Last Update: 12/08/2017

Van Life Travel Safety 101

funny illustration with van surrounded in chains, police tape, with a mounted video camera and a mean guard dog

“Ain’t many guys travel around together,” he mused. “I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.” – John Steinbeck, Of Mice And Men

I assume that if you’re reading this article, you’re not a big scary MMA fighter driving a military fort on wheels with an arsenal under your bed. Then again, even if you meet that description, you might find a valuable point or two for van life here (and at my blog,

First and foremost, I want you to know this is not a fear-mongering article. The official van life travel plan is to enjoy your journey, be social, meet cool people and have adventures.

You never want to let fear rule your life. However, I am a firm believer in the Vietnam war era slogan, “stay alert, stay alive.” I have learned that an ounce of prevention is worth…possibly my life.

?? #Vanlife question? Contact Vanholio! direct !!

7 Tips for Van Life Travel Safety – for Women and Men

#1 – On the Road

Of course crime can happen anywhere, but some locations are worse than others.

For example, I’ve seen some sketchy things at rest stops, and this prompted me to execute a Google search, something like “Rest stop crime, US”.  The results left me a bit stunned. So many crimes, so much violence.

The same goes for convenience stores, which turn out to be among the most likely places to get shot, robbed or mugged in the US.

Of course, stopping for gas, groceries, bathroom breaks, and sleep are realities of van life. However, there are some general rules to follow when it comes to executing these activities safely.

Instead of stopping last minute, plan ahead. Do some research and find the best places to rest, sleep and shop.

Here are some of the safer options:

  • Along main streets
  • Grocery stores
  • Libraries
  • Hospitals
  • Municipal lots and buildings
  • Restaurants

I know what you’re thinking: “Nearly every gas station is also a convenience store”. True that, but it doesn’t mean you have to go in. Plan to use your card at the pump (vs walking in with a handful of cash), and remember to “Stay alert...”. Also, grocery store gas stations tend to be safer options.

#2 – At the Campsite

This is one place I have run into trouble more than a couple of times.

It’s important to be aware of your neighbors. Sometimes they’re just annoying. However, there are times when you’ll find yourself next to a neighbor who’s sketchy, lewd, intoxicated...

Know where your campground ranger or host is located and consider camping near them if you’re alone. Also, pay attention to their behavior. Not everyone in a uniform is safe and sane.

Most people I have encountered at campgrounds are harmless, but it pays to be conscious of your neighbors and take action early if you see something that looks off.

In fact, if your gut is telling you to move to a new site, or leave all together, listen!

#3 - Stealth Camping

Not every neighborhood allows van camping. In fact, some places such as Flagstaff, Arizona actually have laws against it. While I don’t recommend it as a nightly habit, it can be useful to learn to stealth camp.

Avoid remote areas with no people. It’s tempting to find a warehouse district or wooded area on the edge of town, but guess who else hides out there (I’ll let your imagination run with that one)? A nice clean housing area with a few cars parked on the streets is a better bet.

If you’ll be doing any stealth camping, keep the van clean inside and out and keep your behavior low key. No loud music, kill the lights for an early bedtime and get up early to move on.

Finally, never stay twice in the same location. That’s called overstaying your welcome, not stealth camping.

I’ve heard it said by some veteran vanners that no matter how stealthy you are, the cops always know when you’re sleeping in your van. Most of them don’t care as long as you’re clean and respectful.

All this relates to safety because homeowners can get testy when a garbage scow rolls up spewing death metal and dumping bottles of urine. I’ve heard more than one story of 3 am pounding on the side of the van, not by cops, but local permanent residents.

Don’t be that vanner. The best way to be treated with respect and decency is to be the first to offer it.

Tip #4 – Weapons

If you choose to arm yourself, please keep the following in mind: Every weapon requires some level of training and practice. No matter how simple or powerful, there will be a learning curve and a physical element. Take some time to learn how to not shoot (stab, spray, bludgeon, poison, electrocute, inflame…) yourself or your loved ones.

The most minimal and potentially valuable weapon is your own body. If you’re able bodied and want to feel a higher level of safety at all times, take some self-defense classes or at least read up on the subject. A good self defense instructor will have tips and tricks for staying safe that most people never think of.

I carry a personal pepper spray in my bag. It goes with me on walks to the bathroom at the campground, and pretty much everywhere else. I keep wasp or bear spray inside the van because they are both more powerful than regular pepper spray and travel further.

A fellow van traveler, and our gracious host for this article, Vanholio, won’t even keep a gun in his van. I tend to agree with pretty much every point he makes in that article.

