How to be a Happy (Urban) Camper

I’ve complied a list of “hobo etiquette” that will help you stay safe, undisturbed, and it good terms with the neighbors. Enjoy!

  1. Mind your own business

This rule is one of the most important, yet can be incredibly difficult to adhere to. It starts with the common courtesy of giving others space and privacy.

  • Don’t be peaking in a fellow hobo’s living quarters, residents’ apartments or houses, or vehicles parked around you.
  • Keep your distance from peoples’ homes and vehicles as much as you can.
  • Don’t be that creepy person who is watching everyone from inside their vehicle for fun

Seems simple enough, right? Well, sometimes things are a little more complicated. The better you are at camouflaging yourself, the more activities you’ll be able to observe that usually lie hidden.

  • Drug dealers: Absolutely none of your business. Find a different spot.
  • Loud-mouthed folks: Annoying but not worth getting in trouble or revealing yourself for. Just leave.
  • Fights/Shootings: That’s a tough one. What you should and should not do really depends on the situation. However, you should put your own safety first. Know that you should only be the one calling the cops if shit hits the fan, as you will have to reveal your homelessness to the authorities (which is never a good idea). In other words, I wouldn’t suggest calling the cops over a loud argument in a parking lot. Get the hell out of there and be done with it. If, however, someone was shot or got beaten up badly, call the cops and help. If the perpetrator is still at the scene, consider your own strength and weapons before facing him/her. Sometimes, simply blowing your horn and turning on your lights can scare an attacker away.
  • Domestic violence: Most definitely your business. Call the cops.
  • Animal abuse: I’ve reported animal abuse to the humane society before. You should too. Should you confront a drug dealer who hit his pit bull? If you value your own life and future safety, let the authorities handle that.
  • Theft/Damage: In most cases you can actually submit anonymous tips after the crime occurred.

2. Sleeping spots are for sleeping only

Unless you are on a designated campground or in a RV park, within city limits your presence will be tolerated at best. Many cities have made urban camping illegal and law enforcement keeps an eye out for you. Despite this, I see folks running around socializing, drinking beer, making people uncomfortable, washing their cars, putting up grills, and much more (you wouldn’t believe!). Not only do these people reveal themselves to law enforcement and the public, they compromise the sleeping spot for everyone.

  • Park. Sleep. Wake up early. Leave. End of the story.
  • If you need to get your car ready for the night, try doing so without stepping outside. It will attract a lot less attention to you.
  • Engage in low key activities only, such as reading, drawing, coloring, knitting, or whatever else floats your boat. Park under a street lamp for light. Producing your own light will attract attention to your vehicle.

3. Scouting and Rotating

I can’t emphasize this enough. Scouting is important in order to find a safe and hidden spot. In terms of etiquette, however, rotating spots is the more important step. If a store such as Home Depot, Kmart, or Walmart tolerates you on their property or you’ve found a great spot at a park n’ ride or church parking lot, don’t push the “welcome”.

  • As a rule of thumb, don’t use a spot more than once a week. Don’t park on a schedule, as law enforcement may be expecting you.
  • Letting spots “rest” is a good idea when the owners/law enforcement are catching on to you. Simply abandon said spot for several weeks or even months. In neighborhoods, however, you vehicle may be noticed more if it is not part of the usual landscape. Use your own judgement.

You can find more information regarding scouting and rotating here.

4. Present just another vehicle

Towels covering the windshield, trash pilled up on the dashboard, dirty laundry stuck to the windows, and a vehicle that is in desperate need for some serious TLC. Come on, make an effort! In order to go undisturbed you want to blend in.

  • Tinted windows combined with dark fabric on the inside of the vehicle make it almost impossible to discern your vehicle from others at a first glance.
  • Keep it clean and neat.
  • Trash or laundry strapped to the top/back of your vehicle is not OK, unless you own a closed carrier.

5. Keep your spots clean

I can’t see any good reasons to litter one’s sleeping spot with trash. I can, however, come up with a bunch of reasons why one ought not be a litter pig!

  • It’s utterly disrespectful towards the workers who have to pick up after you
  • It’s utterly disrespectful towards the company who tolerates you sleeping on their property
  • It’s utterly disrespectful towards mother nature
  • Littering makes the houseless community as a whole look bad
  • Trash reveals hobo parking spots to law enforcement, the public, and property owners
  • Excessive littering compromises the spot and area for all urban campers

Agree? Disagree? Do you have something to add? Comment!

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