Can You Really Get Busted for Sleeping in Your Car? The Full Scoop

Is it illegal to sleep in your car? Whether you’ve found yourself suddenly homeless or if you’re living out of a vehicle by choice, it’s…

illegal to sleep in a car

Is it illegal to sleep in your car? Whether you’ve found yourself suddenly homeless or if you’re living out of a vehicle by choice, it’s good to know the ins and outs about where to spend the night. As van life rises in popularity, many locales are creating rules and regulations about overnight parking. I’m here to help you understand your options so you can make informed decisions on where you sleep in your vehicle.

Sleeping on the side of the road in your car is illegal in some cities, but there are ways to stealth camp in urban areas when you need to. I’ll give you tips and ideas about where to spend the night, as well as a list of places you can legally camp.

I’ve camped on many city streets in my Promaster campervan and know how stressful it can be finding a legal and safe place to park for the night.

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more info.

Is It Illegal to Sleep In Your Car?

It’s not necessarily illegal to sleep in your car, especially if you’re just taking a quick nap on a city street. You also won’t find any federal or state laws banning sleeping in cars.

So, whether it’s illegal to sleep in your car is left up to the particular city, county or state you’re in.

Man sleeping in his car during the day.
Taking a nap is usually okay. Overnight is where things can get complicated.

Some cities don’t explicitly prohibit sleeping in cars but have time limits on how long you can park in a certain area. I’ve frequently seen signs on particular streets banning overnight parking. Oftentimes, you’ll see random hours where you can’t park, like 2AM-4AM. This can make finding a place to sleep difficult.

If you plan on sleeping in your car in a city, be sure to research local laws and ordinances and decide if you want to take the risk. It’s not always explicitly posted on signs, and you can find yourself getting “the knock” in the middle of the night or waking up to a costly ticket.

For example, in Jackson, WY it is illegal to camp on city streets, which is defined as sleeping in your vehicle overnight. However, I have only found this information in the local ordinances and not posted anywhere. For what it’s worth I’ve successfully slept on the street there for a night, but I was stressed and worried about getting a ticket!

Highway rest areas are usually a good place to rest, but they aren’t always a free-for-all. Some states prohibit overnight parking at rest stops and only allow you to stay a few hours to catch some ZZZs.

In Washington state, particularly around Seattle, many rest areas have 15-min to 1-hour parking spaces and limited 8-hour parking spots. Be sure to pay attention to all posted signage to avoid problems!

Here are a few examples of laws concerning whether it’s illegal to sleep in your car:

  • Berkeley, California has banned RV parking overnight between 2am-5am. Law enforcement has been known to give tickets or tow cars people are living in.
  • Los Angeles, California banned sleeping in cars for the fourth time in three years.
  • In San Francisco, it’s illegal to sleep in a car overnight from 10am-6pm and you could be fined $1,000. (However, The Wayward Home founder Kristin has slept in her vehicle in San Francisco many times, and this has never happened to her.)

Usually, those laws are put into place to cut down on the number of homeless people sleeping in cars or to prohibit loitering, but with the housing crisis and lack of affordable options, more and more folks are needing to live in their vehicles.

Should You Sleep in Your Car Where It’s Illegal?

The amount of risk you’re willing to take when it comes to sleep in your car is entirely up to you.

Our writing team has slept in cars in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, New York, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, New Orleans, and other major cities without incident.

Two campervans parked on a New Orleans city street near a park
Read signs carefully to know if its illegal to sleep in your car or campervan. Photo by writer Brooke Alexander (@pettyprinethepromaster).

The trick is to be super stealthy, obey parking signs and restrictions, arrive late and leave early, and keep your vehicle looking clean and organized.

For example: Don’t hang white sheets from all your windows. It draws attention and you’re more likely to be ticketed or asked to leave. Use dark window covers when possible.

If you’re parking where it’s illegal to sleep in your car, your goal should be to make it look like nobody is in your vehicle.

Here are a few tips and tricks to make sure you’re stealth:

  • Park late and leave early
  • Move to a new parking spot every night
  • Tint your windows, get blackout curtains or make your own, use a front windshield sunshade and hang a dark sheet or blanket between the cab and backseat
  • Use dark bedding so you blend in
  • Don’t use lights late, talk on the phone or watch movies
  • Be very quiet and respectful
  • Brush your teeth and use the bathroom far away from the place where you’re planning on parking for the night (unless you can do these things in your campervan)
  • Crack your windows and/or open your vents so your vehicle doesn’t fog up overnight
  • Make sure your vehicle looks clean and is in good shape to the best of your ability

Being ticketed or towed does not happen very often when sleeping in a city. You’ll usually just deal with a knock from a police officer or a security guard, asking you to move. But if you try parking in the same area again, you’re likely to get a ticket.

