5 Dangers of Van Life and 5 Tips For Staying Safe

Van parked in quiet spot

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Living or traveling in a van is all the rage and I must admit, as a camper van traveler myself, I totally get it! It’s absolutely fun and adventurous to live life in this way. It’s a great way to travel and visit destinations that you might not otherwise be able to.

However, it does present some dangers and can often be scary for those who travel alone. While I haven’t had any major scares on my journey, I have often found myself in areas that I bailed from. There are just some places you know you shouldn’t be and it’s best to listen to your intuition and move on in these instances.

I try to believe that most people are good out there and there are only a small number of folks you need to worry about. This may be more true in some areas than others so it’s always best to err on the side of caution. It’s a good idea to always expect the best but be prepared for the worst.

While I haven’t experienced very many problems while out on the road, I have often been concerned about lurking dangers that present themselves with this lifestyle. There are some risks involved in being on the road and there is no way around it other than proper preparation and planning.

Let’s look at five of these dangers below that I consider to be top of the list.

5 Dangers of Van Life

1. Accidents

Anytime you are traveling in a motorized vehicle, accidents are always a concern. Even if you are the most careful driver on the planet, other people can totally ruin your day by not paying attention or just doing something stupid. Beyond that, accidents happen, and oftentimes no one is at fault. It could be an act of nature or a wild animal that has run into the path of your vehicle.

Deer standing in road

No matter how it happens, wrecks are a concern with van life as well as any other type of RV life. This lifestyle requires us to drive long distances and we are often behind the steering wheel for extended periods of time. It’s easy to get caught up in a bad situation out on the road that is not your fault.

It’s also easy to get distracted or tired and cause the problem yourself. It’s always a good idea to have this in the back of your mind as you travel on your journeys and expect that anything could happen at any time. It’s not negative thinking but simply being prepared for what could happen that could potentially threaten your life and the lives of others.

2. Mechanical Failures

Along with wrecks, auto vehicles also break down and have mechanical failures. This can be a huge headache when you are traveling long distances out on the road. The best you can do is proper maintenance of your vehicle and keep it in top running shape at all times. Beyond that, failures happen and it’s often beyond your control. There are some ways that you can prepare yourself for when these issues arise.

Flat tire broken down

The most important thing you can do to minimize breakdowns is to perform regular maintenance on your vehicle. This includes oil changes, tire replacement, and maintenance including maintaining proper air pressure. You can also change filters, check all serviceable fluids and do a thorough walk-around inspection of your vehicle often while out on the road.

There are some other ways that can you reduce your worries of breakdowns occurring while on the road. Some of the tools that I use include the following:

Roadside assistance

You can purchase roadside assistance for RVs that allow you to have a place to contact when breakdowns occur out on the road. These services can deliver fuel and other necessities to your location and also tow you to the nearest maintenance location.

Good Sam Roadside Assistance is a good choice and offers plans specifically for RVs (including vans).

Carry Jumper Cables or a Jump Starter

You shouldn’t leave home without jumper cables but if you really want a great solution to a dead battery, carry a jump starter at all times in your van or RV. These allow you to jumpstart your battery when it is dead. They are small and easy to store and can be a lifesaver in a desperate situation.

I carry the NOCO Boost Plus in my van and all other vehicles at all times. Just make sure you keep it charged and ready to use at all times.

Carry an Emergency Roadside Kit

You never know if, when, or where your van will break down. It’s good to have a few necessities in your van that could keep you safe when something occurs. You’ll want a kit that has a few common items that are needed out on the road including:

  • Reflective warning triangles
  • Socket set
  • Screwdrivers
  • Tire repair tools and air pressure gauge
  • 12v air compressor
  • Bright flashlight

These tools are always in my van and give me an extra level of security in knowing they are there in case of an emergency.

This Emergency kit includes the necessities you might need if you find yourself stranded on the side of the road.

