It is almost always perfectly safe to travel alone in your motorhome or campervan in the UK.
Even lone female van-lifers can park up and settle without having to worry.
The majority of people who drive motorhomes and RVs are friendly and helpful. They remember being a newbie or their own vehicle breakdowns and mishaps, so they are happy to share a tip or two along with a tow rope.
But complete safety often comes after a bit of forward planning! Even if you are carefree enough to just hit the road and travel alone to wherever your motorhome takes you, there are certain things you should prepare for.
I want to talk about personal safety in this post, but personal safety goes hand-in-hand with having a reliable van! If there’s a time that you’re vulnerable, it’s when your vehicle won’t move so I’ll cover some brief points.
SAFETY IS NOT JUST A FEMALE PROBLEM
This post is aimed slightly more, but certainly not exclusively, for women who travel alone. But it is a valuable reminder for motorhome men. I’d like my son to be safe should he ever take to the road.
I think that men would be more likely to suffer physical violence whereas women tend to be sexually vulnerable. Women are certainly more prone to attack of any sort. This is something which is covered more in the news these days, without a lot changing. Most of the research I found was based around lone females.
I wanted to find more for the males, but men tend to be less open about feeling insecure.
As the mother and grandmother of both boys and girls, I am not tarring all men with the same brush. I do feel though that this country still has a way to go before all women can make life choices without considering their safety as part of their choice. I am confident that boys are now being brought up to understand their strength and use it wisely. Girls are no longer encouraged to simply serve their menfolk. I’m not saying that the traditional roles are wrong, but they should not be socially mandatory.
HOWEVER…that is enough of my justifying the gender bias in this post.
CHECK YOUR VEHICLE BEFORE YOU LEAVE
A week or so before you leave, have a look around your vehicle. Do a complete pre-season check. When was it last serviced? Do you need an MOT before you’re due back? Is the fuel tank full? Check the lights, tyres, engine fluids, wiper blades etc. Preventable breakdown or police pull-over is not the best road trip!
Have a set of spare fuses and light bulbs and know where they are!
BECOME A MINOR MOTORHOME MECHANIC
Make sure you can fit new fuses and carry out minor repairs. Get a friendly mechanic – or YouTube- to talk you through some vehicular issues that you could solve yourself without waiting for breakdown help. If you are confident enough to change tyres on a larger vehicle, make sure your jack is appropriate to the weight of your vehicle and you know where to place it and how and when to use it.
Ask about the little quirks associated with motorhomes. Here are a couple: a nasty eggy smell is very likely to be your leisure battery breaking down. Take it outside immediately ! If your habitation pump keeps rumbling intermittently, you probably have a water leak.
KNOW THE LAWS ON OFF-GRID SLEEPING
Familiarise yourself with motorhome sleeping laws. Where you can…and cannot…use your van for cooking and sleeping. If you travel alone in your motorhome, having a landowner or local shouting at you after dark could be frightening.
Have a look around your habitation area. Do you have all you need? Fire extinguisher and carbon monoxide alarm? Is the water tank full? Do you have some non-perishable food for a day or two? A means to charge your phone? It is worth keeping a small stock of important items. It’s your plan B!
HAVE A PLAN B
There’ll be times when you need a rethink. We’ll talk more about that later.
TAKE A GOOD ROAD ATLAS OR MAPS
Although the UK is fairly small and has no deserts or outback, don’t rely on a phone signal! At each driving break, try to follow your route on a paper-based map. Firstly, it will show you what’s of interest in the area, secondly you will actually know where you are! Should you need recovery, you’ll need to be able to guide the truck to your location!
From a safety aspect, you will be able to tell which roads may not suit the dimensions of your vehicle, which are a dead end, which may provide a decent park up.
If you want a sat-nav, get a truck one or one that can be programmed with the dimensions of your vehicle. We followed our phone one on a detour, then after many miles got directed towards a narrow- too narrow – bridge. It was annoying and cost a lot in fuel and time.
Consider a tracker – useful if the vehicle gets stolen but also handy if you’d like a friend or family member to be able to track you.