I personally got a knock in San Diego, apologized to the officer and asked if he knew of anywhere else I could go. He had started to write me a ticket, but after a bit of pleading, he let me go with a verbal warning and directed me to a different area.

If this is a risk you’re willing to take, you might be able to get away with sleeping in your car even in cities where it’s illegal.

TIP: Some cities are implementing Safe Parking Lots as a way to address homelessness. However, these are typically meant for people who are truly homeless and have to go through an application process. If you are experiencing homelessness, it’s worth looking into.

A Few Instances When It’s Always Illegal to Sleep in Your Car

Sometimes, it is just downright illegal to sleep in your car. Here are some examples when you shouldn’t be sleeping in a vehicle at all:

When you’re intoxicated. Depending on state laws, you could be arrested for DUI if you’re sleeping in your car while drunk. The point is to stop someone from turning the key and driving away while still intoxicated.

On private property. Obviously, you can’t just park on private property and expect it to be legal. Read signs carefully and choose a place to park wisely.

When signs expressly forbid it. It’s definitely illegal to sleep in your car in areas that are clearly marked. Some cities now have laws against car camping in particular areas, especially in areas prone to homelessness or with significant tourist traffic.

Places to Stealth Camp in a Car in an Urban Area

There are a couple of different approaches when it comes to sleeping in your car.

  1. You can park on city streets, which are public property.
  2. Or you can park on private property, like in large parking lots.

If you park on city streets, you might get a knock from a police officer. If you’re on private property, you’ll deal with a security guard.

Ram Promaster campervan parked in a parking garage at LAX airport
I’ve even slept in my van in an airport parking garage! (Of course it’s not free, though) @pettyprinethepromaster

Here are some places to try out when you’re sleeping in your car. You can use Google filters in the Google maps app to find many of these places.

  • Near public libraries, where you can use the bathrooms and internet and sleep during the day hours if you need to
  • In an industrial area
  • In hospital parking structures or secure parking garages
  • In hotel parking lots (I’ve done this in a pinch when the place I planned to park felt unsafe!)
  • City streets in urban areas, like outside the gym or a park
  • Outside a bar or brewery, just make sure you aren’t intoxicated or you could get a DUI in some states (It’s always best to ask the manager!)
  • Marina parking lots (I’ve heard of lots of luck with this one)
  • Church parking lots (some allow this)
  • 24-hour restaurants (I’ve done this!)
  • Apartment building parking lots with unassigned parking (be thoughtful to not disturb residents)

The Walmart Conundrum: Is it Illegal to Sleep in Your Car at Walmart?

Walmart parking lots used to be a safe haven for RVers and van lifers living in a city or moving through town.

Front facade of a Walmart store. Some allow overnight parking
Some Walmart stores allow overnight parking, and some don’t

While many Walmart stores still do allow overnight parking in their spacious parking lots, more and more are opposed to RVers on store property due to poor ettiquette and waste issues.

Here’s what Walmart’s website says about whether it’s illegal to sleep in your car overnight:

“We do permit RV parking on our store parking lots as we are able. Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on availability of parking space and local laws. Please contact management in each store to ensure accommodations before parking your RV.”

Our best advice if you’re worried is to call the Walmart store manager to make sure they don’t prohibit overnight camping in their parking areas. In our experience, some Walmarts have signs prohibiting overnight parking, but the managers give permission. It’s always worth asking!

You can use the Walmart Store Finder to look for Walmarts near you.

Places to Sleep in Your Car Legally

If you’re not into playing Russian Roulette with cops and security guards, you can just go ahead and find a completely legal place to park overnight to get your shut-eye.

Ram Promaster campervan, RVs, and vehicles parked at a rest area. Marfa Lights Viewing Area
My campervan parked at the Marfa Lights Viewing Area rest stop @pettyprinethepromaster

Here are some of our top picks for a safe place to sleep:

Truck Stops

Truck drivers often park their rigs in parking lots to sleep overnight when they work long hours. It’s an easy and safe place to find spots near the highway with security guards.

Truck stop parking lots are also often listed on websites like Rest Area Parking or Truckstops of America, and they will usually have a list of what truck stops allow camping overnight.

You can take a hot shower at many truck stops. We also like that you can wake up and grab fresh coffee and use the restroom in the morning.

Rest Areas

There are rest areas all across the country, but laws vary by state on how long you can stay in a rest stop.