If you feel the same way but want a bit more protection, you can carry a pellet gun for a last resort situation.

Tip #5 – Alarms

The cheapest alarm is a whistle. You can carry this on your keychain at all times. Additionally, you should arm your vehicle with a car alarm and make sure it’s set while you sleep. Any breach of your home will be met with a loud awakening! Get a lock fob with a panic button.

Tip #6 – Locks

Before you go to bed, check and double check the locks. You should also try to sleep with the windows mostly closed. If you have a roof fan, go ahead and close the windows. This also applies if you are rolling through a sketchy area. But again with the ounce of prevention; plan to avoid sketchy areas altogether.

Keep your valuables locked up in your van, cartop carrier, bike rack… I look at it like this: Valuable objects represent money to people in need. So by not flaunting my cool bike, camping gear or other valuables, I won’t have to defend it against someone with less to lose than I.

Tip #7 – Cell Service

Make sure you have enough service to make 911 calls. Although most cell phones will dial out in an emergency, it is another ounce of prevention.

Again, preparation is king: In planning ahead for where you want to sleep, look for areas with good cell coverage.

Of course you can go much deeper than these tips for safety and security. For example, I’m designing a small, fireproof safe to be installed in my van for storing cameras, laptop, passport… More on this topic coming soon at ‘How to leave your van unattended without worry’.

Enjoy your journey. Take the fork in the road that leads to possible adventure. Relax and breathe easy and take in the sights. Just don’t be naive. Do it with at least a modicum of preparation for the worst.

When she's not writing guest posts about van life, Veronica Cavanaugh is camping, backpacking, or planning her next outdoor adventure. She also enjoys watching old movies and writing poetry. See more of her work and a whole world of valuable van travel goodness at

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Last Update: 12/05/2017

Dispersed Camping Shut Down in Hunting Season

Squirrel hunters shoot guns up into trees
Vanholio's made a discovery this last fall months. In some – not all – national forests, the U.S. Forest Service don't allow dispersed camping durin' general hunting season. You must use a campground or hunt camp.

Sames true of some state forests and wildlife management areas (WMA).

?? #Vanlife question? Contact Vanholio! direct !!

What Kinda Campin' Is Allowed, What Ain't?

Now, campin' as a whole ain't cut off. Them forests as cut dispersed campin' keep open campgrounds. And most have designated "hunt camps," which range from seasonal campgrounds with all the amenities to small areas of cleared brush.

By "general hunting season," I mean any a them times hunters is out for big game with guns. Different states call it different things. But I ain't had the kibosh put on my dispersed campin' during bow and blackpowder seasons.

Which National Forests Restrict Dispersed Camping?

Don't know yet which all U.S. National Forests, but there's a few I can speak to from my recent travels in the South along US-84 (little 84, not the interstate).

  • Texas
    • Sam Houston National Forest – approved campsites only
    • Davy Crockett National Forest – approved campsites only
    • Angelina National Forest – approved campsites only
    • Sabine National Forest – approved campsites only
  • Louisiana
    • Kisatchie National Forest – no restrictions
  • Mississippi
    • Homochitto National Forest – no restrictions
    • Desoto National Forest – no restrictions, except state WMAs use approved campsites only
  • Alabama
    • Conecuh National Forest – approved campsites only
  • Florida
    • Apalachicola National Forest – approved campsites only

Call any forest ya wanna know more about on dispersed campin' limitations. Don't rely on their Forest Service websites. These ain't kept up good.

If ya know more, let me know in the comments. Think I'll try to put together a bigass post with a master list for future.

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Last Update: 11/29/2017

Wear Your Blaze Orange Safety Vest – Hunter's Aprowlin'!

deer on small boat wearing a blaze orange hunter safety vest
In lots a the country, it's deer and elk season, among others. That means hunters in the national forests and BLM land where vandwellers boondock. Wear blaze orange when you walk around. That's Vanholio's advice.

?? #Vanlife question? Contact Vanholio! direct !!

Construction worker in orange safety vest with reflective stripesSee, most hunters is smart'n skilled. They don't hunt near the roads and marked trails where they ain't supposed ta. And they'll make sure you're game and not some van life camper before shootin'.

But it ain't the good or average hunters ya gotta worry about. It's the drunk dumbasses. Wearing a blaze orange safety vest or whatever helps. Plus stickin' to marked roads and trails. But ain't no guarantees. But ya don't wanna be one of them victims we hear about every year.

Boston Terrier Construction in orange safety vest with reflective stripesHunters usually gotta wear 400 square inches or more of orange by regulation, is my understandin'. So that means plenty. An orange hat or ascot ain't gonna cut it. Go big or go home!

