How to Sleep Safely While Traveling in a Van

Sleeping safely in a van is crucial to rest and recuperation while traveling. Even if you only travel part-time, one of the main points of traveling in a van is that you don’t have to find hotels or an Airbnb to sleep in each night. Just because you’re in a van doesn’t mean that feeling safe while sleeping is something you have to live without.  

Having your sleeping quarters with you at all times is convenient in more ways than one. You can take a comfortable nap when traveling long distances or after a tiring hike. You can sleep in places with amazing views to wake up to, and you can even park overnight in some cities near your favorite venue without worrying about “driving home” after your shenanigans.

Finding a Safe Place to Sleep in Your Van

You may have heard of the infamous “knock” from those who parked in areas of a city they weren’t supposed to. Maybe you’re not used to sleeping on public land, and being in the wilderness overnight makes you nervous.

There are a variety of apps, like iOverlander, that can help you find safe places to sleep that have recent reviews and even photos of the area. Sometimes locations aren’t accurate, so double-check that it’s a legal place to park overnight.

We’ve gathered some tips that will hopefully help boost your confidence when looking for a place to sleep safely in your van for the night and ensure you have a restful night.

Stealth Parking in Cities

Most cities have various places to safely park and sleep. From select business parking lots to stealth camping in neighborhoods without parking restrictions, you can typically find places to park overnight safely, although it might not be the quietest experience.

Walmart, Cracker Barrel, and Cabela’s allow overnight parking and sometimes even have designated areas for RVs, vans, and trailers. Always call ahead to ensure overnight parking is permitted because sometimes these businesses are on private land and don’t allow overnight parking. Due to an increase of people taking advantage of these businesses and not abiding by rules or keeping the location clean, many businesses that once allowed overnight parking has now changed their policy and don’t allow it anymore. If you stay in a business lot that allows overnight parking, always follow the rules, don’t leave trash behind, and limit your stay to only one or two nights.

In some cities, sleeping in a vehicle is actually against the law. If you choose to test your luck and stealth park in a city that doesn’t allow it, be prepared to get a knock and have an alternate location you can drive to.

When stealth parking in neighborhoods or a city, ensure there are no parking restrictions. Most parks don’t allow overnight parking, and some areas have permit parking only. If you find a legal place to park, be mindful of your neighbors and practice an arrive late, leave early routine. Instead of making breakfast in front of someone’s house, have a plan to drive to a park or support local businesses by going to get coffee or breakfast.

Sleeping on Public Land

Public land refers to areas of land and water that today are owned collectively by citizens of the United States and managed by government agencies. The most common types of public land are BLM (Bureau of Land Management), National Forest, and State Trust land.

BLM and National Forest land typically allow dispersed camping anywhere you can set up camp without causing damage to the land. Some public lands only allow camping in designated areas to protect the land. State Trust land often allows dispersed camping, but you must purchase a permit to enter the land.

All public land has a maximum stay limit that varies from a few days to weeks. Some require you to move a specific distance away for a time before returning to the same area. This is to ensure that people don’t just “move in” and allows everyone to have a chance to experience our public lands.

Always respect the rules on our public lands and leave no trace so we all can continue to enjoy them. Many public lands are being restricted and even shut down because people are littering, damaging the land, and not abiding by rules.

If you are unsure of the rules for the public land you are planning to visit, you can always call your local Forest Service, and they will be able to help you or direct you to someone who can.

Precautions to Help You Sleep Safely in a Van

Once you’ve found a safe place to park and sleep in your van, it may help ease your mind to have a few additional precautions in place.

van sleeping area

Alarm Systems

Most newer vehicles come equipt with some sort of alarm system. You can also add aftermarket systems or upgrade a current one. Some alarm systems even have motion detection features, so if someone simply attempts to open a door or remove something from the exterior of your van, an alarm will sound. If you have items on the exterior of your van, such as a bicycle, motorcycle, or gearbox, you may even want to add a video surveillance system.  (this is extreme, but some people that travel full time and have expensive equipment on their van feel it necessary)

You can also opt for DIY safety precautions, like additional locks inside your van or battery-operated alarms on your windows.

Exit Plan

If you’re parking in a city, it’s best to always park with your nose out if possible. When parallel parking, try to find a place that doesn’t allow someone to park on both ends of your van, potentially blocking you in.

The same rule for nose-out parking is always a good rule of thumb when on public land. If anything happens that makes you feel the need to leave quickly, you won’t have to back up and turn around before making your exit.

Furthermore, it’s always a best practice to review a map of the area and understand if there is only one road in and out or if you have alternate routes to vacate a location if needed. Apps like Gaia GPS and OnX Off-Road are great resources for road access on public land, although sometimes roads are impassable, so don’t count on them unless you’ve scouted the route first!

Having a Comfortable Van Mattress

Finally, no matter how safe you are, you may not get a good night’s rest in your van without a comfortable van mattress.

RoamRest offers a variety of van mattresses; from replacing your stock van mattress to creating a custom solution, we can ensure you have the perfect mattress for your needs.

Pair that with the ideal bedding for where you are traveling, and you’ll always have a restful night while sleeping safely in your van.

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