In California, you can stay at a rest stop for up to 8 hours. We had a favorite one overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge where we’ve spent the night.

In South Dakota, by contract, you aren’t allowed to spend the night at a rest stop and it’s considered a petty crime.

Same goes for Minnesota: you are only allowed to spend 4 hours in rest areas. Still, it’s a good place to get a little shut-eye before moving to your next destination.

We recommend researching state laws before sleeping in your car overnight at a rest stop.

Campgrounds

Many cities have campgrounds nearby or even within city limits. I’ve stayed at the Spearfish City campground right in downtown Spearfish, SD when I was getting my residency in that state.

San Francisco also has several nearby campgrounds where it’s legal to sleep in a car.

You can use apps like iOverlander or The Dyrt to find campgrounds near you and read reviews.

On Federal Land

If you’re able to travel a bit, you can usually find free campsites on public land, like National Forest land or land run by the Bureau of Land Management.

This is called boondocking, and is a great way to live in your vehicle on the cheap. Plus, you’ll have access to nature and the peace of mind knowing you’re in a legal place to spend the night!

You can order a books showing BLM camping areas, National Forest camping, and Army Corps of Engineers camping options. iOverlander and The Dyrt are also helpful for finding federal land to camp on.

To learn more about free camping, read this article: Can You Camp Anywhere in a National Forest?

Casinos

Vans and RVs parked in a casino parking lot in Washington
This casino allows free overnight parking for 3 days with a player’s club card. @pettyprinethepromaster

Some casinos allow you to sleep in your car overnight and even encourage it! They hope people will come eat, drink and gamble inside the casino. You might need to sign up for a free players club card, but they often come with free goodies!

You can easily find casinos with overnight parking here.

Boondockers Welcome & Harvest Hosts

If you have a self-contained campervan or RV (with an indoor bathroom, sleeping and cooking areas), you can sign up for Boondockers Welcome and Harvest Hosts.

Boondockers Welcome connects you with people who have private property that allow overnight camping. This is sometimes in a driveway or a field.

With Harvest Hosts, you pay a one-time membership fee to camp at wineries, breweries, museums, golf courses, and farms.

Both of these programs can save you money if you’re moving around a lot. The cost of an annual membership is about the same as two nights of campgrounds!

Parking Lots at Certain Big Box Stores

Some stores love the business RVers and van lifers bring to the property, so they allow you to park your car and sleep for the night.

Ram Promaster Campervan parked overnight at a Cabela's
This Cabela’s welcomes overnighters with a free water pump and kennels for your pet! @pettyprinethepromaster

Here are a few places to try sleeping in your car:

  • Cabelas
  • Cracker Barrel
  • Sam’s Club
  • Camping World

If you’re nervous about sleeping in your car at any of these businesses, you can call the manager first and ask.

Sometimes that peace of mind when you’re car camping on private property makes for a better night’s sleep!

three campervans parked in a Cracker Barrel parking lot
Cracker Barrel is a great option for sleeping in your vehicle. @pettyprinethepromaster

Apps to Help You Find Places to Park

More and more people are car sleeping these days, so there are apps now to address the need.

Here are my two favorite apps you can use to search for locations to spend the night:

iOverlander App

iOverlander is a crowd-sourced app where you can see where other people have camped. People typically leave reviews, directions and photographs of campsites. You can click on the link to any car camping spot and the route will load on your phone’s map.

You can use this to identify places people have stealth camped or boondocked, and to find designated campgrounds.

The Dyrt App

The Dyrt App is one of our favorite apps to read campgrounds reviews. You can sort by price, location, amenities, etc. We like to search for campgrounds with showers after we’ve been boondocking for awhile. You can also use The Dyrt to look at boundaries for federal land where you can find free campsites.

Click here for a FREE 90-day trial of The Dyrt Pro.

How to Get Your Car Ready for Sleeping

There are a few ways to sleep in your car. It really depends on what type of car you have. I’ve heard of people sleeping in small sedans, hatchbacks, vans and pickup trucks. Some people just recline the front seat and sleep for the night.

The inside of a Toyota Prius camper
David Swanson’s Prius Camper has a table and a bed in back

If you have a small car…

Fold down the back seats so you can access the trunk area. Put down a camping mat and lie with your feet in the trunk and your head toward the front seats.

Make sure your back windows are tinted or covered somehow so nobody can see you if they try to look inside. Hang a sheet or blanket over the two front seats so people can’t see in the back when looking in a front window. When doing this, though, try to keep everything neat and tidy.

