If you're going to be anywhere near SanteFe, New Mexico in September 2019, plan on attending the Vintage Trailer Supply (VTS) Showroom's grand opening. These folks have the BEST STUFF, and do the BEST WORK. And no, they're not paying me to say that. As an associate editor for Airstream Life Magazine, I've met many people who have had VTS do their RV transformations and I've NEVER heard or seen a bad job from them.
There's Van Life, and RV living, and then there's VINTAGE life. It's a different mindset, culture, tribe, and way of living and thinking and no one does it better than VTS. This event is a grand opening and is their first showroom! So they're celebrating for 3-days. That means international industry leaders, live music, exclusive promotions, and Santa Fe culture. And in September! It's only $25 to register, and WHEN you attend you get a $25 gift certificate, so it's like essentially FREE. But you've gotta register. Still undecided? Here's the schedule of events: https://www.vtsgrandopening.com/festival-schedule
* Gift certificates must be picked up upon check-in at the VTS grand opening event 9/13/19 - 9/15/19. Gift certificates will not be available for collection before or after the event and cannot be sent to registrants who are unable attend the event. Gift certificates can be used at the showroom or online until March 31, 2020.
It hadn't occurred to me I was delaying getting back on the road because I was afraid. I thought it was just because I couldn't find the right van, wasn't making enough money, had two cats to care for, and on and on and on.
The truth was, I was afraid. I was 14 years older than the last time I lived in a van. The last time I lived in a van I was homeless. The last time I was in a van, alone, it was "safer" somehow. I had twice as many fears as I had reason for not getting back on the road. "I love my shower, and my flush toilet," I said. True. But I could have a shower and a toilet on the road – maybe not as nice, but still. I wouldn't have to poop in a bucket.
I started writing down what my REAL fears were, and almost instantly started to feel better.
PANIC ATTACKS, FOOD, AND FEAR
As I laid in bed last night, fighting off yet another panic attack, I realized, the attacks set in when I thought about a new van build, or anything related to full-timing. Yet, I day dreamed about being in a van headed west, my cats curled up contentedly at my side. So where was all this fear coming from? I had left the grocery store earlier, almost consumed by it. I'm diabetic, so when I got back home I checked my blood sugar. It was high, but not dangerously so.
I called a friend of mine, a nurse, and told her what I was feeling. She immediately asked, "Have you taken your supplements today?" Actually, I hadn't taken them in days. I'd run out and hadn't bothered reordering. At least now I knew the feelings of impending doom weren't "real" (in the sense there was really impending doom), but chemical. It’s a well-established scientific fact that we really are what we eat – or at least our feelings are directly related to what we eat. Nutritional deficiencies can bring on mental health disorders like depression, panic attacks, and even dissociation, while a nutritionally complete diet can help reduce, or even eliminate disorders.
Certain natural vitamins are known to have a particularly positive effect on fear, anxiety and depression. Vitamins are great, but getting them through food rather than supplements alone, can turn your moods around completely, as long as you take them consistently. I usually take Vitamin D-3, Vitamin C, Ashwagandha, and Magnesium. Those four are the top vitamins known to reduce stress, fear, and anxiety. When I take them consistently my panic attacks are almost non-existent, and my depression is minimal - and my bowels are regular! The regularity is a natural byproduct of the Magnesium and Vitamin C.
This morning I reordered my vitamins and then went down to the grocery to pick up the Vitamin C and Magnesium. Those are the two that have an almost immediate effect on me. (Side note: Most – as in three fourths! of women with breast cancer are found to have low levels of Vitamin D!)
. Vandwellers and travelers of all kinds are on edge after the news of Chynna Noelle Deese, a 24-year-old American, and Lucas Robertson Fowler, her 23-year-old Australian boyfriend. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said the couple's bodies were found on July 15 about 12 miles south of Liard Hot Springs in northern British Columbia. Since their bodies were found and the story of a killer(s) were at large, anyone who travels for any reason is afraid that the roads and highways have become too dangerous to travel. The fact is, the roads are safe. People are dangerous. The murders of Deese and Fowler are no reason to stop traveling. But the news should give us all pause to stop and rethink our personal safety. It's also time to learn about what spree and serial killers are and how to avoid being their next target.
WHAT IS A SERIAL KILLER, A SOCIOPATH, OR A SPREE KILLER?
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a serial killer is typically a person who murders three or more people, with the murders taking place over more than a month and including a significant period of time between them. A serial killing is described as "a series of two or more murders, committed as separate events, usually, but not always, by one offender acting alone".
Serial killers can be men or women, black, white, brown, Asian, but they tend to be predominantly white and male. Estimates for the number of unidentified to uncaptured but active serial killers in North America runs from between 200 to 2,000. It's not exactly like they line up at a census count to be numbered, so the FBI has to guess based on the number of missing persons, homicides (murders), and the percentage of the population known to be sociopaths or psychopaths (about one in twenty-five people). While not every sociopath or psychopath is a killer, and many are actually quite successful and fit in well in upper level careers as lawyers, doctors, and bankers. However, those sociopath's and psychopaths that kill don't always fit in. Almost everyone who has ever known someone who later turned out to be a sociopathic, or psychopathic killers said, "They were strange. They were charming, but a bit odd." In fact, that's an indicator that a person is a sociopath or psychopath to begin with:
Unlike psychopathy, where a person is born without the ability to feel empathy or care about others, sociopathy is believed to be a product of childhood trauma and abuse. In other words, sociopaths learn their behavior, and psychopaths are born with the behavior.