Traction Boards

If you find yourself going off the beaten path more often than not, some traction boards should be in your van. Everyone who travels in a van or RV should consider having these no matter what. They are great to help you get unstuck from mud, sand, snow, or anything else that causes your tires to lose traction.

Even if you have a 4-wheel-drive van, you may still find yourself unable to work yourself out of a hairy situation. It’s best to have a backup plan that could provide some help.

If you have wandered down the wrong path or tried to be a little more adventurous than you should have, you may have gotten stuck and need a little help to get you out of it. These mats are great for helping you get unstuck and are easy to store away in your van when not in use.

These traction boards will do the trick and can store away easily when not being used.

3. Burglars

We all know that thieves can ruin everything! It’s a terrible experience to learn that your van or RV has been broken into when you were not around. Even worse is for it to be broken into when you are around and potentially cause you to have to fight for your life.

Most often, thieves are looking for easy targets and will run at the first sign of resistance. However, when a thief is backed into a corner, there’s no telling what he or she will do.

Whether you are traveling in a van or any other type of vehicle, thieves are lurking all over the place so you should always be prepared.

Those traveling in vans or RVs have a lot of their possessions on board. A thief that steals your IDs and other important documents or items can really turn your world upside-down.

The most obvious thing you can do is always keep your van locked no matter how far away you are from it. Whether you are strolling around close by in the campground or miles away, keeping your van locked when you are not around is the first line of defense to ward thieves away and make it too difficult for them to fool with.

Having blackout curtains or window covers in your van is also important. These should be installed at all times when you are not in the vehicle or even when you are in the vehicle. A thief will not know whether someone is in the vehicle or not if blackout curtains or other window coverings are installed. It’s best to keep them wondering than to allow them to see straight into your van.

4. Being Asked to Leave

It’s no secret that van lifers often park in any place they can find that seems legal. This isn’t always easy to accomplish and often leaves you wondering if you are going to be asked to leave or not. This can often present you with anxiety and fear that you will either be asked to leave, be fined, or get in other types of trouble.

It’s not always as easy as you would think to find parking while out on the road. If you are trying to maintain free parking everywhere you go, you will probably be disappointed along the way as it’s becoming increasingly more and more difficult to find such places.

It’s best to have multiple plans and sources of places to park your van for the night in case you aren’t able to discover free places. You want to seek out Campgrounds, RV parks, Harvest Hosts locations, Boondockers welcome, Hipcamp, and other legal areas where you can park. Combined with free parking areas, having a variety of other sources for parking your van can ensure that you will always have a place to go.

Constantly feeling like you are out of place and parked in an area you aren’t supposed to be in is a common fear and a danger when you are traveling in a van.

5. People Who Want To Do Harm

Beyond thieves, the other types of low lives out there on the loose are those who want to do you harm. It could be a variety of reasons but it’s a good idea to always have a plan when something goes wrong. When you are out on the road, you never know who you are going to encounter as well as who you can trust. It’s getting more and more difficult to trust people and even when you think you’ve met somebody good, you never know another person’s intentions.

Being out on the road, you are likely to meet people from time to time and while most of these people will be great, you will likely encounter a few bad apples along the way. Your intuition should guide you away from these types of people but it isn’t always that straightforward.

5 Tips for Staying Safe

1. Be Aware

Perhaps the best thing you can do to keep yourself safe while on the road is to be aware of every situation that you are in. This awareness should lead you to select safer parking areas, safer routes, and people to associate with. If you are aware and use your head in every situation, rather than allowing your emotions to take over, you will be better off.

As an example, consider parking your van in a location. When you park your van, always do a thorough check around the area to make sure you are in a safe place. If you feel that there is something not quite right, it’s best to move on. If your intuition is telling you that danger might be present, then don’t ignore it!

If you decide to stay, you want to be aware of how you are parking and what it will take to drive away if things go wrong. You will want to be parked in a position that makes it easy to get up and go at a moment’s notice.

If you pull into a location without even thinking about leaving, you could put yourself in danger should a situation arrive where you need to leave. Don’t allow the excitement of parking in an awesome location to overpower the need for awareness of the situation.