If you have a hatchback…

You’ll have a larger sleeping area if you have a hatchback like a Toyota Prius. Just fold down the two back seats and you’ll have plenty of space to create a bed. Again, make sure those back windows are tinted or covered up somehow so nobody will see you.

If you’re going to be living in your car for an extended period and you’re on your own, you might want to consider removing the front passenger seat so you have a dedicated bed area, with storage next to you.

Luno also makes mattresses for several different vehicle models, so this might be an option for you.

For more tips and resources about living in a car, check out this article: Living in a Car: The Ultimate Guide to Staying Comfortable on the Road

Some Final Thoughts on the Legality of Sleeping in Your Car

The legality of sleeping in your car is dependent on a number of factors. The most important factor to consider when deciding if it’s legal to sleep in your car is whether or not you’re trespassing, which means entering private property without the owner’s permission.

In some cases, parking lots at big box stores allow overnight camping or parking for RVers, van lifers, and other vehicle dwellers who bring them business; just make sure that you ask before doing so as sometimes they may have rules against it.

Apps like iOverlander can help locate places where other people have stealth camped or boondocked so that you know what types of sites are available near you. Reminder: if you stay at an iOverlander site be sure to review it to keep information current for others!

If all else fails, search through federal land boundaries for free campsites!

Just know this: In all my years of camping in parking lots or on city streets, I have only gotten that dreaded “knock” or been asked to move twice.

Take a little time to research local ordinances or find a legal place to park like a campground or rest area.

Make sure to read the comments below for additional tips, or leave one of your own!

Where are spots you’ve slept in your car? What’s worked for you? Add your comment below so other readers can learn from you!

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61 Comments

  1. Vanholio! says:

    Nope, not illegal at all! But as you say, you just can’t here, and there, and THERE, oh, and not over here either … Big pain. I wrote a post about it, too. You did a better job giving suggestions on where you can sleep in a vehicle. Kudos.

    1. Thanks! And yes, it’s always a struggle. I often wish it was easier to sleep in a vehicle and live in a tiny home.

      1. allen williams says:

        I would just like to say, I am homeless and have been sleeping in my car a few months. I have a full time job pumping gas and am trying to save money up for a place to stay. I became homeless because i left my last place( Renting a room) the environment wasnt best for me, they would drink everyday and i do not drink any more.( Former alcoholic) I have had 2 apartments on my own. Have good rental history but theres no way in the world i can afford my own place again. I am in recovery and have 8 months sober. I dont bother anyone and try to park my car when it is night. Just the other day someone threw a brick at my back window when i was sleeping in my car. This scared me, and just really hit me. I broke down the other day and i am prob going to hit a breaking point. I am homeless but i am not a bad person. I dont have any family and i apologize i am just useless space to this earth.

        1. Hi Allen, that sounds really difficult. I hope you find a place to stay soon and a comfortable situation. Keep your head up! Sounds like you’re working hard and trying, and that’s a good thing to be doing right now. Good luck!

          1. Put up a sign on your employment, say “Looking for a Room to Rent”, and let them know you work at the gas station so they can meet you and vice versa. Living in a car is not for everyone, and isn’t a long term solution. Best of luck to you, and I am praying for you, Allen.

        2. You are definitely not useless. I hope things are looking up for you and that you’ve been able to save enough to afford rent. You’re not alone in this struggle. God hasn’t forgotten you but loves you enough to die on the cross for you to be forgiven and to become His child. He too was homeless and can relate. Please know you are loved and clearly not forgotten❤

        3. You are not useless. I’ve been at the end of my rope too. Jesus came to me in a dream and told me that He loved me. Jesus Loves You Too!!! Find a Salvation Army mission or go to a Christian Church (Baptist, Methodist, find a church that teaches from the Bible. Jesus Loves You!!!

        4. Dawn Weiss says:

          I am so proud of you that you gave up your addiction.The other posts were right,God is the answer.Your life will be completely different once you give your life entirely to him.It would be great if you could find a church because churches can help you and they become your family. Calvary churches and Assembly of God might be good options for you.Our church is small but kind ,loving and helpful.Jesus will change everything for you as he changed our family.God Bless you😊

        5. You are very useful. You are a child of God. Get a Bible. Go to church. They will give you a free one. Since you are online, contact the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. They can help you with your next step. Also go to orb.org. You can read daily devotionals on their website.. you can also read the Bible online at Biblegateway.com. You can choose the version you want to read too (NIV, King James, or Easy-to-Read). God Bless You and Jesus Loves You.