According to Psychology Today:
Psychopaths are much harder to spot than sociopaths. In fact, many people never know they know a psychopath unless something happens to make them suspect. The psychopath can appear normal, even charming and charismatic. However, behind his/her facade, there is no conscience and no empathy. This makes him manipulative, volatile and often (but by no means always) a serious criminal. "Adult psychopaths are mostly impervious to treatment.
Psychology Today says Psychopaths show:
According to the FBI, the general definition of spree killer is a person (or more than one person) who commits two or more murders without a cooling-off period; the lack of a cooling-off period marks the difference between a spree killer and a serial killer. The spree killer can kill people he/she knows, or may select random targets for reasons known only to them.
When we're afraid, or uncertain our greatest tendency is to "learn more" as if knowing more about the threat or fear can save or protect us. In some cases it can. We can learn what behaviors to spot, who or what to avoid, or what to do or not do in a situation. I know all my reading beforehand allowed me to save myself and my father when our canoe was swamped by waves in the middle of a lake during a thunderstorm. I was able to evade and survive a black bear attack, and to change my own tire when I had a flat on a road out of cell phone range.
Being prepared is a good thing. Understanding, reading, and studying topics that tell us how to be safe, like the book The Gift of Fear, By Gavin McLeod . I read this book the first month it came out, and have reread it about every year or so since. The advice and situations McLeod describes, have, I swear, saved my life. I was able to push past my need to "please" and "not offend" everyone to put my own safety first. I highly recommend it.
But there comes a time when we have to step back and trust that we won't die, or be killed unless it's our time to go. I firmly believe, having seen the things I have, that we do not die unless it is our appointed time to die. And, we die as we are predestined. Not everyone believes this, and that simple statement may anger some, but it's a critical part of how I am able to get out of the house, and live in a van as I do. I trust God is protecting me from threats I don't even know about, and that He has set his angels around me. I know there are many times I survived things only through a supernatural intervention.
You must make your own decision about your safety. People are killed in their homes, on the street, while shopping or going out to eat. It happens every day. Are you going to allow fear to dictate your actions? I hope not. But if you do, I certainly understand.
There have always been, are, and always will be, mentally ill people in society. By learning to spot them, steer clear of them, and avoid interacting with them you might just help save your life. The books I've listed below, except for the one being released this November, are all books I own and have read. They are all excellent resources for anyone wanting to learn how to best protect themselves.
Stay safe. Be aware, and enjoy every day you have. And don't worry. You're much more likely to die from cancer, heart disease, accidents, or diabetes. In fact, around 74% of all deaths in the United States occur as a result of 10 causes. So enjoy life. Travel. Camp. Thank God for every day you're given, and relax. In 2013 the North American homicide rate was 3.9 per 100,000 in population. Considering a populous of 464 million, you’ve got a .00039% chance of being a serial killer’s victim.
With an estimated 300 serial killers currently active in North America there is only a.00064% of the population comprised of these relatively rare killers. You've got better odds of scoring big on the lottery than bumping into a serial killer. In fact, if you're going to die anytime soon, you're more likely to die of one of the top 10 causes of death:
Not convinced? Then read one of the books below, or leave a comment, or both.
The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout, PhD
We are accustomed to think of sociopaths as violent criminals, but in The Sociopath Next Door, Harvard psychologist Martha Stout reveals that a shocking 4 percent of ordinary people—one in twenty-five—has an often undetected mental disorder, the chief symptom of which is that that person possesses no conscience. He or she has no ability whatsoever to feel shame, guilt, or remorse. One in twenty-five everyday Americans, therefore, is secretly a sociopath. They could be your colleague, your neighbor, even family. And they can do literally anything at all and feel absolutely no guilt.
The Big Book of Serial Killers, by Jack Rosewood
There is little more terrifying than those who hunt, stalk, and snatch their prey under the cloak of darkness. These hunters search not for animals, but for the touch, taste, and empowerment of human flesh. They are cannibals, vampires, and monsters, and they walk among us.These serial killers are not mythical beasts with horns and shaggy hair. They are people living among society, going about their day-to-day activities until nightfall. They are the Dennis Rader's, the fathers, husbands, church-going members of the community.
This A-Z encyclopedia of 150 serial killers is the ideal reference audiobook. Included are the most famous true crime serial killers, like Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, and not to mention the women who kill, such as Aileen Wuornos, and Martha Rendell. There are also lesser known serial killers, covering many countries around the world, so broad is the range.
The Gift of Fear, By Gavin McLeod (Survival signals that keep us alive)
Fear can save your life. It directs you to avoid that stranger, to leave the room, to call for help. The intuitive message of fear, together with rational principles, can help you to predict and thereby avoid personal violence. In this book, Gavin de Becker, America's leading expert on predicting violent behavior, demystifies the apparently random and unpredictable nature of violence and shows you how interpersonal violence can be detected and derailed. De Becker's clients include celebrities, corporations, and political organizations, and he serves as an adviser to the CIA and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Spree Killers (to be released November 2019) Police Textbook
Spree Killers: Practical Classifications for Criminology and Law Enforcement is the only exhaustive, up-to-date analytical book on spree killers, standing apart from those dedicated to mass murderers and serial killers.
