One thing that I got asked hundreds of times throughout my vanlife experience was is it safe to do vanlife as a solo female traveller? In fact, to this day, it is still one of the most commonly asked questions about my trip.
And here’s what I tell people…
Yes. It is safe to live in a van and travel solo as a woman. But, it doesn’t come without taking specific precautions around my personal safety.
I am a big believer that solo females can travel the world if they want to. However, unfortunately, there are still some things we need to keep in mind in order to stay safe.
It’s sad that in 2021 women still feel this way- but that is just the reality of the world. Solo women still aren’t entirely safe. So, we need to know how to protect ourselves in case harm does come our way when travelling alone.
This post is going to dive into all the precautions and things to think about when diving into vanlife as a solo female traveller.
Night Time as a Solo Female Traveller Living in a Van
This might be an unpopular opinion amongst those that live the vanlife in Australia (and around the world), but as a solo woman, I never really felt the safest at night.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t. However, in the dark of night when I was surrounded by nothing but nature and maybe a few random vans with solo men… I just didn’t feel safe.
I had a golden rule that as soon as night fell, I would stay inside the van.
This meant that I was fed, showered, and toileted before it got too dark outside.
The one exception was when I stayed in campgrounds with full bathroom facilities. I would often use the bathroom before going to sleep. But only when I felt like there were enough people around to hear me scream if something happened.
However, I was in campgrounds far less than free camping spots and random roadside stops, so more often than not, I would lock myself inside.
Was I a little paranoid? Maybe. But did I feel much safer doing so? Yes.
I’m an extreme introvert, and so not going out at night and meeting people didn’t bother me at all. If you are extroverted and want to meet people and party and make friends- go right ahead. It is probably a lot safer than I felt, but I do know a lot of women I met on the road had a similar mindset to me.
If you feel safe at night, go out there and have fun! But if not, try and be ready for bed early in the evening. You can stay up and read/netflix late into the night if you want, but going to bed earlier also means getting up earlier- and living with the sun is the perfect way to do vanlife.
Check out my guide to staying safe as a solo female traveller.
Bathrooms as a Solo Female Traveller
When I first started talking about vanlife, there were a few things that I needed to consider before diving into it.
One of these was going to the bathroom at night.
Growing up, I always had a small fear of the dark. There’s just something about wandering around at night time when all is silent and the shadows dancing upon the walls that terrified me.
Multiply this by having the shadows of trees outside, the silent whispers of every moving thing, and the fact that most of the time, you are entirely alone in the middle of nowhere- vanlife becomes a terrifying thing if you need to use the bathroom at night.
I was free camping most of the time I was living in a van, which meant toilets weren’t always available to me, so this added another factor that I needed to consider.
Depending on the van you have will depend on the type of solution you come up with.
For me, doing nighttime in a van as a solo woman was as simple as using a bucket/ container for the bathroom and tissues for the toilet paper.
I know many others who have proper portable toilet solutions, which make the entire process much cleaner and simpler.
Whatever works best for you and won’t take up too much space is the way to go.
Check out this guide to learn how to overcome your solo female traveller fears.
Know how to Listen to your gut
When it comes to solo travel, the number one thing I suggest to women is to know how to listen to their gut.
Humans have this amazing sixth sense inside of us that tells us when things are wrong. Yet, most of us don’t really know how to tap into it.
As a traveller, using your sixth sense is a must.
It’s as though we have little alarm bells inside of us, telling us that things aren’t okay and that we need to reassess whatever it is that is giving us grief.
I am fortunate in that I have great instincts that help me make decisions, and I really trust what my gut tells me.
Whenever you get a weird feeling in your gut while travelling, it is so important to listen to it. You might not fully understand what it means, but if you feel ‘icky’ or ‘unsure’ or ‘strange’ about a situation or a person, listen to what your body is trying to tell you.
When living the vanlife, this was one of the things I fully embraced.
There were quite a few times I felt strange about certain people or certain situations, so I quickly removed myself from them.
It is better to be cautious, in my opinion.
Trust your gut. It’s rarely ever wrong!
Go to a mechanic before you depart for vanlife
One of the things I highly recommend before taking to the road as a solo female vanlife traveller is going to a mechanic.
I don’t say this because of the stigma around women not knowing how to fix cars if there are any problems, but because the reality of being stranded on the side of the road is a dangerous one.
I can’t tell you how many times the van I owned in 2020 died on me while on the side of the road in remote and strange places, and the fear I felt whenever someone drove past and stared at me stranded is something I’ll never forget.
On my road trip down the East Coast of Australia, there were so many patches with no reception. There were long stretches of barren road, stuck in between desolate, outback towns with rowdy old men.
Would I have felt safe being stranded and asking for help from some of the people I met in those towns? Probably not.
Do I harbour a little bit of fear and anxiety around these situations? Maybe.
Going to a mechanic before you leave for your trip can help you understand if your van has any issues that might cause you to stress while on the road.
When my mechanic told me not to bother leaving because it won’t be safe as a solo female traveller (who inconveniently had zero mechanical knowledge of cars), it broke me. He said there was so much damage in my van that it would take thousands upon thousands to fix it, and that he still wouldn’t trust it to be safe for me.
