30 Ways to Stay Safe on the Road
Whether you’re traveling full-time or just running to the market, here’s an extensive list to help you return home (or to your van) safely
I’ll start and end this post with this statement: The world is not as scary or dangerous as the news portrays BUT things do happen to innocent people every single day, so please be aware and be prepared.
Several months ago I had a creepy stalker encounter. And although I made all the right decisions to evade the situation, it got me thinking about all the things I could and should do. Plus everything I’m already doing for safety.
If you’re a person traveling alone, whether overland or not, here are some precautions to take.
**While this is geared toward female-identified people, it certainly can be used for all genders and non-binary people too. Women are not the only targets for perps.
Be Aware of your Surroundings
AKA: the Power of Observation. Always scope out who and what is around you before you get out of your car, leave a store, walk down an empty street, park, etc. My most recent example: I was just about to get out of my van first first glancing in my side mirror, as I always do before stepping out. There was a huge man almost at my driver’s side door. He was walking in the street, very close to me. My hackles raised, I sat perfectly still and reached over to quietly make sure my door was locked. He walked by without glancing toward me, but that isn’t always the case. Had this person wanted to, he could have yanked me out (if the door had been unlocked). Yes, I’ve obviously been watching too much of The Rookie TV show, and I’m okay with that.
On this same note, I never walk by any cars that have their motor running. Nor do I walk by vans that have people sitting in the front seats. Usually I will cross the street or simply walk the other way. I’m not telling you to take all the same precautions as me but this particular tactic makes me feel safer.
Video or Photos
If you encounter a sketchy situation, start recording. It’s easier to take video and it can be done stealthily. I did it the other day, running video while holding my phone to my chest. I recorded someone for a friend of mine, due to a confrontation. Upon reviewing the video later, the perp was front and center but it just looked like I was cradling my phone.
I’ve also recorded and taken photos while pretending to look at my phone as a map. I look down, take the photo, look up and point at a street sign or just nod to myself as if acknowledging the street sign.
It is also my belief (and practice) that you should not turn your phone on airplane mode at night. What if you need to call the police? Airplane mode turns off your cellular and wifi service so you cannot dial 911 (in the US). I sleep with my phone close to me and never on airplane mode.
Learn the phone shortcut to your local emergency number. For iPhone’s, there are several different ways to contact authorities immediately. For example on 8’s and later you hold the side button + a volume button. On 7’s and earlier, you press the side button five times. Check these and make sure they work. I checked for a friend recently and her’s did not so I set it up for her. You can also have your emergency people listed and if you call 911, your emergency list will get a text with your GPS and a notice that you called 911.
I rarely walk anywhere without my phone.
If you can afford an apple watch (with its own cellular plan) I highly recommend it. There are the same precautions plus fall detection.
Press and hold the flush side button to dial 911 and if you have separate cellular service and are away from your phone, you can call a friend or the authorities. If you fall and can’t get up, you will immediately be prompted to call emergency, if 1 minute goes by and you have not responded, 911 is called for you. This feature is available on series 4 or later. Fall detection must be turned on.
Wearable GPS Tracker Jewelry
Another option wearable jewelry that’s also a GPS tracker. The one I have is a necklace (they also come in bracelets) and if you press it twice it will notify the authorities and your safety net (people you have set up). It sends and SOS text and phone call, telling them where you are and that you are in need. It definitely works, I’ve pushed it by accident! This one also reminds you to test it regularly.
Phone App that Notifies Authorities
Noonlight is a very reasonably priced app, it’s $10 a year. You walk with your finger on the “button” on your screen and if someone attacks you or if you let go of the “button”, the authorities are immediately called and given your location. You have five seconds to enter your pin if you let go of the button accidentally. I forgot my pin once and can attest that it works. Someone will call you first to see if you’re okay and if you don’t answer, they will send your location to the local authorities. I used this app whenever I walked alone at night, while living in a major city.
If you’re living on the road or you go hiking alone, invest in a satellite phone. I’ve been without cell service for days and without my satellite phone, I’d have been unable to contact anyone or look at maps and find my GPS location. I have the InReach thought this InReach is more reasonably priced and I recently heard about the Spot. While I haven’t used the Spot and thus can’t comment on its effectiveness compared to the InReach, I do prefer the keyboard.