A large part of van/vehicle dwelling that people don't talk about is loneliness and depression. Being alone in new places can be exciting and fun, but when it's cold, raining, dark, or you're feeling alone - it can be depressing. When we're depressed we stop caring about how we look, what our rig looks like, or anything remotely connected to taking care of things like eating right, exercising, or cleaning.
It's a miserable cycle to be in. I know. I was in it a lot. I got out of it by forcing myself to do these five things. No, they're not life shattering or especially difficult or magical - except they do wonders at changing your mood when you're down. Getting into a clean vehicle, freshly made bed, and smelling the cleaness of a day's work is invigorating and can go a long way towards lifting your mood. Cleaning gives you a chance to reorganize your vehicle, get things in order, and find things you couldn't find. It's like hitting the reset button on your trip:
You bought your van, or you're ready to move into your car or RV. What to bring? What should you pack? It depends:
There are hundreds of questions you need to ask and answer before deciding what to bring with you, most of them are related to how you plan to live. Most women live simple lives, but others prefer to bring their cosmetics, "good clothes" and lifestyle with them - including dresses, and shoes. Sometimes, especially if you're forced into a van or vehicle dwelling lifestyle, having your old life around you can be comforting, if a little impractical. But, it's your vehicle, your life, so it's your choice. Don't feel guilty or silly. But do be semi practical so your stuff doesn't drive you out of your vehicle. Here are the top categories you'll need.
Whether you choose the simplicity and warmth of a good -0-degree sleeping bag, or sheets, blankets, and comforters, you need to stay warm/cool/comfortable. You also need to either be able to wash and replace your sleeping items quickly, or have two sets of sheets etc. so you can wash/dry one set while using the other. This is particularly helpful if you spill something in the middle of the night, have a pet (or people) accident, or dirty your bed with muddy boots, a vehicle leak etc. Having a second set of sheets/blanket can make the difference between a miserable night and a comfortable one. Keep your second set in a waterproof tub so you know they're clean and dry. Having two pillows is also a good idea.
You can't sleep comfortably in your clothes. I know. You want to be able to get up and get moving quickly, but clothes will restrict your movement and make you miserable. Find some lightweight cotton pajama bottoms - there are many that look like pants, and a lightweight t-shirt. Keep a pair of loafers, boots, or shoes you can quickly slip on if you have to get up and get moving. Again, have two sets of PJ bottoms and several tops that can double as sleep or day wear.
Most of us start off with the romantic dream of fixing breakfast and coffee and eating on the edge of forests and meadows. The work involved with shopping, cooking, and cleaning quickly makes that a pain in the ass, and something we reserve for days when we're not so rushed. Still, it's a great idea to have:
I have a stash of paper plates, plasticware, and a SMALL ziplock bag of condiment packs (Miracle Whip, pickle relish, monk fruit sweetener, mustard and ketchup). Trust me, you won't cook nearly as often as you think. I leaned towards single serve grapefruit, fresh fruit, cereal, granola, and oatmeal. Or, I eat out. Throughout most of the country you can always find bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee for between $1.99 to $4.99. I used to get up and drive five miles to a small local airport where I had gourmet eggs/bacon/toast and red potatoes every other morning for $3.49 plus tax and tip. It was worth the $5 -$20 a week I spent to relax, watch the planes and pilots, and enjoy the view of Mount Rainier for an hour or so while I read the paper, and talked to people I knew there.
Some mornings I would wander down to the Columbia River with my dog, and talk to fishermen there, and sometimes join them for fresh caught fish and eggs (I learned if I brought eggs, toast, and butter and offered to share, so did they. There's NOTHING better than fresh fried fish just caught, and farm fresh eggs and fresh butter and toast. And there were no dishes to wash either as we generally ate out of the skillet, or used a flat rock and our fingers for plates.
Stopping at local farm stands for pick-your-own strawberries or blackberries, etc. and adding them to oatmeal or a smoothie with non-refrigerated almond milk, can be a great breakfast treat too. Lunches were mostly sandwiches and salads, fruit, and dinner might be fried or grilled chicken or other things (corn, peppers, veggies) I could fix outdoors over a campfire. You'll settle into your own food/cooking/eating routine depending on where you are, and your food budget. Try to get used to NOT buying things that need refrigeration. If you save half of your restaurant meal for next day leftovers, the cost of eating out can be almost as cheap as buying and cooking your own meals - and a lot less hassle during really hot or cold months. There's less risk of fire, and your van won't smell like whatever you cooked last either. If you're not an avid cook now, living in a van won't change that. There's nothing wrong with setting off with nothing but a teapot and coffee mug and seeing how often you're moved to want to cook before buying any kitchenware.