Use those maps to plan ahead! Unless you’re totally focussed on spontaneity, and especially if this is your first solo voyage, have an area in mind when you set off and find a few campsites before you leave. It’s better to have places booked in advance whilst you become accustomed to your home on wheels. The smaller sites give a taste of off-grid camping whilst providing a safety net. You will learn campsite etiquette as you go!
TAKE A FIRST AID BOX
Take what you know you usually need – especially prescription medications – plus emergency bandages and creams. But the best thing you can pack is a good working knowledge of first aid! If you are alone, you need to know what to do in an emergency – panicking is the worst!
HAVE A POWER BANK FOR YOUR PHONE
A small phone power bank can be easily carried wherever you go. Always have a charged phone for emergency calls but also to call a friend should you feel uneasy. Or to speak to your breakdown provider. Have their number programmed into your phone with a note of your membership number.
A breakdown is where your plan B food/water stocks could be handy. Due to being in a safe space, we have waited eight hours for recovery. We had become immobile the day before – gear box issue – so in all had been stationary for enough time to be thirsty had we not had water on board.
TAKE TOILET AND COOKING FACILITIES IF YOU CAN
The first possible stumbling blocks are facilities – a motorhome usually has everything you need to allow you to park up, eat, pee and sleep without leaving the vehicle. A campervan/van may not. Your most vulnerable time will be if you leave your van during the night to visit a toilet. Especially if you are off-grid. But even on a campsite, lock the vehicle as you leave and never forget to lock up again behind you on your return.
You can get little porta-loos for your van so you do not have to leave it at night.
Likewise with cooking facilities. Camping stoves are fairly cheap. Never cook on a camping stove inside a van without ventilation though. Nor should you use it for heating. The chance of carbon monoxide poisoning is far higher than the risks from having a door open or cooking outside if it is appropriate to do so. (Don’t set up a kitchen and camping chairs in a lay by – refer to the “wild-camping in a motorhome”guidelines)
DON’T TELL PEOPLE YOU ARE TRAVELLING ALONE
If someone pops up out of the blue and starts a conversation, don’t tell them you are alone. Yes, they may be simply passing the time of day or interested hearing a story. But they could have other intentions!
Tell strangers that your partner is asleep inside. Or use the term “we” rather than I. Many people suggest travelling with dogs. Even if you don’t, have a HUGE dog collar and lead on view just inside the van, or a pair of size fifteen working boots.
As you leave and lock the van, call inside “see you later…sleep well” or “stay! – be a good dog!”
EVEN ON CAMPSITES!
On camp sites, set up two camping chairs outside. And since there is usually no extra charge for a second person, make the booking for two people, not one. The site staff may tell others you travel alone in your motorhome – either in admiration or in sympathy! Some people think that everyone is seeking partnership…they may try to pair you up with another singleton. (Something I hated during my much-valued single years)
Have a set of light men’s clothing to add to your laundry and drying rack.
Gentlemen…adding women’s clothing to your wash is up to you. Again, as the mother of both genders, I find that it is easier for my daughters to think safety than it is for my son. A lone male is less likely to be preyed upon, but it happens. NOT OFTEN for either but it is better to have thought it through.
A fake wedding ring may discourage those seeking a new partner – although it would be a shame if a potential soul mate was put off!
Don’t advertise being alone either. If you need to visit a store before parking up for the night, park near the shop then drive away to a different sleeping spot afterwards. Same with eating in a restaurant. Even on a campsite, just be a little wary. Sad but necessary!
KEEP THIEVES GUESSING – THEY’LL MOVE ON
Shut your curtains or blinds if you leave your vehicle. A potential van thief will not know whether there is someone inside or not. They’ll move onto a safer target. Have highly visible deterrents such as a steering lock.
You could leave a radio on if you want to make it seem that someone is inside.
Keep your phone equipment and other valuables out of sight. Often vans are raided in a smash and grab operation. If they cannot see anything to grab, the thieves will move on. A safe bolted to the van in an inconspicuous place is too much trouble for a robber who’s in a rush.
BUT, if you are parked up off site and sleeping in the motorhome, always be ready to drive off immediately. No steering lock or pedal clamps! Know exactly where your keys are! Have the driver’s seat front facing and free of clutter. Don’t leave things outside, don’t use chocks or stabilisers if you’re not on a campsite. Don’t use an external windscreen cover, just an internal one which pops off easily. Be ready to move!