Vanholio just bought hisself a mesh orange safety vest with reflective stripes. Hunters don't get the kind with the reflection for obvious reasons. But I figure it'll double for walkin' roads in dark.

Thinkin' about gettin' a little dog orange safety vest with reflector stripes for Ms. Barkley, too. Sometimes I let her run off the leash. This'll protect her a bit from cars and hunters, plus make it easier to see her if she don't come when called.

If van life takes ya to the woods and fields, think about gettin' an orange blaze safety vest for yourself, your people, and your dogs.

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Last Update: 11/24/2017

Where to Get Free Water for Van Life

peeing statue of man in prague
Ya gotta fuel your piss pump, Boys and Girls. But where to fill your jugs with free water? When you're living in a van down by the river? Vanholio tells you how.

Now, this don't really apply to you fancy pants RV folks with your exclusive fuckin' Club Med RV parks and dump stations. You’re covered. This is for the rest of us living on the cheap and under the radar – van life

Ol' Vanholio don’t have a holdin' tank. He just has some plastic jugs, about 12 gallons worth all told. That’s enough for a week or two, dependin'. Maybe you’re the same?

Here’s some places Vanholio’s been lucky findin' water while driving all over the goddamn country.

?? #Vanlife question? Contact Vanholio! direct !!

Friends, Family, Work

Fillin' up your jugs when visiting friends or family, or at work, is the obvious option. Don’t leave their homes without water! Ever!

Campgrounds and RV Parks

Obviously, if you’re stayin' at a campground or RV park that has water, fill ‘er up. But just today, I noticed a city RV park in passing. I drove in, parked in a spot, filled up my jugs from the hookups, and left. Yes, courtesy would be to ask first, but I’d rather apologize later. And fuck payin'!

Public Parks

I’ve found water taps in city, county, state, and national parks. Don’t just limit yourself to faucets provided for drinkin', though. Three weeks ago, I parked by a city ball field to read a map. Lookin' around, I noticed that the bathrooms by the ball field had a regular, outside tap, probably there for a garden hose. Got a week's worth of water in 3 minutes!

Rest Stops

In some states, public rest stops have drinking water taps for fillin' jugs. Wyoming is really good about this.

Commercial Buildings

sillcock key
Some gas stations, grocery stores, and other businesses have water via regular outside taps. Take some on the sly or ask, as you see fit. Now, you'd think commercial buildings have taps outside, just like a house, but you'd be wrong. Most have special taps outside to prevent lowlifes like you and me from gettin' it. Even when you ask a clerk for permission, they don't even know how to work the tap. But Vanholio has the solution, thanks to super redditor Drummygummy: You just need a faucet / sillcock key (see photo at right). Now, Vanholio hasn't used one personally (yet), but the tech looks promising. All the preppers rave about them! (See the how-to video at bottom.)

Grocery Stores / Water Vending Machines

Supermarkets, dollar stores, and convenience stores in many parts of the USA have filtered-water vending machines that let you fill your own jugs for about $0.30 a gallon. If you can't get free, that's a better option than bottled water. In some parts a the country, filtered water vending machines are free-standing on corner lots.

Rest Rooms

Almost anywhere, including all the places above, you can walk into a public or store restroom with your jug and fill it up at the bathroom sink if they don't have a drinking water tap. How? Bring a cup or a funnel with hose to get the water from the faucet into the jug. Or do this #vanlife hack with a bottle!

Private Homes

I'd be careful about getting shot, 'specially in redneck country. But Vanholio has gone up to folk's houses and asked to fill up at the garden hose. Most folks oblige. You can offer to pay, but they won't usually let you.

Streams, Rivers, Lakes, Ponds

If you'll be camping literally down by the river, or by a creek or lake, why not filter your own water? Then you don't have to go huntin' for it. A decent water filter is a good investment if you're in wet place. Desert-dwellers need not apply.

Potable water is available free for van life all throughout the great ol' USA. Just get out of the consumer mentality and look around, dammit. Bottled water ain't any healthier than public water (except in Flint), and buying it sucks your wallet dry.

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Last Update: 11/17/2017

Map of Walmarts Where Camping Is Allowed or NOT Allowed

screenshot of Dallas area map showing walmarts in green and red, which allow or don't allow camping, respectively.

If you're doin' #vanlife or crossin' cross country, you need this USA nationwide map of Walmarts. It shows which let you park overnight, and which don't.

