It’s intimidating, even scary, to take on your first solo van trip, especially as a woman. Solo van traveling is liberating, relaxing, fun, and exciting all at once, and it is not necessarily more dangerous than any other type of solo travel.
When I began solo van traveling, I was very nervous. There are a lot of things that can go wrong on the road, when you’re parked, and especially when you are out exploring. So, I put together this ultimate guide to safety while solo van traveling.
Read on to discover my (in)complete guide to van life safety!
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR VAN
You want to be sure that your van is ready to safely and comfortably make long drives through pretty rough terrain. Your van is your lifeline, literally, so show it some love!
Do not cut corners when preparing your van for the trip. Have a professional or someone you trust check over your van, but remember when you are out on the road, it’ll just be you. So be confident with your van and the tools.
- Keep your van inspected regularly. Stay up to date on oil changes, tire rotations, all fluids, and brake pads. Keep a maintenance journal in your glovebox of when everything was last done to keep track and stay on schedule with maintenance.
- Become familiar with mechanical basics and learn how to use tools. Yes, you need to learn how to change a tire, diagnose basic mechanical issues, and repair broken hoses (even better if you can change spark plugs, replace a battery, and inspect a suspension). This will not only save you money, but it could save your life if you are stranded. YouTube is a great place to gather informational videos (one of my favorite YouTuber mechanics is ChrisFix). Keep a journal with notes on how to diagnose and fix things in your van in case you are somewhere you do not have reception. I promise, most things are actually quite easy to fix when you break them down. It’s mostly just nuts and bolts!
- Always carry tools with you. How can you fix something if you do not have the right tools with you? Make room for a multimeter and ratchet-and-socket mechanic’s tool set which you can buy at local auto parts stores like Autozone or NAPA. Spend time with the tools and become comfortable with them before you head off on your trip.
RULES OF THE ROAD
Now that your van is ready to go, let’s talk about road safety. Obviously, never drive distracted or tired, always be alert, and wear your seatbelt. But let’s get down to the less obvious and often overlooked safety aspects.
- Keep a paper map. While we tend to rely heavily on technology today, not all areas will have cell signals. It is important that you have and know how to read a paper map while on the road. Also be sure to pick up a recently published map, older ones may not be updated to newer roads and freeways. Use a highway map if you stick to public roads or a USGS topographic map if you boondock in out-of-the-way places.
- Allow family to track your GPS. If you have a trusted family member or friend, consider allowing them to track your phone’s location. If you ever ended up in an accident and were unable to get in contact with them, they would at least be able to see your last location and contact local authorities.
- Get Onstar or other emergency services. Investing in a program like Onstar allows you to call for help at the push of a button. In the event of a mechanical failure, accident, or other emergency, you know that help is only a short call away.
- Keep in touch with family and friends. Start every morning by texting your plan for the day to at least two friends or family members and remember to check in with them throughout the day. This will allow them to know your general journey and goals. In the rare case that you were to get lost, they would have a better idea of where to look for you.
- Do not go off the path. On the same note, do not stray very far from your plans once you have told someone without updating them. Also, do not stray from well-traveled roads, especially if you are unsure of where they go or where you are. You never know where a Forest Service road will end up! This is doubly critical if you’re traveling overseas.
- Do not drive at night. Nothing good happens after sundown. Driving at night is *almost always* a bad idea. The roads we are usually taking while camping and exploring tend to be dark, windy, and unfamiliar. We could easily miss a turn or end up somewhere we do not want to be. Most animal-vehicle accidents happen at night and early morning as well. It is best to be resting in the dark as Nature intended!
*Unless the spot you have chosen for the night has become unsafe and you need to leave, if you ever feel uneasy, LEAVE IMMEDIATELY.
CAMPING AND BOONDOCKING
When you go looking for a safety blog for van life, you usually are looking for this information. Being able to set up camp and feel safe and secure while solo traveling is important.
- Get to your spot in the daytime. Being able to scout out a campsite during the daylight hours is important. You will be able to see who else is around you, what the environment looks like, and get the general vibe of the campground.
- Stay where families stay. If you are choosing to camp at campgrounds, choose campsites that have families nearby. Try to say hi and introduce yourself to them. This will allow you to reach out to them for help if you need it. Do not tell people you are alone or traveling solo.
- Never get out at night even to pee. Once the sun goes down, stay inside your van. Yes, that includes if you have to pee. If your van has a toilet, then you are golden. However, if yours does not, set up a temporary solution beforehand. A makeshift toilet will work just fine since you are traveling alone.
- Bear spray. Forget pepper spray. Wasp spray has been a favorite self-defense spray of mine for a long time thanks to its ability to spray up to 25 feet with pretty good accuracy (and I hate wasps). However, a female ranger once put me onto bear spray, and I won’t go back. This is a great option to stop intruders of both bear and human varieties.