My InReach service is $35 a month (the second tier, there is a cheaper one) but I can only send and receive 10 texts which were used up in two hours because everyone I texted, responded. I still had the use of tracking, GPS, and maps, which is crucial.
A lot of overlanders (vanners, RVers, etc.) have one or more dogs. Dogs are fantastic for protection, especially a medium to large-sized dog. Most dogs have no problem living in a vehicle as long as they’re taken on long walks several times a day. A lot of people who live in vehicles, take their dogs camping or on BLM land and they use long tethers so the dog is outside with their person for much of the day. I have a good friend who lives in her car with her medium-sized dog. Her dog has scared off more than a few unsavory characters. However, there can be challenges too. Recently one such unsavory person called the police on my friend because her dog barked at him. The police told the man she had done nothing wrong but not before the man was aggressive, taunting and filmed her. Personally, I feel the benefits of having a watchdog as a solo person far outweigh the pitfalls.
Carry a physical map in your car. I have a Rand McNally US road map in my car just in case everything else is unavailable/offline.
If you’re a solo female, wear a ring on your “wedding ring” finger. Remember in some parts of the world, like the UK, wedding rings are worn on the right hand and in the USA, they are worn on the left. If you’re unsure, wear two, one on the right hand and another on the left. A simple silver band will do.
Gas and Water
For overland: fill up your gas tank whenever you can. A friend gave me this advice as I headed into Death Valley and I’m grateful I listened. Gas in Death Valley, which I ended up buying as well, was over $6.00 a gallon. But the closest station to the north was thirty miles and the closest station to the south was sixty miles. I get terrible gas mileage and by the time I got to Death Valley, I was at half a tank even though I’d filled up thirty miles prior. There’s no such thing as having too much gas in your tank. Breaking down in ninety-five-degree heat with unsavory characters jetting by is not a good time.
On the same note, make sure you always have enough water.
Trust your Intuition
This is the most important tip, in my opinion. I knew I was being followed in Death Valley. I did everything I could to evade the creeper, and I did, but it took some planning. It also took vigilance and keeping a clear head. If you feel like something is off, do not talk yourself out of that feeling. Do not tell yourself you are paranoid unless you’ve been clinically diagnosed with paranoia. Take action. Leave, evade, hide, go to the authorities.
Unfortunately, the authorities aren’t always helpful. The baby-faced twenty-year-old ranger I spoke to in my stalker incident was dismissive and gaslit me. Do not let ANYONE tell you that what you’re feeling is silly, incorrect, or anything else dismissive. I don’t care if it’s a cop or a ranger or your mother or your husband/wife or your best friend. Trust your gut no matter what. Make a plan and take action. This is the incident I ran into and how I handled it. I learned from this experience that no one has my back. I’m on this road alone and I am responsible for taking care of myself (and my dog).
Strangers: To trust or not to trust
Again, go with your gut. Personally, I don’t talk to many single men. I haven’t had all bad experiences in this department, hell, my best friend is a guy but I’d rather be safe than sorry. I did meet a single man at a campsite last month and we had a wonderful chat, but there were loads of people around, so I felt safe. I also feel safe, mostly, not always, interacting with couples and women. It depends on the location as well. Campsites with people around, inside a restaurant or coffee shop, places where I’m not alone. And even then, I always follow my gut.
Let Someone Know Where You Are
I didn’t know I’d have zero service in Death Valley. When I checked beforehand, I was “told” I’d have LTE service at the campground I chose. I didn’t. And I didn’t have any cell service for over a hundred miles. In my opinion, this is not safe for a solo female traveler. Had I known, I would not have gone to Death Valley, and you can bet, I won’t go back, not alone. However, the couple I met at my campsite had Verizon (as do I) and the woman had an old phone, that only got 3G and she had full service. Her husband, who had Verizon and a new phone, had no service.
Since I did not know I’d have no service, I did not check in with my support group but I did, the next day, send them all texts via my satellite phone, letting them all know where I was.
I also share my google map location with several trusted friends and family members. If you choose the option to share through their maps (as opposed to their phone number) you can permanently share your location. Just be sure to check the option “until you turn this off” as opposed to the “for 1 hour” option.
Please note: if you have no service, your location will not appear. Only your last known location will.
Make sure your check-in people have all the important information for you which includes but is not limited to:
- The make, model, and license plate number of your car.
- Your passport number (if you’re traveling overseas) or your driver’s license number if you’re not.
- Emergency contact numbers (parents, children, etc.)
