Chris has lived in his van full-time for the last six years, and just recently moved into a new Class A Monaco Monarch motorhome.
In this video, he shares his thoughts on what it’s like to deal with the police when you live in a camper van. If you’ve got thoughts about full-timing in a van, you’ll definitely want to hear what he has to say about the lifestyle and what to watch out for.
Chris chronicles his adventures through his YouTube channel and Instagram page. Since moving into a much larger RV, he’s made several videos on outfitting the new motorhome. You can find all of his videos on this page here.
Hey everybody. What’s going on? Chris here from Chris Travels. I’ve been traveling the United States for the last six years now in different camper vans. And I’ve had some run-ins with cops, and I’m going to go over those right now.
So, the first time that I had a run-in with a cop, I was actually in Bloomington, Indiana. I was taking a class at Indiana University. I was living in my camper van outside of campus. I can link the video here. It only lasted for a short amount of time. That’s because somebody called the cops on me basically. What I was doing, I parked my camper off campus. Then I would ride my bike on to campus, go to class, work out, take a shower, then come back to the van later at night once it cooled down. Because it was still pretty warm, it was actually very warm, like I would wake up just kind of sweaty, and what happened one night, I got up to use the bathroom in the class B. and I turned the light on. And I think one of the neighbors saw that and they called the cops. The next morning, I get woken up to knocking on the window. There are a couple of cops there. They actually brought two patrol cars to root me out of there, I guess. But I tried holding still and like, “We know you’re in there,” because on the back window there was a slit. So I’m sure they looked in there first and saw me sleeping.
And I just laid there at first. They were rocking the van, hitting the window. And I finally answered the door, and they asked me what I was doing. I just happened to have my DSLR. And they were like, “Are you taking photos in the neighborhood around here?” I was like, “No, I’m just going to school, at I.U, I have a class, I can show you my class schedule. I’m just going to school.” “Well, the neighbor’s complaining and you’re not supposed to sleep in town”. After research I don’t think there’s an ordinance that actually says that. They said I had to move and that I can’t sleep in my vehicle in that neighborhood. They kicked me out and then I ended up sleeping on my friend’s living room floor for a while till I finished classes. But that was the first run in with cops.
I will say this right now, the first van I had was a complete Stealth Van. It was a van that was not a class B, it was just a regular Ford Econoline. I took the middle seats out and added a bed in the back. I’ll go ahead and link that van right here. I never had any run ins with the cops. Granted, that was only a month and a half long trip. I drove around with my husky and I was staying at friends’ houses. I did like a big tour around the United States seeing my friends, so it wasn’t that much urban and stealth camping, I was mostly staying in either Walmart or friends’ places.
The second run in I had was actually the first large trip I took with my Class B. We basically went from Indiana – my friend and I – to Denver, picked up another friend and we went up to Sturgis and went up there and stayed in the van and partied, it was awesome. We stayed about a ten minute walk from downtown Sturgis. The only reason why we got busted and we were fine the entire time. And in Sturgis for example – and it’s various throughout the United States – as long as you’re not causing problems, as long as you’re being quiet, you’re okay. The problem was we were not being quiet. We weren’t partying but our generator was on. It was super hot, we were really hangover and we just wanted to take a nap. So we had the generator on, had the air-conditioning running and the cops came and said we couldn’t stay there, but we were planning on leaving later that day anyway.
So that was completely fine, the cops were completely genuine, they were like, “Hey, city ordinance, we can’t have you stay in the vehicle.” I think the whole time because we were on a big party strip, I don’t even know it was not close to downtown, but they were like, “Hey, you’ve got to move.” We completely understood and shut down the generator and headed up to the Black Hills doing a trip up there right after Sturgis, so what was completely fun.
Another run in that I had with cops, it was no talking and it’s actually when the cops did something awesome and I was very thankful for what they did. I was basically merging onto traffic and those that have driven a Class B, those 20 foot motor homes, sometimes it’s hard to get into the traffic. They don’t accelerate too fast, and if people just sit there, you can’t break that fast, you can’t accelerate, you kind of get in a bad situation.
This guy refused to let me in, I put my turn signal on way before. It was a long intersection where he could have let me in on this highway and he didn’t. And he was just looking at me. It was almost like he was doing it on purpose. There was a cop behind us and the cop pulled him over because eventually I just had to slow down, almost had to stop on the highway. And then finally I sped up, the cop went around me and he pulled the guy over. So that’s another run in that I’ve had with the cops in terms of camper vans.
The other time that something happened with my camper van was when I got towed in Arizona. Basically I was working at a bar, I think it was St.Patrick’s day or something. It was right next to A.H.U campus so parking was completely backed up, like I had to get to work, I just parked really quick. And what happened was there were people that actually were jumping over the sidewalk and parking in their front-yard and that was their driveway. And it was just regular sidewalk, there was no divert down in the road, I parked my van right there because I didn’t see mini-driveway I just saw, it was just a sidewalk, there were no signs and got towed. And that wasn’t a good situation to be in, especially when it’s your home. I ended up looking up friends I could crush with, but that was a very unfortunate situation.