CLOTHING AND SHOES
You'll find yourself wearing the same items over and over simply because it's easier than wearing, and washing clothes every few days. I have three pairs of leggings, two black, one patterned. Two pairs of jeans - one black, one light blue, and a pair of ankle boots. I also have a pair of sneakers, a pair of lightweight hiking boots, and a pair of muck boots for rainy days and muddy campgrounds. The muck boots wash off well and are very comfortable. I have a pair of crocs for showering and puttering around a campfire. I have seven t-shirts and two polo shirts, and two long sleeved flannel shirts. Everything fits into one big drawer - folded Marie Kondo style (vertically so I don't have to dig through it all). I found I end up wearing the same leggings for 3-4 days (unless it's hot), and the same 2-3 t-shirts. I could probably cut my wardrobe in half, but as sure as I do.... Anyway, in the winter I add a couple of sweaters I can wear with anything, a few turtlenecks, and a lightweight jacket and a serious as hell winter jacket that could double as a minus zero sleeping bag if it had to. This is one area where it's best to designate ONE drawer or duffle bag for clothes, and then not bring anything that won't fit in that bag. I do have one simple modest outfit in case I have a meeting to attend, want to go to church, or go out with friends. I have three pairs of socks, two bras, and five pairs of underwear. If I need more, I stop at Goodwill, or Walmart to buy what I need.
PERSONAL AND VEHICLE CARE
This means shampoo, soap, lotion, sunscreen, makeup, toothbrush, toothpaste etc. The less you can pack, the better, but it's a personal thing. If you like getting up and putting on makeup every morning, and doing an evening face care ritual, more power to you. I keep it simple - comb, liquid soap, shampoo and conditioner, lotion, foundation, eyeshadow and eyeliner/eyebrow pencil, blush. I have clients I must meet from time-to-time and I need to look like I don't live in the jungle. If you need other feminine products - then add those. Remember, you can buy more. You don't have to stock the vehicle for the apocalypse. Add what you need once you find out you need it. I take band-aids, Imodium, standard over-the-counter stuff like aspirin and wait until I need other things to buy them. I always keep four rolls of toilet paper on hand. If I'm going into a rural area where there's not a store within 20-30 miles, THEN I stock up. I always carry five gallons of water too. A bottle of bleach, and a bottle of Lysol lemon scented cleaner are my only cleaning products. And, I'm generous with paper towels and sponges. You'll know what you need once you are on the road for a few weeks. I do urge you to get the smaller bottles and traveler size products until you know you have room and regular demands for them. I use paper towels, but have three bath sheet sized bath towels. It cuts down on the need to wash as often. When I do laundry I wash everything at the same time - usually 2-3 loads. I will hand wash my socks, undies, leggings as needed, but heavier things like shirts, jeans, and towels, go in a machine. They line dry inside the van or outside if I'm at a campground.
One of the fun things I discovered was that many campgrounds have free libraries. You can bring a book and take a book. My kindle holds all the professional, business, and non-fiction I need and takes up no room. I thought I'd read more than I do. I do enjoy movies, and the .99 RedBox movie rentals are easy to take advantage of. If I'm into binge watching something I park near a library or place with free wifi and stream. Or I download during the day and watch at night. Mostly I'm too tired from driving, working, exploring and am just grateful to eat and go to bed. If you're younger, or have more energy, your needs may vary.
I enjoy building things, and helping others outfit their vehicles. I also work on my own vehicle when I can, just to save money. Of all the things I have, tools are the thing that take up the most room. I have mostly battery powered drills and saws, but keep an electrical drill, jig saw, and circular saw around for tougher projects. A full socket set, some socket wrenches, electrical connectors, screw drivers, and the basics of any good tool bag go with me. I have a car jack, lug wrench, oils, and things to fix most basic and common automotive issues, or to build anything I might decide to build. Road flares, a battery charger, tire repair kit, and inflator all make me feel safer and able to get going if I do break down. A AAA card and a membership to Good Sam (in case I break down in a National Park) all round out the preparedness kit. I also have a two fire extinguishers (one in front, one in back), and flashlights, and extra batteries.
This is a catch-all category for things like batteries, flashlights, cigarette lighters, files, work related things, chargers, lap-top, iPad, tablet, notebooks, day pack, water bottles, moleskin (for blisters), tick remover tool, bug spray, pepper spray, taser, personal protection weapons, legal paperwork for the van - proof of insurance, etc. and whatever I know I'll need, but not on a daily basis.
BUG OUT BAG
I have a bug out bag behind the driver's seat - in case of an accident, fire, or need for me to leave the van. It has extra medication, a little bit of cash, duplicate ID, bandaids, flashlight, cordage, razors, emergency rocket flares, a signal mirror, (in an emergency credit and debit cards will not work, and ATMS will be shut down and CASH will be king. Don't carry debit cards in your bug-out bag, carry at least $100 worth of cash in small bills ones, fives, tens a few twenties, a roll of quarters, a roll of dimes, etc. You don't want to flash big bills during a crisis when most people won't have money).
My bag has two knives - large and small, portable saw, cook kit, water purification straw, hatchet, shelter, poncho, food, and the things I would need to survive in the woods for up to a week, outside my van. If you can get through the first 72-hours okay, you'll probably be okay.
