A couple weeks ago I was breakfasting in the quiet side lot of a truck stop during a rainshower, curled up in the back of my car eating my oatmeal and editing photos and in a serious zone.

Suddenly there was another head in my tiny-home with me, and a gravelly voice said, “Can I get in?”

I about jumped out of my skin.

It was literally the most terrifying moment of my journey thus far, simply because of the startle factor. It turned out that he didn’t want to get into my car; he just wanted me to close the door so that he could get into his car.

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Rumpelstiltskin, my guard-teddy

I blogged recently about the One Question I’m Asked Most Frequently as a Car-Dwelling Nomad…

Well, the second most common question that I’m asked as a car-dwelling nomad – tied sometimes with the first, depending on the day and who’s doing the asking – is whether I feel safe, and how I stay safe.

This is a valid question, as traveling alone as a 20-something girl naturally leaves one in a vulnerable position at times, and doing it while living out of a car increases that.

I don’t live in fear and I don’t think that what I’m doing is unsafe, but there are a few things I do as a car-dweller to keep it that way.

Street Smarts and Intuition

If doing it alone, car-dwelling (or van-dwelling) involves a lot of moments of relying on the kindness of strangers. This is a beautiful aspect of the lifestyle because it is amazing and inspiring to be surprised over and over again by the kindness of strangers, but it also necessitates a highly tuned sense of intuition. When I’m in small towns, it can be difficult to find a place to park for the night. So far, everytime I’ve been in this situation it has been late at night — so the streets mostly dead — but I’ve happened across men who have directed me to private, out-of-the-way, completely-hidden-from-patrolling-police spots (that also always happen to be quite beautiful!) When this happens, I’m very aware of the fact that I’m isolated and that they are the only person in the entire world who knows where I am for the night. Ultimately it comes down to trusting that stranger’s kindness, but there needs to also be a solid sense that the trust is not misplaced. If I ever had even the slightest question, I would keep driving. In general, I try to avoid isolation except for situations where no one would know I was there — residential streets with lots of other parked cars, truck stops, 24-hour parking lots (in the RV neighborhood,) etc are all good bets for a safe night’s sleep. Rest stops creep me out, so I never stop at them for any reason. 

Self-Defense Arsenal

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My “self-defense arsenal” 😉

Several people have suggested to me that I should have a handgun in my car, but I would never do this for two reasons… 1) because I am firmly anti-gun and 2) because I think it is important to consider the fact that anything you have for protection could be used against you (…at least if you’re my size. If I was a muscle-bound giant I might feel differently!) So my self-defense arsenal consists of an emergency whistle (mostly for the countless hours I spend alone on hiking trails,) a keychain-sized mace that goes everywhere with me, and a big thing of bear mace that is within easy reach every night.

Social Media Lag

My blog is typically a week or two (…or three) behind. My Instagram feed is more current, but still usually a day or two behind. This way it would be impossible for someone to track/locate me from social media.

Home Is Where You Park It

but I never park/sleep in the same place two nights in a row. Also, if I’m parked on a street during daylight hours doing anything in my car that would make it obvious to passerby that I’m living in it, I move to a new spot to sleep.

Other than being startled out of my trance at that truck stop, there has been no time during my car-dwelling journey where I’ve felt that my safety was in jeopardy. Honestly, as mentioned above I have been continually amazed at the unexpected kindness of strangers who go out of their way to help me or ensure that I am safe, whether it’s by directing me to a place to park for the night or lending me a phone charge so that I’m not walking through the streets of a big city at 2am with a dead phone.

It’s been my experience that the times in my life when I’ve been the most unsafe have been times when I should have been the most safe, not the other way around.

So if there are any other women out there who are dreaming of embarking on a journey to explore the world but are holding back out of safety concerns, I would say, get out there and do it! I made a decision several years ago to never not do anything because I would have to do it alone, and it was probably one of the best decisions I’ll ever make.