Vintage RV Owners Club
Solo Rvers Club
Join Date: Jun 2011
Location: Old Orchard Beach & Biddeford, Maine
I may have answered this several pages back, seems like I did a year or so ago, but could have been another thread. Anyways, I've had some experiences with this since I was last on the forum, so my answer would be different now, thus I'll answer again.
I’m going to give you some things to consider that you might not have thought about, when it comes to stealth camping verses MoHo camping, for anyone who does the stealth camping thing. I’ll answer this in detail in a second, but I will point out that, around here where I live at least, you are asking for some serious trouble if you chose stealth camping over traditional RV camping. Serious big trouble that can land you in jail.
But first I see a lot of folks on this thread mentioning guns, and I wanted to comment on my own habits in that matter.
I am a lone female. I have a dog, but she’s a 6lb chihuahua, so other than nipping your ankles raw and barking you deaf, she ain’t much protection.
Yet, I travel unarmed for multiple reasons.
I actually find I don’t require protection, due to the fact that I am a Voodoo Priestess (and an internationally famous one) and most folks tend to be terrified I’ll cast a death spell on them if they cross me, so they just leave me alone.
How do they know who and what I am? Well it’s painted right there on the side of my rhinestoned Volvo. “EelKat, The Sea Witch of Old Orchard Beach, Your Local Voodoo Queen”. I’m famous enough that people who know the Pagan community, know I’m not a tutti-fruity white witch fluffy bunny, that I deal with dark arts, black magic, demon summoning, and am classified in Voodoo communities as “The World’s Most Feared Medsen Fey” (a rank of priestess, that is a Borka Witch Doctor, not a Gro Mambo). My car and MoHo are painted with Vee-Vee (Voodoo protection charms) and around here, most people know Voodoo well enough to know that the English translation of these Hatian glyphs reads: “By the breath of Damballa and the blood of Christ, a blessing on them that love me; a curse on them who steal.”. These symbols alone painted on my car, are enough to keep folks a safe distance from me, thus I’ve no need to carry a gun anyways, even if I didn't have my gun phobias, LOL!
Okay, back to telling you why stealth van dwelling can be a really bad idea, IF you happen to park in the wrong location, and how I came to learn this, via a real life version of your "knock at the door" scenario - several in fact - one that happened to me, and the rest which happened to local folks parked in the same town I was parked in.
I've been boondocking full time for 7 years now. When I first started this (after being made homeless by Hurricane Katrina) I had considered a cargo van at one point. I considered a lot of things. Once I considered and even nearly bought an enclosed cargo trailer to tow behind my Volvo, because who would suspect you lived in one of those, right? I was planning on being stealthy and all that jazz. I had it in my head back than that stealth camping was the way to go, no one would bother you if they didn't know you was there, sort of thing. Boy was I wrong about that, and boy am I ever glad I decided against stealth camping!
I ended up with a 22’ Class C 1975 Dodge sportsman motorhome. Not only is it a not stealthy at all motorhome, but it sticks out like a sore thumb with it’s cab painted neon dayglow lime green metal flake and great big flames painted down the sides of it’s back body, and Betty Boop doing a Marylin Monroe air vent pose on the back. The whole thing screams "Hey look at me, here I am, I can't hide if I wanted too not with this paint job!" But it was love at first sight, what can I say, I gave up the idea of stealth to live in the most unstealthy motorhome ever built! LOL!
But why did I switch from looking at cago types to actual live in types? Lack of windows. I got inside of one and, first thing I thought was “OMG! This is like living in a box, I can’t see a thing, I feel so trapped!” I looked at several RVs of various types before it occurred to me that the one thing all the ones I liked had in common, was great big picture windows on the sides.
No Hurry (my MoHo) has a ton of windows, including a great big picture window on BOTH sides of her, and lots of smaller windows stuck in between every corner, and 3 sky light windows on the ceiling. I get sunlight blasting in at me from every angle promptly at 4:30AM every morning and I love it. I live on the coast in Maine so we get the earliest sunrises in the country! LOL! Since 2006, I have gotten up with the sun and gone to bed with the sun every day and I am so much more rested because of it. I used to be such a night owl, not going to bed til 3AM and not getting up til way past noon, and than I’d always be tired. Not any more!
So, I gave up stealth for lots of windows and a flashy paint job, but, ironically, I have had no issues with that. Heck I've park right in downtown Main Street before and no one bothers me (maybe they are scared of the paint job?). People would always rush up to me and ask about the paint job, ask if they could take pictures, etc. But police bother me? Nope, not a problem and I'll tell you why. It all started one early morning around 6AM with a knock at the door, and there was the local code enforcement officer, notepad in one hand, video camera in the other; he is also an armed cop, does triple duty as a cop and code enforcement and animal control - and we became sort of buddy-buddy after this, because in spite of my hellraiser paint job, I'm considered a good upstanding citizen who obeys the laws, knows the codes, and isn't trying to hide from the police. Here's what happened:
When I first bought the MoHo I had her 2 weeks before a neighbor called the police and sent them over. The officer told me of the complaint than check out the MoHo, my papers (registration, insurance, etc), made sure I had smoke alarms (three - one at each end and one over the stove) as required by law and fire extinguishers (four - one at each end, one beside the stove, one under the driver’s seat, and one outside by the back door) as required by law (I had all these things in their proper places because the town I live in, Old Orchard Beach, Maine, where I have lived for 40 years, gets 300,000 RVers each summer, and is notorious for police coming in and checking for that stuff, so I had looked up the law before buying the MoHo and had everything set up exactly as required by the local law books).
