The main question I’m asked when boondocking is “How do you keep yourself safe?”
For some, the thought of spending the night alone in an unknown, off-the-grid place can make their skin crawl. All manner of things could go wrong. If we let our imagination run wild, it will tell us about the hundreds of situations in which we are not safe — rather than how we can stay safe.
After boondocking in 30 countries throughout Europe and staying in over 400 different places, there are a few things that we do automatically to keep ourselves safe. I’d like to share with you the basic steps we take to keep safe so you, too, can enjoy this fabulous lifestyle. (You can also read up on essential boondocking tips for first-timers here.)
1. Prepare Ahead
Safety usually starts before we leave our current parking spot. We know that many people love to fly by the seat of their pants and just drive until they find somewhere that looks good to stay. We prefer to have a plan for the day’s travel, and we research potential parking spots around our destination.
It’s always a good idea to read past reviews for each spot where you intend to stop. If anyone has experienced issues with security or break-ins, then we will likely reject an area and keep looking. We check Google Maps to find out as much information about the spots as we can and to scout around for other possibilities.
Having a plan gives us peace of mind.
2. Listen To Your Gut
We have a rule in our RV that if one of us has a bad feeling about a spot or a concern about safety, no matter the reason, we don’t question it. We move on. What’s interesting is that if one of us voices a concern, quite often the other person was thinking something similar.
Communication is important here, so don’t let your desire to park and sleep override the need for safety. Make sure you travel early enough in the day that you’re not too tired or it’s too late, or too dark, to move on.
3. Don’t Level Up
Avoid using large leveling blocks if possible, as you may need to drive away in the middle of the night. We have a cheap set of small blocks, which, if used, we would be happy to leave behind for the sake of our safety. Alternatively, make sure you park somewhere flat so blocks are not needed while boondocking.
4. Hide Away
We park out of sight of main roads and public areas wherever we can. This prevents us from being an easy target for someone passing by and willing to take advantage of an opportunity. Hiding away also gives us the comfort of being able to peer out a window to ascertain the cause of any noises we may hear.
5. Safety In Numbers
If you can’t hide away, then try to park where there are other RVs nearby, as there is definitely safety in numbers. If you arrive at a reasonable hour, introduce yourself to your neighbors so they know you are friendly and that you can both look out for one another during the evening. Make sure, however, that you keep a respectful social distance from other RVs.
6. Have A Plan B
Once you’ve settled in for the evening, have a backup plan for where you might drive to should you have to move quickly. We’ve had to move in the night occasionally (due to bad weather), so knowing a safe second location is imperative.
Ensure you know the phone numbers for police and other local or emergency services. Have these written down and easily accessible or stored in your phone.
Limit alcohol consumption so the driver is not over the limit should he or she need to drive.
7. Park To Leave
Park your RV so it is facing forward and has a clear unobstructed exit, preferably with an open space in front of you rather than a single track. And plan for what you might do if your Plan A exit is unexpectedly blocked.
Beware of parking on grass if there is any rain in the forecast, as you could get stuck in the mud.
8. Preparing The Cabin
Every night before going to bed, we have a routine we call Preparing the Cabin. Here’s what we do:
- Make sure everything outside is put away at night: chairs, awning, doormat, and the garage doors are locked and dead-bolted.
- Thread a fabric tie-down strap through the door handles of both front doors and secure this in the center of the cab. If someone picks the lock during the night, they won’t be able to open the door.
- Turn the front seats forward into the driving position.
- Ensure the keys and alarm fob are beside the bed for easy access.
- Put the computers, wallets, and valuables (passports, documents, and drivers’ licenses) in a locked safe. Most of these things tend to stay secure in any case, but if we’ve had them out for some reason, we make sure they are returned before hitting the hay.
- Secure all buttons, cupboards, and drawers so we’re ready for a quick getaway.
- Stow the TV away in its locked position.
- Lock the shower door and anything else that would typically be secured before driving away.
- Ensure the dishes are washed and put away, or at least stacked. That way, if we have to drive off quickly, they don’t crash into a thousand pieces across the cabin floor.
- Draw the curtains around the front windows. We avoid putting up the reflective/insulating screens as these take longer to remove and can cause a lot of condensation on the inside of the windscreen, especially in colder weather. Removing condensation in a hurry is not a quick task.
- Remove the GPS and dashcam from the windscreen but have them handy should we need to take off quickly.
- Sleep with the door to the bedroom open in order to hear if anything is happening outside.
- Set the alarm on sleep mode.
