in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas for up to 14 days at a time! Most of these lands are located in the western states, so this option would not be viable for an east coast road trip. 

Campgrounds are another viable option for sleeping in your van overnight if you don’t mind paying campground fees, some of which can cost up to $35 a night. Here you will have access to basic bathroom amenities, firewood, water, and sometimes even a shower. 

How to find places to sleep in your van

With today’s technology, it is quite easy to find places to sleep when traveling in your van. One of my favorite tools is iOverlander, which is a popular app used between van dwellers to identify some of the best places to sleep for free. It also lists the amenities available in each location. 

HipCamp and AllStays are free online guides that outline the best state parks, campgrounds and public lands that allow overnight parking. 

For a $30 annual fee, you can also park in people’s driveways for free using Boondockers Welcome. 

Tips for sleeping in your van

When sleeping in your van, it is best to practice the art of stealth. Make your van look like every other van, so you don’t draw much attention to yourself. Tint your windows instead of using curtains so no one can see you sleeping inside. Cover your front windshield and clean the front area of your vehicle, so no one is tempted to break in and steal your valuables. Arrive at your destinations late at night and leave early in the morning. Don’t make noise when you are parking for the night, and be sure to crack open your windows to avoid them from fogging up in the morning.

The best way to stay safe when sleeping in your van is to find places where there is adequate lighting and where many other vehicles are parked for the night. Never sleep along a major highway or a busy road, as this can potentially cause a vehicle collision. Instead, pull into a truck stop or parking lot off of the road where vehicles are not moving. 

(Related: 20 Van Life Safety Tips To Protect Yourself And Your Property)

Lastly, never sleep in your van with the engine running, no matter how cold it is outside. This is extremely dangerous as carbon monoxide can fill the van and pose potentially fatal consequences.  

Mariska Lee

Mariska is a recovering attorney who gave up her professional job to discover new perspectives of life while traveling in a 2009 Ford Transit. She has been living the van life for 3 years and has not looked back since.

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