So at the time of writing this article, I’m currently parked up just outside Amsterdam city center inside my self-build Mercedes Sprinter van.
In the current global climate, many issues have arisen, from Coronavirus putting cities on lockdown, people hoarding supplies and emptying the supermarkets and countries stopping movement across their borders.
A volley of questions from family and friends has come my way regarding my safety in a van – especially since what was planned to be a relatively short trip traveling across Europe has turned into potentially months living abroad.
My route home back to the UK has also been blocked off with France recently closing their borders. It seems I’m stuck for now…
So with all this going on and having to answer the questions asked of me from family and friends, I have spent the last few days revisiting van life safety and security.
Mainly, what are the key safety features and tips to consider whilst living in a van and is it safe to sleep in a van? Especially when you’re staying in a foreign country or somewhere far from home.
Van life safety and security tips
It goes without saying that living in a van is 9 times out of 10 riskier than staying in a well-reviewed hotel or hostel. However, in my opinion, the trade-off of being able to roam wherever I want and take all my outdoor gear with me makes it all worth it.
If you use some well-applied common sense and follow some simple safety tips then it’s unlikely you’ll ever get into trouble, let’s go over some now.
Keep all of your valuables safe (and definitely your important documents!)
This point may seem fairly obvious at first however the internet is littered with videos of van lifers who have had their van broken into whilst they were out. They come back to their cameras, laptops, money, and passports missing.
I personally have a very robust safe bolted to the floor of the van under one of the passenger seats. It’s big enough to hold my money and important travel documents.
However, if I am going to be away from the van for a long time and it’s parked up in an in-gated area with no CCTV, I always throw my passport, money, travel and van insurance documents and my laptop in my backpack and haul them around with me for the day. The extra weight on my back is better than the worry caused by leaving my essentials in the van.
At the end of the day you can patch up and fix a broken van window, but it will be a real pain to try and get back home without any money or your passport, etc.
Always find a safe spot to sleep
Before heading to a new city or location I always check the internet ahead of time for the best and safest van life spots. My favorite app to use is ‘park4night’, it shows a map of all the spots, the amenities present and reviews from other travelers – it’s fantastic.
If you can’t find any reviews or advice online and must park up for the night then I follow these rules (where possible).
- Try and stay somewhere with CCTV.
- If you’re in a built-up area such as a city, try and find somewhere which is well lit with lights.
- If you’re in the wilderness, make sure you have phone reception in case you need to call for help.
- Avoid private land. A run-in with an angry farmer who doesn’t speak your language likely won’t end well… Trust me.
- Make sure your batteries are well charged so you can charge essential items and power your lights/heater.
- Know your exit. If things for whatever reason turn south, you want an easily accessible exit route.
Carry an item that can be used for defense
Yes, there are knives in the kitchen drawer… but I really hope things would never get that extreme!! To keep away unwanted visitors and animals it’s always wise to keep a can of pepper spray accessible in the van. I have a tiny can in the door compartment up in the front of the van.
Insert a tracker into your van (hide it!)
This is a great security tip that many van lifers never consider. I have hidden a small tracking device inside of my van which is unlikely to be found by any thieves.
The battery lasts weeks and I just need to insert a prepaid sim card. I can track the location of the van via GPS through an app on my phone. There are a whole bunch of them on the market so do your research depending on the location you’ll be traveling and get a sim card which will work.
Upgrade your locks
Another security tip I’ve implemented is upgrading the locks on my van. Granted, most thieves tend to smash a window and dive right in as it’s quicker but if you’re parked in a built-up area, it’s common for thieves to quietly brake in via the doors.
I upgraded the locks to prevent and lock picking and to improve the bolt which locks the door in place making it much harder for someone to get in.
Is it safe to sleep in a van?
Well for the most part and in my experience, yes! I know it’s super easy to overthink and worry about aspects of van life. What if this happens? Or this? Or maybe I’ll run into…?
But, I’d say for the majority of van life travelers these troubles and encounters never occur. Especially, if you follow the safety tips I’ve outlined above. Keep things simple; stay somewhere safe (if you don’t know if it is, ask around or find somewhere else) and protect yourself and your valuables.
Remember vans are disposable – even if we do put our hearts and souls into converting them into a home on wheels. Your personal safety always comes first.
If anyone has any doubts about van life and still needs some questions answering then I’ll try my best to answer any comments below or you can find me at watersportingadventure.com.
I really hope I’ve helped to settle some nerves and assumptions you might have had about whether it is safe to sleep in a van or just van life in general. I can promise you that the reward of traveling where you want and when you want is worth it!