The dark side of the ‘van life’ trend: From pepper spray by the bed to a park with an ‘escape route’ – solo female travellers reveal the lengths they go to to feel safe on the road
- The van life trend has taken off with more than 2.1 million trips taken in 2017
- Many couples travel but among the travellers are thousands of solo females
- Many have shared the lengths they go to in a bid to stay and feel safe on the road
- Tactics include keeping pepper spray by the bed and planning ‘escape routes’
Over the past few years a new wave of young solo ‘van life’ travellers have packed up their lives and hit the road to explore the country.
In 2017 alone more than 2.1 million trips were taken in Australia, with thousands of young women and couples sharing snaps of their adventures on social media.
And while it looks like a dream from the outside, life on the road for solo female travellers can be daunting and many of them have taken extreme precautions to ensure they stay and feel safe on their travels.
Aimee Chambers, 35, from Newcastle, New South Wales, has been an avid traveller for her entire life but it wasn’t until this year that she decided to travel full time.
Over the past few years a new wave of young solo ‘van life’ travellers have packed up their lives and hit the road to explore the country
In 2017 alone more than 2.1 million trips were taken, with thousands of young women and couples sharing snaps of their adventures on social media
‘I had the life, a corporate job, marriage, investment houses, all the material possessions I needed but I would find myself staring out of the office window wishing I was out there,’ she told FEMAIL.
‘But I was also stressed, depressed and not being true to myself. I bought my van Melvin, quit my corporate gig and started selling all of my possessions! I was hooked! This felt right.’
Ms Chambers, who is no longer with her husband, said goodbye to her friends and drove solo in ‘Melvin’ and is currently renovating her van. Her plan is to buy a bigger van with a high roof and get a dog too for ‘van life’.
‘My whole lifestyle has changed and instead of chasing a money driven career I am following my passion of helping others through yoga, meditation and a holistic lifestyle,’ she said.
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Aimee Chambers (pictured), 35, from Newcastle, New South Wales, has been an avid traveller for her entire life but it wasn’t until this year that she decided to travel full time
‘Each morning I take a look at the map and work out how far I’d like to drive that day (depending on how I’m feeling) and gauge how long it will take me,’ she said
Ms Chambers has a number of safety precautions in place to ensure she feels safe on her travels.
‘I regularly check my van when on the road: tyres, oil, coolant, gauges, stop at a petrol station if its a remote area and I ask for help if needed,’ she said.
‘I also have a full service before taking off on an extended trip and always take a look around the van before driving.
‘I keep a phone charger topped up and a map (on paper) just in case I can’t rely on my phone or there is no signal. I prefer to use paper maps so I can visualise where I’m heading and roughly how long the trip will take.’
Ms Chambers also draws her trips on the map so she can look back and see how far she’s come.
Ms Chambers (pictured) also keeps a whistle close by, a spare set of keys in a surf lock in case she locks herself out, extra water and food on board in case it’s a remote location
‘Each morning I take a look at the map and work out how far I’d like to drive that day (depending on how I’m feeling) and gauge how long it will take me,’ she said.
‘Then I might book a caravan park before I leave or contact a friend’s place so I have a destination to get to.
‘You don’t want to be driving at night and not know where you’re going to sleep. Safety is a big thing for me so I only drive what I can handle and make sure I have a safe place to sleep and food and water.’
She also keeps a whistle close by, a spare set of keys in a surf lock in case she locks herself out, extra water and food on board in case it’s a remote location.
Ms Chambers isn’t the only one taking precautions like this, with a number of other solo female travellers recently sharing the lengths they go to to stay safe.
What is Aimee’s advice for women who are travelling solo?
* There are some great Facebook pages and groups out there such as Vanlife Australia. It’s a whole new community being created out there of all ages, genders and situations.
* Consider whether you would like a fun project of setting your own van up or buying one already done. And what type of van? What is your budget? How many kms? Diesel or petrol? How many people will be sharing the van? Where are you going? 4wd or 2wd? How long are you traveling or living in it for and what storage space do you need? High roof/pop top/LWB?
* There are quite a few vans already set up for sale on Gumtree and Facebook. I bought mine from some backpackers who were leaving the country so it was a good deal. It already had a bed frame in it but I am currently in the renovation process of insulation, air vents and a fridge.
* You really learn that you don’t need much at all to live. Material possessions really don’t create long lasting happiness.
‘Always park with a clear escape route, don’t park totally alone and if you are unsure about the people camping nearby, leave,’ one woman said
‘Always park with a clear escape route, don’t park totally alone and if you are unsure about the people camping nearby, leave,’ one woman said.
‘Have your van ready to drive and nothing left outside. And of course lock the van. I’ve had someone reach in through a partly open window to rummage through my gear. Lastly if you are uncomfortable, even if you’re not sure why, move.’
Another woman said she always keeps the driver’s seat accessible from the back.
‘Close all windows and doors after dark, park in a different spot to sleep vs cooking/cleaning/relaxing, listen to your gut and keep a pocket knife/whatever defence you’ve got next to you while you sleep,’ she said.
‘If you’re feeling unsure, screenshot your location and send it to a family member or close friend and let them know where you’re staying and never tell other travellers your best spots even if they seem to be asking just so they can sleep there.’
‘If you’re feeling unsure, screenshot your location and send it to a family member or close friend and let them know where you’re staying and never tell other travellers your best spots,’ a woman (not pictured) wrote
Pictured is Elise Cook who known for her van travels on Instagram
She added: ‘Buy a cheap pair of used work boots from an op shop, rub them in some mud/dirt/grass and leave them at the side door.’
‘Unfortunately a lot more people respect a woman when a man is in the picture. It wouldn’t be easy for them to endanger a woman if a man was around so they rather leave them alone.’
Other women said that while they feel safe for the most part, there are simple tactics they employ without fail – just in case.
‘I always park facing the exit and close to it and make sure the front driver seat is always empty and accessible from the back so I can jump through and drive away even with the kids still in bed if I need to,’ one said.
Instagram star Elise Halina (pictured) regularly shares snaps of her glamorous ‘van life’ on her social media accounts
Others advised women to only post on social media once they have left a location
‘I keep my keys somewhere easy to grab so I can jump into the front seat and drive away and I always send someone a quick text to let them know where I’m sleeping that night,’ another added.
‘I also have a can of pepper spray that’s next to my bed just in case. Other than that I honestly think Australia is one of the safest places to travel solo, and it’s so easy to do so!’
Others advised women to only post on social media once they have left a location.
Ms Chambers says it’s a shame so many women feel as though they need to take these kinds of precautions while travelling but insists she will never let this hold her back.
‘Trust your instincts. Don’t put yourself in a bad situation but don’t be too cautious or fearful. Fear creates fear,’ Ms Chambers (pictured) said
‘I’m a big advocate for encouraging and uplifting women to be the best they can be and live life to the fullest,’ she said.
‘As women we somehow tell ourselves that we aren’t strong enough to do things or always need a man to fulfil some part. But there is a safety side to everything in life.
‘We do need to take precautions in day to day life, it’s always been like that unfortunately, but Australia is a lot safer compared to other countries, we are very fortunate here.
‘Trust your instincts. Don’t put yourself in a bad situation but don’t be too cautious or fearful. Fear creates fear.’
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