You may have been watching some of the young, hip, urban stealth campers on You Tube, living free on the streets of big, expensive cities in a plain, white, urban stealth van, while they pursue school, or a career. They make it look so easy! So glamorous! So anti-social in a really cool way! Maybe, but hold up, reality check…. Knock, knock, knock, the glare of a flashlight… it’s the cops! “You can’t park here. License and registration…” Maybe this time, you get off without a ticket, or maybe not. Bang, bang bang! “Gimme all you got!” Oh no! It’s a meth addicted gang banger with a mental illness, brandishing a weapon! What do you do? It can, and does happen. You really have to think about this. You really have to look at your environment, and map out the safest, most low profile places you can find, areas where no one goes at night. If you are urban stealth camping, you will need black out curtains, and probably will have to call it an early night; lights attract attention, it can not look like there is anyone inside that van! Oh, and no running the heater or air conditioner, those make noise!
Or maybe you have been watching the adventures of an environmentally green young man, driving his Class B across the country, bugging out off grid to the wilderness, fishing for his dinner, cooking over a fire, nearly freezing to death as he camps out in the Alaska wilderness… really cool, really romantic, but that actually costs money. You will still need to pay for your car insurance, license, registration, gas, and, believe it or not, you chances of actually “bugging out and living off the land” 100% are not that good, so you will at least sometimes have to buy food. How will you support yourself, if you are “off grid”?
Maybe you saw some guy on You Tube, who scored a mold covered, 35′ Class A from the 80’s with a badly leaking roof and a bad case of mildew, for $500. He’s planning on living for free, in the Walmart parking lot. Wow! $500! You think you can score something like that too! You could rebuild it, refurbish it, make it really cool with solar panels, and wind power, and a satellite system… OK, maybe. But really, do you have the construction and mechanical skills to do this? Do you know how hard it is to get rid of mold? Do you realize how expensive RV tires are? Because the tires on your great Craigslist score are undoubtedly dry rotted. Do you have some place where it will be OK to leave this monstrosity all tore up, for months and months, while you fix it, without getting a ticket, or having the neighbors start a petition? If not, rescuing this wreck could cost you a a lot more than you anticipated! And “living for free, at Walmart” is simply not reality.
The same goes for building your dream RV from scratch, building a mobile tiny house, or turning a delivery truck into a stealth camper; all very do-able, but seriously consider your skills levels, your resources, your time, money, and if you have a space to do this, without running into trouble with the neighbors, building code enforcers or the police.
If your goal is to build something from scratch, you can find RV parts, like RV toilets and tanks, but also look into marine parts. Boats use many of the same sort of components, and some that are unique, and might be better suited for your plans. And don’t forget, you will be moving, and your tiny house or homemade trailer will be under “earthquake conditions” going 60 mph down the highway! You need to teach yourself the techniques and principles of construction that will ensure durability and safety under these extreme conditions of shake, rattle and roll. A simple hammer and nails approach might lead to disaster. And design it as light as possible, excess weight can also lead to disaster.
Another thing, if you are building your own RV, a very important consideration is weight distribution; it is vital that the weight from side to side is even. For instance, it would be a very bad plan to put your tanks (water weighs 8 lbs per gallon) and your kitchen appliances all on one side, and just your bed on the other. If you want to build your own dream RV, please research the design aspect and the principle of weight distribution thoroughly.
I’m not trying to bash your dreams, just throwing in a reality check; you really need to think it out, and be honest with yourself, about your comfort and skill levels, practicality, and resources. Be prepared!
If your goal is to save money while going to school, or at your present low paying job, and you do not plan on traveling far, a travel trailer or 5th wheel might fit the bill; you may be able to park it in the backyard of family or friends, or, put an ad on Craigslist for someone to rent you their backyard cheap, or in exchange for yard work or caretaking. Or you might get a night security gig. School or work in the day, keeping an eye on things at night. And if your living situation turns bad or evaporates, you can tow it out, and find a new place. “Stealth camping” on the streets might be do-able, but if you are going to school, you need to ask yourself, how this type of unstable lifestyle might affect your ability to study and get the good grades you really need. You might do just fine, but you might also find the underlying anxiety of sleeping on the street will start to affect your grades.