Nowadays we are flooded by social media posts of glamorous van life, perfect river campsites and gorgeous nature views. Living in a van can be both life-altering and unimaginably beautiful experience. Many women who want to embark on their solo van adventure often are overwhelmed with safety concerns. While this is completely normal, it shouldn’t stop you from fulfilling your dream. If you feel called by this, go for it! There is something oddly alluring by the unknown, the challenging and the adventures that lie ahead. But we have to stay realistic and be aware that this kind of lifestyle comes with its dangerous or tricky situations. Here we want to share some basic safety tips and what we recommend for any female solo van travelers.
1. Take a self-defense class.
This is one of the first things we would recommend and not just for a van traveler, but for any woman out there! We don’t want to be paranoid or constantly scared, but the world can be a dangerous place and it’s always better to be safe than sorry! You might think that you’re not going to learn much from a few classes, but you will be surprised! Knowing just some basic self-defense tricks can really go a long way and in some cases help save lives. You will learn about techniques for how to defend yourself against someone attacking from the front, back or with more attackers.
2. Go to the mechanic before hitting the road.
You might think everything is perfectly okay with your van, but it never hurts to double-check and make sure everything runs smoothly. Visit a mechanic you trust and let them know that you’re planning a road trip and how much time you will travel. This will give you a complete peace of mind later on.
3. Choose carefully where you sleep.
You might find it fun to lose yourself in a forest and spend a night in the middle of nowhere, but it might be better to do that accompanied by a friend. When you’re solo traveling, you might feel safer in an established campground with families and larger groups of people. You can also take advantage of friends’ and family’s driveways, Walmart parking lots or any private campground. Avoid dark and empty parking lots.
4. Let someone know where you’re staying.
If you feel comfortable, let a family member or friend know where you’re staying each night. When you find a parking place, notice your surroundings, check if there are cameras and enough lights and text someone your location. You should also leave enough space in the front of and behind the van. You wouldn’t want to be blocked by other vehicles if there is a need to go quickly.
5. Keep your doors locked.
Develop a routine to always keep your doors and windows locked at night.
6. Get window curtains.
If you’re parked at a campsite and are not sure who you’re camping next to, window curtains are always a great idea! It also comes in handy if you don’t want people to know you’re traveling solo.
7. Get indoor peeing solution.
Sometimes you have to get up at night to go pee and having an indoor solution helps you a lot, both for safety reasons and convenience. If you do have the room, a porta-potti is an awesome and convenient alternative.
8. Develop a night routine.
A good rule of a thumb is to develop a nightly routine. This means taking 5 minutes before bedtime to make sure everything is in order and always, I repeat always, keep your keys at the same place and you driver’s seat clear. In the unfortunate event of someone bothering you, the last thing you would want is your driver’s seat cramped by clothes, computer or food.
9. Be prepared to defend yourself, if necessary.
First things first – you’ll want to avoid situations where defending yourself will be necessary. However, it’s better to be physically and mentally prepared for any type of scenario. You need to carefully think what type of self-defense you’re comfortable with. While one option might work for someone, it might not work for you. What you might use:
• Gun. If you do own a gun, you need to be aware of the state laws for carrying a firearm and make sure you’re not breaking any laws.
• Knife. A pocket knife is a great choice but if you have to use it, it means that someone is really close to you.
• Pepper spray. If you’re using pepper spray you need to be careful not to spray it inside your van, as it might affect you too.
• Hammer or any other heavy object. Having something heavy to hit the attacker with can come really in handy, if you don’t have any other weapon.
Whatever you choose, you need to trust your instincts, be brave and ready to fight back.
10. Have a way of communicating when off-grid.
When you’re traveling, often you will find yourself without reception and cell service. Before heading off-grid or on a solo hike/trip, always let a family member or a friend know where you’re headed and when you expect to return back. Once you’re in the wilderness, having a way to communicate in case of an emergency is a must-have. These are two devices that might be perfect for you:
SPOT Gen3 – This device can send an OK message, an SOS message or different two predetermined messages. It doesn’t cost a lot and it will give you that peace of mind when you’re off grid.
Garmin in Reach– This is a more advanced and more expensive option, but it lets you send a customized message to any of your contacts. Not every emergency is the same and obviously there is a difference between being stalked or having a flat tire, so this device allows you to send a message to the appropriate contact.
11. Bring a dog
If you’re planning to get a dog, this is the perfect time to do it! If someone thought of bothering you at night, you dog would hear them and start barking. This will alert you and probably make that person think twice before coming to you. Plus, dogs are great at keeping you company, so you will rarely feel lonely, even if you’re far from civilization.
12. Trust your instincts.
If a certain place or person feels unsafe, trust your instincts and go away. The best thing about living in a van is that you can always find another place to spend the night. Remember that you can always go to a police station or fire station if you think someone is following you.
13. Don’t let a lot of people know that you’re travelling solo.
Family members and close friends should know where you are, but we wouldn’t recommend advertising it to complete strangers. You can always use “we” or “us” when talking to strangers or leave a pair of man’s shoes outside next to yours, to make people think that you’re traveling with a man.
Remember to stay safe, follow your gut and of course, have an awesome time traveling solo!
Mariska is a recovering attorney who gave up her professional job to discover new perspectives of life while traveling in a 2009 Ford Transit.
She has been living the van life for 3 years and has not looked back since.