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Vanlife Safety & Security – 20+ Tips to Stay Safe Living On The Road

written by Sabrina
published on December 3, 2020

Vanlife safety and security may not be top of mind when you are preparing for a new adventure on the road! But do take some time to give this topic a thought πŸ™‚ It can help you in planning your van conversion or preparing to visit new countries or cities.

For whom is this post?

As a solo female vanlifer travelling in my own converted van, I have definitely been thinking about my safety while on the road. I had already backpacked the world by myself, but this was a whole other ballgame! Driving to new countries by myself, wild-camping .. plenty to be insecure about! It really gave me peace of mind to consider some basic safety measures.

I think safety is not something that should only be considered by solo female vanlifers – also men travelling alone, couples and families on the road may encounter scary situations. Being well-prepared may save a lot of trouble!

This collection of vanlife safety & security tips come from my own and other people’s experiences. I don’t think you should (or even could!!) attempt to include all these tips in your new lifestyle – it seems impossible πŸ˜€ Assess your own situation and pick the safety options that suit vanlife-style best!

I do not discuss weapons or sprays in this article.

Trust your gut. And use your brains!

Safety and security start long before all tools, locks and cameras. It starts with trusting your gut – and using your brain too!!

The first and foremost tip is: if you don’t feel safe, it probably isn’t. Get out! Whether you are stealth parking, sleeping on motorhome areas or campsites – if you don’t feel good, do yourself a favour and move along.

Do your research beforehand. If you are travelling in your own country or region, you may know which places to avoid. But for new places you may not know this. I didn’t do massive research, but I did do a quick google effort for big cities.

It has been more than once that I rocked up at a place I found at Park4Night, and there were some dodgy vehicles there, or no one at all. Or the place would be surrounded by abandoned buildings, had no streetlights or lots of trash around – I would make up my mind quickly, look for a campsite on Google Maps and just drive off. It may have been totally safe, but I know I wouldn’t have slept well not feeling safe.

General Vanlife Safety Precautions

Let’s get down to the basics first πŸ™‚ These are not necessarily safety measures or tools but simple precautions you can take to avoid incidents.

Park before it gets dark

As stated on Wikipedia: Situational Awareness is the perception of environmental elements and events with respect to time or space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their future status.

Always try to find a place to sleep before it gets dark – it’s much easier to assess your surroundings when you arrive with daylight. Why is this important? If you arrive in the dark, your perception of your surroundings may be completely different than in daylight. You may not be able to observe everything, let alone be able to assess what this will mean for the rest of the night.

Of course, you cannot always get it right – refer back to point 1 about trusting your gut and using your brain πŸ™‚

Park to drive off

When you park your van, park it in a way that allows you to drive away instantly. Whenever you’re scared or in a rush, you don’t want to twist and turn to get out of your parking place. This is a basic safety measure for many companies that have large parking lots, so we as vanlifers may use it as well πŸ™‚

Also, make sure that before you go to sleep to clean up and close the cabinets so that nothing is in the way or flying around in case you have to take off suddenly.

Keep your keys in a fixed spot

If you need to get away quickly, there is nothing worse than not being able to find your keys! As a pretty messy person (don’t wanna add up all the minutes in my life that I have been looking for my watch), I always hung them on my bedside light πŸ˜€

Vanlife Safety Security - keys in a fixed spot
Keys on the right – always hanging on the bedside lamp!

Have access to the driving cabin

One of the main things I had in mind while converting my campervan was to keep the access from the living part to the driver’s seat. This was not because I didn’t want to go outside when it rains πŸ˜‰ . This was in case something happens, you want to be able to drive away without having to step outside where your threat may be.

To make the van look cozy and feel like home, I did have curtains separating the driver’s cabin from the back and this worked very well (see picture below).

Keep your drivers seat clear from stuff

In the same category as the previous 3 tips, I can recommend to keep your driver’s seat clear. I know that if you have a small van, it’s very tempting to just throw stuff to the front when you’re parked. But if you have to get through all the clutter before you are able to drive away, this is not so great!

If you have swivel seats, it’s important that you’re able to turn them around easily, or don’t turn them at all when you don’t feel 100% safe at a location!