And if the passenger seat is full of clutter, it is an obvious sign that you are on your own! Keep that seat clear too!
ALWAYS HAVE A TORCH HANDY
Have a really bright torch ready to use – it can temporarily dazzle someone long enough for you to move off. You’ll be able to get a good look at them whilst they cannot see you due to the beam. If it’s a friendly soul telling you that your exhaust is loose, then you’ve done no lasting damage!
If they are the rotten sort, I’m not going to suggest that a heavy one could also knock someone unconscious but …well…it could if needed!
Lock your doors as soon as night falls – or sooner if you feel you need to.
TRUST YOUR GUT
Stopping overnight in a quiet road lay by is usually just fine – so long as you observe the “wild camping” rules. However, if it doesn’t feel right then be prepared to move on. Most newbies have a nervous night or two but really listen to your feelings. If there are other vans there then usually it is ok but if cars start drawing up you may have crashed a dogging party.
Some van lifers report waking to find someone peeking through their windows at night. Keep those curtains closed! It may simply be a local, interested in van layout. It could also be a predator. If your internal lighting is off they will not see much, but it may be time to quietly get into the driving seat, pull off the internal window cover and go.
Here’s where you need that PLAN B! Move on and find somewhere else. If you have already marked a few places nearby, then Plan B is working well!
Sites from the USA speak of carrying a weapon. Don’t do that in the UK. If someone tries to enter your van and you have a blade handy for the purpose of a deterrent, you will be charged with having an offensive weapon. Even pepper spray can be deemed a weapon rather than self-defence. However, a very loud policeman’s whistle worn round your neck could attract attention should you need it. (Good for a deterrent and for guiding help towards you should you have an accident whilst hiking.) You can also buy aerosol horns which alert the neighbourhood that something is amiss.
KNOW THE AREA YOU’RE PARKED IN
If you are on a campsite, try to arrive during daylight hours. Finding your pitch in darkness can be stressful. We arrived on a dark sky park just before dusk and that was difficult enough. We could hear a mountain stream behind us, but…where was it? Actually it would have been impossible to have backed into it, but in the dark, you simply don’t know.
If you are on your own, there is no-one to jump out and guide you.
Arriving in daylight hours also allows you to familiarise yourself with the site –to find the facilities.
Off-grid parking often demands that you arrive late and leave early. Late could mean after dark so check out such spaces in advance or be mindful of what’s around you. Look on a motorhome off grid parking app such as park4night or searchforsites for campsites or free camping. Contributors will comment on how safe the off-grid park up is.
If you are going for stealth parking (pretending you are not sleeping in the motorhome), then that means really stealthy! No television, no lighting, no noise. Very few blinds can completely prevent a little light seepage.
Always park facing the exit though. Be prepared for plan B!
KEEP YOUR TANKS FULL
Running out of fuel leaves both you and your vehicle vulnerable so always keep the tank topped up. Running out of on-board water can be a health hazard too – dehydration is a killer. If you travel alone in your motorhome, you must think for yourself.
AND KEEP YOUR OTHER TANKS EMPTY
Always take any chance you can to empty the grey and black tanks – appropriate places are on campsites and some council run facilities. There are a few aires in the UK – it is worth seeking them out. Use public toilets during the day when you can to save tank space in your vehicle, but make sure you have a safe, empty, toilet available for after dark! Public facilities are either locked or potentially unsavoury places at night.
The jury is still out for us on emptying your black waste in public toilets. Our advice is not to – mainly because it is such a contentious issue. Some councils have composting toilets. NEVER use them for black waste. Other than these, we cannot see how 15 litres of liquidised waste could block a sewer but there are so many who vehemently disagree: why anger them unnecessarily? They live there permanently! If motorhomes annoy locals, then we will not be welcome.
There have been reports of vans being targeted by people who do not want them parked in their vicinity. Don’t stay to tell them that you are perfectly entitled…innocent…a tax payer…whatever…! Nor should you try to fight it out – vigilante sorts normally come mob-handed, not alone! Just apply Plan B and leave. Keep yourself safe – people can be irrational when their locality seems threatened.
