You will need to weather many challenges when starting out your life on the road. One of these hurdles is #vanlife’s associated lifestyle tropes of drugs, homelessness, criminal activity and other negative stereotypes. But, the truth is, there are multitudes of good people living the vanlife lifestyle.
While it does pay to steer clear of the few rotten apples that prey on the good, the highest risks and causes of injuries associated with outdoor living are drowning, vehicular accidents, severe weather, falls, wildlife and poisoning.
Car accidents are the second highest cause of death amongst the outdoorsy crowd. For this reason, you have more reason to watch out for speed, cell phone and scenery distractions and the influence of alcohol when driving than murderous Canadian teenagers, addicts or hitchhikers.
Crimes make but a tiny fraction of the vandwelling risks. That said, these vanlife safety tips and safety precautions below are a vital consideration for vandwellers that spend most of their lives on the road. Use them and stay all the safer while on the road.
General vanlife safety tips
Keep your keys in a safe place, so you know where to find them
It is always easier to find your keys if you have a designated spot for them. Place your campervan’s keys in a safe easy-to-reach place, where you can easily access them should you need to make a quick getaway.
By locating your keys in seconds, you will not waste time fumbling around while in full panic. Keep your vehicle keys away from easy access spots such as next to your cubby holes to safety.
Lock your van at night
Here are a few things that burglars do not want you to know. First, most of them strike during the day because they want to avoid people. Secondly, most people forget to lock their windows and doors, making most campervan burglaries a crime of opportunity. Locking your campervans doors when you are off hiking and at night when you are asleep keeps you safe from opportunistic burglars.
Don’t sit in public view with expensive possessions
One safety concern that you need to solve when your home is on wheels is the security of your valuables. First, keep them out of sight when in public. Secondly, have a safe in your van. Bolt it to your campervan’s wall or floor for added security measures.
A hidden compartment under your bed frame or wooden box is a perfect hideaway for your laptops, cameras and other electronic items when you are out of the van. Opportunistic burglars will open easy to pry locks or your cubby holes on a high-top van to take out things that are easy to reach and clearly visible.
Simplyvanlife recommends a secret, false bottom compartment in your drawer. Place your laptop in it while away and put some clothes on top of it.
Use blackout curtains or blinds.
Block all visuals between the living space and the outside. Hang blackout curtains in windows and exposed areas. While it is great to allow in light and see the sights from the van, you need opaque window coverings to keep out any curious people from peeping into your privacy.
Curtains help improve your security, create a peaceful sleep environment, and increase stealth and invisibility. In addition, curtains are good insulation and help keep your van’s interiors snug and warm at night.
Stealth van life is a vital privacy strategy for campervan safety. Your van’s exterior should not directly portray that it is a camp van to onlookers. The non-stealth camper is perfect for RV friendly countryside travel and rarely tries to blend in. Long term vanlife travellers, however, will occasionally find themselves in cities and other non-camper friendly locations.
A stealth camper will help you avoid drama, trouble and criminals while maintaining your van dwelling privacy. Of course, you may not hide all a campervan’s features, such as your solar panels or awning on the roof, but you can stick to the standard cargo van look as much as possible for easy stealth camping.
Karl of Comfortablylost says that you should avoid external hatches, multiple doors and windows and have one-way windows and block out curtains. Keep your gear in the van’s interior and have your exterior in plain white. Sprinter build vans make excellent stealth vans because they have back large barn doors that allow easy access and storage to camp equipment.
Have an exit strategy should things get sketchy
Keep all your vehicle’s pathways clear. For example, your driver’s seat should always be free of any items and your keys nearby. Should you feel at risk or have your security compromised, use your exit strategy to get to the point of safety quickly.
Backpackinglikeaboss’s advice, is that you should pack ready for an instant take off. Do not pack in positions that require turning and twisting, a common safety measure in large fleet vehicle businesses.
Keep your phone charged.
Your phone should be speed dial ready should you run into danger. Always keep your phone charged to ensure that it is easy to contact and find in case of an emergency. When living in an apartment, you can easily take for granted phone and computer device charging times.
Van living makes it much harder to have all your electronic devices charged whenever you need them. For this reason, you have to plan to ensure that you always have adequate power for them all. Vanclan recommends working in coffee shops rather than your van. Here you can charge all your devices to satisfaction. Please bring along a robust lithium battery pack as well and set it for later use.
They also recommend portable power stations such as the Goal Zero Yeti Ecosystem. They are plug and play devices that can keep your devices powered up in any circumstances. That said, these gadgets are clunky and not so easy to schlep around. They also take a long time to charge. Their advice is that vandwellers’ devices will not have constant power sources, so they should plan and keep their mobile phone charged at all times.
Make yourself a hard target.
