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More and more people reject the traditional way of life and are living in vans, traveling across the country without owning a house or many possessions. It gives you a sense of freedom and adventure, but is it safe?
Van life is not dangerous, but it is still important to take precautions. Keep your valuables hidden and locked, park at a secure campsite or in a safe area at night, and have a satellite phone so you can always call 911. Don’t draw attention to yourself and be aware of your surroundings.
Continue reading this article if you would like to learn more about how to stay safe while living in a van.
What Is Van Life?
Van life is a way of saying no to the traditional “trappings” of society. Most people go to college, graduate, get a job in the corporate world, and are expected to get married, have kids, buy a house, and slowly work their way up the corporate ladder.
However, van lifers know that just because society tells you that this is how you must live, that does not mean it’s the only way to live life or even the best way to be happy.
Van lifers chuck all of that and opt to live on their own. Whether you go off the grid completely or not, van life is about minimalism, free-spiritedness, adventure, careful spending, nature, and living life the way you want to.
However, that does not mean that van life does not come without its challenges. Indeed, van life has several downsides—not having a hot shower, always accessible to loneliness, and the risk of getting robbed.
What Are the Dangers of Van Life?
In general, van life is not particularly dangerous. You can get robbed in any major city, not only if you live in a van. If you stick to safe areas, you will generally be safe, just as if you would be if you live in a safe area. However, there are certain precautions that you should take, which we will talk about in this article.
The dangers of van life are not all about getting robbed. You may fall ill and need medical care. You may encounter a bear or another wild animal such as a wolf or coyote, or struggle with your emotional and mental health. If you are a solo female traveler living in a van alone, there is the added danger of assault.
How to Make Van Life Safer—Precautions to Take
In this section, we will talk about the precautions you should be taking to keep yourself safe while living in a van.
Find a Good Campsite
Do some research ahead of time and find a good campsite where it is safe to park at night. That’s a lot better than parking on the side of a quiet road, in a parking lot, or wherever else you are forced to spend the night.
In the west of the US, free campsites are generally easier to find, but you can find campsites anywhere, in any state and any country. There are many websites you can use to find free or cheap campsites. Here is a list of the top 5 websites to use:
- Reserve America
- The National Park website for the location you’re visiting!
Get to the Campsite Before Sunset
It is a good idea to get to the campsite before dark. This way, you can scout out the area and check if there are any unsavory or shady characters hanging around. Most campsites are generally safe, but it is always worth it to be extra cautious.
Find the Best Campsite Alternatives
What if you can’t find a campsite and instead have to park overnight somewhere else? It is best to choose a rest stop instead of a parking lot.
However, if you can not find a rest stop either, choose a parking lot near a shopping mall, shopping strip, or business open 24/7. This can be a gas station, pharmacy, Walmart, 7-11, or any other area that is lit up and has people working and shopping around the clock.
Know Your Neighborhoods
It’s important always to make sure you are not parking in a shady part of town, even if you are staying in a Walmart parking lot. If an area is dodgy, you may want to avoid hanging out there during the day as well.
Even in the United States, many areas in various cities are quite unsafe, especially in the middle of the night. Do some research by asking a clerk at a gas station for their advice or doing some research on Google (Reddit, Quora, and TripAdvisor might prove useful information).
There’s a flip side to this as well. Just because you are in an upscale, posh neighborhood, that does not mean you can park on a quiet, residential road. Yes, it is safe, but the residents may view you suspiciously and call the cops to check up on you in the middle of the night.
Yes, your van is your home, but you may come across as suspicious, homeless squatters to other people. Choose a parking lot instead.
Secure Your Valuables
- Set your own digital combination fire safe for strong security; Digital combination safe features a backlit keypad, 3 live-locking bolts, steel construction, & a pry-resistant hinge bar.
It is always important to secure your valuables. Consider creating a hidden, locked compartment somewhere in your van for your most important possessions. This can include your extra credit cards, your passport, emergency cash, laptop and camera, and other valuables you may own.
A hidden compartment is worth it because thieves tend to grab whatever is most visible in an effort to get out quickly. However, any kind of locked compartment is good too.
Don’t Draw Attention
At the same time, avoid drawing too much attention to your valuables. For example, when you leave your parked van, keep the curtains on the windows closed. This way, people will not know that your van is an actual house; it automatically becomes a target if they do.
Also, if you work online, don’t hang out and work with your doors open in a public area if you plan to spend the night there or keep your van parked there while you go off into the city.
If you are a solo female living in a van, don’t let everyone know about it. For all they care, you are with your husband. Even if you are at a campsite, letting people know that you live alone in a van can lead to less-than-ideal situations.
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Have Your Keys Handy
Always have your keys on hand so you can drive away quickly when needed. One of the benefits of living in a mobile home is that you can always escape if you do get into a bad situation.
Have Some Pepper Spray and Bear Mace
It’s a good idea to keep some bear mace and pepper spray handy. This is important not just for self-defense against humans but also in case you get attacked by a bear. Avoid leaving garbage around your van so as not to attract bears.
Have Emergency Medical Supplies
Uniquely customized by U.S military VETERANS to get you well-prepared in advance to emergencies during the outdoor adventure, hunting, camping, travel, disaster, and accident.
It’s important to have an emergency medical kit in case you run into an emergency. This can include some alcohol for cuts, gauze, Pepto-Bismol for stomach problems, and so on. Have a satellite phone that works so you can call 911 or your local emergency number if you do ever need the police or an ambulance, and you don’t have normal cell coverage.
Also, be aware of where the nearest hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies are.
Stay Sober and Alert
It’s important to be aware and alert at all times. This means avoiding getting drunk or high (obviously, don’t break the law; marijuana is only legal in certain states). A lot of bad things can happen when you get drunk, especially if you are living alone.
Van life is not particularly dangerous, but it is still important to take precautions. By following the tips in this article, you will stay safe on your cross-country (or multi-continent) adventure.
Here are some of my favorite van life essentials:
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you’re experiencing your life on the road. Here are some tools and gadgets I use on a daily basis that made my van life a lot easier. I hope you’ll also find them as useful as me. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to purchase any of them, I’ll earn a commission.
But in all honesty, these are the exact tools that I use and recommend to everyone, even my closest friends and family.
Kitchen: I’m cooking a lot and I’ve finally found my perfect cookware set: The Magma Cookware 10 Pcs that you can nests and store in less than 1/2 cubic foot of cabinet space is really handy. Since I’m also spending a lot of time working at my desk, I use my favorite coffee mug from Yeti. For more, check my list of kitchen accessories I can’t live without.
Outdoor: Even though I’m spending a lot of time in my van working, I do enjoy getting out and explore my ever-changing neighborhood. This sometimes requires me to take my portable solar battery with me. And when I just want to chill outside and take a nap, I use the Winner Outfitters Hammock.
Clean/Tidy: Space is precious and therefore I used these heavy-duty storage bins from Homs to store my material. They’re robust and you can stack them together. Regarding showering, I like to use this portable solar shower from Advanced Elements when it’s hot outside.
To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations about van life, check out this resource that I made for you!