A note here: never put anything other than toilet paper and human waste in your toilet cassette. We suspect that the sewer blockages blamed on motorhomes and caravans are from flushing wet wipes, sanitary products and nappies!
DON’T DRIVE WHEN YOU ARE TIRED
If you feel drowsy, you have everything you need right there to stop and take a nap. Do it! That is the beauty of a motorhome. If you just push on, you may then have to accept a dodgy park up rather than find a safer one. You could also have or cause an accident.
A tired brain is not a rational one!
DON’T USE ALCOHOL ON AN OFF-GRID PARK UP!
If you have an alcoholic drink whilst parked up off grid (in the UK that often means a layby) you could be over the limit for driving. You must not be in charge of the vehicle whilst drunk. If you need to move on during the night you risk losing your licence. Especially if it is the police who are asking you to move.
Keeping your sensible head on is vital if you travel alone in the motorhome! Have alcohol on a campsite when you are booked on for a few nights.
LONELY? PHONE A FRIEND!
When you travel alone in your motorhome, you will occasionally be lonely, Most people set out on a solo venture to escape the hubbub of modern living. But day after day of just your own thoughts can lead to low mood. Try not to drop your guard too soon in your search for meaningful conversation! Again, I can only stress that most people out there are wonderfully friendly but you could meet that odd one in a thousand who isn’t.
As soon as you feel a little low, get the phone out and chat to someone you know. Put the radio on. Get out into the fresh air. Keep your wits about you but enjoy the freedom that van life has brought you.
If your low mood won’t shift, here is our “Van Life Health and Wellbeing Suite” – written by a professional!
POST IN SOCIAL MEDIA AFTERWARDS!
Post a day or so retrospectively if you are on a long road trip. If you are on a holiday, don’t tell everyone that you are away from your brick house. We put road trip photos up once we are home! Also don’t post where you are heading; you’ll tell all and sundry where you are – alone in a remote place. Again, this is perfectly fine 99% of the time, but if you can avoid the unsavoury 1% then do so!
If you post “van life” photos of stunning scenery from your van door – with yourself virtually naked – then there are some who will seek you out. Even if you are keen for that to happen, you should still guard against personal attack. If a situation becomes violent or dangerous, be ready to drive away. Have the vehicle prepped to move!
IT IS SAFE TO TRAVEL ALONE IN A MOTORHOME!
People travel solo – both male and female. We encourage anyone to do it! Do not allow a very few nasty characters to curtail your life!
However, it is better to be totally sure and take some precautions. Nowhere is completely safe unfortunately. Brick houses are also targeted! And you can’t drive one of those off into a safer space!
Get out there and enjoy your motorhome, enjoy your life. Think safety, practice safety, then sit back and enjoy the ride.
DO YOU TRAVEL ALONE IN YOUR MOTORHOME?
How do you feel about being solo on the road? Let us know your stories and tips in the comments section below.
DID DOING THE RESEARCH MAKE ME MORE ANXIOUS?
Actually no! Having read and written about the subject I am more confident. I know what precautions to take.
I have a track record for minor solo travel but not in a motorhome. Although I attended heavy rock and folk music festivals in a tent on my own, I never once felt threatened despite not being able to lock up and drive away! I have also gone on holidays alone. Again, it was very seldom that I felt uneasy.
It was what I wanted to do, and I was not going to allow the odd crazy soul to stop me!
I had a brief chat with a self-defence class teacher many years ago. He said the first aid of self-defence is being prepared to fight back. Really intend to hurt! Remove your gloves when walking outside after dark – use your nails to dig deep and scratch an attacker’s face. Stick your fingers up their nose – be prepared to pull it off!! Gouge their eyes. Kick – preferably at the softer areas. Make a lot of noise – scream, smash windows, bang on doors.
Oh, and he added “if you feel followed, call a friend and chat until you are in a safe space”.
DON’T ALLOW NEWS REPORTS TO PUT YOU OFF
We hear so much about attacks on the news now – it is horrible that women in particular have to be wary. But we must not allow an air of paranoia to build and turn us against each other. Most of the time you will be fine.
But take the precautions to make sure that when you travel alone in your motorhome, you are safe!
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