This ain't Vanholio's map, and he makes no assurances of it's accuracy. It's made and maintained by Walmart Locator – and they do a damn good job, in my experience! (And they sell a print copy, too.)

Vanholio's found the Walmart Locator's site van life lifesaver a number of times, includin' when passin' through Dallas last week.

?? #Vanlife question? Contact Vanholio! direct !!

Cover of Walmart Locator print book directory
Print copy!
Now, in general, Walmart has a corporate policy lettin' travelers in vans and RVs – even cars – camp in their parking lots a night or two. But individual stores make exceptions based on local ordinance or area problems. So it's good to check ahead with the map.

It's also a good idea to call the store or visit Customer Service when ya get there, to be sure and as a courtesy.

And for God's sake, People, don't make an ass a yourselves! Don't make a mess. Don't set out your barbecue pit and foldin' chairs in the parkin' lot. Don't shit in the grass. Don't overstay yer welcome. DON'T MESS IT UP FOR THE REST OF US!!!

Also, if you got new intel on a particular store, let the Walmart Locator know, so they can spread the word to all the vanlifers, vandwellers, RVers, and the rest.

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Last Update: 11/14/2017

Why I Don't Keep a Gun in the Van

idiot girl is looking right down the barrel of a pistol!
Top question I get is: "Do you carry a gun?" Why!? Ya think van life is like livin' in Somalia or some shit? No, it ain't. And no, I don't. Here's 3 reasons why ...

?? #Vanlife question? Contact Vanholio! direct !!

3 Reasons I Don't Have a Gun for Van Life Self-Defense

1. Most Likely to Shoot Myself

Lookin' at the stats, my chances of dyin' by gunshot suicide are way, way higher than gettin' murdered by a stranger at my van. How much? More than 4500 times more likely!!!

Vanholio has a history of depression. Serious, lifelong depression. As a male, that ups his odds a blowin' his brains out to 1 in 14 (7%).

Flip side, murder by a stranger ain't as common as ya think. Chance of gettin' murdered is 1 in 18,989 (0.53%). But most a the time folks is killed by friends and family. Less than 30% a them murders is by strangers in pursuit of a crime. Reduces my odds a gettin' snuffed ta 1 in 63, 297 (0.16%).

Sure, I recognize that the numbers might boil down differently in my particular case in a particular situation. But 1 to 4500 that I'll blow my own brains out vs. otherwise gettin' murdered is a big, BIG fuckin' margin!!!

2. Probably Can't Shoot a Man Anyways

I seriously doubt my ability to use a gun effectively and wisely under combat stress. In other words, I'll probably either freeze up or miss.

Did you know that most folks can't shoot another human bein'? It ain't that easy. It goes against our nature.

Years a battlefield statistics back this up. It takes training to overcome our innate resistance to killin' and to be good with that gun in a fight.

Now, there's a tiny percent a folks that can kill without blinkin', no trainin' needed. But as Vanholio can't watch a man get kicked in the balls without flinchin', he probably ain't one a them.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman covers a lot a the facts behind this in his now-classic book, "On Killing." Lindy Beige hits the highlights in the video at bottom.

Vanholio don't have that training to shoot good and shoot to kill. And as he don't like the loudness a guns, nor the expense, that ain't gonna change anytime soon.

3. Prefer Prevention Over Confrontation

Look, whether you carry a gun or not, surely you don't want trouble. You know the old sayin', "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Vanholio does a lot to avoid trouble in the first place. When alone, I park the van in somewhat hidden locations, if I can. I got a dog loud dog with sharp ears. I avoid any peoples and situations that gets my hackles up. I take other measures, too.

The point is: Gun or no gun, in van life there's a lot you can do to avoid ever gettin' to that dangerous, final confrontation. The best way to win a gunfight is never to have a gunfight.
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Last Update: 11/10/2017

#Vanlife Hack – Filling Water Jugs at Bathroom Faucet

Holy shit, I just run into this hack by accident!  It solves a problem plaguing Vanholio! since he went OTR van life – how to fill tall jugs in a bathroom.

?? #Vanlife question? Contact Vanholio! direct !!

See, my water jugs are kinda tall. Too tall for fillin' in a bathroom faucet. Sometimes though, a bathroom faucet is the only free water around.

Don't come up too often, but when it does, I've thought of gettin' a funnel with tube to carry around. But that's money and takes up valuable storage room, which I ain't got much of.

What's in that photo is way smarter for van life. Using a plastic water bottle as a faucet extender. Used plastic bottles is almost always around.

Someone else is doin' it with a plastic Coke bottle in the video below. ... Designed by geniuses for idiots, goddammit!

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