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Issue 7: My First Police Encounter in the Camper!

Ay! Let's mix things up for Issue 7 of The Weekly Nomad: IT'S STORY TIME!

This week I'm sharing the story of my first police encounter in the camper.

Oh Shit, the Cops!

You'll inevitably hear this vague, spooky term from people who live the camper life: the knock.

"The knock" refers to someone (usually a police officer or security guard) knocking on a camper to inform whoever's inside that they're camping illegally and need to leave. This happens while boondocking, which means you're camping out in the open: parking lots, residential streets, public land, etc. Some people avoid the risk of the knock altogether by camping legally at campgrounds, but others (like me) want to camp everywhere... so we take the risk.

Every boondockin' nomad does what they can to avoid the knock but we're always subtly bracing for it. I've been pretty lucky, only getting the knock 3 times over the past 9 months... but the first time was on my very first camper trip, and it was a COP!

I was in Arlington, Virginia which is directly next to Washington, D.C. It's only ~2.5 hours south of my hometown so it was a good opportunity to try boondocking for the first time without going too far. This was my first real camper trip and I was PUMPED AS HELL.

I drove down on a Saturday in mid-May & found a great spot at the end of a residential street to post up. Women in athleisure walking their dogs, guys in suits going to work... it was perfect. I spent the first few days getting familiar with the area & riding my bike into D.C. to explore the city, which was incredible. I went to a Washington Nationals game, a concert (band called Turnstile, check 'em out), 10+ museums... I was crushing my first trip as a nomad. But without realizing it, I was getting too comfortable.

After spending 3 or 4 days parked in the same spot, I stopped caring about who saw me getting in/out of the camper. I'd jump in & out with people walking around, even saying hello to many of them. Think about a random guy in a bigass camper parking on your street, treating it like home, and even having the balls to wave at you while doing it...

So one morning, this is probably day 8 or 9 in the same spot, I'm cleaning my camper's countertops & floors and it is HOT outside... like 90 degrees. I'm sweating my ass off, wearing just boardshorts and all the camper windows are wide open. My camper has a Bluetooth stereo so I'm blasting Future as I clean like a full-blown idiot, when out of nowhere it felt like a fuckin' gorilla tried to break into the camper through the back door. Someone was knocking... HARD.

My heart dropped to the floor I'd just cleaned and I immediately thought, "This is it... THE KNOCK." I quickly glanced out my back window and saw a police officer standing there. My first idea was to not answer because you can't kick someone out who ain't there! I turned off the music & sat down in absolute silence, thinking eventually he'd leave. But after about 5 minutes I got this overwhelming feeling that I should go out and talk to him. If I don't answer now he'll just come back later...

So I throw on a tanktop and jump out of the camper... but the cop isn't there anymore. I walk around to the front of my truck and he's parked right in front of it, getting ready to pull away. I don't know what made me do this, but I ran up to his car & knocked on the window.

"Hey Officer, did you just knock on my camper there?"

"Yeah, several minutes ago. Didn't you hear me?"

"Sorry I'm sorry, so sorry. I was cleaning. I was cleaning and I had to throw some clothes on."

"Okay, well look... we got several complaints from residents here that there's a guy living out of his camper."

Welp, this is it. My very first trip and I'm already getting the knock. Maybe nomad life won't work. What the hell am I thinking?

But then he kept talking...

"Yeah the residents around here are pains in the ass, but in the state of Virginia it's perfectly legal to do what you're doing. Here's my card, if anyone gives you trouble tell them I said you're fine."

I then talked to him for at least 20 minutes about my travel plans and he gave me a list of places he'd traveled to in a camper with his wife. I'm literally leaning through the driver door of a police car, half my torso inside, while this officer shows me travel photos on his phone. I left that encounter smiling ear to ear and stayed in Arlington for another five days.

All I could think was, "Hell yeah, this is a sign. This IS gonna work. Jimmy Nomad is OUT HERE!!!"


What I Learned

While my first police encounter as a nomad ended well, it taught me some lessons that have made nomad life much easier. Since I want to help YOU go nomad and enjoy every second of it, I wanna share them with you:

Look up the parking laws & ordinances for areas you want to visit. Say I'm planning to visit Atlanta, I'll Google "Atlanta overnight parking laws" to see how strict they are. Strict ordinances haven't stopped me from going places, but it helps me understand how careful I need to be.

Always be stealthy. My biggest mistake in Arlington was making my presence known and pissing the neighbors off. Since then I've successfully boondocked for weeks in places like The Hamptons and Miami Beach without any issues, and it's because I'm stealthy. No one knows I'm in the camper. I do this by:

  • only entering/exiting the camper when no one is in sight

  • shutting all blinds at night before turning on any lights

  • keeping TV & music volume relatively low

  • moving around more often, even if just for a few hours. This way people don't think I've "set up camp."

Don't duck the knock. If you do get the knock, don't try to avoid it like I did at first. I actually tried that method again when I got my 2nd knock at the Jersey Shore and it didn't go so well. They came back banging & shining flashlights at 1AM; I nearly shit myself. Always peek outside first (to make sure it isn't an intruder) and then go talk to the person. Trust me, you're much better off and for the record... I've only heard of one person getting a ticket for boondocking. If someone does make you leave, it's usually a polite encounter.


That's all I've got for you this week, but I have a quick question for you...

Should I keep doin' stories like this? Let me know in the comments!



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