All that sounds like a lot of stuff, and it is. I haven't even mentioned food. I carry non-refrigerated snacks like nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds), canned or packaged tuna, beef jerky, celery, fruit, avocados, and high protein things like peanut butter (individual packets by Jiff). I rarely carry more than a couple of days worth of food because I enjoy shopping local markets, fruit and vegetable stands, and pick your own farms. And, I eat out a lot - it's cheaper than buying, not using and throwing away food (which I found I did a LOT).
Take your time when packing your vehicle. Pay attention to what you use and don't use and add or remove items as needed. I guarantee you that your bedding, clothing, and personal items will be your most used. The rest? You may only need it once, (like a tool), but it will be a critical need.
What you have in your vehicle? Why? What have you learned about what to pack and what not to pack?
Is it okay to wear your pajamas in public? Larry Oldham, a "fat old white man" on my Facebook feed, posted this question, which was answered by predominantly other old fat white men and women. They all laughed as they judged anyone who would dare to wear their pajamas in public. They wrote, anyone who would wear their pajamas in public was probably someone who was "lazy, on welfare, or had a poor work ethic." Mind you, most of these critical self-righteous people were fat, retired, on social security, and not exactly exuding a fashion statement in their profile pictures.
It made me angry. I would say 3-5% of the people where I live, a rural area, wear pajamas to the grocery store. I know many of them. They have chronic pain, or other illnesses that make changing or wearing clothes painful. I wear leggings and t-shirts or tops because of my chronic pain at times. So, I get it. Some have lymphedema (extreme swelling) in their legs and normal pants aren't an option, and hot, heavy sweat pants aren't either.
I know parents who work the night shift, get up to take their kids to school, then swing by the grocery store to pick up supplies before going home and going back to bed. And they should change clothes why? A friend of mine with a bad sunburn wore her pajamas to the pharmacy to pick up burn lotion. The loose silk pajama bottoms were the only thing she could wear that didn't hurt her burn. It doesn't matter if there's a "legitimate" reason, or no reason for wearing your pajamas in public. If wearing pajamas, leggings, swim trunks etc. is just where you find comfort, then wear them. These judgmental people didn't stop to think about why someone might wear pajamas, or who died and made them the fashion police. Which brings me to the reason for this post.
Once many of us decide to try the van dwelling lifestyle, we are met with anger, shock, surprise, or efforts from friends and family to dissuade us from our choice. It's not "adult" or "responsible." It's not safe. It will embarrass them. There are so many reasons "they" give us, but I've noticed they're almost always about how they fear OUR choices will reflect upon them. Their "concerns" are usually nothing more than veiled reactions about how they think you should act, behave, or dress in order to make THEM look good. You don't need that. None of us do. They are not living your life, paying your bills, or accepting the consequences for the decisions they insist you make. So ignore them. Laugh at them. Point out that while you understand keeping up appearances for their friends is important to them, it's not important to you.
If you hesitate and change your mind about van dwelling or RVing because someone else is concerned about "What people will think," then you don't need that person in your life. They're crushing your dream to preserve theirs. They don't really understand you, or care about you. I understand someone saying, "Oh, I would be scared to do that, but you're so strong and confident I know you can pull it off. Send postcards!" That person is owning their fears and feelings while supporting yours. On the other hand, the person who says, "What?! What will I tell my friends?" doesn't give a rat's anus about you. They're thinking only of themselves.
I spent far too many miserable years trying to gain other people's approval for my choices before I realized I didn't need it, and that they didn't care about me. People who want to control what you drive, what you wear, what kind of job you do, and where you live are frightened, scared, easily manipulated people who are out to control and manipulate others. They are usually full of their own insecurities.
These are people who deep down see that you’re a good, admirable person, brave, and adventurous. You don’t deserve to be disrespected or attacked, and yet you are. Some of them don't know how to respond, so they react with negativity.
But their poor response to your dream is not of your doing, and it says more about the controller than it does your life choices. It may sound radical, but what the criticizer and controller wants is what you’ve got — an exciting life to look forward to. They may not want to live in a van, but they do want to do more with their life than they are. They can't face that fact, so they attack you. It goes back to how crabs in a bucket will act. The minute one crab is able to scramble up the side of the bucket and escape, the others will pull him back down to die with them.
Adult, or nearly adult children can be the best supporters you'll have, or your most vocal critic. Friends, most of whom are the same age and living comfortably with a husband or family, will be the same - supportive or critical. I've rarely met anyone who didn't have a strong reaction one way or the other to my decision to be a van dweller. What I've learned:
HOW TO ENJOY YOUR NEW LIFE
Being on the road can be the best thing you ever did, or the worst. It's up to you and how much effort you put into it, and well you can ignore the people who predict you'll hate it or fail. When I convinced my mother to travel to California the two of us slept in a Toyota Tercel, camping in the Redwoods of California, gambled in Las Vegas, and had a blast for a month. The rest of my life we hated each other, but that was one magical month out of 40 years together. There's just something about the road, and travel, that will do that for you.
In time, you'll be able to invite those same family members and friends to join you for a weekend, or a week. But for now, just put on your pajamas and wear them to the store. Consider it practice for being the free spirit you know is in you.
As a former police officer, gun owner, and safety advocate I can honestly say "Yes, it's dangerous for a single woman to live in her van. It's also dangerous to live in a house, an apartment, a condo, or a hotel. It is, in fact, dangerous to be a woman — period."