          1. IT’S ODB. .ORG NOT ORB.ORG

        6. Adam Kingsley says:

          BS you’re a free spirit living a beautiful honest life and should be free to live how you can. You have a God given right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Don’t let anyone ever take that from you. God bless

        7. Hey,
          If you still checking this thread, just wanted to say that I personally find Sadhguru (youtube videos) a good companion to shine a light on life that can be quite daunting at times.

        8. Hopefully things are much better for you keeping you in prayer

        9. Hey brother,
          I too became homeless in October 2020. It’s what I got for my 60th birthday, a learning curve on being homeless for the first time in my life. I’m educated, worked as a scientist and a chemist and I moved back to California 26 years ago. I stayed at my Mom’s to help her, but I got a series of health problems and am now disabled and trying to live on less than $1000/mo. My Mind m passed away 6 years ago and left her trust to, first my sister, and then my cousin. Both didn’t do anything my mom wanted, as far as assisting me. My sister ( who makes more in a month than I do in 2 years) waited 5 years until the house was being firclosed and then somehow made herself the trustee and keptt most of the money from the house. I spent $800 of the little she gave me to buy a crappy van. It won’t pass smog, can’t b e registered, and I have no plates on it. So I DO get the 4:30 am knock quite often. I can’t park anywhere. Itsi tolerate able to live like this, at this point in my life, and in a pandemic. ( She is a geriatric nurse, ha!) . So, I feel you my friend. Keep working and your little fe will likely improve. I’m also an alcoholic/addict in recovery. I just passed my 12 th year without alcohol on JuKly 9th. t can be done. Hang in there.

          1. Kristin Hanes says:

            Hey Kenny! If you need to register your car you should try South Dakota. You don’t even have to live there to register in that state, and there are no vehicle inspections or smog tests required. You can do this through the mail and they will mail you plates anywhere. Just thought that might help you from getting “the knock” so often. Sounds like you’ve gone through some bad stuff with your family, etc. I hope that things start going better for you. Maybe you can get out of California and go somewhere cheaper and into nature. Good luck!

        10. Dude I feel you, and your not alone. My partner and I are in the same boat, we both left our less than ideal living situations and moved into my BMW, and yes it’s a struggle every f&@:en day, so don’t think your alone dude, I know it sounds cliche, but just keep ur head up, and know there are tons of us sharing the same struggle.”,

        11. Just keep traveling you will find a spot to call home. That you can afford

        12. Robert Kay says:

          I am homeless and have been sleeping in my car for 4 years. I have heart problems and don’t work anymore. I’m sorry you experienced violence. I haven’t but I always worry about that. Trust in the Lord. I don’t know what area you’re in but I’m in San Fernando valley. It’s not too bad. Don’t give up. Don’t ever stop fighting. God bless.

  2. I’ve been kicked out of so many Walmart parking lots that I’ve stopped using them altogether. Often times (especially northern California) the store leases the lot from the city, so the city makes the rules. My most successful strategy has been to find a quiet side street or parking lot that is close to a highway. But honestly, I’ve been bothered by police so many times, it doesn’t annoy me anymore, and they’ve never written me a ticket. So if they tell me to move, I ask them where I should park and they usually have an answer. It’s good to rotate spots too. I like to have a spot for each day of the week if I’m staying somewhere for a while. I looked up the law for Sacramento County, you aren’t allowed to sleep outside of a building designed for habitation between certain hours of night. So I guess if you are nocturnal, you can sleep wherever you want, or if you wake up before the cop sees you, just tell them you were playing scrabble or something.

  3. I slept in my car for two years and spent nearly every single night at the same spot: The rest stop at Vista Point at the Golden Gate Bridge, on the Sausalito side. 😉

    1. oh wow, for two years!!! I did it for four months and thought that was a lot, haha. We slept at that rest stop several times. Great location, huh.

      1. Vacant buildings with for lease signs posted are normally a good call and buisness districts. Cops typically only will bother you if you are a problem. They do not consider themselves to be parking maids. Stay away from anyplace like veterinarian offices or doctors offices where drugs are stored. Also stay away from banks, schools and residential neighborhoods. I have a class b rv and have been doing this for two years. I have only been asked to move on once. Just use your common sense.

        1. Really good advice, thanks! I think readers will find all these comments quite helpful.

    2. Haha! I am from Georgia and I slept there too when I was visiting San Francisco in a rented SUV :). The only issue was that it got very cold at nights.

    3. TintFrisco says:

      Two years is a long time. Now some really interesting experiences popping up here.

  4. Can we brainstorm other ideas? I’ve done some research and I’ve heard: hospitals, some churches (if you ask permission), if you are a vet, American Legion type places, abandoned developments that had roads installed but were never built on.

