The Hobo Stripper Guide to Scoping a New Town

My mom and her husband are talking about spending some time in an RV or van when they retire. The other day my mom asked me how to scope out a new town (and lemme tell you, she was shocked to learn that Laundromats in the lower 48 don’t have showers).

The first thing I do while driving to the town is consider what I want to experience while there. Am I just looking for a place to shower and buy food while holed up in a National Forest? (Probably). Or do I want to do some volunteer work? See a movie, take a class, go to poetry readings? Whatever it is, I think about it and I visualize it while driving.

At the last big town right off the freeway before the little town, I get off and find a hotel parking lot with wifi.

I get out my notebook and make a page for that town. I google “free wifi (town),” and “gym (town).” I usually click on the jiwire results (jiwire has a program you can download that will direct you to free wifi even when you aren’t on the internet, if your up for that level of technology), and write down the name, address, and phone number of two or three of the more promising results. When you google “gym (town)” google itself will actually give you a list of gyms and their phone numbers and addresses. I write down all of them, and their phone numbers. If I’m planning on working, I also check out the local strip clubs and their reviews on and, and write down all of their phone numbers. Then I see if the town itself has a website, and I read it. I might look for town calendars to see if anything interesting is going on. I google anything else I’m interested in “(town) health food store,” “theatre (town),” “(town) volunteer,” “(town) open mic,” etc.

Next is where to sleep. I look in my copy of Don Wrights Guide to Free Campgrounds. It’s a great book. If you don’t have it, scroll down and click on the picture of it over there —-> to buy it on Amazon. In there I find directions to designated dispersed camping in the local National Forest. Then I google “dispersed camping (name of national forest),” “dispersed camping (town),” “map (name of national forest),” etc. I also find the website for that NF and write down the phone number for the ranger station.

Then I go to town. First stop is usually WalMart. That’s my worst-case or got-into-town-too-late parking spot, and it’s good to know where it is. Then I scope the hotels for more parking + wifi. Then I check out the local internet coffee shop. I read the bulletin board, I buy a fru-fru coffee and tip well, I check my email, and I smile at people. You can get a really good feel for a town this way. Often you meet people who are fascinated with you and invite you over for a meal or a shower. Or you meet people who just think you’re weird. Either way, ask them about local pools or rec centers where you might be able to shower for super cheap or free (in Tucson at the city park pools, it’s a dolla fifty for a shower and a swim).

Then I hit the local health food store and head out into the woods. I look for a place near a river that’s not easily seen from the road. The first few days I just walk around and get to know the place (with, of course, daily trips to town for the Internet. It’s not necessary to get out of the van for these, just park somewhere you can pick it up). Once I know it a little I start to engage with it a little. If I need a shower and my spray bottle isn’t doing it anymore, I go to town and call all the gyms for their daily rates (weekly, if I’m working) and then go to the cheapest for a shower.

Eventually, I run out of food money or just feel like moving on, and I start all over again.


  1. Your posts that have practical living in your van information are my favorites. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  2. “The other day my mom asked me how to scope out a new town (and lemme tell you, she was shocked to learn that Laundromats in the lower 48 don’t have showers).”


    Actually there is a laundromat in Cle Elum, Wa that has showers by the minute. Found it while passing through. I’m a van dweller too.

  3. Hi Tara,

    I found your blog this morning, and love it! Especially the way you write and share information.

    That’s what I do on my blog and website.


  4. i just thought of a question. You said you go to national forest for camping parking spots. If it gets cold how do you stay warm ? do you have heater and also What about Electricity lights, Tv ? and arent you afraid if you turn on all your lights some one will see you inside that van in the woods ?

  5. I dont know how you stay in national forests for free cause every national forest i look up in arkansas is Fee based 10 bucks a day min for no hookups to camp there. so i dont know how your camping at national forests for free !!

  6. UFT, call your local ranger station and ask where the dispersed camping is. You can stay for free for two weeks, and then you have to move a few miles.

    If it gets cold I wear lots of clothes and keep active, and run the engine to make the van warm before I go to bed. Then I snuggle under a down comforter with Bro. I don’t want a TV. I’m not so afraid of people.

  7. Greetings.. the guy with the box truck camper blog thing linked to you.. good deal!
    T-mobile has a service plan for about 30 some dollars a month to use your cell phone as a cell modem – unlimited log-on time. I use it. Works good enough for most stuff except the heavy load transfers.. those still happen too but take forever and a day to load big stuff. Sometimes i still head for a wifi hotspot to make phone calls through my pc with yahoo’s phone program – penny a minute – or transfer some big stuff to and fro. Price of gas .. and laziness.. has me more making the most of not moving about so much.
    Thanks for taking the time to share.

  8. i lived for years in alot of diffrent types of rigs from a toyoda to vans with pop tops to campers mainly did not like to pay rent anyway i did this most of the time with a dog and never had a problem, i was going to say that there is a phone service out there that works very well caled and for less than 3 bucks a mounth you can call anywhere in the us and canada and it also has a an answering service to boot, i have used this phone for awhile now and it does work well with wifi or broadband, i am nowing living on my own 5 arces from the money i saved living in my rigs it is paid for but off grid, and i sure miss not being able to just move on at times, good luck in your travels drop a line if you are ever in the elko nevada area

  9. There’s a place pretty much across the highway from the White River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas that has showers. It’s sort of a truckstop/store type place that has fish fries and all you can eat crawfish every weekend. The showers are there for the hunters, but they let me use them when I was staying on the refuge in a trailer.

    There might be places like that near other refuges or other places people like to hunt. Then again, maybe that place was one of a kind!

  10. Oooh ooh, read the local free pamphlets or find a message board in a gas station or coffee shop when you first roll in. Sometimes you may be surprised!

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