It's also very safe for a single woman to live in her van, house, apartment, condo, or hotel IF she knows how to take the right precautions, watch her surroundings, and make smart choices. The reality is, the world is not a safe place for anyone, male, female, young, old, or in the prime of your life. People get killed, raped (men too), attacked, mugged, and hurt every day. The right question to be asking yourself is not, "Is it safe?" but "How can I increase my odds of nothing bad happening to me?"
The more aware, informed, and educated you are about safety the more likely you are to be safe. I know for a fact I've eluded death by a serial killer, assault, and other attacks just because I was (1) aware of my surroundings (2) trusted my instincts (3) had strong boundaries in place (4) wasn't afraid to say no for fear of offending someone and (5) I had a dog (6) I had a gun and was trained in its use.
Do you need a dog or a gun? No. Having either or both can make you feel safer, and can save your life, but there's no guarantee it will — depending on the circumstances. That said, I'd rather have both than not have them. Many women don't like guns, others grew up them and are comfortable with them. There's no right or wrong, just differences of opinion. I'm not getting into the "guns kill" or gun rights arguments, so don't go there. This is not the place or time. Too many women and their children are alive today because they were armed, and that's the place I'm coming from.
Be aware of your surroundings. I once spent a summer fighting forest fires in Oregon. Several months after I returned to Tennessee one of the men I'd met on the fires was "in town" and asked to meet me for lunch. I did. We talked. He was charming, friendly, set off no alarms. After a quick lunch we left the restaurant and he asked me to sit in his car to chat a bit longer. I said okay, but as I opened the door I took a quick glance at the door — instinct, intuition, police training, I don't know. As he turned to head to get into the driver's side, I just heard a voice in my head telling to me look, so I did.
The window was up, and there was no window crank and no door handle. If I gotten in and closed that door, I'd never have been able to get out again. I looked at the back door. Same thing. This car's door handles weren't just broken. They'd been deliberately removed. I sat in the car, but didn't close the door. I left one leg out in case I needed to make a quick getaway. I didn't want him to know I'd seen the missing handles. After a couple more minutes of chit-chat I said, "I think I got a bad burger. My stomach is all upset - I'm sorry. I need to get to a bathroom now!" I then bolted out of the car and into the restaurant, where I stayed in the bathroom for 20-minutes - until I thought he was gone. I then asked the manager to walk out with me - which he did. The car was gone and I never saw/heard from the man again. The older me would have never gotten in the car at all, but I was still worried about offending people - even serial killers. Live and learn. I was lucky to have gotten that chance.
Being aware of your surroundings means pay attention to where you're walking, who's around you, if anyone is sitting in a parked car in a parking lot just sitting - maybe waiting for someone, but maybe not. Get off of your cell phone. Texting, talking, checking messages or whatever else should NEVER be done in public. Get in your car, lock the doors, then check your phone. Personally? I pull out of one lot and into another and then check.
Pay attention to where you park - even when going into a restaurant. I back into parking spaces so if I need to leave fast, I just have to pull straight out. Get in the habit of parking this way. When you have to back out you run the risk of not seeing someone behind you, and if you hit them then you've got other problems. If they're there deliberately waiting for you to pull out so they can be in your way - you have problems. Back into parking spaces, or pull through a place so you can pull out when leaving. It may mean a few extra steps, but do it. Avoid parking next to vans and trucks - yes, it's very easy to be pulled into one. Chances are they're just vans and trucks, but I try to avoid them.
You don't have to be paranoid about it, but pay attention to who is around you in stores, gas stations, etc. Never pull into a place where you're planning to spend the night and then get out and "organize" the car, or move stuff around etc. If you need to set up your bed, do so at a very public place, then get in and MOVE to another area entirely to park for the night. Once you park all you should have to do is put up your windshield block or get in the back and pull your curtains. If you're in a Walmart or other parking lot, make sure you look around before climbing in the back of your vehicle to see who is watching or around. Park under a street light. It will keep any light inside your vehicle from showing as passers by will only see the parking light. It may be harder to sleep unless you have blackout curtains, but it's worth the extra security. Don't hesitate to park close to the buildings either.
I've been followed by men in grocery stores, shoe stores, etc. and have stopped and confronted them and actually screamed for a manager when they wouldn't stop following me. I have no idea why they followed me, but they did. This was when I was living in an apartment! When that happens, take your time returning to your car, and get an escort. Most of these creeps will get bored or find someone else to harass after sitting around for 30 minutes.
Criminals were interviewed for a study on how they pick their victims. Without fail they all said they looked for soft targets, or "distracted" people who weren't paying attention to their surroundings, and had the body language of a victim.
"In the field of victimology, one of the central concepts is that of the "risk continuum"—there are degrees of risk for a type of crime based on your career, lifestyle, relationships, movements, and even personality, aspects of which are manifest in your behavior and demeanor. Some factors that make people potential victims are obvious—flashing wads of cash, wearing expensive jewelry, walking alone on back streets. Others are subtler, including posture, walking style, even the ability to read facial expressions." — Chuck Hustmyre, Jay Dixit in Psychology Today.