Always be alert, aware, and on the move, be a hard target. Criminals always attack the most vulnerable prey. So have your next step figured out in advance. Keep your valuables in a safe place and keep an eye out for any suspicious activity around you.
Security tips for your possessions
Create hidden compartments
It does pay to stay prepped for a robbery, should some burglars come calling. Therefore, you should have secret hiding spots to store your valuables, such as false bottom drawers, a plywood panel under your high topper, or the empty space behind your mirrored cabinet.
Get a compact safe
Some campervan users bolt their safes through their doors, making opportunistic burglary a difficult undertaking. Compact vehicle safes are perfect storage spaces for credit cards and passports.
Alternatively, use a lockable steel cable to secure your safe in place. The portable SentrySafe combination lock safe is an excellent vandweller safe for cell phones, wallets, and card storage in campers.
Invest in a steering wheel lock
Steering wheel locks will give you peace of mind while away from your campervan. Any opportunistic thief trying to get away with your vehicle would have to break the wheel lock off. They would require an assortment of tools for this task.
For this reason, most thieves will scope your steering wheel lock and be well on their way. For instance, the Stoplock Pro Steering Lock has a bright yellow shade that any burglar can see a mile away. Steering wheel locks are simply chunks of metal that make steering wheels harder to turn, making them excellent car theft deterrents.
Get lockable cargo straps
Small vans may lack sufficient storage for all your gear, so that you might need your rooftop for extra storage space. Opportunistic thieves will clamber up your external ladder and take off with your equipment if you do not secure it.
Use lockable cargo straps to keep your items secure. There are also rooftop tent locking bolts that will keep your $1000 tent safe while away from your van. Some Reddit users also recommend bolting your low-profile solar panel frames through your steel roof.
Install an ignition kill switch for the car battery
Car battery ignition kill switches will deter car thieves by disconnecting battery power when your campervan is out in the open and unguarded. Any thief that gets a hold of your car keys will only receive a few coughs and sputters from your campervan’s engine.
That said, these kill switches work best for snub nose campervans that have their batteries snug under the driver’s seat since burglars will have a harder locating the battery kill switch.
Road safety tips
Have Roadside assistance
Van living might be one of the most exciting ways to live for the outdoorsy person, but it is also a life that will leave you highly anxious if you do not take its responsibilities seriously. As an illustration, your vanagon will hit a rough patch at one time or the other.
Its engine light will light up 100 km away from civilization. To stay safe on the road and ease your anxieties over the inevitable mishap, pay for roadside assistance services. They will come to your aid should your gas go unexpectedly empty or a new battery installation fails you.
A top-notch roadside assistance company will alleviate the stress that will arise due to vehicle malfunctions finding your immediate help. Roadside assistance might feel like an additional cost, too heavy to bear, but in truth, it saves you a lot of expenses when your vehicle requires quality attention.
These services are especially critical in Australia’s vast road exploration vistas. While memorable, the remote wilderness is also very unforgiving. Contact AAA, RACV roadside assist or RACQ before embarking on your long journey to the wild.
Invest in tire chains for ice
Your 4×4’s tires will require tire chains for ice during winter. Vandwellers that love mountain climbing or hiking will at one time or another find themselves in the middle of a blizzard or snowstorm. Snow tire chains are an excellent alternative to snow tires since they are lightweight and compact.
They are also ultra-easy to install and remove when you are back to hotter climes. They are more affordable than snow tires and are often required in steep mountainous areas during harsh winters. Studded and winter tires are not sufficient for hazardous weather. Ideally, have enough tire chains for all four tires for excellent balance and traction.
Install a fire extinguisher
Fires are not a frequent vagabond living occurrence, but they do happen nevertheless. Therefore, it is very important to have approved and tested fire foam fire extinguishers effective in confined spaces. The dry powder alternative works best in open spaces. Check your extinguishers in intervals as per their manufacturer’s directions. In fact, many motorhome insurance companies require fire extinguishers to be installed for a van to have its vehicle registration changed to be a motorhome.
Store a jerry can for spare fuel
Your campervan’s fuel needs will be your biggest expense while living life on the road. Your vehicle model, region and speed will significantly affect the amount of money you spend on fuel. Estimating your fuel use and the perfect time to refuel is a process that becomes easier with time. That said, even the most seasoned of van lifers are at one point or the other caught between a rock and a hard place and will unexpectedly run out of gas.
As an illustration, winters can be excruciatingly tough, and you could turn to your diesel heater for some toasty comfort in minus temperatures. Diesel heaters are remarkably efficient but there are instances where vanlifers get stuck in the mountains in winter and stay longer than planned.
As an illustration, solo vanlife veteran Sydney Ferbrache says that getting stranded in the snow is a common #vanlife challenge. Ferbrache had to turn off her heater to conserve her fuel sources, staving off the freeze instead in her zero-degree sleeping bag.
