Saturday, March 8, 2014

Aren't You Scared?

Or, more specifically: Aren’t you afraid to spend the night alone in a parking lot?

Houston, TX 

As a solo traveler who happens also to be female, I get this question a lot.  My answer is No, not since I started doing it.   

But I understand the question because it’s the precise one I asked before I hit the road. Considering the sad reality of violent crime against women, we have to think about the dangers of spending the night in a vehicle in an unfamiliar parking lot in an unfamiliar place. 

My first Wal-Mart overnight in Layfayette, LA

Can you tell I was nervous?  I knocked on this neighbor's door to ask about the safety factor.  He assured me it was a safe area and I could let him know if I ran into trouble.  

In this post, I’d like to take a cold logical look at the issue of overnighting in a parking lot.
I know violent crime is a reality.  I’m not unaware, nor am I fearless.  I just play the odds. 

According to the FBI, there were over a million violent crimes reported in the U.S. in 2012.  That’s a lot.  But the numbers from the U.S. Department of Commerce (2009) tell us that there were over 10 million vehicle accidents in the U.S.  That’s a lot more. 

Consider, though, that the U.S. is home to about 318 million people (2010 U.S. Census). Do the math and you will see that the probability of being the target of an assault is pretty small.  Stay in a low-crime area and the risk drops further.  Much less than the risk of being involved in a vehicle accident.  But we confidently drive every day.  We play the odds.

And, frankly, if violence is going to occur, it’s as likely to happen at home as on the road.

Even more likely is a mechanical break-down.  In my experience, the fear of this occurring - especially in a remote location - is a common one for women traveling alone.   In the past 18 months, this has happened to me.  Three times.  One failed transmission, one bent rotor, and one flat tire.    

The transmission went out here, on one of the loneliest and remote stretches of road I've ever driven.  I had just left Devil's Tower National Monument in sparsely populated northeastern Wyoming.

But each time I received the help I needed from good people.  If you get stranded on the side of the road, call for help. If you can’t call, someone will come along who can.  Just keep the doors locked and stay inside.  And, for god’s sake, never leave home without a trusted roadside assistance plan!

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I have had an intruder.  One who crept into the van while I was sleeping in this Ft. Davis parking lot.  

                                       Eeeek!  A mouse in the house!  
           The next 48 hours were unpleasant for both of us.  I still have flashbacks.

So, back to blacktop boondocking.  Following is my patented overnight parking calculated risk appraisal in 3 easy steps.      

1.  As the numbers above indicate, it probably won’t happen. 

The media unceasingly creates an atmosphere of fear in order to sell airtime and newspapers. Crime reporting reminds me of  all those times as a kid when my older brother loved to jump out of the shadows just to see me startle.     

The Media

I’ve also learned that everyone, for some reason, automatically assumes you are part of a couple.  I get this a lot: Where are you guys from?  How long have y’all been on the road?  I consider this is a good thing.

2. If you are targeted by a sinister someone, never forget that you have the advantage.  

Most people imagine a scenario where someone breaks into your RV while you are sleeping. 

My reasoning: if someone decides to forcefully enter your home-on-wheels, it won’t go far.  First of all, don’t stay in isolated areas.  My overnight stops are well-lit, with plenty of witnesses around, often other RVers.

Deming, NM

If you don't have neighbors, sleep next to a security camera or two.  

The view out my window - St. Louis, MO

But, even with all that advantage, if someone still wants to get to you in your RV, he will make noise.  This will wake you up.

I always sleep with my cell phone and keys in the same place, within easy reach.  Hit the panic button on your key remote, then call 911.   If you don’t have a key alarm, use an air horn or anything else that makes a racket.  Shining a light in the intruder’s eyes is also effective.

3. If all else fails …. drive away from the trouble.

I hope this exploration of an emotional issue will help someone who really wants to travel but doesn’t because she fears for her safety. 


