|Bertha and I boondocking on 17 Mile Drive in Pacific Grove, California in 2012.
Over the past 3 and a half years I have done a fair amount of vehicle traveling, to include 2 trips from Kentucky to California and back, 2 trips from Kentucky to Florida and numerous trips throughout the midwest! I’m happy to report that I have enjoyed safe travels during all these trips!
During most of my travels I boon-dock about 75% of the time. The other 25% of the time, I stay with friends or pay to spend the night at a campground or RV park. Many of my friends ask where “I stay” when on the road. I say boon-docking and then often need to explain what boon-docking is.
Many respond with, “I could never do that… just park somewhere and spend the night… aren’t you worried…” This response is probably common with many of my vehicle-dwelling blog readers who also boondock. I tell my friends that boon-docking can be safe and a lot of fun!
Just in case you’re a new reader, a quick web-search defines boon-docking as,
(boondock) A brushy rural area or location; To camp in a dry brushy location; To stay in a recreational vehicle in a remote location, without connections to water, power, or sewer services.
That definition looks pretty good to me but I would also add that,
(boondock) can also occur in an urban area on city streets or parking lots, where you over-night park or camp in your vehicle without fees,
The more I thought about boondocking, it got me thinking about what tips I would give someone preparing to go boondocking for their very first time, more specifically Urban Boon-Docking. So, I decided to compile a list of tips for travelers new to Urban Boondocking.
Below are a few of my Urban Boondocking Safety Tips:
-Be alert, use your instincts, use common sense.
Be aware of your surroundings, check around your vehicle before exiting. If a particular location doesn’t look or feel right, move to another spot! There are usually plenty of other boon docking spots!
-Avoid boondocking in high crime areas.
Most crimes occur at night and in close proximity to rest stops, gas stations, convenience stores and ATMs, avoid boondocking near these high crime areas.
-Avoid boondocking in high alcohol-sales areas.
Not all people who drink are drunks, but drunks are no fun to deal with late at night, when you are cozy in your vehicle, trying to get some sleep. I recommend avoiding parking near bars, alcohol package stores and other places where you may encounter lots of drunk people!
-Avoid parking in areas that have reduced visibility.
Avoid parking near dumpsters, wooded areas, construction equipment or anything else that may reduce your visibility. You want to be able to see people approaching your vehicle as far out as possible.
– Boondock in well illuminated spots.
Many vehicle dwellers try to find the best “hidden, out of the way” parking spot when Urban Boondocking. They think that if they can find a dark, out of the way spot, nobody will bother them.
I take the opposite approach, when I urban boondock. I try to find the best illuminated spot in plain view. I think if a resident sees a van circling a parking lot and then going to the back corner to park is considered more suspicious than just parking in plain view under a streetlight.
-Lock your vehicle at all times.
I recommend locking your vehicle at all times, even if you leave your vehicle for only a moment.
It doesn’t take a thief more than seconds to open your vehicle door and grab a few items. This includes locking your vehicle when you are fueling up.
-Do not open the door for anyone, unless you know who they are.
Do not open the door of your RV, just because someone knocks on the door! Make sure you can see who is knocking, if you can’t see them, ask them to move to an area where you can see them! Even if someone claims to be a police officer, don’t automatically open the door. There is nothing wrong with calling the local police dispatch to confirm that an officer is at your vehicle door!
-Keep all valuables out of view.
Store all your valuables out of sight! Thieves are opportunists, they are more likely to risk going to jail, breaking into a vehicle they know has valuables, than one they have no idea what’s inside!
-Keep your blinds shut at all times.
If a would-be thief can see into your vehicle, he will know that,
a) You are not in your vehicle and he is free to break-in, or
b) A woman is alone in her vehicle, and maybe in his eyes, an easy target!
Remember, out of sight, out of mind!
-Install a CO / Fire and LP detector.
Portable, battery operated carbon monoxide detector / fire detectors are inexpensive and easily installed on the wall of your van, truck bed or RV. I have a CO / Fire Detector installed in the camper shell of my Tacoma because I often sleep in the bed! Your life is certainly worth the $30 to $50 dollars a detector costs!
-Maintain a low profile.
Try not to bring unnecessary attention to you and your vehicle. If you park in a Walmart parking lot at 2 AM, and look like just another late night shopper, you probably won’t get a second look. But on the other hand, if you breakout the BBQ grill, lawn chairs and clothesline tied to a lamp-post, you will definitely get unwanted attention.
-Always be courteous.
The old saying that you can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar is true for boondocking too! It doesn’t matter if you interact with the police, shopping mall security or another patron, be friendly and courteous! That person just might return the favor!
-Have your keys in your hand and at the ready as you approach your vehicle.
When you approach your vehicle, have your keys at the ready. If you fumble around in a bag or purse looking for your vehicle keys, you give a criminal the opportunity to sneak up on you while you are distracted, looking for your keys.
-In parking structures, avoid stairwells.
If you decide to doondock in a Parking Structure, it’s safer to go up or down levels on the ramps and not in the stairwells. Stairwells at night are often high crime areas. On the ramp just remember to watch out for passing automobiles.
-Install a kill switch or vehicle alarm.
Homes with alarm systems have a much lower burglary rate, and since your vehicle is your “home,” think about installing an alarm or kill switch to prevent theft of your belongings or worse yet, theft of your vehicle!
-Strategically park your vehicle.
Park your vehicle in a direction that provides the most visibility on your doors, to include the van rear doors or truck tailgate. If the criminal has out of sight access to your doors, he can more easily break in! When I park my Bigfoot Truck Camper I always make sure the rear door is most visible to passers-by.
-Hide copies of important documents.
Thieves want to spend as little time as possible in your home / vehicle. They can’t steal what they can’t find, so hide copies of important documents like vehicle registration, insurance, etc…
-Record serial numbers of important electronic devices.
Record the serial numbers of important electronic devices like cameras, laptops, GPS units, etc… It may not prevent theft but it just may help you get stolen items back form the police if they are recovered.
-A few places I’ve had safe boondocking experiences.
24 hour big box store parking lots.
Medium sized, chain hotel parking lots, most are extremely well illuminated.
Church Parking Lots, ask first!
Police Department Parking Areas, or rather, close to police departments.
Costco / Sams Club, they often have free wifi accessible from the parking lots.
24 hour Fast Food parking lots, added bonus is inexpensive, tasty coffee in the morning!
I hope these tips help keep you safe during your next Urban Boondocking Experience!
Please comment below if you have other tips!