We all know the score; you’re new to vandwelling and are seeking out some van life parking tips.
Knowing where to take your trusty camper and which spots are the safest can be pretty daunting if you’ve never lived the lifestyle before, but don’t worry.
Luckily for you, I’ve spent the past five years living and travelling in a camper, so I know a thing or two about picking out those perfect park ups.
From reliable mobile apps to things to look out for when you reach your final destination, I’m here to give you my top van life parking tips for getting the most out of your travelling tiny home.
Because campsites only show you a small part of the world, and van life is all about getting into the heart of nature where we truly belong.
Feature Image @sweetvanlife
Top Van Life Parking Tips To Get The Most Out Of Your Camper
Where Can I Park Up?
Out of all the van life parking tips I get asked for, this is the most common question.
In most situations, there are plenty of places to park and lots of great spots to visit. Still, with the COVID-19 pandemic locking down once open areas and restrictions on how many people can visit places at a different time, it can be tricky to know where you’re allowed to park and where you’re not.
The short answer will depend on where you’re based in the world.
American readers can take solace in the fact that they can legally park up in on any patch of BLM (Beaureu of Land Management) and National Forest.
It’s super simple to find BLM and National Forest locations online. All that’s left for you to do is to explore and find a nice little segment to park up in. And, you can stay there as long as you have food and water without having to move on!
In Europe, however, there are far more restrictions to consider.
Countries such as Portugal that once opened their arms to van lifers are now putting up more and more restrictions, again, another sign of the effect that social distancing has had on the world.
Places like England and Greece don’t technically allow people to sleep overnight in their vehicles. That doesn’t mean that people don’t do it, however.
Heck, I lived in my van for a whole year in Yorkshire while I was saving up to go travelling.
Over the border in Scotland, it’s a different story again. Like the Nordics, camping anywhere is free and 100% legal.
Countries such as Italy, France, and Spain also have motorhoming ingrained into their holiday culture, so they are safe bets for planning a potential road trip.
Are There Any Rules?
One of the best van life parking tips I can give you is not to park in a cemetery. I learnt that the hard way and got moved on by the Carabinieri outside Venice, though the nice policeman did let me finish my breakfast first!
The main unwritten rule that van lifers try to live by is ‘leave no trace’. There’s nothing worse than finding a park up and having to spend an hour picking up litter before you can sit out and enjoy a beer.
The general rule is to make sure that you leave a space as you found it, and it it’s untidy, leave it nice for somebody else.
It’s also important to be mindful of others too. If you find a lovely forest park up that’s close to nearby dwellings, then just be considerate with noise levels and where you do your ‘business’ if you don’t travel with a toilet.
Dig that poop deep!
Here’s another important van life parking tip – the police will move you on and/or fine you if you park in a spot that says No Campers. Don’t risk it; keep your money in your pocket where it belongs.
How To Pick The Perfect Park Up
Right, that’s the doom and gloom stuff out of the way; now it’s time for some van life parking tips about picking that perfect park up spot.
My experience of parking up in a van varies from solitary spots by the ocean to free motorhome car parks near motorways. Instagram might only show the perfect beach park ups, but sometimes a concrete parking lot can feel just as homely if it’s what the situation calls for.
The most important van life parking tip that I can give you is to go with your gut.
I’ve parked up on a pebbly beach next to the ocean and felt incredibly content, but I’ve also found rural spots by rivers and just had ‘an odd feeling’.
At the end of the day, if you don’t feel comfortable, don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed to move on. If you don’t feel safe, you won’t be able to relax and won’t enjoy your camping experience.
Here’s another tip – always arrive at your park up spot in the daytime. Again, I found this out the hard way and ended up parking in a prostitute hotspot and being told to move on by the police for my own safety…
… I told you I knew a thing or two about van life parking tips. I’m like Captain Hindsight!
I know a lot of people will tell you that they just happen upon wonderful parking spots without any planning, but I’d take that with a pinch of salt.
The truth is that there are tonnes of apps out there that make it easy to find lovely park up spots in the heart of nature or near to famous landmarks, and they’re all super simple to use.
One of the most used apps in the van life world is Park4Night. I used this all the way around Europe and found some beautiful spots with it, as well as uploading some locations that I actually did find when nearby spots were full up.
Park4Night is a community led app that lets users and locals add nearby beauty spots and large car parks for motorhomes and van lifers to use.
View pictures of the park up spot and reviews from other users before you arrive. That last bit is useful for finding out if a place is safe or if anyone has experienced a break in etc, and you can plan in advance to find out what, if any, amenities are available before you arrive.
Google Maps is another great app that everyone knows how to use. If you like parking by open water or deep in a forest, then switch to satellite view and plan your route accordingly.
See, finding that ultimate van life parking spot isn’t anywhere near as hard as you first thought.
Emptying Toilet & Filling Up Water
But what about filling up with water or emptying your toilet? Well, here’s another couple of van life parking tips to bear in mind when planning your travel route.
Park4Night and its American competitor, iOverlander, use symbols to show whether parking spots have toilet emptying facilities such as Elsan disposal points or simple drains in the ground. They also show where the nearest tap is too.
Some countries like France have lots of emptying and fill-up facilities scattered throughout the country.
Others, like Sardinia, only have three or four, which means planning a long trip to a church or a small village car park once every week or so.
The most important thing is to remember to plan trips to these water and disposal points along the way.
Heck, if you want to spend a couple of days in a parkup with a tap so that you can wash your clothes and hang them in your cab area to dry, then it doesn’t matter. Do what you feel comfortable with, and don’t feel pressured to always be in beautiful places.
A lot of people avoid parking in remote areas because they are worried about both their safety and the safety of their vehicle.
Here’s another important van life parking tip – people, on the whole, are friendly. Not everyone is out to get you, and most of the time people just want to be left alone.
I’m not going to lie; I was worried about this when I first set off on my trip too, and it’s true that I do know people that have been broken into.
Still, if you take some precautions, you can really give yourself peace of mind and concentrate on enjoying your adventures rather than worrying about things that might not even happen.
Here’s my top three van life parking tips about keeping safe when out on the road –
- Buy a tyre lock and a steering wheel lock. They’re thief deterrents, and at least you know that your van will be in the same spot when you return from a walk or wild swim.
- Use external locks on doors. As well as adding extra security, they also act as deterrents to thieves too. If a van looks hard to break into, the chances are they won’t waste their time on it.
- Try to include a cut through to your cab area from the living space. That way, if you feel that you are in an unsafe area, you don’t need to leave your vehicle in order to drive away.
Of all the van life parking tips I can give you, I want you to remember that there is no right or wrong way of ‘doing van life’. It’s all about parking where you feel safe and exploring as much or as little as you feel comfortable with.
If you enjoy heading out into the depths of the backcountry, then make sure that you leave your intended location with a friend or relative incase you get stuck along the way. Alternatively, take a sat phone with you in case you don’t have any signal.
If you’re planning on exploring a city, then do some research into which parking spots are near to a train line – it’s always cheaper and safer to park outside of a city than it is to park in the centre itself!
I would definitely recommend downloading Park4Night and using it to plan a route around your chosen country/continent. It takes a lot of the faff out of finding nice spots and uses the combined might of the van life community to keep everyone safe and content on their travels.
Are you heading out on a van life adventure? Don’t forget to tag us in your pics over on the Tiny Home Hub Instagram channel!
Looking for a camper? Check out our article on the best camper vans for couples!