He checked out to make sure she was running and drivable (it’s illegal in this town to have a MoHo that don’t run sitting in your yard.) Than he asked me why I bought it what my plans were. I told him, I collect antique cars (I do, as he could plainly see by the rows of them around my yard) and needed a MoHo to live in while on the road to car shows, and that once I graduated college I would be taking No Hurry across country to visit all 50 states than spend a year in Alaska. He wrote everything down, recorded it all on his camera, recorded every inch of the MoHo on his camera, made sure there was nothing illegal about the body/mechanics/customization/etc, filled out an official form to file with the OOBPD office, told me everything checked out, wished me good luck on everything, chattered about about the town manager (who had just been kicked out of office) and left.
Since than there have been several more neighbor complaints, to which the same officer (he’s the officer assigned to check out RVs and such) would stop by, tell me a neighbor had complained again, and say he wasn’t worried about me because he knew I was keeping everything up to code and wasn't trying to hide anything from the law, so never bothered to recheck anything, wished me luck, and be gone a few seconds after driving up, he never even bothered to get out of the patrol car.
Had I been living in a cargo van as originally intended, I would not have passed local codes on any level, and he would have (legally - in this town at least) towed my van and impounded it, so I am very glad I decided to not go the stealthy road and went the MoHo road instead. And this I learned from seeing first hand what happens to you when you get the same knock on the door that I had gotten.
I’ve learned, from the folks I have known personally around the area, that going the stealthy road is asking for trouble up front and that you are going to get hounded daily by local law enforcement, whereas if you are in an obviously not-stealthy MoHo and are obeying the safety codes, local law enforcement pretty much leave you alone. They still stop in the check on you once in awhile, but it’s with a friendly smile and a cheerful “Okay, everything checks out”; not smashing in your door with a battering ram and armed with a pair of drug sniffing german shepherds; which they do when they approach stealth campers - and twice I have personally witnessed this smash and crash, trash the place and drag out the owner face down on the sidewalk while they dump all the contents of the van on the ground. (Don’t pretend to be not inside - they will rip the door off and find you in there, and than you’ll have to answer to why you refused to open the door.)
Folks who just appear to be just pulled over and sleeping in their car or van, will be woken up and asked to drive to Biddeford WalMart and/or get a hotel.
I think, from the officers I have talked to, that they assume if you feel the need to live under the radar in a stealth vehicle, than they also assume you must have something to hide, and thus they will usually barge in looking for guns (illegal to have in your vehicle in this town) or drugs or stolen goods.
Now, I can’t speak for other towns/states, but this is what it is like in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, (I’ve never been anywhere else) but from what I’ve learned, it’s by far better to avoid any attempt at stealth, and be openly honest about the fact that you live on wheels, at least when it comes to dealing with local police. And likewise, when (not if - when) they not on your door, answering it and talking calmly and honestly goes a long ways, whereas pretending to not be home or worse branishing a gun, is going to get up in deep do-do wicked quick.
So make sure you consider the town(s) you plan to live in before you start stealth vandwelling, check out the laws, talk to others who’ve done it, maybe even go to the police station and ask, say you suspect a family is living in a van and ask what you should do about it, see what they tell you, and never evade the police knocking at your door.
For the most part the police are really nice, they just want to make sure you are obeying the law, and for about 99% of the 300,000 RVers that show up here in OOB each summer, there is no issues at all, they just check your rig and move on. It seems to ONLY be the stealth campers who ever get into trouble, and always because they are actively trying to hide from the cops, causing the cops to think they must be criminals otherwise they wouldn't be hiding out. I never looked at stealth camping in that way, so it never occurred to me that this was how cops looked at it, but now that I see how they are looking at it, I can understand their logic.
An important note too - the cops always say who they are when they knock: "Old Orchard Beach PD." is what they always say, and in most cases they show up in day night, not at night. Just things I've observed.
But anyways, having seen both sides of the "knock on the door" coin, and seeing first hand how differently RVers are treated from stealth van dwellers, it really opened my eyes to how non-RV folks, especially cops, look at us fulltimers, which is basically: If you live in an RV, you are a respectable citizen trying to get by, while if you live in a stealth van you must be a hoodlum thug drug dealer trying to hide from the law. I just thought it was interesting seeing how they interpreted the various types of fulltimers based on the vehicle they lived in, and how differently the same officers approach your vehicle, based on what it was. I've never seen multiple officers or drug dogs when the officer knocks on an RV, and yet I've never seen a lone officer without drug dogs and a third officer carrying a battering ram when knocking on a stealth van. I've seen them aproach a ton of RVers always they approach an RV all smiles and acting like your best bud, yet twice I saw them approach stealth campers and they were on edge with hand over their holster when approaching a stealth van, so very different from how they approached the RVs or at least these officers in this town do, can't speak for other towns.
Of course to their credit, a year prior to this uprising in knocking on doors and checking out the campers, there had been a ring of "renegade campers" who were living in old U-haul trucks and were breaking into buildings (pretending to be moving in to houses for sale) and were cutting out all the copper pipes to sell for scrap metal, which did explain why the officers were so jumpy and on edge when approaching the stealth campers ever since that year.
Fulltime since May 2006
MoHo: 1975 Dodge Sportsman F40 Class C
On Board: 1 dog, 1 rabbit, 1 bird, 13 cats