Hide your valuables

If there’s nothing to see, it will seem there’s nothing to steal. This is especially applicable if you have windows in your van. I always stored my laptop in the bedding cabinet

Also check your travel insurance: if your valuables were not stored in a covered place, but for example in a bag that was visible from the outside, you may not be covered!

Campervan Interior - Curtains - DIY Campervan Conversion
Bedding cabinet and curtains separating living area from driver’s cabin

Have a compact safe for passports and emergency cash

A compact safe is a perfect place to store your passport, car papers and emergency cash. You attach the sleeve to a piece of wood or steel in your van, so it’s impossible to just take away. Then when you open it, you slide the actual safe out. I had the safe hidden behind the curtain behind the driver’s seat, so you couldn’t see it from outside.

If you search amazon or any other retailer for “car safe” or “travel safe”, you will find what you need. Check this one – exactly the one I had.

Clean up behind you

If you are not staying at a campsite, make sure to take everything inside. This is to deter humans, but also animals πŸ˜› I’m from Europe, so no bears around, but for example on my roadtrip through Morocco there were loads of stray dogs which are not always friendly when there is food laying around.

Also, I would always take all chairs etc inside to not actively display there is anyone inside the van. On top of that, you want to have all your stuff stored in case you have to drive away quickly.

Keep your phone charged

This was a good lesson for me! It happened once that I didn’t feel safe, wanted to find a different spot but didn’t have my phone charged. I first had to start driving in a slight panic mode to charge my phone before I could find a new spot. Since then, I always charge my phone while driving and a little during the day through my inverter.

This is also one of the reasons why I use a MIFI for wifi in my campervan – the wifi hotspot drains my phone battery so much that I realized I had to move away from this.

Read up on common travel scams

Of course you’re not a real traveller if you don’t fall for the occasional scam, but it’s never fun!! Reading up on local travel scams can help you avoid annoying situations.

For example on the French/Spanish border, it’s very common for cars to flash their lights at you, trying to indicate there is something wrong with your vehicle. When you stop and talk with them, they rob you of your valuables that you often have in front of the car! This happens so often, and especially with campervans and motorhomes!

Vanlife Safety & Security

Although it may seem charming to go completely off-grid, have no plan and live an unpredictable life, it may come in handy to invest in some safety measures. These are some tips & tools that can make your vanlife experience safer.

Self Defence training

Self Defence training may be the first thing to invest in when heading out by yourself. This seems unfortunately especially the case for (solo) female travellers. Trainings come in all sorts and shapes. Offline, online, 2 hour, 2 days – do as you feel suit! There are lots of online free classes if you’re short on money.

Even if you don’t want to take a course for the physical part, a self defence training can raise your situational awareness which may help in avoiding incidents.

Pocket Alarm

You can fit a pocket alarm (also called personal alarm) literally in any pocket, or put it on your keychain. It’s a small device, that gets triggered when you pull out the pen. It makes enormous noise that will definitely scare someone off (at least for a bit). Warning: it’s not fun when you pull it out by accident πŸ˜›

I had one on my backpacking travels and also had it stored in the van when I was travelling. It always made me feel safer knowing I could draw attention to myself in case of danger. Have a look at amazon to buy them. Definitely a budget-friendly way to protect yourself.

Let people know where you are

It may seem obvious, but in case something happens it’s good to have people know where you are. A simple location share on whatsapp (or similar) can already do the trick! You can also do this with Facebook check-ins, but this can also have unwanted people track you down!

Another, more passive way to do this, is to have “find my i-phone” or a similar application turned on. If you are logged in on a device at your parents place for example, they can always find you. There are also some gadgets for this purpose – read on!

Satellite Messengers like SPOT / Garmin InReach

With a satellite messenger system, you can send signals from even the most remote spots. Alarm messages can be sent out emergency services, You can send “OK” messages, “HELP” messages or even customized messages. For rescue services, you can take out a contract / insurance.

Originally designed for outdoor adventurists, many vanlifers looking for a way to keep their loved ones posted will find use for these tools! This is an excellent post comparing different satellite messenger systems.

Morocco Itinerary by Campervan - Paradise Valley2
Wildcamping spot near Paradise Valley, Morocco with very limited phone reception

Van Security Tools

These are different tools to keep your van safe while on the road (or parked at home).

