In October 2019, I moved out of my apartment and into my Subaru Forester.
Over the past two years, I’ve spent months on cross-country road trips, hopped around national parks, and posted up in towns while working remotely.
It’s been an incredible way to explore the US with a ton of freedom, but safety is definitely my primary concern as a solo woman on the road.
Everyone’s experience is different, but here are some of the best safety tips I’ve learned along the way:
First and foremost, I always tell someone I trust where I’m going
No matter what, I always stay in close contact with friends and family and update them on my whereabouts. When I have cell service, I also share my location on my phone with close friends.
If I know I’ll be out of service, I’ll notify friends where I plan to camp and what time I plan to return to service. Then I text them updates whenever I can.
Carrying a satellite phone means I can contact my loved ones even without reception
A satellite phone is one of the best purchases I’ve made as a solo woman traveling on the road because it gives me two-way communication with friends and family when I don’t have cell reception. The phone can also send out my location at any time.
I can notify my contacts that I am safe and send them my coordinates, plus, I can check for weather updates.
If I were to activate the SOS feature, I could also message dispatch to contact emergency services and my emergency contacts.
I research the area I’m traveling to and look up its weather and recent news
Before heading out, I always check the latest updates for my next destination.
I check for road conditions and closures and rely on park websites for the most up-to-date info. I also look up the upcoming weather to avoid dangerous situations – driving over a 10,000-foot mountain pass in the middle of the night during a snowstorm wasn’t one of my favorite experiences.
I also research general information about where I am going. What wildlife should I look out for? If I’m visiting a city, are there problems with crime and break-ins? How far from basic services will I be?
Knowing all these details is comforting when visiting new places.
I download offline maps, especially when I’m in remote areas
The offline feature on the Google and Apple maps apps is very useful. I download maps of certain areas when I have service and heavily rely on them when I don’t.
Whether I get off route or I’m looking for a place to camp on public land, these offline maps help a lot.
I also carry paper maps for emergencies
I have a backup atlas of major cross-country routes in addition to state maps and park maps. These physical maps are useful in case my phone dies or I forget to download offline maps.
Accessing and understanding how to read maps is a very useful skill on the road. It helps me predict when I’ll travel through larger towns, where to look for a campsite, and if I’ll come across a park I didn’t know about on my route.
When I can, I choose campsites with good reviews that are near towns
I spend a lot of time “wild camping” on public land in national forests or on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Most often, these areas are free and offer the privacy of my own space.
Wild camping or primitive camping means there are no amenities. Some people seek out very remote wild-camping options, but I feel the safest camping at preestablished wild spots, which are still off of dirt roads but are usually easier to access and closer to towns.
I use camping apps to find suggested areas and read reviews. Then when I arrive, I scope out the area and the nearest town to make sure I feel safe.
Although I prefer wild camping now, established campgrounds felt safer when I first started living on the road. The amenities and check-in service are usually helpful, and there are typically plenty of spots surrounding national parks and other wilderness areas.
If I’m stuck in a bigger city overnight, I’m careful about where I park
I generally avoid car camping in cities because parking is complicated in congested areas. It’s much easier to stay at a friend’s place.
If I have to stay in a parking lot or along a street I try to be as stealthy as possible.
I don’t brush my teeth outside or give away hints that I’m sleeping in my car. I also park in well-lit spots and block out my windows.
I do my best to find and scope out a camp spot before it gets dark
Unless I am very familiar with an area, I always scope out a campsite before it’s dark.
Public land in national forests and BLM land gets pitch black when the sun goes down, so it helps when I can see where I’m staying. Daylight also makes it much easier to find good spots and navigate dirt roads filled with potholes.
After finding a spot, I drive around the area a bit to make sure I feel comfortable camping there before it’s dark.
When I park my car for the night, I keep it oriented so I can easily exit if needed
After I find a camp spot for the night, I always park my car in a direction that allows for an easy exit. If something or someone spooks me in the middle of the night, I want to easily hop in the driver’s seat and go.
I try to park in spots that allow me to leave in multiple directions so I don’t get blocked in. I also always orient my car so it’s facing toward the path, that way I can easily maneuver around trees, rocks, or stumps.
If it sounds like something is outside, I also sound my car’s alarm – I’ve had to do this to scare away a hungry bear circling my car.
It’s also important for me to be prepared to leave at a moment’s notice
There’s always a chance I’ll need to hop in the front seat and leave in the middle of the night, so I try to make that as easy as possible.
I sleep with my keys, glasses, and headlamp in arm’s reach, and keep my driver’s seat and the pedal area clear.
One thing I love about my Subaru is I can climb from my bed in the back right into the driver’s seat. For those who live in a truck with a cab-over or similar setup, I highly recommend constructing a way to get into the front seat without exiting the vehicle.
I keep some type of self-defense weapon near me when I can
In my younger years, I practiced two years of martial arts and remember some basic self-defense moves. Although it’s been a while, it’s comforting to know I have those skills if a sketchy situation were to arise.
I stay on top of car maintenance to try to avoid breaking down
The last thing I want is my car breaking down along the side of a highway at night or on a bumpy dirt road.
I have a basic understanding of car mechanics and frequently check my car over. I make sure the oil and fluid levels are in the proper range and regularly monitor my tire pressure.
I also bring my car in for routine maintenance checks to minimize the chance of something dangerous happening when I’m out on my own.
Having curtains in my car gives me extra privacy
Curtains are great for privacy.
At night, I don’t want people peeping through my windows. Even if someone assumes I’m sleeping in my car, they can’t tell for sure because they can’t see inside.
This is especially helpful if I’m sleeping in parking lots, along streets, or in crowded places.
I carry extra supplies and essentials wherever I go
When traveling into remote areas with limited services, I always pack enough water and food for a few days. This is important in case my car breaks down, a storm changes my plans, or I decide to spend an extra day somewhere.
I always carry at least one gallon of water per day for the number of days I plan to be out. If I don’t think I’ll have access to refill water, I’ll carry an extra gallon. I also carry a water filter.
I stock extra food that lasts a while, like beans, rice, pasta, and sauce, in case I end up stranded.
I also have a properly filled spare tire, extra coolant, and an extra quart of oil for my car.
My gas tank is always pretty full, especially if I’m heading to a remote area
Even if my gas tank is already half full, I always fill it up all the way if it looks like I’m heading to a remote area.
It’s so simple and it can help me avoid getting stuck in the middle of nowhere where I’d have to rely on others for help.
I never share too much personal information with people I meet along the way
I love meeting new folks on the road, but I avoid sharing too many details about my life with them.
I don’t mention that I’m traveling alone, and sometimes I’ll say I’m meeting up with friends. If asked about my trip, I stay vague and never say exactly where I’m going.
I also avoid posting on social media with location tags when I get to a new place. I don’t want random people to know exactly where I am.
I’ve had questionable people message me online asking to hang out because they recognized a location from a photo, so posting photos a few days late helps me avoid those potentially creepy situations.
If I ever get the slightest feeling that something might be off, I avoid the situation
Most of the time I feel very safe living this lifestyle but if anything ever feels strange, I trust my gut and change my plans.
Maybe it was an uncomfortable encounter at a shop in town or maybe the whole place gave me bad vibes. In these cases, I always have a plan B.
It’s annoying to find a new campsite, especially if it’s late in the day, but sometimes it’s the smartest decision.
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