Safety On The Road
Text by Gale Straub
Banner photo by Jon Gaffney
I’ve had a number of women reach out to me looking for solo road travel advice. One of their biggest concerns? Safety. As one woman traveling with her boyfriend, I didn’t feel completely comfortable advising solely based on my own experiences. So I reached out to my Women on the Road for their advice. Knowledge in numbers.
Keep in mind, while many of the tips below may seem like common sense, that’s a relative term.
Solo roadtripper Megan Barrett said it well:
Being a woman, the first reaction that you’ll get when you tell people you’re traveling by yourself is usually one of worry and concern. A lot of people will question your judgement. What you need to remember is that if you have the skills and confidence to handle yourself in the environments you’re putting yourself in with a few other people, it is not a far stretch to handle these tasks and situations on your own. There is definitely a learning curve; you are at risk just by venturing out on your own. That is inevitable. What you need to do is make sure that you’re making things as safe as you can beyond that.
Don’t underestimate your intuition.
Every woman I questioned stated the importance of instincts. Rachel Goldfarb of Idle Theory Bus advised to “get in touch with your gut.” Assess every situation you’re in and put it through a series of judgment calls. It’s as simple as: “If you feel uneasy, move along” according to Alison Turner of Alison Travels. Sure, it can be bothersome to switch campsites in the middle of the night, but you gain peace of mind.
Be aware of your surroundings.
Hand in hand with your trusting your gut, be cognizant of your environment. Nikki Levy of Sprinter Van Diaries says you should do your research before you camp: “whether it’s talking to locals, reading about the area you’re planning on visiting or asking the police [or forest ranger].” You want to minimize surprises where you can.
Also, carry a map and know how to read it. It wasn’t until Rachel backpacked solo that she learned the importance of being able to orient herself, whether on the road or in the wilderness.
Check the weather. Kristen Blanton of Hello America aptly notes: “You don’t want to be in a slot canyon when it starts raining.” Nature can be just as dangerous as other people (if not more so).
Know your vehicle.
Sure, this may seem obvious, but a little basic knowledge of your vehicle goes a long way. Mimi Arnold, #DriveTheySaid, believes you should be able to change your tires, check oil levels, assess your brakes, and keep a spare tire at all times. Make sure your doors lock securely and be aware of your gas levels. Kristen is right to say that “you don’t want to be in Death Valley and run out of gas.” Knowing your vehicle will make you more confident to take on high mountain passes and expansive desert roads.
Carry the necessities (at all times).
Months of solo road travel taught Megan that she should always carry the following: water, food, headlamp, tools to make fire, and extra warm layers/insulation. While it may seem burdensome, it is well worth it if you find yourself stranded. Same goes for a well-stocked first aid kit.
Sure, it’s scary to think of wielding a weapon, but it’s smart to have protection on hand for worst-case scenarios. Kelly Shea of Vancrafted and Kristen recommend bear spray (intense mace), and I have a can as well. Other hand-held tools include a blow horn, small knives, hatchets and baseball bats. Vikki Glinskii of the RV Project even has a friend that owns a taser.
Let others know where you are.
There’s an appeal to going off the grid, but it’s best practice to let family and friends in on your location at least once a week. Let your parents know when you’ve arrived in a big city. If you are going to backpack in the wilderness, check in with a park ranger beforehand. Give him/her your contact information, rough intended route and when you’re expected to return.
Also, Vikki advises to take note of cell reception where you can. There are more “black holes” in the United States than you might expect.
Keep a low profile.
Where your gut tells you as such, do your best not to stick out. Don’t announce that you’re traveling alone or your next move. If you’re active on social media, use the #latergram. It’s best not to state where you’re at “real time” if you have a following, large or small.
If you have expensive camera equipment, laptops and the like, try not to keep it on display, urges Nikki. Also, if you have the freedom to do so, build a secret storage compartment into your van, truck, RV, etc.
Have a Plan B in your back pocket.
Mary Hall of Lucille and Found encourages you to have a plan for your “worst case” scenarios. This may seem abstract, but taking the time pre-trip to write down your fears and address potential solutions will pay off in the long term. “Worst case” is unique to your own traveling situation. Having a Plan B (C, D, E..) will make it easier when you go off course. In my own experience, nothing goes as planned.
Respect private property signs, even if no one is around.
Rachel is right to say: “in Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas, make sure to camp on public land; ranchers and rural dwellers want and deserve their privacy.” United States National Forest and BLM areas are great resources for free camping, but there are pockets of private land within them.
Most importantly –
Safety concerns shouldn’t hold you back if you want to travel solo. Be equipped and aware, but don’t let stress take away from your experiences. Kristen emphasizes: “People are good.”
Special Thanks to the Following Women on the Road for the compilation of this article:
Sara Moran, Sardine Taco; Mary Hall, Lucille & Found; Kristen Blanton, Hello America; Kelly Shea, Vancrafted; Megan Barrett, Gone Land Cruising, Alison Turner, Alison Travels; Rachel Goldfarb, Idle Theory Bus; Nikki Levy, Sprinter Van Diaries; Vikki Glinskii, The RV Project.
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