There are hundreds of books which go into much more detail about how to avoid the kind of looks, clothing, and actions that make you more vulnerable or at risk for an attack, so I won't cover it all here other than to say, be aware! For those of you who believe you have a right to walk down a dark alley in a bad section of town at 3 a.m. because, well, it's "your right," then go ahead. It's a bad decision, but it is your right. It being your "right" won't keep bad elements from attacking you. You have a "right" to park in the middle of nowhere, with no dog, no gun, and no one else around, but you assume the risk of being assaulted by those who really don't care about your rights. I know women who do it, and who have been assaulted, and I know women who did it with several other vehicles, and women - who were all armed to the teeth and drove off two pickup trucks of men looking for trouble - but not that much trouble. It's your right, but it's also your choice. Make the best choice even if it means your rights can't be expressed.
Now, about the other items. The year I was homeless I was only "bothered" twice. Once was a drunk/high homeless man who tried to carjack me in a Wyoming gas station while he was drunk/high. The other was a Denver security guard/wanna-be-a-cop but was a psychopath with an attitude and a uniform. The carjacker was on foot and tried to open my driver's side door while I was preparing to leave the gas station. He yanked on my door, which was locked (Safety tip number one. ALWAYS lock your door the instant you get in your vehicle. Always. It's got to become a habit. Learn it. Keep your doors locked while at gas stations especially. Leave your driver's door open in case you need to get in quickly, but then lock the door if you do.). My Rottweiler then came over me to hit the window snarling and barking - which caused him to stop, but not release the door. At that point I hit the gas and pulled away and kept on driving.
LOCK YOUR DOORS. NOT ALL THIEVES ARE HUMAN. (see video below)
The security guard was a jerk. You don't deal with jerks by being a jerk. You win by remaining calm, assertive, and focusing on not pissing them off. First and foremost they need to feel in control, so let them. It takes nothing away from you. While they're focusing on being badass, you focus on being cool, calm, collected so you can think clearly. Your goal is to get away from the situation, not to win a pissing contest. You may be able to be a jerk online, but in person, the rules and outcomes are very different. Cooperate with police. Be respectful (without sarcasm), and compliant and chances are very good you'll get to spend the night in your van/vehicle, not in a county lockup.
This guy guarded the building where I worked. He would pound on my van every night and demand I leave. He was a security guard, NOT a cop. He had no jurisdiction or right to arrest or detain me. I knew this. The first time he did this I just said "thank you," and left. The next time I parked in the lot I had my boss's phone number and had explained my delima, that with approaching snow storms I prefered to "camp" in the parking lot so as not to miss work. Impressed with my loyalty he agreed it was okay for me to park there, and relayed that to the building's security. However, the guard still pounded on the van at 3 a.m. and started barking. I said, "Hold on, let me make a call." I called my boss, who was NOT happy being rousted at 3 a.m., but was expecting it. He then called the head of security (who was home in bed at 3 a.m.) and long story short - the guard never bothered me again.
Trusted my instincts. Women have awesome instincts and intuition — when they learn to listen and heed what those instincts are telling them. You don't have to understand, or make sense of that intuition. You do need to trust it. If you do this all the time, it will get better, stronger, clearer, and second nature to you. My friends now think I'm psychic, but I'm really just hyper-vigilant, aware, and 100% trust my intuition.
Had strong boundaries in place. Never be afraid to put your needs first. When we give into the demands of others to do things we're not comfortable with, or simply don't want to do - but do anyway to "be liked," that's when we get into trouble. Be very clear at all times about how you feel about doing something. This is a part of intuition and of not being afraid to offend someone by doing something you don't want to do. If you live and travel alone long enough, this is a skill you WILL develop. In the meantime, start thinking about and writing down your boundaries. One of my boundaries is always locking my vehicle when I'm inside or outside of it. If I have to run across the road to the bathhouse at a campground to pee, I lock my car. Thieves can steal whatever they want in less than 30 seconds. Protect it. Lock it up. It may take more time to put things away when camping, or to lock and unlock a door, but it's less time than it will take to replace what you lose. Lock up your bike if you're not going to be right by it all the time you're outside. I've known people to go inside their RV to get a drink or use the bathroom and then come out and find their bike stolen. LOCK IT UP. Yes, it'd be nice not to have to do that, but do it. Most of the women in that group you're camping with are honest, but it only takes one who is not to lose your wallet, bike, flashlight, gear, or whatever because you left it lying around.
Boundaries can be policies you have in place about other people using your tools, borrowing money or gear, or coming into your rig or car. Don't be afraid to say "no," to someone insistent on filming or photographing you, or the inside of your vehicle for a "YouTube" video. It's too easy to film or photograph someone's interior and then study the photos/video later to see if there's anything worth stealing. Sorry to be so paranoid, but it happens. This can be really hard if you're at a rest stop or someplace public and the person seems "nice" and/or curious. You can't always tell if a person is a potential thief by their looks, clothing, age etc.
