Since starting my blog, I’ve spent nearly a year road tripping by myself. I’ll admit that the first trip I went on, I was very scared, particularly at night. I had visions of some weirdo knocking on my window or my car breaking down in the middle of nowhere.
Now that I have some experience under my belt, I really appreciate my solo time on the road. I’ve learned how to manage my fears with a set of practical van life safety tips that help me feel more confident and secure when I’m traveling in my Sprinter Van.
Whether you are planning your first one-week solo road trip or are preparing for full-time van life, this new blog post and YouTube video has my favorite safety tips for the solo female road tripper. These tips are focused on how to prevent being vulnerable. If you are looking for more general safety tips about solo road tripping, check out my Ultimate Guide to Planning your First Solo Road Trip.
Van Life Safety Tips YouTube Video
Van Life Safety Tips for Solo Females
Choose your campsites carefully
As much as I would like to camp far off the grid, when I’m in road tripping in my van, I’m not comfortable doing so. I save that for when I’m joined by a friend. When I’m solo, I feel much safer staying in an established campground where there’s a few other campers, such as state park or forest service campgrounds. Anywhere where there are families or groups of people camping together is a pretty safe bet. That way if there is a creep at the campground, they won’t go unnoticed.
Places I avoid include dark parking lots where it might just be me and one other car (or me by myself), and if I do have to stay in a parking lot, I make sure it is well lit.
To help you find a safe campsite, Bearfoot Theory readers can get a FREE 30-day membership to The Dyrt PRO, which is one of our favorite apps for finding campgrounds (If you’re signing up on mobile, use the code “Bearfoot”). You can read reviews, view photos, save campgrounds you’re interested in, view maps offline, use road trip planning tools, and more!
Keep your docks locked
Get in a solid habit of keeping your doors locked when you are sleeping in your van or vehicle at your campsite.
Get some good privacy curtains
When I get to my campsite, especially if it’s late at night, and I’m unsure of who I’m camping near, I hang up my blackout curtains in my Sprinter Van. Unless I’m chatting with other folks at the campground, I don’t like when strangers can see me alone in my van. With those curtains, for all other people know, my van could belong to a couple of big burly dudes.
Have an indoor solution for peeing in the middle of the night
Not everyone will feel the need for this, but it may be helpful for some…When I got my van, I didn’t want to have to get up and pee in the middle of the night, for both safety and convenience reasons. So I decided to get a porta-potti in my van. Now not everyone is going to have room for a porta-potti, nor is it always necessary. That said, if you are feeling a little wigged out at night or you’re sleeping in a parking lot, you can always use a pee funnel to go into a bottle.
Have a way to communicate when you don’t have cell phone service
A lot of times when I’m traveling, I don’t have cell service. All over Idaho, Southern Utah, and Canada, I’ve found myself without reception. Before you head off the grid, you should always let a family member or friend know where you are going and when to expect your return. Then once you’re off on your adventures, it’s very important to have a way to communicate in case of an emergency, and there’s a couple of devices that allow for that.
- The first is the SPOT Gen4, which allows you to send an OK message, two different pre-determined messages, or an SOS message to emergency responders. It’s a very simple device with a low-cost monthly plan that provides peace of mind. I have a full YouTube video and blog post talking about the previous model, SPOT Gen3.
- The other popular device which I recently upgraded to is the Garmin InReach. The Garmin InReach is a more advanced (and more expensive) option. With the Garmin InReach, I can type a custom message right on the device to any of my contacts. I like this because there’s a big difference between having a flat tire, being stalked, or breaking your leg on the trail, and each of these situations requires a different response. With the InReach, I can send a message to the appropriate contact and let them know exactly what my problem is.
Be prepared to defend yourself
The first step is to avoid putting yourself in a situation where you’ll need to self-defend – like choosing safe campsites and not drawing attention to yourself. But in the case that something goes awry, you need to be prepared to defend yourself.
Self-defense is personal. You have to choose what type of self-defense you are comfortable with, and in evaluating what works for you, you need to consider both the mental and physical component. I’ve been told by dozens of people when they hear I travel alone in my van, “You should get a gun.” And while that option certainly exists, you have to decide if it’s a good option for YOU. If you’ve never shot a gun and aren’t confident in your ability to use one if you were being attacked, then a gun might not be a wise choice. If you choose a gun, you also need to be aware of any local laws to make sure you aren’t breaking them just by having a gun in your vehicle.
So what are your other options?
- Take a self-defense class. There’s a number of courses online and you can also Google courses in your local community.
- Pepper or bear spray – When I made the above YouTube video I had bear spray in my car since I was on my way to Canada. While its usefulness against humans may or may not be as effective as mace, you better bet I’d grab for it if someone was attacking me. With pepper spray, you just want to be careful not to spray it inside your vehicle, as it could affect you too.
- Knife – this could be a knife from the sportsman’s store or a knife from your kitchen. I sleep with a knife close to my bed so that it’s easily accessible in case someone comes up to my van in the middle of the night.
- Hammer – If you have a hammer or mallet in your car, you can use this to bash someone in the head.
The idea is there’s a number of different tools you can use for self-defense, and the best weapon is going to be whatever you have within reach.
I’m not a self-defense expert, but no matter what method you choose, you need to remember to be bold and brave in the case that someone messes with you. You need to use your best judgement and be ready to fight back in the worst case scenario.
For some tutorials on basic self-defense moves, check out this post on lifehacker.
Keep your drivers seat clear and know where your keys are
Before you go to bed at night, make sure the drivers seat is clear and keep your keys handy. The last thing you want is someone sketchy coming up to your car, but you have your bags, computer, and camera in your drivers seat and your keys are nowhere to be found. When you set off on your road trip, decide on where you are going to put your keys at night, and be consistent with putting them there. If your car has an alarm, you can also use that to draw attention to your vehicle as you are trying to get away.
Trust your gut
If somewhere feels unsafe, don’t stay there. The luxury of having your vehicle, is you are never obligated to stay anywhere and you always have a way to move. It’s important to pay attention to your inner-instinct and if you don’t feel right, don’t ignore it. Best case, you were a little paranoid. Worst case, you were right and you made the best decision of your life to drive elsewhere. Also remember you can always go to a police station or fire station if you feel unsafe or you’re being followed.