2. Be Prepared

Once you are parked, preparation for situations that might arise is a good idea. One of the ways that I prepare for a situation and make sure I can leave when needed is to always keep my keys, wallet, and phone in the same area in my van. I hang these items up in a location where I know they will always be.

This way, I am prepared to grab them and go at a moment’s notice if something were to happen. As long as I have parked properly, and have been aware of my surroundings, I can pick up my keys where I know they always are and crank my van up, and be out of there!

Don’t make the mistake of just throwing your keys and wallet in random locations around your van. Once it’s time to go, you will be scrounging around trying to find where you put them and put yourself in greater danger by not being able to leave a location when danger is present.

Prepare yourself for these situations by keeping your living space organized and allowing yourself to get away when needed.

3. Keep Others Informed

When you are out on the road in your van, you will want to keep others informed of your whereabouts at all times. Those who you trust should be aware of the locations you are in and hear from you regularly. In case something happens, these people will be able to lead authorities to where you might be located.

Many van lifers are loners and prefer alone time (including me). However, if you are concerned about your safety, make sure that you are telling someone else your whereabouts as you travel from place to place. If no one knows where you are, it would be difficult to provide any clues if something were to go awry on your travels.

Of course, a good phone signal will go a long way in making sure you can keep others informed of where you are and what you are experiencing.

4. Park in Safe Locations

When parking your van, it’s best to avoid sketchy areas altogether. Whether it’s free parking or not, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Many places will have free access available for travelers and many of these places are great choices such as Walmart parking lots and other establishments that allow it. As long as these are in good areas and seem relatively safe, they can provide a good experience for the occasional night.

Van parked by a river

However, the best option is to find safe areas, have good cell service, and have other decent people around in case there’s an emergency. I typically prefer campgrounds as long as they are in good locations and provide a serene environment to enjoy. Some campgrounds are just as sketchy as free parking so you’ll need to consider that as well.

5. Carry a Weapon

After you have done everything that you know to do to keep yourself safe, you may want to consider carrying a weapon that can protect you. There are plenty of nonlethal weapons that you can carry which I wrote about here, but your location may also allow you to carry a gun if you are authorized to do so.

You’ll need to check local laws and make sure that you are doing everything legal if you go this route. Nonlethal options are always available and you probably already have them in your van, you just need to be aware of them and know how to use them and where they are at all times.

Some nonlethal weapons that you may consider include pepper spray, bear spray, fire extinguishers, a stun gun, taser, baseball bat, and nearly anything else you can use to easily strike someone with.

It’s a good idea to use a weapon that can be effective from a distance which is why pepper spray and aerosols work great. These require you to strike the perpetrator and then get out of there before making close contact. Weapons like this can be a last resort once you have done everything right and still have an intruder or someone trying to cause harm while out on the road. It’s a good idea to have everything you can have at your disposal when trying to protect yourself.

Bottom Line

The truth is, it can be quite scary out on the road, especially if you are by yourself. Men and women alike may find themselves riddled with anxiety and fear while on their trip. If you travel for any length of time, you’ll start to learn ways to avoid dangerous situations. You’ll also become more at ease as you become more experienced with the lifestyle.

No one is invincible from having bad things occur so the only thing you can do is make good choices, be aware of your surroundings at all times, and be prepared in the best ways that you can. Life is an adventure and we never know what lies around the corner.

Traveling in a van is fun, exciting, and adventurous. It provides the opportunity to travel lightly and make your way to places that other larger RVs or vehicles can’t go. You shouldn’t have to be scared while on your trip, just make sure you are preparing for dangerous situations and avoiding them as best you can while traveling.

Dan Collins

I consider myself an outdoor enthusiast. I love to travel and go to places that most people don't get a chance to go. I want to see it all and live life to the fullest while I'm alive. My camper van is helping me to do just that. I write about my experiences to help inspire others to do the same.

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