4. Where you’re going and how long you plan to stay.
5. The address of where you are (Airbnb), hotel, campground, etc.
The Power of Observation
This can be learned. In my recent stalker situation, I took photos of the man’s car. We often have the opportunity to take photos of the perp as well.
But what if we can’t take photos? I practice my techniques of observation. Every car I spot, I call out the make of the car, from the car’s emblem. I name the color and size of the car, model if I can. there are only a few emblems that I can’t name.
If you’re so inclined, learn the emblems of all the major cars. If you’re overseas, the carmakers may be different or one more prevalent than another. Learn the emblems of the cars where you’re located or traveling. Practice your observational skills. Call out the types of car, make and model if you can. The color and type; for example, SUV or sports car or truck, sedan or coupe. The more you practice, the easier it will become.
Observe people as well. When you walk by strangers, notice their hair color, stature, and what they are wearing. Drill down on as much description as you can. Do this when you meet people, or when you pass them on the street, hiking, or in a mall. Do this as often as possible. Practice makes perfect or in this case, can keep you safe.
If you keep your hat on the dashboard of your car, keep two. One baseball cap that could belong to another person (ie: a man). If you’re parked on BLM land alone, leave a pair of man’s dirty work boots outside your car or van (don’t forget to grab them when you leave). Always back into a space so you can leave quickly if you need to. I prefer to park on a street rather than in a parking lot. I have had issues with noise in almost every parking lot I’ve slept in.
I was in a rough neighborhood in San Francisco once and a woman was stopped in the middle of the street. I stopped behind her and she backed up into my car. Her bumper went over the top of my bumper. She jumped out of her car and started screaming at me saying I hit her and now she was going to get (another) new car. “How do you think I got this one?” she said as she pointed at her two-year-old VW bug. I had my window rolled up most of the way as I had some issues in the past with other people using road rage against me. She was screaming at me and I kept trying to explain that I did not hit her. “Oh yeah?” she screamed. “I have witnesses.” She pointed to about five men that were standing next to us on the sidewalk and she said, “What did you all see?” And practically in unison, they said, “She hit you from behind.”
It was a setup, obviously and it had worked for her in the past. I didn’t have the dashcam but I did have my cell phone. I called 911 and told the operator what was happening. She said, “Is there any damage to your car?” I said, “I don’t think so.” She said, “Get the hell out of there now.”
I backed up and left but the woman chased me for twenty minutes until I finally lost her. I went to the nearest police station and filed a report but thankfully nothing further happened.
This is just one example. I’ve heard stories of people hitting your car to get you to get out of the car so they can either carjack or kidnap, but these may be urban legends. Either way, I’d rather be safe than…
As I mentioned above, have a paper map but you can also download an offline Google map of the area before you enter a no-service zone. However, I’ve done this numerous times and google keeps informing me the maps are still not available offline, so I no longer trust this. But maybe download a google map, go offline and see if it works.
There are apps like Gaia that you can pay for and download maps.
Check for Cell Service Before you Go
You can check maps for your carrier to see if you’ll have cell service in the area you’re going to but please be aware, these are not always right. You can check apps like iOverlander, Sekr, or Wifi Map.
Storing Notes and Photos
I listed everything I could on my computer about the stalker I encountered. It’s true, he could have stolen my computer but he was probably after me and not my stuff. If it was the other way around, I’d have been safe and it wouldn’t have mattered. However, since the authorities would not listen to me and did not care enough to help and I didn’t have service to contact a friend, I wrote it all down and put it on a file on my desktop called “In Case I Go Missing in Death Valley” and the date. I couldn’t transfer the photo to the cloud or send it to anyone without service so I wrote a description of him and his car, including the license plate number.
It’s also a good idea to write out a hard copy of the most crucial information.
Lock Your Doors
I don’t know what kind of car or van or RV you drive but make sure your doors are always locked. My van doors unlock automatically when I turn off the engine so I’ve trained myself to physically lock them every time. I also don’t wait for them to lock automatically and lock them as soon as I enter the car. I triple-check to make sure everything is locked before I sleep at night and I sleep with my car alarm on and the alarm’s panic button in my hand or right next to me.