Fire extinguisher

The only van I’ve seen with a fire extinguisher in my 2 years on the road – my own!!! I had two fire extinguishers, one in the front at the passengers seat and one in the back (accessible by the backdoors). You can buy them in lots of different sizes and I really think this is a must-have in any van!

Vanlife Safety Security - Fire Extinguisher
Fire extinguisher in the lower left corner

Car locks

My Renault Trafic was a relatively modern car with alarm system. This is why in general, I was not afraid at all that someone would be able to break into the car. Even if someone would break in, the alarm would be deafening!

A nasty little trick that criminals use to get into your care that has been used more recently: remote signal interference. Make sure to not walk away from your car while locking it with the remote key. There are certain tools that can interfere with the signal and while you think it was locked, it wasn’t!

This happened to a family member of mine and they had all sorts of trouble explaining to the insurance company that their stuff was stolen, without the vehicle being damaged!

Extra Security Locks

If your own car locks are not sufficient, you can install some extra locks. They can be built in on the inside or on the outside and come in many shapes and sizes.

Locks can range from €10 to €300 and of course differ in effectiveness. Even if you are on a low-budget, you can install very simple locks on a sliding door that people normally also use on front doors. Have a look on Pinterest for inspiration πŸ™‚

Bearlock

A well-known anti-theft tool for campervans in the Netherlands is Bearlock. Bearlock is a fully integrated mechanical lock on the gearbox. It locks the gear in the backward drive or “P” for automatic cars untill the key is turned. It’s not connected to other (electrical) systems in the car.

The system can only be broken key by properly damaging the car, and is virtually impossible! For some campers/motorhomes in the Netherlands you need this in order to get your vehicle insured!

RV Security Camera

I have never considered this, but if you travel to high risk areas or you have a high-value campervan or motorhome, it may be worth considering installing a security camera that you can monitor from your smartphone. Read this review on RV security cameras to get an idea of what’s out there.

Motion sensor lights

You can install motion sensor lights on your campervan or motorhome. This option may be less suitable for stealth campers, but for vehicles that are very clearly recreational vehicles this may be great! Not only to give you light when you need to go for a bathroom break at night πŸ˜‰ but also when unwanted people come close!

Hide a GPS Tracker

All above measures were to avoid break-ins and theft. A hidden GPS tracker can help a lot when your campervan or motorhome actually gets stolen. There’s lots of reviews online about which are best.

Vanlife Safety Tips That May or May not work πŸ™‚

When people plan bad things, they will definitely see through some of these tips (or “tricks”). But then again, they don’t hurt and may discourage spontaneous harrassment.

Get a dog!

A lot of people have a dog with them on their vanlife adventure. The effectiveness of a dog as a safety guard can be debated about. A huge german shepherd or pitbull will definitely deter the bad guys, a chihuaha not so much πŸ˜‰ Although sometimes even the bark is enough to chase people away! My 2 pups have never lived in a van, but I’m sure they would just wag their tale if someone would come in πŸ˜€

Please note: I definitely do not recommend just getting a dog for safety – having a dog is a big commitment and having a dog in a van brings around even more considerations!

Put something “manly” outside the door

I had to smile when I read this suggestion on the Facebook group Solo Female Vanlifers. For ladies travelling alone, putting something manly like big work boots outside of the van may discourage unwanted visitors.

Going back to the dog suggestion, even a large filled dog bowl may create the impression that you’re not alone πŸ˜‰

Have 2 of everything

If you are a solo vanlifer, sometimes it may help make you feel safe to have 2 chairs etc outside your van. Two chairs around the camping table may definitely create the impression that you’re not alone, but anyone paying attention will obviously see through this.

Stickers

Security system stickers, dog stickers, member of a “scary” club stickers – all types of stickers may discourage people from trying to enter your van.

Vanlife Safety & Security

I hope this list inspired you, and maybe even made you smile πŸ˜‰ I wish you all safe vanlife travels, where-ever in the world you are!

2 Comments

  1. i mis one important thing , and that is that you copy and e-mail youre own papers like car . insurance , healt , pasport things like that to youre own e-mail , so were ever you are in the world , you can always log in to youre own e-mail acount and get youre information in case of lost or theft, stay save and enjoi youre travels

    Reply
    • Good one!!

      Reply

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