Have a jerry can of gas mounted outside your van for emergency use. Do not store it inside your cabin because it emits gas fumes. However, if strapping it on your roof rack is legal, you can place it there as well. Front Runner’s hardy leak proof jerry cans and can holders will keep your emergency fuel securely mounted on your van’s back.
Portable air compressor for tires
Loud pops from deflated tires are a menace that you will have to deal with during travel. Unfortunately, these annoying situations often happen when you are miles away from service centres or gas stations. Of course, you could have your vehicle towed to a repair shop, but that will set you back quite a few hundred dollars.
One of the most important vanlife safety tips is to always have an air compressor in your van at all times. Use it to quickly inflate your tires and other items such as kayaks, air mattresses or bike tires.
Naturally, elevation, road conditions and temperature will cause fluctuation in tire pressure. One portable air compressor for tires benefit is that you can top up your tires’ pressure at a whim. A compressor is easy to use and will make it easy for you to top up your tire pressure. The best portable air compressors have pressure gauges and tire pressure digital readers.
No outdoors person ventures into the unknown sans their trusty hatchet. These handy tools can split firewood, clear your campsite or butcher your food if you are the hunting type. A solid hatchet will cut branches for use as traction when your van is stuck in the mud as well.
A hatchet is a multifaceted survival tool, and you should buy a quality, durable hatchet such as the Coleman Camp Axe.
A collapsible bucket, like your hatchet, is a versatile multi-use tool that will help put out your fires and hold water for use. In addition, collapsible buckets are easy to store since they fold down to compact sizes.
Getting back to your beloved Vanagon only to find a dead battery can throw a wrench in all your plans. All vehicle owners should therefore have jump starter cables in their cars. They are lifesavers when you need to bring back a dying battery to life.
Portable jumper cables will start your battery up, and you will not have to look for roadside assistance from strangers. They are compact and will easily fit in a glove compartment for emergency use. The best of them work as emergency device charging battery banks as well.
The NOCO Boost Plus GB40, for instance, is a 1000 amps portable jumper cable device whose single charge can give about 20 jump starts. In addition, it has a USB device charging port and an inbuilt 100 lumen LED light for emergency use.
Satellite communicators can help you communicate or find help when travelling to locations that lack cell service. Satellite communicators cover large off-grid areas and are easy to use. Turn them on and turn your mobile phone to a satellite phone.
Observe road safety by keeping your van visible to other motorists when it breaks down on a sharp bend or side of the road. The old pyrotechnic road flares burn brightly, but there are newer easy to use and reuse battery operated road flares.
LED road flares provide better visibility and are both crush and waterproof. They are also affordable and come in compact packs that will snuggly fit in a small corner of your van’s trunk.
Solo traveller: Extra Tips
If possible, have a way to get from your living area to the driver seat without leaving your van.
Solo vanlife travellers should go for campervan builds with easy access to the driver’s seat from the living area. This feature will make it easy for you to drive off at a moment’s notice, without the need to step outside your van and face your threat. In addition, you can place a curtain between the cabin and the back for privacy and coziness.
Get a Personal Locator Beacon
PLBs or personal locator beacons transmit electronic signals, alerting rescuers when you are in a life-threatening situation. They can send messages from remote locations and keep your family and friends updated on your progress and safety.
Tell someone where you are going.
As you move from one place to another, it’s good to keep people back home updated on your current location. In addition, you can use Facebook or Whatsapp to share your site with family members so that they easily reach you in case of an emergency. For iPhone users, turn on the “find my i-phone” feature or a similar application in any other phone brand.
Choose your campsites carefully.
Camping in a group is an excellent solo vanlife safety practice. Join larger crowds and camp in far-off and hidden getaways since there is security in numbers. It is important, however, to figure out the lay of the land when in campsites. Know who you are with or are in your surroundings to avoid any questionable characters.
When camping solo, go to campgrounds that are frequented by other campers and have support services. Avoid dark lonely places as they may be easy traps for criminals.
Have an indoor option for nighttime toilet needs
When visiting new places, getting out at night to relieve yourself may expose you to danger. In addition to safety concerns, getting out at night to pee is also an inconvenience.
Trust your gut
One advantage of mobile life in a van is that you can always move to another location when your seventh sense rings an alarm. Do not stay if you do not feel safe. Instead, pay attention to your instinct and take action.
While such instincts may be false alarms, you lose nothing if you keep your security at the forefront of your vandwelling lifestyle. On the other hand, some of these fears may turn out to be real security threats. If you feel unsafe, you can seek help in a police station or fire station in the neighbourhood.
There you have it, a list of the best vanlife safety tips that you can find on the internet. Have one more to add? Then, kindly share it with us.