The next time that I had a run in with a cop was in Eureka, California. I was going from Arizona to Alaska, just did a big camper van trip. I’ll link that to here. But basically what happened was it was kind of the same situation as Bloomington except it was at night and this is further in my camper van experience. I had that camper van maybe a month when the cops stopped me at Bloomington. By this time I realized that there are certain things you can do to set up your camper so cops can’t really do anything if you do Stealth camping.
One of the things that I did was I made sure the back by the bed area was completely shielded. I just had all the blinds completely closed and in the back of the camper and whenever I’m urban camping or doing anything like boon-docking, I never make my bed. I always just throw covers and sleep under that. And then there’s a little area where you can cut off that back bedroom area, I always leave that open. That way if a cop has a flashlight like this cop did, he can turn it back and all it does is look like a big pile of clothes. And he couldn’t see in, he was knocking all around my window throughout, shaking the van saying, “Eureka Police department. I need to talk to you. You can’t stay in there. I know you’re in there.”
And it literally got to the point where he was knocking on the window so much I started playing Angry Birds on my phone, like he just would not leave. And he would knock and go back to his car and he’d turn his car off. I heard him turn his car off and he’d wait ten minutes and turn it back on and come back up, like he was just trying to root me out and I didn’t do it. Because they can’t prove that you’re in your vehicle versus staying in somebody’s house. So they’re not going to tow it. And that was definitely an eye opening experience. Once he left I ended up staying there all night, woke up five hours later and continued on to Alaska.
Next experience. Actually an entire year passed by the time this next experience happened. Basically what happened it was another trip up from Arizona to Alaska. This time we were in Eureka, California. It’s interesting that I bring up California two times in a row, huh? Out of all those thousands of miles. My girlfriend and I were on our way up, we stopped in Napa. It was early in the morning, we were about to go do a wine tasting at a vineyard. We just figured it would be cool to get some coffee, eat some breakfast in the van before we headed up. My girlfriend went over to the park to do some yoga and then I was just editing YouTube videos actually. And this cop comes up. I will actually go ahead and link the – I had a GoPro going when this cop comes up, I had a couple of GoPros actually. And he was completely genuine, he was just checking on me, but what happened was it wasn’t him coming to check on me necessarily out of his, “What’s this guy doing?” Somebody in that neighborhood actually called the cops on my girlfriend and I while she was doing yoga in the park and I was editing YouTube video saying that we were suspicious people. It could just be that area, that mindset. Somebody called the cops on us and he just came up, and he asked us. He wasn’t being rude about it, he wasn’t looking down on us. He was just doing his due diligence. Somebody called him and he just had to go check it out. That is what it is.
Another situation that happened was actually I have a DJI Phantom and I went out and I was actually flying the Phantom in a public park and somebody called the cops on me and said that I was spying on the neighborhood because I had my camper van out there. And we were out there flying a drone and spying on the neighborhood. And I did a quick video on that, I’ll go ahead and link this as well.
I was mentioning how all it takes is one person to ruin it. You could be out there having a great time exploring and it just takes one person to call the cops. You can’t stay there because you’re spying on the neighborhood with a drone, like we’re casing out the neighborhoods with my DJI Phantom, like aerial imaging that I use for my YouTube channel. I’m actually spending all that money to break into houses. It’s kind of frustrating.
Some points I want to talk about, my bringing everything back together is a lot of the cop incidences happened in Arizona and California. Oregon, Washington, all throughout Canada and Alaska. I urban camped in Alaska, you can park on the side of the road or absolutely anywhere, it’s absolutely free. And it’s just the mentality up there. Every cop I’ve met up there has been completely nice, talks to you as a person. I absolutely love Alaska. And I’ve just pulled off on the side of the road and nobody’s ever messed with me. But in California, I wake up and eat breakfast in my van and my girlfriend is doing yoga and I get the cops called on me. Or like the other time, I’m parked in a neighborhood and the cops knocking on my window for half an hour trying to see if I’m in there. It’s just different mentalities on where you go.
But overall from the patterns that I’ve seen as long as you’re congenial with the police officer, as long as you’re being honest, everything is going to work out fine. A lot of time there really is no set law on urban camping, different town to town. But from my experience, there’s been no set thing where somebody can point to and say this is why you can’t do this because it’s in the statute or whatever. So I’ve been really fortunate with that. But definitely if you’re in camping out there just always remember that some people, they see a van, they see an RV and the first thing they’re going to do is call the cops because there’s some crazy guy in their neighborhood now that might harm their kids that they saw something on the news. A lot of people out there think that the world is completely bad and everybody out there is out to get them. That’s always going to be the way it is, and that’s unfortunate but that’s just not the reality that I live in. You’ve just got to stay positive and hope for the best.
So thank for watching, hope this is beneficial to you and have a good day.