In October 2022, I decided to sell my house, buy a van, and travel the country alone. I was already fairly used to traveling solo by this point: I would often go to concerts out of state, wander new cities, or go hiking as a party of one to a destination I really wanted to see. Over the years, I've discovered an innate comfort being in my own company, and I've almost always felt at ease traveling alone.
So it seemed natural for me to approach this new chapter of van life in the same manner: solo.
But I was also faced with a lot of doubters, who asked questions such as:
"But how will you stay safe?"
"Aren't you scared?"
"Where will you go to the bathroom?"
"I bet your mother worries about you."
Solo traveling as a female van lifer has a terrible, undeserved reputation for being unsafe or ill-advised. In general, I have felt very safe while traveling alone and recommend it to everyone I know.
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However, as amazing as solo travel is, of course there are still some precautions you'll want to keep in mind. Here are the ones I've found to be most helpful.
1. Share Your Location Permanently
Pick a few trusted friends and family members to share your location with, even just via your iPhone settings. Even if things were to go awry, your loved ones would at least know where to start by having the last location from your phone signal.
Better than just your iPhone settings, use an app such as bSafe, which allows you to check in when you arrive at a new camping spot; this alone can bring parents peace of mind. It also has an SOS button that starts recording audio and video with just one click if you ever feel uneasy.
2. Carry Pepper Spray
It's always a good idea to have something to defend yourself with if you ever need to, God forbid. Pepper spray is easy to carry and easy to use, but it's important you know how to use it.
And keep in mind: Don't ever deploy it inside your van, where it will affect you just as badly as someone else.
3. Stay Aware of Your Surroundings
Simply put, if a situation feels off, it probably is. Always follow your instincts when finding places to park, whether at night to sleep or during the day. Typically, when I am finding a place to sleep, I will read the comments on iOverlander—a nonprofit app that allows users to share locations and feedback—and drive around the location first to check it out. I make sure it is well-lit and that I have ample space to make an escape if needed.
4. Lock Your Car Door at Night
This one kind of goes without saying, but make sure to remember to lock your van door! I keep my keys very close to my bed and keep everything somewhat tidy in case I need to get away from a situation quickly.
5. Don't Share Too Many Details with Strangers
Most people you come across will be fascinated by your way of living, but I'm cautious with how many details I reveal to strangers. As someone who loves meeting like-minded people and striking up conversation, this can be tricky! I find it useful to ask detailed questions about their lives as well to get an idea of their intentions. It also serves as a mental list of details about someone, should you need to file a police report in a worst-case scenario.
6. Be Cautious When Posting on Social Media
It's so fun to post adventures in real time. In general, however, it is safer to wait until you are out of the area before posting, especially if you have a public profile.
7. Be Careful If You Plan to Have a Few Drinks
It's always better to have your wits about you than to end up in a situation where you are impaired and unable to focus clearly. For this reason, I suggest keeping drinking to a minimum when you're solo traveling.
8. Consider Investing in an Alarm or Outdoor Camera
Something like a Google Nest or a Ring can feel like overkill for your home on wheels, but it can actually be a good deterrent for an unwelcome visitor and provide you video playback if you ever need to check something out.
Despite its reputation for being unsafe, traveling alone as a female has held far more benefits than drawbacks, in my experience. It is such an intimate way of being with yourself, trusting yourself, and relying on yourself. Plus, I've found it's way easier to find a seat at a busy restaurant, to meet people more authentically, and to make plans without having anyone else to consider.
If you're interested in this lifestyle, do a couple of solo test trips over a weekend at an established campground in shoulder season. In my opinion, it is one of the best ways to travel. Be safe, be aware, and enjoy it!