12 Bus Life Safety Tips
As a female traveler, I was warned several times about how “dangerous it can be” traveling alone as a woman. (Also I want to preface this – there were only a few times where I was truly alone on the bus. Usually, I had my partner with me).
More often than not, that’s the first thing I’d hear when telling people my plans to purchase and renovate a bus in the spring of 2020. I understand that folks were concerned for my safety, and I do know that it can be a scary world out there. BUT, using common sense and a few other tricks from the bus life and van life communities, I am happy (and lucky?) to say that there have been very few times where I have ever felt unsafe on the bus alone.
And the times that I did feel unsafe were over very quickly, and had a minimal impact on me.
One of those times, I was driving around in a small town near Boston, MA, trying to find a parking spot big enough for the bus.
I noticed that a car was following me.
I took a few random turns down some side streets and kept an eye on the driver to see if they’d follow. They did.
I drove around for probably another 10 minutes to see if they would get bored, and they stayed right on my tail! I decided to pull into a big parking lot on the side of a busy street and thought that if they parked there as well, they’d be following me for sure.
I pulled in, and they parked right next to me.
A young person about my age got out of their car and walked over to my driver’s side door. Not knowing what was going to happen, I kept my door locked but rolled down the window slightly.
They apologized for following me, and said that they too had renovated a bus and lived on it for 7 years while traveling. We exchanged some stories and both went our separate ways. I really didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be harmless. Though a little weird, I will say.
Another time, I was at a laundromat in Orlando. I had a strange feeling as soon as I pulled in, but thought I’d just do my laundry and get out. With about 10 minutes left of my last dryer load, someone abruptly bumped into the front of the bus and put their hands on the hood. They looked directly in through the front window and looked at me. They could clearly see I was alone. I grabbed my phone and my heart was racing, and just as quick as the person came, they left.
I have had a couple knocks on the bus door here and there, and the majority of those times, it has been police or security letting me know that I’m safe and that I could contact them if I needed anything. Feeling unsafe is a risk you take with life on the road, but I never expected to feel so welcomed by local authorities as I have been.
I do consider myself lucky, but I also consciously keep an effort to make the best decisions for the safety of my bus, my partner, and for me.
Here is what I have learned to do over the last year to make sure that I don’t find myself in scary situations. Here are my top 12 bus life safety tips!
PS – I’m not sharing everything here. I have chosen to leave out some personal safety decisions that are top secret. Though I will share them via direct message if you’re interested in more!
1. Trust your gut.
If you don’t like the feeling you get when you drive into a place for the morning, day, or night, just leave. It’s not worth it. And, you’ll get a better sleep at night if you don’t feel on edge.
2. Get to the place you want to sleep at before it gets dark.
I made the mistake a couple times of getting to my place for the night in the pitch black darkness. I didn’t know what (or who) was around me and I didn’t get a great sleep on those nights just because I was uncertain. I quickly figured out that it worked better for me to get to my place in the daylight to scope it out, and decide if I wanted to stay.
3. If you’re staying at BLM land (in the US), Crown Land (in Canada) or big, free, campgrounds for more than one night, switch up where you’re sleeping.
This one might not be quite as obvious, and it’s more of a precaution than anything. I honestly felt the safest and had the best sleeps on BLM land and Crown land, but you can never be too careful. This is especially important if your camper is easy to spot or recognize.
An awesome BLM campsite we stayed at in Utah.
4. …Don’t make your camper easily recognizable.
Some campers have beautiful artwork or paintings on the sides of them. I opted to not go this route, so that if I visit a small town, my camper isn’t easy to recognize. Having a great paint job is really awesome, but it will be very easy to spot on the road or at a campsite, and therefore easy to follow.
5. Plan out where you’re going to sleep.
It took me a couple months on the road to figure this one out. Finding safe, quiet places to sleep last minute is harder than vanlife Instagrammers make it seem. I try to plan out where I’m going to sleep at least 24 hours in advance. I google the crime ratings of that area and look at recent news postings in that location to make sure I feel comfortable.
6. Leave a couple pairs of shoes outside, or a couple hats on your dash.
If you’re traveling alone, you can use this hack to make it seem like there’s more than one person in your camper.
7. Get a cover for your front window. Or get curtains. Or both.
Even when I’m in the bus doing work, there have been a TON of people who walk by and think it’s totally okay to check out the bus and look in all the windows possible. I started noticing how many people do this when I’m actually *in* the bus, and then I started thinking that they probably do this even more when I’m not there. I started to cover up some of the windows once I made this realization!
8. Hide your valuable items.
Store your valuable items like laptops, cameras and passport somewhere that only you know about. Or invest in a safe.
9. Be careful with social media.
Don’t post your location on social media platforms until you are far away from it. You can take this one step further by being careful about posting specific, recognizable landmarks until you have left. And try not to share where you’re going next.
10. Sleep by your keys and keep your camper “road-ready”.
When I get into bed at night, I always try to make sure I know exactly where my keys are, or better yet have them right next to me. This has never ever happened, but it helps me feel safer to know that if I needed to leave in the middle of the night, I easily can. I also try to clean up after the night before (like putting dishes away), so that if I do have to leave in a hurry, things won’t fly everywhere.
11. Invest in a reliable vehicle!
My first bus was a 1983’ Chevy, and it took 2-3 tries to start it each time. Luckily (long story short) I had the sale reversed and ended up with my reliable Bus Lightyear. But you do not want to be caught in a situation where you need to leave and your camper won’t start.
12. Self-defense is an option.
Things like pepper spray, air horns, and even other smaller “weapons” are available and cheap. I don’t encourage violence but sometimes it’s nice to know you have options in a worst-case scenario.
Extra: Join some community groups.
There are a couple great community Facebook groups that share helpful tips on traveling safely as a solo traveler. There are also vanlife and buslife groups that have great physical presence in popular areas, so if you ever find yourself needing some help, you can post in those groups. People do it every day. Message me if you’re interested in the names of those groups and I’ll share them.
There are a ton of other ways to be safe in your van or bus or camper.
Like I said at the beginning of this blog post, there’ve been very few times where I actually felt unsafe! A lot of it is making good decisions using your common sense, and trusting your gut.
Stay safe out there! And check out some frequently asked questions about BusLife in this video.