Wasn't afraid to say no for fear of offending someone. Learning to say "No," to things, people, and opportunities is the best defense you can have for protecting yourself. I strongly advise reading, How to Say No, by Pat Cheeks. It's okay to say "no" to anything or anyone who makes you uncomfortable. Other people's feelings are NOT your responsibility. Be civil, but if that doesn't work, be whatever you have to be. If you don't want to "come on over and have a beer," with the group camping next to you, just say, "No thanks." You don't owe them a reason. You don't have to say, "I'm sorry." (What would you be sorry for?) If you think you need a reason, say, "I've got other plans." What your plans are, are not their business. Don't feel like you have to justify yourself. Just smile and go inside your vehicle — especially if they get aggressive or demanding. Healthy, non-toxic people will not push or insist or get rude or more aggressive in insisting you do something you've already said "no," to.
I had a dog. Dogs are great protection no matter where you live. Dogs are the best protection you can have. They alert you to the presence of people and threats you'd never hear otherwise. Their bark and presence alone can frighten off criminals. Train them to growl or bark on command and they become even more valuable. Besides being excellent companions, they are a definite asset for anyone traveling or living alone.
I had a gun and was trained in its use, and was a cop at the time. I was traveling from TN to CO, not living in my van, but driving a Toyota pickup truck. I stopped in a truck stop outside Chicago about 2 a.m. and I went into the women's room to use the toilet. I heard some (3) women (who looked like transgender prostitutes) whispering about jumping me when I came out of the bathroom stall. I had a Glock 9mm gun and my badge on me. When I opened the stall door my holster was showing and so was my badge. I looked each one of them in the eye and just stood there. They suddenly felt a need to leave and did so quickly. I waited a few minutes before going back to my car, and didn't see them anywhere. I crawled in the back to sleep, but was awakened shortly after that by a man trying to break into the truck. My dog, an Australian Shepherd, was barking, growling and going nuts. I pulled out my gun and pointed it at the front of the truck - knowing I had to wait until the man broke in and was in the front seat before I could shoot him. Apparently the dog convinced him my truck wasn't a good target as there were people starting to look at him to see what was going on. The combination of dog and gun was a great deterrent — and yet I didn't have to unleash either of them. I was very, very glad I had them both. After he left so did I. Never stay in the spot or even the area after an event. Get as far away as fast as you can to avoid the person(s) coming back for a second try, or bringing reinforcements with them.
Your safety in a vehicle, or an apartment or house depends on a lot of things - experience being one, street smarts being another. But you can learn these skills quickly - especially if you like to read. I suggest The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence by Gavin DeBecker. Gavin's books have always been right on, practical, and easy to understand and filled with very real world advice. Becker draws on his extensive expertise to shatter the myth that most violent acts are random and unpredictable. Gavin knows what I know, that violence and the people who perpetuate it on others have very discernible motives and are preceded by clear warning signs. Gavin does a great job in explaining this using stories from his own life.
In the meantime, follow these tips:
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When my father died of brain cancer in 2006, I quit my job, bought a used van $750 and hit the road. He hadn't started traveling or living really until he got sick, and regretted it. I didn't want to regret not living. I was working seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day and for what? So I ditched it all for the van life. I'd lived for more than a year in a full-sized RV and loved it. A van wouldn't be that much different - or so I thought. Unfortunately, the van didn't look this "good" until after I found an apartment and had the space, time, and money to work on it. But once I had it outfitted, it was great!
The short story of my van life is in my TED Global Talk. What I thought would be full-timing turned out to be being homeless. If I'd had an RV I could have parked at Camping World, where I was working full-time, and been fine. But a ratty old van (not painted at the time), screamed "homeless" to my co-workers. That was odd since the business was all about selling stuff to people who lived in their vehicles. That just went to prove my point - that homelessness is about having money or not, and choices.
The van was old, and eventually threw a rod and was sold to the scrapyard for $400. I used that money to buy a $400 Saturn van. I fixed it up, but then sold it to buy a Dodge Caravan...and was almost finished converting it when it too, threw a rod after a mechanic forgot to fill the oil after changing the oil. My next car was a Plymouth Voyager. I'll post photos of it later. $900 (I paid too much). It's now a dream car, although not much to look at, it's a work in progress. But it runs, is dependable and fun to drive. I recently bought a 2000 Isuzu Rodeo. It's still at the mechanics getting brakes and new hubs etc. but for $800, it was a deal. My goal vehicle is a NEW Dodge Ram Van - the tall one you can stand up in, or not. I'd like for it to be diesel so I can put in a wood burning stove.
I've always (since I was 14 years old), loved to camp, hike, fish, explore and travel. I'm now 63 and still intent on getting back to a traveling lifestyle - van dwelling, camping etc. I'll stay at hotels from time-to-time, but I love the van life. It's not for everyone, but it's worth doing for at least 3-6 months just to know you can.
When you live in a van you become more independent, confident, and capable. You learn to do things you never thought you could do. You survive, and then you thrive. You let go of fear. Yes, you'll still be afraid, but it will be different. This website, blog, and advice is my way of giving back to those who have chosen to live in their vehicles, as well as those forced to live in their vehicles. I hope you find something here that inspires, or helps.
If there's something you'd like to know, or if you have a question, contact me or leave your comments in the comment section below.
VanDwellingWomen is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com and its partners. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. Thank you for supporting this site and helping me make it the best solo women's van dwelling site on the Internet!