Ultimately, I decided to get rid of the van and hire one instead. I just didn’t want to risk doing vanlife as a solo female traveller with a broken van.
Don’t Let People Know You’re Travelling Solo
One of the biggest tips I can suggest when you meet people on the road as a solo female traveller (or just travelling in general) is to lie about being alone.
While this might seem obvious to some, you probably don’t want a lot of people actually realising you are actually travelling alone. Specifically, if you are meeting people in outback locations where there aren’t many others around.
I do this even when I am travelling internationally. I tell people that I am waiting for my partner to meet me. Or that my sister is just around the corner. Or that my friend is waiting for me at a location.
The reality is, people are more likely to prey upon solo women in comparison to someone who they know has a friend, partner, or relative nearby.
A solo woman must always be careful of prying eyes and people knowing that they are alone, so it is important to always bring up other people in conversations so they know someone will notice you missing if you disappear.
I also like to leave two towels hanging up on my front seat at night so that it looks as though there are two people inside. I know a lot of women choose to put out men’s shoes when they are travelling solo, as this can often act as a deterrent for any predators.
Here’s my guide to 21 top things to know before travelling solo.
Vanlife as a Solo Female Traveller- Safety Precautions
Ahh, safety precautions- the bane of my existence.
When it came to starting my vanlife journey, I really struggled with what to do about weapons and safety. All the research I did was for women based in the USA, and unfortunately, Australians have a lot more rules when it comes to self-defence weaponry.
While I won’t dive into your options for self-defence weaponry/ anything you want to have to protect yourself, there are a few things that I recommend you consider when looking at starting vanlife as a solo woman.
The first is safety alarms.
I had many alarms placed strategically around my van in case I ever needed to activate them in an emergency. There was also always one on my keychain for when I was out and about.
Budget travellers- get a few of these alarms and place them around your van.
Worried travellers- I felt much safer having a loud foghorn alarm next to me when I slept at night.
US readers- here is an excellent bundle of keychain safety equipment I highly recommend investing in if you are travelling solo (you have probably seen this girl on tik tok).
Anyone in the world- I recommend one of these discreet jewellery alarm signals, including bracelets, necklaces, scrunchies, fitness bands, and so many more options!
The second is black-out curtains.
You really don’t want people to be watching you sleep, and you really don’t want people to know you are alone inside your van.
Make sure your curtains/ shades/ window covers are blackout and won’t let people see you inside. This is also an added bonus to help you get a good night sleep and help insulate your van against the cold or hot weather!
Let someone know where you are staying each night
This is an important one.
When doing vanlife as a solo female traveller, I always made sure to let my family know where I would be saying each night.
In Australia, we have a brilliant camping app called Wikicamps, which is the #1 place to find free (or really cheap) camps if you are doing vanlife and you want to find places to camp for the night.
I made it a priority to ensure I would send my family a screenshot of the camping place I had decided to stay each night. This includes information about the reception, how many nights I planned on staying, and the address.
I felt much safer knowing that my family knew where I was. Also, if they didn’t hear from me when I was meant to leave again, that they would know something was wrong.
Another thing I made sure to do was to download a tracking app. This is important so that my family could track my movements. Life360 was by far the best one I looked at when I was investigating apps to use. I found it comforting to know that my family could see if anything strange happened to my movements.
My family could get real-time whereabouts of my movements, amongst many other brilliant safety features in case something happened.
I highly recommend getting an app like this so that you can be found in case something happens while doing vanlife.
Always lock your doors
This is probably one of the most obvious things you can do to protect yourself. So, plan on doing vanlife as a Solo Female Traveller. Seriously, lock your doors.
With so many people interested in vanlife, who is travelling and living in a van, and in particular, solo female vanlife, curious people will always walk up to your van door and inspect it. It’s just something you have to get used to on the road. Most of the people will just become your friendly neighbours for the night. There is nothing scarier than someone wanting to come inside your van and inspect it.
Even when I was lazing around a campsite on my van bed, I always made sure to lock my doors. Pretty much every time I was inside the van, the doors were locked. This ensured that no one could enter and catch me off guard.
While there were many days where I had the doors open- that’s the best part about having a home on wheels- there were also days when I was inside- particularly in the mornings or when it was freezing outside.
Remember humanity can actually be kind of beautiful too
Something I often had to remind myself when I was doing vanlife as a solo female traveller was that humanity can actually be kind of beautiful too.
In all honestly, 99% of the people I met on the road were harmless. The number is probably even higher than that. I can’t tell you how many incredible souls I met travelling in my van from Townsville to Jindabyne. There were lovely divorced men in free camps all over the country. Solo women in campgrounds were kind and friendly. There were couples I met who just wanted to have a chat about travel.
It was great.
While almost all of them were shocked at seeing a young woman alone, I trusted my gut and knew that they were harmless. And out of it, I had some of the most wonderful conversations.
Travelling solo often means taking a step back and trusting in the world. Bad things might happen. I always believe that taking precautions is necessary, but also believe that people are inherently good.
Trust your gut, and have some backup plans… just in case.