Staying safe when you travel – and in life in general – is a super important topic. Safety is avoiding dangerous situations by having superior situational awareness. Let’s talk about how that relates to van life safety and traveling.
SAFETY IN TRAVELING
Safety: /sāftē/; noun; the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury.
We are often asked how we keep ourselves safe while we travel in our van or travel out of the country. There are so many possible situations in which we could get hurt or robbed, and people tend to worry about our safety as we travel around. Truly, the best way to remain safe in any situation is to avoid getting into a bad spot in the first place. That is what we base our safety tips around in this video.
WHAT VAN LIFE SAFETY IS NOT
When a group of individuals are asked how they keep themselves safe when traveling, the most common answers related to defense mechanisms, i.e. guns, pepper spray, knives, etc. However, safety begins long before a gun or pepper spray or a knife would come into play. Safety is about being situationally aware and avoiding those situationas altogether.
Safety is not about defense. To defend yourself and to know how to defend yourself is important, but it is not safety. Dogs are also mentioned often when talking about safety. However, most dogs are not trained to properly defend in an attack. And, let’s be honest, I’d rather have all of my stuff stolen than my dog’s life be put in danger. I do not want my dogs to be a line of defense.
OUR SIX SAFETY TIPS FOR TRAVELING
Whether we are in Houston Texas or Rivas Nicaragua, we practice these safety tips everywhere we go. Bad things can and do happen everywhere, so the best way to keep yourself, your family, and your possessions safe is to always be prepared. Mistakes happen most often when you get comfortable.
KNOW YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Just as you check your mirrors when you drive, always be checking your surroundings. When you are aware of who is around you and take mental note of your surroundings, you are already one step ahead of any criminals that may try to approach you. Criminals look for people who are distracted because they are less likely to see the approach. Keep your head up and your eyes moving. Besides, you’re there to see the city, not the sidewalk or your phone, right? In the van, we make sure we know our surroundings as we approach a campsite, specifically at night. Our lights all around the camper can light up the place so we know if anyone else is in the area.
MAKE YOURSELF A HARD TARGET
Being a hard target means being alert, aware, and moving. Lions and thieves are both opportunists: they attack the most vulnerable prey they find. Walk with a purpose; keep your eyes up and forward; don’t keep all of your money in one place; make eye contact with anyone who looks suspicious. Keep valuable items out of plain sight in your van, and when leaving the van in an area that is heavily populated, leave out the front doors rather than the side door. By opening the side door, you give a glimpse into what is inside of the van rather than looking as if you are hopping out of a normal vehicle from the front.
ALWAYS KNOW YOUR EXITS
This is a life skill that Nate pounded into my head early on in our relationship – always know your exits. Not only know them, but be prepared to leave in a moment’s notice. If we stay in a hotel, we always quiz each other on how many doors is it to the nearest fire escape. Similarly, if we are in an area that feels less than optimal in the van, we sleep fully dressed with everything in the van put fully away. That way, if we need to make a quick exit in the middle of the night, we are not fumbling with putting things away or getting a shirt on. Backing into parking spaces also helps in those situations where you are a tad uncomfortable.
BE NICE TO PEOPLE
This should go without saying, but it is often overlooked in safety tips. The less enemies you have, the less likely you will be put into a dangerous situation. Cutting off a driver and flipping them off prior to pulling into a campsite for the evening may not be the best choice for staying safe. Similarly, screaming at a server at a restaurant prior to walking through the city may put you in unnecessary danger. Think twice about the situation prior to reacting and determine what the consequences may be. And always, just be nice.
DON’T LOOK LOST
Lions and thieves. Don’t be an easy and distracted target by looking at a map or your phone to try to determine where you are. Sure, the best way to prevent this is to not get lost, but that’s not always possible. If you do find yourself lost or unsure of your next destination, stop into a restaurant, coffee shop, or even a bookstore and regroup prior to going back onto the streets. This is less applicable to van life per se, but in general if you are traveling you would be getting into cities that you are unfamiliar with and therefore could get lost.
Finally, insure your possessions. Personal articles policies are a must for travelers, as they can cover any of your possessions that you would be in a pinch if they were lost or stolen. For us, it’s our camera gear, computer gear, and adventure gear that we heavily insure. Of course, this is again a last line of defense, but it is peace of mind when it comes to these situations of vulnerability. Insurance is a great thing to have for as many of your belongings as you can insure.
CRIMES ACROSS AND WITHIN BORDERS
Crimes and violence can – and do – happen everywhere. Safety and superior situational awareness go hand in hand across and within all borders. The best line of defense is to avoid situations where you would even need to utilize a weapon. As you travel, practice these safety tips and constantly improve your situational awareness. It is challenging and takes some time and practice to break the habits you’ve formed over your lifetime, but using some of these tips can help you have a better time during your travels.