  5. Vacant buildings with for lease signs posted are normally a good call and buisness districts. Cops typically only will bother you if you are a problem. They do not consider themselves to be parking maids. Stay away from anyplace like veterinarian offices or doctors offices where drugs are stored. Also stay away from banks, schools and residential neighborhoods. I have a class b rv and have been doing this for two years. I have only been asked to move on once. Just use your common sense.

  6. Motels are sometimes excellent location to park for the night. More so in smaller towns where travelers are expected.
    They usually think you’re there for the night and will be gone the next morning.

  7. hobo George says:

    Hello this is hobo George I work travel & sleep in my car ( SUV ) Living a nomadic lifestyle for 7 years full time 15 yrs part time . I park @ Walmart / Gyms / night clubs / bars / friends and family drive ways pretty much anywhere I’m allowed .

    1. what parts of the country do you travel and camp in your RV?

      ken

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  9. Ronald Strawn says:

    It seems that you can car camp, meaning sleeping in your car if you do the following: 1) stay clean. No one likes the look of someone who looks like they are living on the street, 2) do not leave trash where you car camp, 3) assuming you have a car, wash it every so often. It looks good to have a clean vehicle, 4) do not bother other people around you such as at parks, parking lots, and similar, 5) keep the inside of your car as clean and tidy as is possible, 5) if you know anyone that will let you use their address, it will help. For most bits of help, you have to have somewhere to receive mail. I worked out a plan with my former landlord to receive mail at my former address – this is important, 6) if you are questioned by the police do not argue, they might arrest you for some charge or other, answer their questions and move on – very important. Police have more important work to do than hassle you, but you have to respect them or you will lose your freedom. Good luck!

    1. Update: Recently Seattle moved to build affordable housing for homeless people. This is after Amazon’s Jeff Bezos said that Amazon would donate some millions of dollars for that purpose. Apparently, Seattle government is working with or adopting the plans of Los Angels, CA and San Francisco, CA to provide shelter for homeless people. However, you can still be either moved from where you car camp or sleep in your car or given a ticket which you have to pay or you can be arrested. The figure that is given by the Seattle government is that there are 12,000 homeless people in the Seattle area and 7,000 in Los Angeles. It does seem right that Seattle has more homeless than Los Angles, but those are the figures. Due to the cold weather, homeless people are moving out of the northwest to sunny Southern California. However, I checked local law in most of the cities in Southern California and found that most of the Orange County cities will give you a ticket for living in your car or RV. The fine is $1,000. If it is not paid, you can be arrested and jailed. Stay away from Southern CA. Word of advice, it is highly recommended that you check the laws regarding homeless people, car camping, and living in your RV or car. A public library will let you use their computers and you can browse the Internet and find out the law pertaining to living in your car or as pertains to homeless people. If you are reading this you know how to use a computer and the Internet, if you do not, a librarian will help you. It is a lot better to know what you are getting into than experience grief.

  10. Another option is The Elks Club. There is an annual membership but the allow RV parking at , I think, over 5000 locations nationwide. There are 163 locations in California. As stated previously, Hospitals, and hotels are good options but need to be considered on case by case basis.

    1. Great idea Bill, thanks!

  11. Camp grounds that have the AAA Auto Club sign in front of their entrance. It may be worth the cost of membership if you use this option enough. Plus, you have their coverage too,on flat tire change, free toeing, etc,

  12. Great write up and great information.
    I’m going to be driving up to San Francisco in about a week to do some Uber/Lyft driving for a couple of days but can’t afford a room. What’s the name of the rest stop you mentioned in San Francisco?

    1. Hey Robert! The rest stop is just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, off Highway 101. To sleep there and drive in the city you will have to pay the $7 bridge toll every day.

      1. Thanks for the fast reply Kristin. Is that $7 toll per day or $7 every time I use the bridge?

        Is that rest area just west of Horseshoe Bay?

        Sorry for the all questions. Lol I’m just pre-planning. Thank you!

        1. No problem! It’s a bridge toll whenever you enter San Francisco from Marin county. I’m not sure where Horseshoe Bay is, haha. The rest stop is literally right on the other side of the bridge. It’s where all the tourists go for a view of San Francisco off Highway 101.

  13. Pingback: 14 secrets to stealth camping without getting caught - The Wayward Home
  14. Might want to check out Cascade Campers. Stealth camping at its best!

    1. I find that wind deflectors/rain guards for car windows help A LOT. You can leave your windows cracked but don’t have to worry about rain getting in, or people peeking inside.

