An ongoing question that gets asked in the nomadic community is “is living life on the road safe?” There are obviously horror stories that you may have heard through the grapevine and from my experience it’s all dependent on how prepared and aware you are. Many non-nomads associate the nomad lifestyle with homelessness and sometimes even criminal activity. The social stigma that surrounds vanlife, skoolielife, or just nomadlife in general isn’t always hunky dory.
Over the past 3 years that I have been living life on the road I have certainly learned a few things. Most of the negative experiences that I have had were always in big cities. I’ve had people try to break into my vehicle while I was in there. I’ve had a guy once ram my vehicle with his vehicle at 3am while I was sleeping. I’ve had several vehicle break-downs which resulted in me being stranded. I’ve had a guy dump BBQ sauce outside of my vehicle in the hopes that I would step into it as I exited my vehicle.
I don’t want to discourage people from jumping into the nomadic lifestyle with these odd encounters because I firmly believe nomadlife can be safer than city life and it’s more rewarding. All of the bad experiences that I have had all took place in large cities. As most nomads know it can be tricky finding overnight parking in large cities. I usually resorted to parking in ghettos or industrial areas because it seemed like cops didn’t patrol those areas as much. When you park in locations like that something unexpected is bound to happen. This brings me to my first recommendation which is to stay away from big cities.
Avoid Big Cities
Bigger cities means more crime so if you’re travelling through a larger city be careful where you park. Some businesses will allow you to overnight park in there parking lots, like Walmart, but from my experience bigger cities are more strict with overnight parking. Security guards are pretty common patrolling the parking lots of businesses. I would recommend avoiding cities as much as possible. It’s safer to find parking on the outskirts or if you have a friend that will allow you to park at there place that would be better.
Use Your Intuition
Be smart and use your intuition. If you feel uncomfortable in a situation or if you’re parked somewhere where you feel unsafe then move somewhere else. It’s pretty easy to move your vehicle so DO IT!
It’s a good idea to carry protection in your vehicle because you never know what could happen at any given moment. I’m not saying you should carry a gun because laws are different from state to state but any type of device that you can use to defend yourself is a good thing to have. Other devices could include a stun gun, pepper spray, bb gun, a bat, a knife, or even a crossbow. Just kidding. Don’t get a crossbow. Make sure you check with states on the laws and regulations on specific weapons.
Cell Phone Coverage
As all us nomads know sometimes we park in areas where we have no cell phone service. Cell phone service is good to have if you’re in a bad situation. When you are overnight parking try and find a location where you have cell coverage just in case you need it. If you need to you can purchase a cell phone booster which can help out tremendously in areas with minimal cell service.
Get a Dog
Dogs can be great pets to have to ward off intruders. Dogs can sense things that we humans cannot and most criminals won’t invade your space if there is a dog present. Dogs can give us a sense of security and they’re great companions to have on the road. Cats are cool pets too but they’re a bit more lazier when it comes to alerting you of an intruder.
Lock Your Doors
Keep your doors locked at all times. I lock my doors during the day and at night when I’m in my vehicle. If you wanted to add an extra layer of protection you could use something to hold the doors shut just in case someone smashed out your window they still wouldn’t be able to open the door. I’ve also heard of nomad folks installing window alarms on their vehicle.
Road Side Assistance
Road side assistance can be a lifesaver. I’ve had to use it a couple times over the years and I’m glad I had it when I did. Many insurance agencies offer road side assistance but if your insurance doesn’t offer that I would recommend looking into AAA. With a premiere AAA membership it offers:
- One tow up to 200 miles; remaining tows up to 100 miles
- Car Travel Interruption up to $1,500
- Vehicle Locksmith service up to $150
- 24-Hour Emergency Travel and Medical Assistance
- Free Mobile Battery service
It never hurts to have a little extra fuel just in case you run out driving down those long, lonely roads. Keeping a spare jerry can of gas mounted to the outside of your vehicle can save you someday.
Portable Car Jumper
We’ve all left something on in our vehicle at some point that resulted in a dead battery. You don’t want to be stranded somewhere in the middle of the desert so having a portable car jumper is a great thing to have. If not a car jumper then at least carry some jumper cables with you.
Hide Your Valuables
Always make sure that your valuables are hidden from view. Many of us nomads have cameras, drones, laptops, and other expensive gadgetry. If you have them in an area where people can see them through the window then that increases the chances of a break-in. Using window blinds or blackout curtains can be beneficial as well to prevent people from peaking into your vehicle.
Buy one of those fireproof safes that you can hide somewhere in your vehicle. This would be great to have for storing passports, birth certificates, social security cards, and emergency cash. Having a fireproof safe ensures that you important documents stay safe even if your vehicle somehow caught fire.
Let People Know Where You Are
Just in case something unexpected happens it’s always good to let friends and family know where you are. Lets say you go out hiking, mountain climbing, or mountain biking and something bad happens. Perhaps you break your leg or get hurt which prevents you from getting back to your vehicle safely. If you let people know where you are they can at least search for you if you turn up missing.
Always have a fire extinguisher handy if you are living in your vehicle. You never know what can happen out there on the road so being prepared is the best way to go.
Security cameras can be a great tool to have in your arsenal. Most security cameras nowadays can be monitored right from your cell phone which makes it extremely convenient. Many security cameras have motion sensor lights as well which are great for warding off intruders.
Vehicles get stolen and although it may not happen very often to nomads it can still happen. Hiding a small gps tracker somewhere on your rig can be a fantastic device to have if your vehicle just happens to get stolen.
Display Something “Manly”
For you solo female travelers it can be beneficial to place something somewhere inside or outside your rig that shows that a man occupies the vehicle. For example if you leave a big hefty pair of boots outside your vehicle it might give the impression that a big, burly man lives in the vehicle.
Travel With Other Nomads
It’s obviously much safer if you’re traveling with other nomads. Most criminals aren’t going to mess with a traveling group of nomads so make friends and caravan.
Stickers can be a great way to discourage people from breaking into your vehicle. Security system stickers or dog stickers are just an example.
Make Copies Of Important Documents
Taking photos of important documents and emailing them to yourself can be helpful if you happen to get into a sticky situation where you loose your documents. Taking photos of your vehicle insurance, passport, social security card, or any other important documents is great to have for backup.
The Bottom Line
Use your brain and your instinct when you’re living life on the road. Be smart and take necessary precautions just in case something bad happens. Living in a vehicle doesn’t have to be dangerous if you’re smart about it.
I imagine there are other tricks and tips to stay safe on the road but my knowledge and experience are limited. If you have some tips that you would like to share feel free to leave a comment below.