Day 80: Feeling Easy When Van Camping At Night

Robert Gibb
My Van Year
Published in
4 min readMar 21, 2022

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The feeling of fear that arises when I park overnight at an unfamiliar place has subsided since I began living from the converted sprinter van.

The feeling of fear matured into a feeling of uneasiness, which is now maturing into a feeling of ease with occasional annoyance, like when a fat-wheeled truck drove past my discreet camp spot on Virginia WMA land at midnight last night, and when an old sedan tried pulling into a spot my friend and I were staying at on Georgia WMA land last week. This happened at night. The car proceeded to a dead end, about a hundred feet down the road where there were no camping spots. The car lights shut off and the vehicle stayed there. I thought it was strange but quickly forgot about it.

A lookout over a pond at Dick’s Creek WMA in Virginia. The van was parked a hundred feet up the road in a parking area.

When I was just starting to travel in the van, this may have caused me to lose sleep. I remember feeling so uncomfortable when I parked overnight at a rest stop on my way to Florida two months ago that I could not sleep. I had read that you could not stay more than two hours at a rest stop in Tennessee and many other places and took that seriously. (Hint: don’t take these rules seriously.) That tiredness lingered and turned into more fear in future nights, even when parked overnight on Harvest Host properties, and especially when parked overnight in areas I was not supposed to be.

In short, living in a van at night felt uncomfortable no matter where I was, and unbearable in spots where I was unwelcome. Part of what helped me move past this fear was staying at Hipcamps near suburbia. I had to pay to stay at these places so I was quite welcome and they were in wooded areas of suburbia which reminded me of where I grew up. After getting my bearings here, I looked for free campgrounds to stay at and filled the gaps with Boondockers Welcome spots and Harvest Host locations. I feel more at ease when surrounded my similar-minded people, those being people who like to travel.

However, I do appreciate not being around people at times. At the beginning of my van travels, I would not have thought to venture in the woods or forest solo. Partly from fear, partly from not having proper internet equipment, and partly from not knowing it was a thing. But I’m doing that now and feel good. My van friend introduced me to this. As long as there is a flat spot to park and free primitive camping is welcome in the area, I can sleep without worry, knowing that I’m saving money by avoiding paid campgrounds with RVs and generators. I can appreciate the hoots of owls, the whistles of insects, and even the screams of coyotes. They send me right to sleep.

An abandoned structure at Dick’s Creek WMA in Virginia where primitive camping is allowed

The only thing that can bug me are strange people driving around at odd hours of the night. But now I want to always assume the best: that they are people with insomnia exploring the area, cops making sure everything is safe, or young kids looking for a spot to shag. No one has knocked on my door or harassed me and that will continue. So long as I stay discreet, clean, and quiet in places where overnight parking or overnight van camping are allowed or, at least, not outlawed.

The reality is that passing strangers don’t care about you and your van life. They care more about their own comfort. Like my van friend said, rare is it that someone wants to knock on or try to enter a camper van. You are as strange to them as they are to you. For all they know, you could have a vicious dog and be an ogre. Unless they have been surveilling you! If that thought lingers, recognize your paranoia and how it has everything to do with you and not others. Then get over it and go to sleep.

People are good all over. This is what Mike Hudson realized from van traveling for many years. I can see it.

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