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  18. steve Hammill says:

    Some of the places you suggest sound dangerous.
    When on the road, I stop to sleep in a small town and call the cops to tell them that I’m stopping to rest.
    When I did a lot of stealth camping I went straight to bed and stayed as silent as possible.
    Pot, booze, guns, and other contraband are a bad idea for stealth campers. Hell, it’s even risky to have wild sex with your wife if you are stealth camping.

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  22. We used to sleep in hotel parking lots until our van was mistaken for a construction workers van and broken into while we were sleeping in it. We parked in a lot full of construction trucks and vans, our van is just a big white van. Turns out construction trucks and vans are targets for theft in hotel parking lots. Fortunately we only needed to yell “Hey!” to thief and he ran away, Could have been worse. And frankly I’m glad we weren’t spending the night in the hotel, he would have fully ripped us off.

  23. veto napolitano says:

    At the time I had a dodge van and it was always a struggle to find a place to sleep in peace. A couple times I was lucky enough to find a dodge dealership. When all was closed and quiet I pulled in next to the dodge vehicles for sale. I thought that if I got caught I would just say I had trouble with the van and was waiting for the dealer to open. I never got caught.

  24. Peshua Gentile says:

    USED CAR LOTS!!
    No one’s gonna knock on a car in a used car lot. My mom went all the way across the county this way. Admittedly it only works for cars though, probably not large capers and RV’s.

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  26. Hel and Britt says:

    My wife and I have been living in a Nissan altima which luckily looks fancy enough that it’s good for stealth we have had a lot of luck folding the back seats down and putting our torsos in the trunk and out legs out towards the driver seats and covering our legs with a blanket that matches the interior of the car we often park in hotel parking lots actually and have yet to be bothered about it its easy to change locations and there are often multiple hotels in a small area so bathrooms and water and back up places are easy to come by we are just getting started with this way of life and really excited to find community I’m so glad this page exists!

  27. I moved in to take care of my mother for 7 years and when she passed away I had 3 months to leave her home. Between the high apartment rent, moving costs, and having to get new furniture I just cannot do it. so I will become a car camper with my cat.
    Do have a question how safe is it for a 75 y/o woman to sleep overnight in her car?

    1. Kristin Hanes says:

      Hey Pam! Sorry to hear about your situation – that sounds rough! I think picking a safe feeling place is good – nicer parts of town, campgrounds, rest stops that don’t look too creepy, hotel parking lots, hospital parking lots, etc. Just stay stealth when camping on private property – you don’t want anyone to know you are in there!

  28. My best sleepover spots are the gas staions with a big parking lots. I always tell the gas clerk that my car broke down and theirs no available tower at this latenight. Someone is coming to help you first thing in the morning to fix your car. By then, you already left when the second shift arrives. It’s always 100% works for me.

  29. Important lesson I learned recently. Always put up a windshield privacy screen. I was relaxing in the back of my SUV the other day, just looking at my phone,
    parked on a street with apartment buildings. This guy crosses in front of me, looks in my car, and sees me. A few minutes later, he comes out again and stands right next to my car and takes a photo. I drove straight to an auto supply store and bought a sunshade that covers the entire front windshield.

    As far as where to park at night. Large chain hotels with big parking lots. Do all your prep work BEFORE you arrive. Never exit the vehicle. Move from the driver’s seat to the back without exiting. Look for either security cameras or parking permits on the dash of other vehicles. Do NOT park in the furthest most isolated corner of the parking lot. Try to avoid parking directly under a light. Crack a window to avoid windows fogging over. Decrease your fluids intake later in the day to minimize your need to urinate during the night. Looking at your phone or tablet creates a light inside the car that will draw the attention of anyone walking by your car.

    Whenever you park in a place where you want to spend a few hours, always stay seated in the drivers seat and OBSERVE your surroundings for a few minutes. This will give you the “lay of the land” and you will get a feel for how safe it is. If your gut instinct tells you it’s not safe, drive someplace else.

    Forget about Florida in the wintertime. All rest areas have a three hour limit that is strictly enforced. Residential streets in Florida almost universally prohibit on-street parking at night. Florida has wised up to how many people want to go there to live in vehicles, and they have made it almost impossible to do. For example, police in Key West will ask you if you have a bed in your car; if you do, you’re out.

    You DO NOT need cooking equipment in your car or a chemical toilet. Whole Foods markets have very healthy prepared foods–yes, it’s pricey, but so is maintaining cooking equipment, fuel, cleanup, storage, etc. Get a nationwide gym membership, I recommend the ymca–shower there. There are toilets and water available everywhere.

