January 31, 2018

Solo Women Van Dweller - Do you feel safe?

Why I love van dwelling!

Do I feel safe?
Before answering this question I would like to share some of my history. 

As a child I was never a girly girl. In fact the one photo of me playing with dolls as a child was posed. I preferred to play outside, run, climb trees, ride bikes, and build campfires in the many campgrounds we visited in Washington State. 

In my teens I sometimes rode a unicycle to jr high school and a motorcycle to high school. I dreamed of becoming an interior designer or an architect. However instead I got married at 19 to my highschool sweetheart, helped build a software development company, Comtronic Systems and had my first of two daughters at 22. 

After my second daughter was born I took on the role of full time mom, became President of the PTA, started a reading program at the elementary school, volunteered tons and in their high school years watched them play years of tennis. 

Life changed in 2002 when I got divorced. It was a time of change in many ways. It was time to discover who I was, besides mom. I once again considered going to school to become an architect but instead pursued photography because it freed me to travel.

One of the many trips - Utah
In the summer of 2004 I packed up my X5 BMW SUV and took my first car camping trip to Banff and Jasper in the Canadian Rockies. I slept in my car even though I had a tent since I felt safer that way. Also in 2004 I took my daughters and mom on a 2 week European vacation where we stayed in Zimmers (private homes). What an adventure that was! 

Truck and Camper - Idaho

I graduated to a truck and camper in 2006, traveling by myself as far away as Iowa. While on a trip to the Sawtooth Mountains in October of the same year the stock market crashed and I was momentarily scared. Scared that I might lose my house and scared that I wouldn't have enough savings. A couple hours later I paused, in the middle of my self imposed pity party, to realize that I was truly happy for the last week with very little - my camper, my computer and my camera. 

It was in that moment I realized that my happiness needed to be reassessed. Yes I needed to make deep cuts in my spending and at that time I decided to VRBO my house to help with payments but I knew that happiness wasn't tied to things, it was a way of being.

In 2010 I went back to car camping and sleeping in my car after a painful breakup with my boyfriend, he owned the truck and I owned the camper. In September of that year I flew to the east coast, rented a car (not a SUV) for 6 weeks and drove from Baltimore to New Hampshire to Long Island, to DC, down the Blue Ridge Highway to the Smoky Mountains and back up the coast to Baltimore. It was a fabulous trip. 

I remember being concerned only one night on that entire journey. I was sleeping in a parking lot along the Blue Ridge Highway. There was not a "no parking" sign but I felt like I shouldn't be there. It was dark and raining, and I was tired. So I parked in the back of the lot, kind of in the shadows, crawled to the back seat and curled up in my sleeping bag. I remember rearranging my pillow a few times, while listening to the rain, thinking I can't fall asleep. Next I knew it was morning. Once again a successful nights sleep in my car!

Other nights I remember well include:
A night in Escalante when the full moon seemed like a beacon pointing directly just on me. After that I got nightshades. 
Waking up in a packed Starbucks parking lot at 7:30am because a car door had slammed. That was a little awkward.
Parking on the street in Monterey, CA wondering if anyone would notice and since no one seemed to care doing it again the next night.
Arriving to a camp spot on BLM land in Utah at night and waking up to the most incredible view. 
Barely pulling off a gravel road with a commanding view in New Zealand to watch sunset and then sunrise.

Getting lost in New Zealand
Parking on the beach, in the woods, in the desert, in hotel parking lots, rest stops, truck stops, neighborhoods, by a cemetery, near city parks.
Listening to silence, staring at the milky way, sitting by the campfire, being visited by a fox, watching the eclipse of the sun and the moon, dancing with the Aurora Borealis.

The memories are priceless, my life fulfilled by so little when I am on the road. 

So back to the question: Do I feel safe? YES! I have had moments of concern that cause me to pause and evaluate if I am in a safe place, if in doubt I move. I have never been approached by someone that felt threatening. The plan is that if something spooks me I can easily get into the driver's seat and leave. 

My life as a vandweller came in baby steps and I have lots of experience sleeping in vehicles. However I have never lived in fear. I believe the majority of people are good and that I am safer in the woods than in the city. I lock my doors at night and keep the key by my bed. 

If you are fearful of this life style consider taking baby steps yourself. If the thought of a night in a hotel room by yourself is scary for you, evaluate why. Maybe you don't have experience navigating outside of your city, perhaps take a drive with a friend one day and repeat it by yourself the next. If you are scared for your safety take self defense classes and find out how real the dangers are. Concerned your car might break down, become a AAA member. 

In other words empower yourself, believe in yourself and take charge of your life. No one else will do it for you.


  1. Oh yeah, I remember meeting you in October in New Mexico, and you were showing me your photos. I was amazed, and I was also interested in hearing about your life on the road. I recall I was mindful about your safety, although it's true that most people you run into are decent and you seem to be able to take care of yourself, I was still wondering a little that your travels are safe and go well. This is great to read that you do indeed go safely forth on your journey.

  2. Inspiring piece! Shows a common sense approach is the best in when choosing a parking spot. Thank you also for showing those of us above 35 have an adventurous spirit, too.

  3. A friend of mine made me aware of the web site. I hope that you will write more. I appreciate your way of writing, and your photos.

    My husband and I often go wildcamping with a VW Camper during summer. For more than 35 years with camping (mostly in Northern Europe) we have never been really scared or have had any incidents perceived as threatening our safety or security. I sometimes travel alone. Then I mostly park at sites where there are some other campers staying, more for the possibility to get help if getting sick than for security reasons. When friends and others ask me about wildcamping this is what they are most interested in.

    Cfr. also your blog of Jan 6th. I have never been asked that question directly, but I have a feeling that people not used to camping often wonder about how campers go to toilet. I think that the answer given by you cover what most campers do, even those with a toilet in the car, either using a public toilet when that is feasible, or just taking care of the needs somewhere in nature. I once went along with a colleague not at all used to camping, and very 'indoorsy', but after just a few days she found it quite normal too. And besides, don't the experts say that squatting is the best position when opening the bowels? My husband once commented that I seemed to prefer outdoor toilet visits increasingly with increasing age! Feeling of pride perhaps even decrease with age, also making it easier to do such a thing. So nobody shall say that hiking and camping only are for the young and fit! Even grandmothers can manage! Best regards Marie.


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