Is vanlife scary? The short answer is no; it’s not.
It’s a question that we get from friends and family a lot, and I get it – I’d expected it to be a little spookier myself. But it’s not, and that’s coming from a chick that can’t even watch a scary movie meant for 12 yr old kids!
This blog post is for those of you that would love to give vanlife a go, but are a little worried about the safety aspects. Hopefully, I can help you conquer your concerns and give you that final push to live this amazing lifestyle!
Trust your gut and only park somewhere that you feel comfortable. As a general rule of thumb, try to avoid parking near bars, clubs, and fast food joints as that’s where the very noisy teens like to hang out and play their car radios as loud as they can. They’re not dangerous, just super-duper annoying.
Parking where signs are indicating that overnight parking or camping is not allowed is a no-no. You’ll just run the risk of being woken up in the middle of the night by that dreaded “Time to go” window tap.
Also, unless you have asked / or know that an establishment is camper friendly, avoid parking in their parking lot and stick to public and on-road parking. The local councils tend to police their own public parking and are far less likely to have 24hr security compared to a business’.
If you find your parking spots through apps like Park4Night — which I highly recommend — make sure that you read the reviews, we’ve seen places with good ratings but that have very off-putting comments such as “This was a great camping spot… but three of the campers near us were broken into” which in my opinion, makes this a not so great camping spot.
If you’re working from the local coffee shop and get chatting to someone from the area about your journey – don’t be afraid to ask them if they know of any safe parking spots. One of our best parking spots was thanks to a local chap we met in a hairdresser!
Didn’t your Mom ever tell you that there’s safety in numbers? Parking near other campers is a great idea as everyone tends to keep an eye on each others campers!
We always find that the older our camper neighbors are, the better it is for us – because they spend most of their day hanging out in their camper which makes us feel as though Red has company all day!
If you can’t find a parking spot that feels safe, don’t risk it – splurge on a campground for the night.
We’re currently in Madrid, Spain and heard that free camping here often results in a camper covered in graffiti – so we opted for a campground for these few days.
Don’t leave your expensive equipment in your van, or for that matter your charging cables either; pack that stuff in your backpack and be on your way!
If you have to leave your fancy gadgets in your van, invest in a small safe that you can affix to the vehicle so that it’s almost impossible to remove, and then even if it is removed – it’s unopenable! Boom – take that wannabe thief.
Keeping curtains closed at all times is a great way to make it look as though someone is home which is a significant deterrent. Not to mention, if you happen to be traveling in hot countries; it helps to keep your van cooler!
Needing to pee in the middle of the night happens, but I wouldn’t recommend wandering around in the dark trying to find a bathroom. Try to find an indoor solution such as a GoGirl!
I know, I’m always talking about this little lady gadget, but it’s just so nifty!
One of those pieces of advice that everyone gets from their Mom, learning self-defense is an excellent idea, and it’s a great workout too!
Signing up for a local class, or following online video lessons can help prepare you for a worst-case scenario, but remember – being ready for the worst is fine, but always assuming the worst isn’t, that’ll just put a damper on things.
Did you know that emergency number differ from country to country? Familiarize yourself with the phone number for the police, ambulance, and fire department in each place that you visit!
If you start to feel unsafe in the area that you decided to park up, move on. It’s not worth the trouble. So keep your keys ready, and the route to the driver’s seat clear. We’ve only moved on once, and that was because there were noisy teens parked right beside us.
Sometimes people get curious; they want to lean on your bus — not ok — and see what the inside looks like. Often this is harmless but better safe than sorry, so feel free to scare them off with a long blast of the horn or by setting off a personal alarm!
Don’t be a cotton-headed-ninny-muggins, make sure that you lock those doors and windows. David and I have a buddy system (second Elf reference oh yeah!), he locks stuff, and I double check everything.
Breaking down is something that happens, but you’ve got to be prepared for it. In certain European countries, you are required by law to have either one or two safety triangles and enough fluorescent vests for everyone in the vehicle – if you don’t have these, you can face a hefty fine.
Bonus Tip – In Europe, you’re also required to carry a breathalyzer with you at all times, even if you don’t drink alcohol.
Keep a jerry can of petrol with you for those emergency situations, vanlife should be about getting off the beaten path – but sometimes that means there aren’t gas stations at every corner!
Buy a fire extinguisher and read the instructions on how to use it, campers are pretty notorious for going up quick when the worst happens, and something catches fire.
Bonus Tip – We also have a fire suppression system fitted in our engine bay so that if there were ever to be an engine fire – it would be put out before our whole bus could go up in flames.
Unless you happen to be a mechanic and have a van full of spare parts, breakdown cover is well worth the money for the peace of mind alone. In Europe, one of the best providers is the RAC, they have European-wide coverage, and have guaranteed response times.
It’s not very likely, but in a worst-case scenario, you should have a rough idea of where the local hospital or emergency room is. When in France we had a hell of a time finding a hospital which was no fun – when you need an emergency room, you’re generally not in the mood to wander around for hours.
The same goes for a dentist and finding out which ones offer emergency dental work. Just after starting vanlife – I had an impacted wisdom tooth poke through which caused one hell of an infection, it was no fun at all, but luckily David found a dentist that could see me the same day.
If you’re like us and traveling from country to country all of the time, it can be challenging to find the time to learn much of each language – but we do always make sure to learn the basics and enough for emergencies.
If you’re leaving your bus for the day while heading out on an adventure, it can be a great idea to park under the watchful eye of a security camera or two.
It’s not only a great way to put your mind at ease – but worst case scenario and something does happen, you might be able to get footage to provide your insurance company or the local law enforcement.
Be friendly with the locals, smile when they walk by and say hello. A lot of the time people will be incredibly friendly if you’re friendly first!
Getting to know your neighbors will give you a team of even more people keeping an eye on your home for you; we recently had some French neighbors who did just that for us without us even asking!
A lot of these tips might sound basic, but that doesn’t make them any less important.
If you’re already following these tips, good for you – glad to know that we’re both on the same page!
And if you have any safety tips that you think we’re missing – please comment with your additional suggestions below.
Happy Camping xx