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Vanlife Safety and Security

Safety and security for a more relaxed campervan experience

For all of the freedoms and simple joys that come along with the RV and van lifestyle, Vanlife safety and security are important to keep in mind and plan carefully for.

It’s easy to feel exposed when your home-away-from-home is a van, but you shouldn’t let fear rule your life or prevent you from enjoying the immense high points of life on the road.

Still, it’s important to pay attention and apply some caution to every day life and because of this, I believe in the Vietnam war era slogan, “stay alert, stay alive.” I have learned that an ounce of prevention can save my life. Being alert and conscious of your surroundings is crucial to staying safe on the road.

Let’s take a quick look at a few other tips for keeping your self, your travel partners and your belongings safe on your campervan journeys.

vansage sunset Vanlife safety and security
Image courtesy of Alice Hartrick

Rest stop safety

Keeping with our theme of alertness, doing just a bit of planning ahead can keep you much safer while traveling. Before heading out for a destination, take a few minutes to plan your logical rest locations along the way.

Depending on the state you’re traveling through, public rest areas can be sketchy. I avoid them whenever possible, opting instead to pull into towns, parks and view spots.

Choose good locations like popular restaurants, town squares and populated shopping streets, libraries, and other well-developed areas. Hospitals can also be a safe spot to pull in and stretch for a few minutes (not to mention cheap cafeterias with decent food).

Gas station safety

I also don’t much care for gas station convenience stores. Most people think nothing of popping in to a gas station mini-mart for a snack, restroom break or cup of coffee.

Not to be an alarmist, but convenience stores are the most common place in the US for robberies and shootings. Of course we all need to go to gas stations, but that doesn’t mean you have to go inside. I use my debit or credit card to fill up, and then I move on.

No one charges more for (often unhealthy) food than convenience stores and the quality is usually terrible. I go to coffee shops or make my own and I shop in full sized grocery stores.

I carry a portable toilet so I don’t have to use the (usually filthy) ones at gas stations.

Lock it up

This one will be a no-brainer for some readers. So many of us come from places where every door gets locked, every time we leave a house, apartment or car. But there are still some places where people don’t worry about such things.

If you come from one of those places, or just aren’t in the habit of locking every time you step away from your van, you’ll want to change that habit before heading out, for the sake of your own vanlife safety and security.

The line I’ve often heard is “I only stepped away for five minutes”. Five minutes is an eternity to a thief!. Get used to locking your van whether you’re going in the store, using the restroom, paying for gas, everywhere, every time.

Even when you’re inside

Another mistake is not locking up while inside the van. Car prowlers have the nasty habit of walking around, trying any door they come across to see if it’s locked. The last thing you want is for some crazy person to climb in your van while you’re taking a nap or having a meal.

And let’s not forget about car jacking. This is where you’re at a stop light and the thief yanks your door open, jerks you out of your vehicle and drives off.

Again, don’t let fear rule your life or your vanlife experiences. Just make hitting the button to lock all doors a natural part of your routine along with fastening your seat belt, checking mirrors, turning on some music…

Sleep safely and securely in your campervan

When it comes to finding a sleeping spot, remember to trust your instincts. If you get a negative feeling about an area, take a minute to consider why and look for signs that it might be unsafe.

vansage campsite Campervan safety and security
Image courtesy of Alex Iby

Stealth campervan safety

If you’re stealth camping in a city, don’t park in dimly lit areas with no other cars around. Though I rarely stealth camp, when the need arises, I choose nicer neighborhoods with plenty of cars and decent homes.

Wherever you’re parked, always keep your keys handy, and your drivers seat clear, so if you need to drive away suddenly, you can.

It’s also a good idea to have a car alarm system to spook any would-be intruders, just in case. Of course most modern vans have an alarm with a panic button on the dongle… If yours doesn’t, seriously consider having one installed.

Campground safety

Public and private campsites can feel very safe, but you still need to pay attention. If your neighbor seems sketchy, consider relocating. Know where the campsite host or ranger is camped and introduce yourself in case you need them and so they know you’re there.

Even when you’ve found a site that feels safe and secure, it’s best to take a few precautions during the night. Always keep your van locked when sleeping, and carry a portable toilet to avoid runs to the restroom or the woods in the middle of the night.

apply a little common sense and only go where you know you won’t be putting yourself in unnecessary danger.

Keep campervan valuables safe and secure

Out of sight

When it comes to your most valuable possessions (think money, ID, laptops, cameras, etc), never leave them out in the open where they can be easily seen through windows.

Don’t flaunt your high end camping gear, bikes, laptop… It’s tempting to pull into a site and set everything up right away. Instead, keep your gear out of site until your ready to use it and put it away when done.

Enlist your dog, even if you don’t have one

One of the most effective home burglary deterrents is a dog. But not everyone wants to travel with pets, as that can be a lot of extra work.

The good new is that a sign can be as effective as having an actual dog on board! For this reason, I have small, “Beware of the dog” signs on my rear and side windows. When a would be thief sees that sign, they’re much more likely to move on to the next opportunity.

dog sign vansage Vanlife safety and security
Image courtesy of Jordan Richmond

Safes for Vanlife safety and security

There are some very cool and useful options for storing your valuables safely and discreetly.

Consider installing a safe in your campervan. These can be bolted in or anchored with a cable lock. I use a small safe in my van and I have it bolted in a location that’s not visible without moving other stuff.

Most break ins are “smash and grab”, where the thief grabs any valuables within sight and moves on quickly. So a safe that’s anchored and out of sight won’t likely be seen, let alone cut out or “cracked”.

Whether you carry a gun or not, a “quick access” gun safe is a great for storing valuables as they’ can be easy to open quickly, not bulky and some models are very secure.

If you need to lock up a laptop, cameras… you’ll want to consider larger conventional safe for vanlife safety and security.


Stash boxes

There are also a variety of portable hiding products available. My favorite is the WD-40 can, since it’s unlikely a burglar will want that. I also like the Comet Cleanser can, as no thief is going to see value in that and it’s a common item in pretty much any environment that will pretty much go unnoticed.

There are also brushes, books, cans and other innocuous looking items. I personally would not choose one of the soft drink or energy drink cans since someone desperate enough to break into your van might also be in need of food, and therefore get lucky when they grab your can of Monster energy drink.


Another brilliant item to keep on board that will trick nearly any thief is the good old hollowed out book. Choose a book that’s not particularly interesting, but plenty thick, and keep it in a stack of other books.

Here’s a well done video from someone who’s give it a lot of thought.

 

Vanlife Safety and Security Recap

  • Stay alert, stay alive! But don’t let fear limit your fun!
  • Highway rest areas can be sketchy. Plan your stretch breaks in busy areas in town instead.
  • Gas stations are for gas, not food or bathroom breaks. Danger lurks here.
  • Lock up the van whether stepping away for a minute or an hour.
  • Lock the van when you’re inside, too!
  • Trust your gut when finding stealth or public campground spots. Move on if it doesn’t feel right.
  • Keep valuables out of sight and don’t flaunt your expensive gear.
  • “Beware of Dog” signs can deter thieves, even if you don’t have a dog!
  • Consider a bolt in or cable secured safe for valuables.
  • Choose a cool stash gadget or hollow out a book to trick the bad guys.

Please comment below!

How do you stay safe on the road? Got a favorite stash spot in your van?

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