Sooooo.. By now you know that in my time as a van lifer I have, in the dead of night, been the victim of both an attempted break in and a drive by shooting! But I love Van Life. I love the sense of adventure, the ever changing scene, the ‘here today somewhere else tomorrow’, I love having (almost) all I need with me all the time. So, I take the rough with the smooth… And sometimes it’s pretty damn rough! Whilst I in no way at all accept responsibility for the actions of those people who chose to commit those crimes against me and my property, there were some mistakes that I made that I do have to own that had I not made them, would have meant I would not have been so vulnerable. Please note that this is not about actual security and defence measures – That’s a whole other post! Anyway, based on what I have experienced I would advise the following when stealth camping:
1. Remember that sleeping on a highway can be illegal (depending on local by laws) and so stealth camping is a lot about choosing your spot wisely so as not to attract attention from authorities and busy bodies, you don’t want to advertise you are camping but you do want to keep your van safe from accidents, thieves and vandals. It’s a tricky balance. Choose wisely – try and stay off roads if you can.
2. Prepare the van before you park up – Make sure blinds are down, insulation mats etc are in place, all light traces visible from the outside are covered. Try to avoid having to get out of the van or be seen once you’re in your park up spot, especially if you are like me a single female.
3. Keep your noise levels down. You’ll learn where you can make noise and where you can’t… In some places stealth is about silence!
4. If there is the option of parking under a CCTV camera or not, go with parking in plain sight of the camera! If you don’t want to be caught on camera yourself see point 2 but trust me, parking under the camera is gonna keep you and your van safer!
5. Don’t park next to a hedge if you can help it. A hedge or the like, provides perfect cover for thieves to sneak up the side of your van unnoticed and try and gain access. Leave lots of space for people to be seen being sneaky.
6. If you are familiar with an area and you notice others don’t park in a certain spot but you don’t know why, don’t park there either! There is a reason and you don’t want to find out what it is.
7. If at all possible park alongside other vehicles. It reduces the amount of attention you’re going to draw – Gutsy guys and girls go it alone if you dare! But it’s true, there’s safety in numbers. The probability of a random attack on your vehicle is divided by the number of vehicles you park with. 5 Vans: 20% chance of attack, 2: 50%, 1: It’s gonna be you!!!!
8. If you have the option to park inside gates that are locked at night, make sure you’re inside! But do also make sure someone is coming to unlock them the next day too! I have had both, accidentally outside the gates – break in, accidentally inside the gates – locked in!
9. If you know in advance that you are going to be going to an unknown area check the crime levels on the web. If you find they are high, I would suggest moving out of the area completely before parking up – The extra travel time is worth it to avoid the potential time and financial costs of a damaged van. Alternatively just use a free Brit Stop.
10. If someone knocks on the van at night… Answer! In your lowest, most masculine and potentially aggressive voice possible! If it’s the police you can reveal yourself and be nice.. And if necessary apologetic. If it’s a chancer looking to break in they’ll probably just leave you alone. If you don’t answer they’ll think it’s empty and smash your window.
11. Listen to your gut! If it’s telling you that this spot is a bad idea or you notice strange behaviour, no matter how pretty it is, move on! Pretty doesn’t matter when you or your van are in trouble! And I mean, really listen to your gut. Sometimes even answering that niggle with ‘Oh, I’ll just see how it goes..’ should be a warning. It could be the only warning you get, as it was in the case of my drive by shooting.
12. Don’t drop your guard! It’s easy when you’ve been Van Lifing for a while to get complacent. Don’t! Especially in the familiar places. Keep your wits about you, keep your eyes peeled, keep your ears open. Unless you live in a converted tank you probably have vulnerable areas… Don’t forget that.
13. Don’t let the fear steal your sense of adventure! When my window got shot, I got scared and I started wondering whether I really wanted this life… But then I thought about what this life really is and remembered all I love about it, and I got a reminder from my 12 year old nephew – Don’t let other people get you down, or steal your joy or your freedom to live however and wherever you want. Just be careful out there!