Three Letters Re: Perspectives on Roughing It and Covert Car Camping

Hi Jim,
That was a great letter from Jolly but I’d like to add a couple of things. Jolly says ‘never, ever’ sleep at an highway rest stop. I guess that depends on where you are. In the last few years Texas has built some absolutely beautiful rest stops with clean bathrooms, vending machines, etc. that are manned 24 hours a day. They encourage sleeping there (better that than fatigued drivers on the road). I asked the people at one if it would be okay to sleep in my car – they replied that yes, it would be perfectly okay and safe, as they patrolled the lot. I noticed that when they patrolled they were watchful but respected peoples’ privacy – they didn’t peer into car windows, for example – but would have noticed someone breaking into a car.

As far as Wal-Mart goes, I’ve never heard that you can’t or shouldn’t stay there if you’re in a car. I would think that if you parked over with the RVs, they would just assume you were a car accompanying an RV! You’d have the added security of other people around. And for that last reason, my favorite place to sleep in the car is in a truck stop, parked near the trucks. I feel pretty safe among a bunch of truckers – I doubt they’d hesitate to respond to trouble. Just make sure if you park with trucks that you don’t put yourself in their way. – Matt R.

Back when I was young and shiftless I spent about a year living in my car on and off. I have a couple of observations about car camping in small towns and rural America. Places where I never had a problem were small town police station parking lots, a church parking lot, and at scenic overlook parking lots on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway was good during the summer when lower altitudes were too hot. Places I would advise against are store parking lots, rest areas (where you could have trouble with both police and predatory humans), and anyplace that has a security force. In my case I have always had trouble in college parking lots, for example.

In the event of troubled times however, I would expect a less tolerant attitude from small town law enforcement than I encountered. I don’t know what the right answer would be for this, but expect to be harassed and told to move on in many places (at the least). If you’re packing heat I would expect even more trouble. Finally, make sure you take Jolly’s advice about finding a place to discreetly take care of hygiene. You will have much less trouble if you look clean cut and respectable. Shave and keep your hair trimmed. The best place I’ve found for thorough showering and bathing on the cheap is a gym with a pay by the day feature. $5 could buy you some exercise and a shower with no one thinking anything of it. God Bless you all, – SGT B.

Mr. Rawles,
I enjoyed the article: “Perspectives on Roughing It and Covert Car Camping, by Jolly” and thought it mostly paralleled my own experience. I do take exception with his misunderstanding of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)’s liquid fuels policies. Boy Scouts are not forbidden to use liquid fuels. The complete policy is here. Quoting from the BSA web page, the salient portion is:

1. Use compressed or liquid-gas stoves and/or lanterns only with knowledgeable adult supervision, and in Scouting facilities only where and when permitted.
2. Operate and maintain them regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions included with the stove or lantern.
3. Store fuel in approved containers and in storage under adult supervision. Keep all chemical fuel containers away from hot stoves and campfires, and store them below 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Let hot stoves and lanterns cool before changing cylinders of compressed gas or refilling from bottles of liquid gas.
5. Refill liquid-gas stoves and lanterns a safe distance from any flames, including other stoves, campfires and personal smoking substances. A commercial camp stove fuel should be used for safety and performance. Pour through a filter funnel. Recap both the device and the fuel container before igniting.
6. Never fuel a stove or lantern inside a cabin; always do this outdoors. Do not operate a stove or lantern in an unventilated structure. Provide at least two ventilation openings, one high and one low, to provide oxygen and exhaust for lethal gases. Never fuel, ignite, or operate a stove or lantern in a tent.
7. Place the stove on a level, secure surface before operating. On snow, place insulated support under the stove to prevent melting and tipping.
8. With soap solution, periodically check fittings for leakage on compressed-gas stoves and on pressurized liquid-gas stoves before lighting.
9. When lighting a stove keep fuel bottles and extra canisters well away. Do not hover over the stove when lighting it. Keep your head and body to one side. Open the stove valve quickly for two full turns and light carefully, with head, fingers and hands to the side of the burner. Then adjust down.
10. Do not leave a lighted stove or lantern unattended.
11. Do not overload the stovetop with extra-heavy pots or large frying pans. If pots larger than 2 quarts are necessary, ,then set up a freestanding grill to hold the pots and place the stove under the grill.
12. Bring empty fuel containers home for disposal. Do not place them in or near fires. Empty fuel containers will explode if heated.

But there is much more at the link.
I really appreciated his other comments and could relate his experiences with scouting to mine.
Respectfully. – Steve in California