Stealth Urban Camping

In the summer of 2014, after spending a couple months of selling or donating most of my possessions, which included most of my kitchen items, a full suspension Yeti Mountain Bike, books, and clothing, it felt as if a tremendous burden had been lifted off my shoulder. When compared to most people my age, I was a minimalist long before I made the decision to own a van, but over the years of renting, I had accumulated enough crap to fill a small garage.

Minimalism, I suppose is a vague concept that means something different depending on what you start with. I was never a hoarder, nor ever owned much to begin with, so downsizing wasn’t as challenging.

I like to personally define minimalism as living with only the bare necessities, necessities being that which aids in survival. I did not need 4 bicycles or multiple furnishings, dishes, or outfits to survive. What was practical was not always purposeful. In other words, so many people live there lives out of convenience, rather than adapting multiple uses to one item.

Many people, own multiple vehicles for instance, practical in the sense that they can often dedicate one vehicle to utility and work and the other to travel. At one brief period, I owned a 1971 Karmann ghia and a new Toyota TRD pickup. It was convenient to load the pickup with tools, lumber, or mountain bikes and use the car for tooling around town, but I later discovered that owning a single, more versatile vehicle was far better.

Minimalism in most cases requires some, if not a lot of sacrifice. If you enjoy entertaining guests, you will find yourself in a predicament. You’ll invariably require a larger living space and more accomodations than just your own. You need to choose one or the other. I found the easiest template for minimalism to be downsizing my living space drastically, which then forced me to shed extraneous items such as multiple dress shirts, pairs of shoes, dishes, etc. owning a small van, versus a large camper, or even a studio apartment, forced this downsizing to the extreme side.

Experienced long distance back packers will often advise you to figure out your system (or camping gear and apparel) first, and then find a pack that has sufficient volume to accommodate these items plus food and water. I advise the opposite. Find a pack size that you find comfortable pre loaded with a predetermined weight and search for gear that fits this template. One inevitable outcome is that it forces greater creativity in repurposing some items for multiple uses. A single, stout tent stake, for example could be used as an eating utensil and a trowel in addition to anchor for your shelter.

I had taken a bold step to sell my black 2008 Toyota 4Runner, to fund the acquisition of the vanagon. I felt hesitant to give up a vehicle that was not only mechanically reliable, but by far, a safer mode of transportation for those long distance treks across country; for a white 1984 Volkswagen Westfalia vanagon. I was still excited while at the same time scared about an abrupt change in life style. I spent the weeks ahead personalizing my new living space during my final weeks of renting. I installed bamboo floor, and fabricated curtains to replace the filthy loose textile drapery. I had a satellite stereo installed and the windows tinted. One evening, I turned the interior lights on in the van with the new drapes closed and peered into the black of the night through my kitchen window of the nearly empty duplex. It was stealth! I camped for the first night in my new tiny home. I was ready to move in.

I found an advertisement online after sifting through dozens of possibilities, none suitable for immediately moving into, nor relying on to travel much beyond the city. It was the first year they made wasserboxer motors. It was supposedly a marked improvement over the previous air-cooled motor, that overheated regularly, especially when driving up long grades or on warmer days. Regardless, I had chosen a VW camper for stealth urban camping because they contained the necessary amenities, including sink, stove, refrigerator, and beds (upstairs and down), within the same footprint as an SUV. They were so popular, especially in the coastal towns I commuted between, that they were indiscreet from any other camper including the trendy Mercedes Sprinters.

Stealth Urban Camping on the curb

I lived in a duplex in a quaint neighborhood of a coastal college town in California for about eight years, while employed as an engineering geologist with the state.

Bamboo floor replacement, July 5, 2020

Shortly after the purchase of my new tiny home, while still renting the 900 square-foot half of a duplex in central coast California, I began to make it street ready for stealth urban camping, which included the sewing of drapery, installation of bamboo flooring in the central kitchen-living-room area, satellite stereo installation, and tinting of the windows. These initial improvements were completed by the end of 2014, and made the van much more personalized and enjoyable to live in, and protected from neighborhood pedestrians and residents that might discover my mobile residence and report it to law enforcement. Before my move out date, I tested the curtains combined with tinted windows one night, checking for any cracks of interior light while walking around the exterior. I then slept for my first time in it, impressed with the comfort of the lower futon that folded into the rear bench seat.

Completed bamboo flooring with vinyl trim, July, 5, 2020