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If you’re planning to travel and live in a camper van and sleep for free then you can make it a whole lot easier by making your camper van stealthy. Our Elvis the van is pretty stealthy and I’d credit that to us being able to sleep for free every single night while we travelled across America.
But having a stealthy camper van isn’t just about being able to go unnoticed. You’ve also got to be able to support yourselves while living in it. If you don’t have electricity then you’ll have to park up at a campsite at some point to recharge your batteries. If you haven’t made allocations for water then you’ll have to stay somewhere with a tap to keep you hydrated and enable you to cook.
Want make a stealthy camper van so that you can go virtually unnoticed and support yourselves with electricity and water? Read on!
How to make a stealthy camper van
Choose the type of van wisely
First things first, if you really want a stealthy camper van you’re going to have to pick the right type of van. As gorgeous as colourful VW van looks (I miss my parents pink one 🙁 ), they’re just not stealthy. Everyone knows they’re a camper van. Therefore, if it’s parked up at night and the windows are blacked out there’s probably someone in there. Likewise with your traditional looking camper van or small RV, like a Winebago.
I fell in love with a small RV when we were looking for vans. It was super old but it was spacious and you could stand up. I was sure it was full of quirks that we have learned to love.
In the end we made the decision to buy a Ford e150. At the time it was being used as a work van. It had great big metal shelves in it the back of it to house tools and that was about it. We worked on it for a few weeks and before long it had become our home. Elvis the Van was born.
White Ford vans are so common. You can’t drive half a mile without seeing one and they’re usually used as a work van. Yes there are plenty that are camper vans too but if you don’t know about ‘vanlife’ then you’d just assume it’s a work van.
If you really want to be stealthy look at converting a white van. They also tend to be a bit more reliable than old VW vans and guzzle less gas than an RV.
Block out the windows
If you’re trying to be stealthy you don’t want people to be able to see you sat inside, on your bed with a laptop and some snacks. Even if you’re not trying to be stealthy you probably don’t want people staring in at you.
Having blacked out windows also makes your vehicle less tempting to thieves since they can’t see what valuables may be inside. Blacking out your windows is super easy and super important for making a stealthy camper van! There are several ways you can achieve this.
Tint your windows
You could tint your windows to make it harder to see in. There are kits you can buy online that help you do this. I haven’t tried it so I’m not sure how effective it would be. There are both spray paints and more comprehensive kits that involve sticking a blackout film over your window.
Every vanlifer has heard of reflectix. Not only is it probably all over their van for insulation but it tends to be what most people use to stick in their windows. It has the dual purpose of blocking out watching eyes and also keeping in warmth.
Reflectix is basically silver bubblewrap (but a bit more technical). Its’s easy to install you just need to cut out the right amount to fit in your windows. We found it’s easiest to make a template with cardboard first.
Before our Christmas road trip we updated our reflectix by adding some black card from our local dollar store on one side (so the window looks completely black), and some funky print on the other to make the inside more fun.
Another way to black our your windows is to buy, or make, some curtains. Personally I think this still looks more like a camper van rather than any ol’ van but it does also make things look more homely too.
We have one curtain that pulls across behind the two front seats. We pull this across whenever we park up, even when we’re not living in the van just to hide what’s in the van. Luckily the curtain colour is pretty much spot on for the seat colour so it blends in well.
If making sure your van is well insulated is important to you then you could get some curtains that also keep in the heat. We found ours in Walmart and then bought a curtain rail from Ikea which we attached to the van. We’ve also seen people use bungee cords to hang their curtain and that seems to work great too!
Avoid sticking stickers all over your van
If you want your van to be as stealthy as possible then avoid sticking stickers all over the outside of it. Stickers are great to show where you’ve been and I think they look quite cool but it’s a dead giveaway. Why not make a feature wall inside your van to show off the places you been. That way you can have the souvenirs but you stay stealthy too!
Invest in a solar pannel and Goal Zero
In order for us to avoid paying for campsites we needed to figure out a way to charge our phones, laptops and cameras.Elvis doesn’t have a place to plug in electricity at campsites and we didn’t really want to put one in. Instead we looked at alternatives.
I’d always thought installing solar panels in a van would be far too complicated and expensive. However, we found a great solar panel that is both light and not too expensive. We stuck this to our roof and Thom connected it to a Goal Zero.
The great thing about our solar panel is that it’s super thin and flexible. This means you can’t see it when you look at our van. The only way to see it is to look on the roof and so it passes the stealth test with flying colours!
Having a Goal Zero means you don’t have to get multiple pieces of equipment that convert the solar energy into power and then enable the power to be accessed by your chargers. The Goal Zero does it all for you and it’s one of the most essential pieces of gear in our van. It’s not a cheap piece of equipment but it was totally worth it for us.
Our solar panel has seen it all. It’s been buried in snow, pelted with rain and ice and endured super high temperatures. It’s always kept our Goal Zero charged and just the one panel provided plenty of energy for us. If you have a fridge or a TV then you might need more. For those of you just charging laptops, cameras and phones then you should be alright with the same as us.
Buy some water containers
If you want to be stealthy and living it up on beautiful BLM land or National Forests then you’ll need to make sure you can support yourselves when it comes to water. We don’t have a massive water tank.
What we ended up doing was buying a 10L bottle of water from Walmart which we then refilled and attached to our hand-pump tap. We also had a couple of smaller bottles for refilling our water bottles throughout the day.
It meant we had to refill about every other day. This seems like a lot but it’s not too bad when you know where to find free water!
Get a fan
Another great way to keep your van stealthy is to get a fan-tastic fan. This might not seem like the stealthiest thing in the world. It’s far more stealthy than having your doors wide open in a desperate attempt to get some fresh air in while you’re cooking or getting hot and sweaty Louisiana humidity.
It can be pretty nerve wracking when you install a fan since you have to drill a hole in your roof. Take your time and do plenty of measuring before cutting.
The fans are quite quiet when in use and, unless you’re looking out for them, they not too easy to spot from the pavement.