- Lock your doors. Always make sure your doors are locked. In fact, triple-check them. It can be easy to forget especially if you are tired from driving or hiking all day.
- Invest in an alarm. While you can set up a security system in your van, it can be tricky, costly, and inefficient since you will not always have reception or Wi-Fi. However, investing in a personal alarm, portable siren, or upgrading the panic button on your van is a great option for scaring away possible intruders.
- Stay ready to drive. Before you go to sleep, get your van ready to drive. Pick up loose items and store them properly away and keep your keys in the ignition or somewhere close to the ignition in case you need to leave quickly in the middle of the night. It happens more times than you think!
- Blackout curtains. Make sure people cannot see into your van when you are sleeping. Add reflective tint, Reflectix insulators, or black-out curtains. This will also help you sleep.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND BLOGGING
We all want to share our amazing experiences while vanlifing. But should we? Some of us make our living from blogging and sharing our van life content. However, for safety reasons, we need to be very careful about what we post.
- Do not post where you are or where you are going. If you are sharing your journey on instagram or other social media, never do it in real time. However well intended you are about giving your viewers an authentic look at vanlife, you do not know who is seeing what you post. Stalkers are real and do happen frequently. Prevent the possibility of being followed by not sharing your exact location.
- Wait a few days or weeks before posting where you have been. People are way smarter than we give them credit for and often have too much time on their hands. This means they can decipher where you are, where you have been, and where you are probably going next. To help prevent this from happening, wait until you are completely out of the area before posting your photos and blog content.
- Be cautious about meeting up with people in real life. The #vanlife community online is strong and awesome. I have met some really amazing people through the blogging and Instagram world, however, it is best to be cautious. Do not meet up with strangers from online alone! Do not tell them where you are or where you are going. There are large events and public get-togethers that provide a great meet-up place for Instagram friends.
What is van life without exploring the beautiful natural landscapes of the places we visit? Mother Earth is a gorgeous and awe-inspiring place, but that doesn’t come without dangers.
Steep cliffs, landslides, waterfalls, flash floods, and animal attacks all make for possible obstacles while hiking. More likely, twisted ankles, bee stings, bug bites, scrapes, and dehydration will happen to us while we are in nature. So how do we safely hike alone?
- Stay on guided trails. Never wander from the marked trails. The land could be treacherous, unsafe, or full of poisonous plants. It will also help prevent you from getting lost.
- Carry extra water. Always carry an extra bottle or two of water. Dehydration can happen quickly and if you were to get lost or fall and get hurt, you will be happy to have extra water on you.
- Carry an alarm/whistle. Carry a personal alarm or whistle with you when you go hiking. You can sound the alarm if you get lost or injured. The alarm can also work to scare away aggressive wildlife.
- One blast = ATTENTION
- Two blasts = STOP
- Three blasts = HELP/EMERGENCY!
- Carry a flashlight. Pay attention to the amount of daylight left before heading out anywhere and never set out at sunset. However, if you were to get caught after dark, you will be glad to have a flashlight. Better yet, make it an LED headlamp!
- Carry medical supplies. A basic first aid kit is necessary for any hiker. Be sure to carry an EPI pen if you have any known allergies, Benadryl if you don’t, bandages, and instant ice packs. Also opt for an emergency blanket and flares in case of an emergency.
- Invest in a satellite phone. If you are an avid advanced hiker, consider a satellite phone. This will help you if you are ever lost and have no cell reception.
- Tell people when and where you are going and report back to them. Before heading out on a hike, inform a family member or friend where you are going and when you are coming back. Give them instructions on what to do if you do not return by a certain time.
READY TO TAKE ON THE WORLD?
Solo van travel can be exhilarating and fun, while at the same time being intimidating and scary. Now that I have been solo van camping for years, I feel confident in my abilities to safely travel and explore without much of a second thought.
After learning how to feel confident mechanically working on my van, knowing my limits when it comes to driving, compiling a safety checklist for campsites, safely navigating social media while traveling, and how to feel comfortable hiking solo, I was ready to take on the world!
My last bonus tip: Get a dog! Solo van life is great, but sharing your experience with a furry friend is fun and not to mention, the protection a dog brings is a great plus!
Whether you want to explore van life for a weekend or a year, you can now confidently set out for your next adventure!
Sara Sabharwal is a modern digital nomad exploring the world one road trip at a time. She splits her time between North America and India and has yet to find a place that she didn’t fall in love with. Her favorite destinations include dark sky parks and forested mountain ranges. My dream is to live in a van down by the river, which I luckily get to do 3-6 months out of the year.