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Sleeping in a Van and Staying Safe

Sleeping in a Van

Check out what happened to us in Brunswick, Maine. As usual, it’s getting dark and Lilu and I are pulling up the iOverlander and HarvestHost apps to find, hopefully, a safe and pretty place to stay overnight. Every place was either marked permanently closed, looked sketch, or was too far out of our way. Well, the next step is to see if there are any Cracker Barrels around. Nothing. Next search, Walmart. There is one, but it looks like there are “no overnight night parking” signs throughout the parking lot. This is the stage where Lilu gets a bit anxious, looking for any possible alternatives and at the same time posturing towards me in way that it makes me feel that I messed up and didn’t think through far enough to keep our family safe. After dealing with that quick reality check, I propose an idea. Let’s try this Walmart parking lot. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Somebody knocks on the door and politely asks us to leave early morning to avoid the general manager. After all, I am pretty good with people, we got this, Lil. Not sure if I convinced Lilu, or she simply ran out of options, but to Walmart we go. We found a good, quiet spot, and started executing our normal “honker down” routine: flip the two car seats to face the inside, switch on the water pump, extend the dog bed, lower down the insulated curtain which separates the cab, and mix a couple of drinks to relax. Besides the odd-looking van that was parked a few parking rows away, all seemed good. I pulled up the show “Impractical Jokers” on YouTube, Lilu was probably watching something more important and trying to tune out the non-stop obnoxious laughing. The point is, we settled in and relaxed.

The necessity of safe places to park overnight

Out of nowhere we see bright lights shining into our back and side windows, loud banging on the car door, and worst of all, cops, many of them surrounding our van. Crap. We are in our pajamas, dogs are startled, not sure what the next move should be. I guess there was only one thing that we could do, and it was to open the door and face whatever the heck this is. Those cops’ flashlights are bright, I tell you. After gaining back my vision, I was finally able to see people, strangely, very young-looking cops were standing and smiling at me. “Sorry,” they said. “We mistook you for someone else. They are also driving a white van, like yours. Oh, by the way, cool van you got over there. Vanlife? Huh, cool. We’ve always wanted to do something like this too.” Flashlights turn off, cops get into their cars and leave. Lilu, the dogs, and I were all left speechless. What just happened? Are we still okay to stay here or should we leave? So many questions, but we didn’t have time for them because of what came next.

Van at night
Night in the Van
sleeping in the van
Night Van

Bright lights turn on again. That “odd-looking” van was now surrounded by cops. For whatever reason, Lilu and I thought it would be a good idea to get our phones out and try to record this confrontation. This is what we see. The doors open, a loud barking dog is protecting someone in the back. The cops pull out their guns. It’s intense. Finally, a guy wearing an orange jump suit comes out and is being brought down to the ground by the cops, who quickly handcuff him. The thought that this could of have been me came through my mind, but then again, why, since I didn’t do anything wrong. Back to the scene. Lilu is still filming with her shaky hands, and we are staring pretty hard at this point. So many questions, but we didn’t have time for them because of what came next.

For whatever reason, the cops take the handcuffs off, get in their cars and leave. Imagine this, we are still staring, I think Lilu is still rolling the tape, but now instead of a controlled, justice-filled scene in front of us, we have an escaped convict, in an orange jump suit with a loud dog, which is still barking, staring back at us. I will never forget that look. Without having to discuss, Lilu and I flipped one of the car seats back, started the car, and reversed out of there as fast as possible. Full of adrenaline and more questions than ever, we drove into a nearby Lowe’s parking lot and parked behind a big tree to take a breath and try to think through what our next steps should be. It’s midnight and Sahara is crying to be taken out to pee. As a man, I had to volunteer to take her during this highly inconvenient time. As we were walking back to the van, out of nowhere, that odd-looking van, with the orange jump suited man and his barking dog, drifts out from the corner and starts aggressively making circles around our van, burning tires, and staring us down all at the same time. Sahara and I immediately jump into the van, I grab the wheel, don’t remember starting the car, but somehow, we appeared on the highway, flying somewhere far away. Lilu is dialing 9-11 and in a bewildered voice tries to explain and at the same time understand why the cops did what they did. Well, she was talking to a dispatcher who kindly took notes and promised to pass those along.

At this point, we are at a loss for words with no place to sleep and a lot of adrenaline. After about 40 minutes of just driving somewhere, we felt a gentle release of stress, intuitively knowing we were far enough to pull over somewhere again. It was as if we faced the evil itself, and the only place where we would feel secure is at a church parking lot; after all, if they knocked on our door at night, we had a story to tell. It felt justifiable. I will never forget that quaint, little church on top of a hill that ended up our shelter for the night. An old lady who lived right beside the church, for whatever reason, was doing dishes at 2 o’clock in the morning, but besides that, Lilu and I were slowly calming down and trying to fall asleep. We couldn’t help but wake up every time a car light penetrated through our windows, or a branch fell on the ground. We were scared. For a while.

Recommendations How to Improve Van Security

Why did we share this story with you? It is certainly not to provide your parents with more reasons to talk you out of doing van life. But we would be lying to you if we said it’s all that safe too. The truth is somewhere in between. There are some lessons we took away from this experience and added some good security features to our van. Don’t let fear stop you from doing van life, but do prepare.

Recommended Security:

  • Security Lock Box – we installed it under the van to hide our spare keys in case we lose, or someone steals them.
  • Night Vision Spy Camera – we hid the mini-camera inside our van and left it recording non-stop, just in case.
  • Dog Monitoring Camera – this 360-degree camera gave us peace of mind when we left the doggies in the car while running errands.
  • Slick Locks – one of the best security measures you can use to lock your back and side doors while sleeping and/or leaving the van for extended periods of time.
  • Pepper Spray – it's always a good idea to check with the local laws and regulations before traveling to a new place, but for the most part, you got to have this handy. Additionally, bear spray can be an effective deterrent, but it may not be the best when you’re in a tight space as it may have adverse effects on both you and the other individual.
  • Fire and Waterproof Bag – a must-have for all passports, cash, and other valuables.
  • Life 360 App – pretty neat app for tracking in case you would like your loved ones to know your location at all times.


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