    Before you start living in your vehicle, make sure all paperwork type stuff is up to date, because there may be some things that will not allow you to use a p.o. box.

    I don’t know how women do it, but men living in their vehicle should keep a big plastic cup available for when you have a urination emergency.

    If you’re not already a no-frills minimalist, you need to be. Keep your possessions to an absolute minimum. Nothing draws unwanted attention quicker than a vehicle loaded with STUFF. Also attracts thieves.

    Keep your body, clothes and your car neat and clean. Keeping everything neat and clean will enable you to “pass” as a “normal” person and nobody will notice you when you don’t want to draw attention. For example, on a bad weather day, you will want to relax in someplace like a large hotel lobby AND NOT draw attention, look like you fit in!

    Good luck. Living in a vehicle can be lonely and depressing. But also incredibly liberating and freeing for your soul.

  30. I didn’t know there was a time limit at a rest areas in South Dakota. I have adult kids now but years back I had to get rest driving back to ND as the only adult and driver. I don’t recommend sleeping in a car in the northern states. Even in RV’s they have found frozen multiple couples frozen.

  31. Debra Pilkington says:

    4 years ago I lived in my big blue camper van in Oceanside for 2 and 1/2 years

  32. JONES VS CITY OF LOS ANGELES US SUPREME COURT 2006 SAYS THE LAW STATES YOU CAN LIVE IN YOUR CAR VAN ON ANY PUBLIC STREET IN CALIFORNIA.
    THAT IS THE LAW!! IF ANY STATUTE ORDINANCE OR CODE SAYS OTHERWISE ITS ILLEGAL!!!
    ALPHONSE FAGGIOLO YOUTUBE
    STEVE EMERSON PROPERTY TAX YOUTUBE

  33. My boyfriend and I have child with us and I have 2 other children in foster care. We are trying to get them back. And the place where we are at is not a good neighborhood. We both have bad credit. We are probably going to have to stay in our car. And its 1994 Volvo sedan. Any advice.

  34. Tim Hitchcock says:

    Excellent article, thank you. Over the years in CA-OR-WA, I’ve lived in vehicles from time to time, nomad lifestyle choice. Now I am looking through a different lens. I bought a home in Yamhill County OR next to a city park. The park and neighborhood are being dragged down by vehicle campers with antisocial behaviors. I don’t let my grandkids play there without close supervision. Where can I find legal advice about how to implement ordinances that prohibit sleeping in vehicles within the city limits, and other means of discouraging vehicle camping in our locale? I put a lot of this on the failure of individuals to take responsibility for their own choices and actions. The city staff and budget are being strained thin by the abuse. Thanks for any help.

  35. This is such a comprehensive and genuinely helpful article. Thank you!

  36. Adrienne Ouellet says:

    These places that only you 8 hours of use are nuts. If you want to be safe, which I’m sure everyone does, if you’re in a car, a regular sedan, then you’ve got to start setting up your bed area in it by 5pm. It gets too dark after that (in North County, San Diego, CA) safely set up after that. Rest stops don’t usually have security patrolling the areas. It’d be really easy for someone sneak up on you, especially if you’re a single female like me. There’s 12 hours of light, and 12 hours of dark. Ten hours is looking for people to get hurt in. Whoever made that rule needs to live in their car for a month and see how hard it is.

    1. Kristin Hanes says:

      We used to set up our bed BEFORE pulling into our spot for the night.

  37. I’ve slept in my car for three different stints in Los Angeles. First was 8 months, second time was 4 months, and I’m currently 1 month in with about 2 months to go. I suppose my location choices are illegal as they are residential and the cops have only asked me to move once (after checking my license and registration). I usually find a neighborhood I like and stick with it for my entire time sleeping in my car. I arrive really late around midnight and leave early around 7am. I will take you all’s advice and start switching up my parking spot, if I ever receive another knock on my window. I use my gym membership to shower.

  38. Would be nice if you had Canadian associates to write about each Canadian province. Seems like each city decides to allow or ban overnight street parking. In Ontario I can usually drive into town and go to the washroom at a coffee shop 24/7. Manitoba locks their doors and only allows you to drive thru due to the high amount of homeless meth heads. Many places make you ask to unlock the washrooms and they have dark blue lights to prevent addicts from finding a vein to shoot up. Saskatchewan campgrounds often have no overnight workers. I’ve seen people hiding their vehicles in dark treed areas to sleep in Manitoba. Ontario has too many police and you can be fined for being in hiking areas after dark.

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