One of the most common questions from newcomers about vandwelling is “Will I be safe?” While I can’t guarantee that you will never have any problems, I can say that based on my 12 years’ experience (and the experience of the hundreds of other vandwellers I know) you are very safe living in a van! I have very rarely been in any real danger although I have felt afraid numerous times. And that’s a point I want to make very strongly, although you are actually very safe, initially you will probably feel afraid.
The problem is that for millions of years of we were surrounded by real, physical danger so we evolved the sympathetic nervous system which mobilizes the body’s fight or flight response in reaction to any kind of stressors in our life. For example, if a tiger appears on the path ahead of you, a whole cascade of chemicals (including the hormones adrenaline and cortisol) are released into your body to make you more physically able to handle the threat—either fight the tiger or run away from it. But in those days there were no imaginary dangers, just a few real ones so we were rarely stressed.
Today, it’s just the opposite, you and I are rarely in any real danger, but we have filled our mind with imaginary dangers so we are constantly stressed. That stress is killing us!
The tigers are gone! You and I face virtually no physical threats but the chemicals are still there ready to be dumped into our body. Maybe you think I’m underestimating the risk we are in, after all, we see crime on the TV and in the news all the time, we feel like we truly are surrounded by violent, dangerous crime!
Here are the facts: in 2012 there were 313.9 million Americans and 1.2 million of us were victims of a violent crime so 312.7 million of us were not victims of a violent crime but live like we will be at any moment!
We are quite safe but too many of us go around in constant fear that we are going to be attacked and killed. You’re not, you are safe. (see all US crime statistics since 1960 here: http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm).
Because we are such visual creatures that evolved to be constantly scanning for danger, when we see horrible things on the TV news (“if it bleeds it leads”), movies and the media, our mind takes them in and internalizes them. Before long we become mentally and emotionally convinced that we are in nearly constant danger. The result is that the media hype causes us to be in a constant state of hyper-vigilance and since it’s only imaginary we greatly exaggerate the little threats around us. There may not be any more tigers, but there are impossible deadlines at work, the jerk who makes your life miserable and the idiot who cuts you off in traffic. When you get home your spouse or kids appear to be against you so they become a danger point. Our bodies react by constantly pouring out stress chemicals and we end up with road rage, domestic violence, and aggressive, unreasonable people. The main thing I want to accomplish in this post is not to make you safe—because I believe you already are safe—it’s to make you feel like you are safe and help you overcome your imaginary fears and prepare for the real ones. Until you relax and overcome your fears, you’ll hate vandwelling.
The odds of you being a victim of a violent crime in a city are very low, and if you will follow the advice I give you, you will be even safer. As safe as you are in a city, you are much safer in the country as a boondocker. Violent crime on National Forest and BLM land is so rare that no one even bothers to keep track of the statistics. It’s true that every so often you hear about a murder on Public Land but the fact that the media makes such a big deal of it tells us that it is exceedingly uncommon and out of the ordinary. While you are very safe on public land, I still recommend you follow these common-sense suggestions I’m giving you here.
In this post we are looking at general, common-sense ideas, in the next post we will get into the debate of whether you should carry a weapon, and if so which one.
- Be Confident: Criminals are predators and all predators are looking for the weakest to victimize. If you come across as timid, fearful and submissive, you make yourself a target. The solution is to confront, embrace, and overcome your fear and carry yourself with confidence. You will be healthier, happier and less likely to be a victim of a crime.
- Be Vigilant for Things That Don’t Look Right: You don’t want to live in fear because that is a terribly unhealthy way to live, but neither do you want to be blissfully ignorant. Find a healthy balance, for you, of awareness of what’s going on around you, and confidence in yourself and your safety.
- Intuition: We all have a “gut-feeling” that warns us against danger. Trust it! That’s a million years’ worth of evolution working to help you and keep you safe. Modern times have conspired to reduce our intuition so I suggest you research and learn how you can strengthen it.
- Martial Arts-Self Defense Classes: Nothing will increase your self-confidence like taking classes in self-defense. I think all of us should take them!
- Blend in: Anything that brings attention to you is a bad thing. If you look rich someone will want to steal your stuff, if you look poor a predator may think you are a helpless victim. Be average and unnoticeable.
- Hide Your Valuables: Criminals are looking for easy opportunities and if you have valuable items out where they can be seen you make yourself a victim. Always keep anything that would tempt a thief out of sight.
- Keep Good Company: First, you are generally safer in a group than alone so cultivate friendships and travel with them. But be sure they are trustworthy. If you’re not confident in them, politely bow out.
- Get a Dog: A big one will scare a 2 or 4-legged predator away and a small one will at least alert you to danger. If at all possible, have a dog! You will be healthier, happier and safer.
- Van Alarm: Since we sleep in our vans and sometimes also have to leave them unattended, having an alarm is a great idea. I don’t know enough about it to advise you on specifics, so I’ll let you do your own research.
- Kill Switch: You can have a shop install a switch somewhere in the cab of the van that makes the van unable to run or be stolen. To use it, as soon as you park you reach over and flip the switch and the van is disabled, it can’t run or be started. When you are ready to go, you flip the switch back on and start the engine as normal. It won’t cost much but it might save you thousands of dollars.
- Carry a Whistle: Whether you are in the city or country a whistle is a great thing to use against 2 or 4-legged predators. It might scare the danger away and if not it will call others to help you. You should always have one.
- Flashlight: Carry a small but powerful flashlight with you. Try to get one that will flash as that is very blinding.
- Air Horn: Again, it will scare away every kind of predator and alert others that you need help.
- Cell Phone: Having a cell phone to call for help is critical.
- Fire Extinguisher: Obviously you want one for fires, but they also make a great weapon to shoot someone in the face or as a club. And no one will ever ask you why you have a fire extinguisher in your van.
- Spare Tire, Tools to Change it, Air Compressor: Being broke down in the middle of nowhere puts you in far greater risk to all kinds of danger, so have the tools and knowledge to change a tire.
- Install a remote start. If you’re sleeping in your van being able to use the remote to start the engine at the first hint of trouble will startle the intruder and give you a few seconds head-start.
- If your gut warns you of danger, jump in the front seat and drive away before it fully materializes.
- Be able to go the bathroom in the van at night. Getting out and walking to the bathroom exposes you to a great deal more danger.
- Park under bright lights: Criminals don’t want to be seen.
- Try to park so you can drive forward or backward. Being pinned in makes you an easy mark.
- Stay out of bad neighborhoods: Why put yourself needlessly in greater risk?
- Park in high-traffic areas: The more eyeballs on you, the less risk of crime.
That’s all I can think of right now, but if you have something I’ve missed post them as comments and I will add them to the list!!