  1. I have to admit that I'm more afraid of breakdowns than intruders.

  2. Yes! To both you and Judy. I'm so glad to have a good cell phone plan and Coach Net roadside service. Besides, of all the many RVers I have known over the years I only know one personally who had a break-in and that was while the were out to dinner when parked at a service facility. I am just not able to see break-in as being a high risk thing.

  3. We were the victums of a break in of our RV. We parked in a secluded parking lot, on a sunny SUNDAY morning, with other people around when we left, in New Zealand. When we returned an hour or so later from taking a popular walk the window of our RV had been smashed. I had left my purse on the seat IN CLEAR VIEW. It was gone. This could happen anywhere. My fault that I left the tempting tourist purse visable, but it was a lesson to us and I never leave valuables visable in the car or the RV. We plug Craig's cell phone in at the front of the RV. I think I will start leaving my small GO Phone on my nightstand. I do keep a small quite deadly prybar in the drawer, but it might be hard to reach. I have put it out only once, when we were in an iffy feeling parking lot.

  4. gheez that posted quick...I wasn't finished lol! key remote alarm is the berries!

  5. Great post, good advice!! I don't travel alone but breakdowns are a major concern on the road.

  6. Loved the mouse in the house... me, I would have made him a pet! hahaha

  7. Breakdowns in the middle of nowhere are my biggest fear. It's silly since I have my kitchen, pottie and bed right there with me.

    I think there is also the fear of being out of control of things. I worry about bad guys a lot less than I used to.

    Great post, Kim, and one that can teach us all a bit about not letting fear keep us fron doing the things we love.

  8. Just popped over from rvsue -- speaking of fearless! Did 2 around-US road trips with partner in my minivan, in which he built a sleep platform. Never once had a scary incident. Walmarts were convenient, always several miles apart on all the main highways. McDonald's always nearby to use free wifi and clean up before the Walmart sleep. But challenge of Walmart is noisy late night truck deliveries, (stadium) bright overhead lights, loud parking lot sweeper machines, market baskets crashing around as collected. Also, some Walmarts have a tough clientele of teenagers that get into fights on the lot, and there was begging on the Walmart lot in Texarkana after a hurricane that was so sad to witness. So we preferred to find a middle class tract home neighborhood, pull in after the McDonald's nightly ritual. In a minivan, one hides in plain sight. Favorite spot was to park near the corner house on the side street so our van was alongside their backyard wall, instead of directly in front of somebody's front door. Nearby apt buildings were useful to be because nobody pays attention to strangers' cars. When parallel parked, our CA license plates were not visible front or back, and we never turned on a flashlight. Once, my partner left his shoes on the curb like slippers tucked under a bed!!! Down South, parking lots of assisted living complexes were good spots to stealth for the night. I'd rather sleep in my humble minvan than any motel I've ever stayed! Kim, your rig is so awesome that you must agreed twice-over!

  9. The only thing to fear is fear itself! The media does a bang-up job of promoting fear. Glad you recognize it for what it is.

  10. Get a big dog and check out my Self Defense and Personal Safety book on Amazon (by Leslie Bowman). My boxer/mastiff boy is a very tall, sleek, and powerful 100 pounds. He loves people once he knows them but is very protective if a stranger approaches. He lets me know if anyone is walking near the camper (like cutting across the campsite to get to the bathhouse for example) and heaven help anyone who wanted inside and managed to get past the dead-bolted door.
    Safe travels -

  11. Well-said.

    I'd also like to offer - for those of us who like it dark and quiet - that a bad guy is less likely to drive to the middle of nowhere on the off-chance that I'll be there. I mean, who has that kind of gas money to spare?

  12. As a fellow solo female traveler I love this post. As Good Luck Duck wrote: "WELL SAID." I get so many comments from men and women about how brave I am, etc. I tell people I use the same rules for traveling that I use at home . . . I don't walk alone at night, I stay in places that are well-lighted, etc. Once I'm in my rig I feel perfectly comfortable. And, I don't advertise that I'm traveling alone. However, as you say, I'm playing the odds. There's just too darn many people and places for it to be 'my turn' for something to happen right here, right now!
    Girl, keep on trucking'!!!!!


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