Car Alarm (with GPS)
If you can afford one, it’s well worth the investment. As stated above, I sleep with my car alarm on. And since I mainly sleep in nice residential areas, if my alarm goes off in the middle of the night without stopping, someone will come out to check or call the police. Also stated above, I sleep with the car alarm’s panic button either in my hand or close by. I always turn it on when I leave my van and can’t see it. The one I have can be monitored via a phone app, including turning it on through my phone, if I forget when I leave the van.
My alarm also has a GPS tracking system for my van so if it is stolen I can find it. There are self-install GPS tracking options for cars. I bought my first one, Bouncie, on Amazon and installed it myself. It’s subscription based ($10 a month). The problem with the Bouncie is that it’s plugged in directly under the dash and I would assume most car thieves would know where to look for it and just pull it out. My current one was professionally installed and is completely hidden. Just having it, makes me feel a lot safer.
Weapons and Protection
There are so many blog posts and forums on this that I won’t go into too much detail, nor will I say what I have or spout the downfalls or benefits of anything. All I’m going to say, besides listing some options is, to have a few weapons, no matter what. Weapons that stop your attacker before they are in your personal space are preferable but have both. Once an attacker is in your personal space, your chance of survival drops significantly. (Author is not responsible for reader’s choices or outcomes)
- Car alarm (preferably loud) with a panic button. This way you can lock yourself in at night and if you’re near anyone and someone or something tries to break in, your alarm will blare. They’re not expensive but also not cheap, worth every penny for the peace of mind. Be mindful that if you’re parked on a busy street it will go off all night long. To deal with this, lock your doors the old-fashioned way and sleep with the panic button near you or in your hand. Bonus if the panic button is also an SOS, alerting police, rangers, and/or local authorities. *Attacker can be far away.
- Pepper spray or Bear Spray. I was recently notified that Wasp Spray should not be used for self defense. While I was told that bear spray will shoot farther (there may be legal issues in some states if used for self defense) and it turns out there are pepper sprays with long range such as Kimber Blaster, SABRE Red Pepper Gel, Mace Magnum or Phoenix Tactical. Both the Mace Magnum and Phoenix Tactical also contains a UV marking dye, so if caught by police before changing clothes, the miscreant could be ID’d. The Mace Magnum brand has an LED flashlight for night use. I carry several types of pepper spray, including smaller ones that clip on to the dog’s leash and my keychain. *These may stop an attacker before they get too close.
- Stun Gun. *Attacker must be close for you to use these but sometimes if you just flip the switch and someone sees it, they will leave you alone. My favorite one looks like a flashlight and acts like one too and it’s rechargeable. Check your gun store or Amazon for options. I got mine at a gun store and the one I have, if the attacker grabs it while it’s on, they will shock themselves. I always wear the strap around my wrist so they can’t take it from me. I have another one where the pin is pulled out and it’s disabled if they do take it but the flashlight is my favorite.
- An Actual Gun. If you go this route, make sure you are very comfortable using one. Take lessons, pick one without too much kick for your size. Practice, practice, practice. Make sure it’s always clean and know how to flip the safety on and off quickly. *Attacker can be far away.
- A Knife. Same as a gun, only carry one if you know how to use it. *Attacker must be close.
- Martial Arts Training. Krav Maga or Jiu-Jitsu are the preferred methods for women. *Attacker must be close.
- Satellite Phone, iPhone, Apple Watch, or any other device with an SOS feature. Know how to use it and know the limitations. For example: with a satellite phone, you must have access to the sky. With a phone or an Apple watch, you must have a signal.
- Noise Maker/Whistle: There are various devices that make loud noises. Check Amazon (or elsewhere) Birdie is my favorite but this one looks similar and a little less expensive (I’ve only tried the Birdie). I would recommend one that you pull apart rather than a whistle. A whistle is better if you are lost on a hike but if you are being attacked, the other type is best. Make sure you check them periodically to make sure they still work. A bear horn is awesome and louder than any of the self-protection devices on market but a little bulkier to carry and harder to activate. *Attacker can be far away.
I know this is a long and extensive post but I tried to include everything you will need. If there’s anything you can think of that I left out, please let me know!
I hope these suggestions help keep you safe but this author is not responsible for your safety. Take what works for you and leave the rest.
Stay safe out there, and please know that the world is not nearly as scary or dangerous as it’s portrayed on the news. Remember, the news only reports crimes. But that’s still no reason to walk around with the wool pulled over our eyes!
~There are some affiliate links included in this article, they do not cost you extra to use them and you are not required to do so, but if you do, I could earn a few cents. Thank you!