There are always going to be places where you feel 100 percent safe and other places that feel less comfortable. When we are in those places, we take some extra precautions to make it harder for anyone to break in. We lock the external deadlock on the habitation door. This prevents someone from breaking the external lock and entering into the main area of the RV.
For added security, we have a good alarm system with internal movement sensors as well as sensors on the windows, cab doors, habitation doors, and garage doors. The alarm can be set on a sleep mode that lets us move inside without setting it off. We had an extra alarm siren fitted inside the habitation area, which is extremely loud and it is uncomfortable to be present when it is sounding. Our alarm fob, which sits beside the bed at night, has a panic button that allows us to set that alarm off manually.
Another thing that we did — and this has to be my top tip — was get some stickers made up that said Alarm and have a picture of a bell. They are UV resistant. Some were made to be outside, and some are on the inside of the glass. Each window around our RV has a sticker, as do our external accommodation and garage doors.
10. Tips On Leaving The RV Unattended
Here are a few tips about what we do when leaving Betsy, our RV, alone in a remote location.
Our first tip is don’t leave your RV in a remote location. Try to move it to park somewhere more public with other people around.
If for some reason you have to leave your RV unattended, then I suggest you ensure that the area feels safe to leave. If you have any hesitations, then simply drive to another parking lot, for example, a supermarket parking area.
The fabric strap that we use at night may not be sufficient if someone breaks a window, because they could reach through and cut the strap. Therefore, we have a secondary system for daytime — a light chain that we thread around our door handles and secure with a combination padlock. The door handles have Velcro around them to protect the plastic from the metal scratching them.
While nothing is foolproof, this system will give an opportunist burglar a bigger headache. If someone is prepared, they may be carrying bolt cutters, which would make short work of this. Our intention, however, is to slow potential burglars down and prove that we’re not a soft target.
We put our TV under the bed pillows so it’s out of sight and not obvious from a quick look around inside the vehicle. Thankfully, our windows are tinted, making it hard to peer in.
The speaker system goes into the safe, as does the remote for the TV.
All our important documents and devices are put into the safe, including extra credit cards, passports, drivers’ licenses, computers, tablets, Kindles, et cetera. While this seems obvious, we have heard about people leaving these in a cupboard and having them stolen.
We remove the GPS and dash camera — including brackets and cables from the windscreen — and these are also put into the safe.
Important medicines go into the safe, particularly things that need a prescription to replace and are not needed on a daily basis.
We have drilled a hole in the driver’s seat base. We rotate the seat to face backward and place a huge padlock through the seat and base. This prevents anyone from being able to sit in the seat and drive away with our RV.
Purchasing a big, good-quality, heavy-duty safe that is bolted and screwed down to the RV gave us peace of mind. Some pretty specialized wrecking equipment would be needed to rip it out. Then a potential burglar would need to carry a very awkward and heavy (35 pounds) safe somewhere where they could take their time to break into. That’s unlikely to happen easily or without someone noticing.
We have electronic copies of our passports and credit card information stored up in the cloud and saved on our phones, plus hard copies in the safe.
The most anyone could hope to find inside our motorhome is food, clothes, and the odd bottle of wine. If they are desperate for that, then they are welcome to it.
11. Our Number One Rule For Night Time Is …
Do not open the door to anyone. Period.
Should you hear a knock on the door from someone who is persistent, and you want to respond, talk through a closed door or window. They will still be able to hear you. But under no circumstances should you open your door at night, and definitely do not leave your vehicle at night.
One fellow camper told us a story of when he had someone bang on his door. He yelled back in his strongest, angriest voice, “For goodness sake” (okay, he wasn’t quite that polite) “why can’t everyone leave me alone!” He said this puts people on the back foot immediately because they think you are angry, have already been disturbed, and might be a danger to them.
If for any reason you have a need to knock on the door of another RV during the night, make sure you announce yourself and what you want.
We had someone banging and banging one night, and of course, we ignored him. He eventually spoke in English (we were in Italy) to share valid information. Had the chap announced himself and said something like, “Hi there, I’m John from Australia, and I just wanted to let you know our RV was broken into tonight,” we would have answered him — through the window — a lot earlier.
With all this talk of safety, you might ask us how often we have had an issue. The answer is never. We take a common-sense approach to ensure we are safe, but in 30 countries — none of which were English speaking — we have thankfully not encountered any trouble. I put this down to adopting the above safety measures and being super prepared.
I hope you have many safe encounters boondocking by following all or some of our tips!