Multiple people have asked in comments recently about safety while boondocking so I thought I’d write my thoughts about it here where everyone can see.
How safe is boondocking?
In short, I don’t think boondocking is any less safe than any other kind of camping. The lower population density out in the desert means fewer marks for criminals, and they’d have to drive farther to find them. Why drive miles down a dirt road just on the chance they could find someone worth stealing from when in a town they’re all but guaranteed to? Most RV related thefts and break-ins happen in RVs that have been in one place for a while, where the criminal can keep an eye on activity around the RV and judge when they’re least likely to be seen by anyone. In order to do that for a boondocker, the person would need to drive out to the boondock area several times, which brings me to my next point.
It’s harder to hide out in the desert. After a day or two you learn who else is camping near you by sight if not in person, it’s easier because there are fewer people to account for. A vehicle without a travel trailer or ATV is going to be more conspicuous coming into a BLM area than a neighborhood where people are constantly coming and going. People will notice. Experienced criminals don’t want to draw attention to themselves. They benefit the most from their crimes when no one notices what they’re up to. And it’s easier to remain anonymous in a city among a sea of people than in the boonies.
So where’s the danger?
I think the most likely chance for harm or theft in the boonies comes not from premeditated crime, but the random kind. A couple of guys get to drinking and decide to take a joyride and in their judgment-impaired state, see an RV out in the wilderness and dare each other to mess with it. If they were thinking clearly they would leave it alone, because the chances of their actions blowing up in their faces is higher than a professional would risk: someone might be in the RV with a gun, or the cops could get called and they’d end up arrested, but they won’t be thinking clearly until the alcohol wears off.
Knowing that random acts of violence could happen on the road can be scary, but the truth is these encounters could happen anywhere. In the grocery store parking lot, at a gas station, at your home before you started traveling. You’re no less safe now than you’ve been at any other point in your life, and the chances may actually be slimmer because again, you’re out in the middle of nowhere.
How to mitigate the risk
There are things you can do to protect yourself. If you carry a gun, look carefully into the gun laws in the states you’ll be traveling through because they aren’t universal and some permits don’t carry over. Mace (or hornet/bear spray) is also an option. If you do have one of these, make sure they’re within easy reach, none of them will do you any good tucked in a drawer or buried in the bottom of your purse. If your car has an alarm, park it close enough that you can hit the panic button from inside your RV and have it sound.
Some single women also like to leave the illusion of there being more than one person in camp, by putting out two chairs, or a big pair of men’s boots at the door. Whether you carry a gun or not you can put a pro-gun or hunting sticker on your vehicle. Dogs are also good protection, even a small one will make noise when someone gets close to the RV.
The #1 best thing you can do to stay safe
But as always, I use common sense as my biggest weapon. If a place doesn’t feel right, if it doesn’t look kept up or the people are behaving furtively, don’t stay. Be aware of your surroundings. If you’re towing, remain hooked up the first night just in case the vibe is off so you can leave in a hurry. Parking with at least one other RV in sight gives you another set of eyes to watch for trouble. Lock your doors at night, if you need to go out carry a big flashlight that can double as a weapon, or even your car keys can do serious harm if you hold the keys between your fingers while throwing a punch. If you have portable solar or a generator either bring them in when you leave or buy a thick chain and lock. Close the blinds when you leave so your stuff isn’t visible.
Yes, I do leave my Casita behind while boondocking and take the truck places, having that flexibility is one of the biggest reasons I opted for a truck and trailer instead of a small motorhome. If you’re worried about having your RV stolen while you’re gone you can put wheel locks on it, I have a hitch lock on mine being a trailer. Like putting a chain and lock on a generator, it won’t deter a serious thief with the right equipment, but it’ll stop the casual ones. Again, it’s just a matter of chance, and to me the chance is small enough to be worth the risk. I have an emergency fund and a plan in case the worst should happen and the Casita were to be stolen, and that does a lot to alleviate any worry I might feel.
- Solo RVer Safety – My original safety post from 2011
- Handling Fear – A lot of safety issues spring from fear
- Solo Full-time RVing On A Budget – My e-guide has a chapter devoted to RVing safety issues and answers