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If you’re a solo female traveler looking for some car camping safety tips, then this is the blog post for you. Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back from new experiences; just be prepared. So many people warned me about car camping alone, but I realized that most people who are fearful of something have never experienced it for themselves.
I never expect anything to go wrong during my travels, but I always like to be prepared just in case. When I started to organize my first cross-country car-camping road trip, I was concerned with my safety and researched “how to stay safe when car camping” for hours. I soon realized there is no one method to stay safe on the road but many methods to avoid unsafe situations, including being a smart traveler yourself.
Here are 13 car-camping safety tips that help me feel comfortable on the road and prepare me for almost anything when car camping solo.
Do your research before you arrive at an overnight spot
Once you know your route, it is good to research local city and state ordinances concerning car camping and overnight parking. Most states allow overnight parking at rest areas but impose a time limit. Other states like Colorado and Tennessee ban overnight parking at rest stops unless it is for emergencies and sometimes only with permits. In most cases, businesses and parks will post no overnight parking signs, but in some cases, asking local authorities to clarify the rules is a great idea to avoid a ticket or a knock on your window at night.
I use iOverlander and Freecampsites.net to find free places to sleep, with reviews from people who have slept there before. In addition, Walmart, Cracker Barrel, and Bass Pro Shops all welcome overnight parking unless the local ordinances say otherwise. Look for “No Overnight Parking” signs posted in the lots to know if you can stay overnight.
Travel centers such as Flying J and Loves are also great spots for overnight parking if traveling along interstates. They can be noisy, but they have 24-hour restrooms which come in clutch!
When in doubt, always call the facility first.
Here is a good article that dives deeper into overnight parking at rest stops.
Don’t Drive in the Dark
This may sound like a no-brainer, but I must say it; driving at night is dangerous! The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports you are 3x more likely to have a fatal accident at night versus the day. In addition, at night, a driver’s visibility is dimmed, meaning you are more likely to hit an animal, be hit by a drunk driver, or fall asleep at the wheel.
With cars zipping by, it’s never a good idea to pull over on the side of a highway, but if you find yourself in an emergency situation, your car breaks down, or you get a flat tire, you will have no choice but to pull over. Unfortunately, you will have to deal with the repairs in the dark and hope your roadside assistance or a local auto shop can service your car after hours, that is if you can not fix it yourself.
You should always avoid driving at night, but if you can’t avoid it, make sure you have a clean windshield and lights to avoid glare from approaching cars. Install new headlamps to illuminate the road for maximum distances and keep cabin lights low to avoid shrinking the pupils and disrupting night vision.
Here is a good article on Safe Night Driving from Car and Driver.
Number three on my list of car camping safety tips is always being aware of your surroundings. Watch your back. Don’t open your trunk if there are a lot of people around. Avoid getting out of your car where you are overnighting and make sure no one followed you to your overnight parking location. Have your bed set up and take care of your nighttime routine before you park, so you don’t have to get out of your car and alert any onlookers you are car camping solo.
Always be ready to leave if you feel unsure about an area you planned to sleep at, but be conscious of the time of day and avoid driving at night, if possible.
Share you location
This might feel intrusive but sharing your location with a trusted family or friend is another safety tip I live by. Yes, it is a little weird when my dad texts me to say, “You should go to (insert random location)” after I haven’t talked to him for weeks. I always think, how did he know I was here- oh yeah, he tracks my phone. I use an iPhone and share my location with him when I am car camping. My parents are never too excited about me traveling solo, which I totally get, so this is just one way to ease their minds and mine too. If something were to happen to me, I like the idea of my family knowing where I was last.
If you don’t have a black belt in karate, carrying mace, bear spray, or a taser is a good idea for car camping safety. You should always carry bear spray if you are car camping or hiking in bear country. Bears are known to break into cars searching for food, so make sure to store food securely away from your sleeping area. Also, keep the spray near you while you are sleeping, and ensure you know how to use it in an emergency.
Bear spray is not approved for use on humans or other animals. It is registered as a pesticide and may cause irrevisable damage to humans if sprayed directly in the eyes. While you may not care what happens to someone if they attack you, mace pepper spray is the “approved” defense spray meant for humans. This site sells a variety of mace and self-defense products geared toward females. I have a can of bear spray and a keychain mace dispenser that I have yet to use (which is a good thing), but at least the mace keychain makes locating my keys easy.
What about a gun? Many people ask if I carry a gun with me during solo car camping, and the answer is no, I don’t. Why? I am not traveling to high-crime areas, and guns don’t make me feel safe. Plus, you would have to do a lot of research to know if you can legally carry a firearm with you since gun laws vary from state to state.
Go with whatever safety tool makes you feel safe; make sure you know how to use any safety gear you bring with you and follow common sense and other safety measures to help prevent any dangerous situations while car camping.
You should always purchase a roadside assistance service, especially as a solo female traveler. Thankfully, breaking down on a car camping road trip is something that I have never experienced. Unfortunately, breaking down is the type of experience that may lead to a dangerous situation which is why I never car-camp in the US without an up-to-date AAA membership.
Although I’ve rarely used my member benefits, knowing I have it gives me so much peace of mind. Memberships vary from $59-$119 a year, but all come with emergency roadside assistance and towing. If something happened to my car, I would rather call AAA than push my luck searching for a local business or tow truck company. Solo female travelers are easy targets, and auto shops are known for price gouging. So it is always important to be prepared and have a reliable plan to avoid any sticky situations. It is more secure to go through a reputable company like AAA when car trouble strikes than try your luck elsewhere.
With that said, do not rely solely on AAA or other services. While I have had great experiences with their roadside assistance service, I’ve also been disappointed. I got a flat tire at 2 am and could not get ahold of them at their after-hours number. Luckily I was in a safe area and was able to call some friends to help me change my tire since the jack was broken and my spare tire was flat, but had I not been in an area where I knew someone, I would have had to wait all night until their regular business hours to get some assistance.
If this happens to you and you are not in a safe area, call the local Highway Patrol or Road Ranger Service for assistance. The emergency assistant numbers vary from state to state. Florida’s Road Ranger service can be reached at *347.
Always pack a Car Emergency Kit
A car emergency kit includes things like a flat tire kit, Fix-a-flat, duck tape, emergency food and water, headlamps, first aid kit, jumper cables, hand tools and more. If you are driving in potential blizzard weather, a cold weather car emergency kit should also include a foldable shovel, ice scraper and snow brush, hand warmers, sleeping bag and emergency blankets.
Always make sure to have a car emergency kit with you even for leisure drive around town. With any luck, you will never need it, but being prepared for the worst is always a good decision.
For increased car-camping safety, know a bit about your car and how it runs. Review the owner’s manual (and bring it with you) and know basic car care, such as how to jump a battery, change a tire, check tire pressure, and how to check your oil. Know what type of oil and gas your car needs to run and stay up to date on your oil changes.
Even with roadside assistance, knowing car basics is really helpful if you run into trouble on the road. You may save time and money if you diagnose your car’s troubles yourself. Breaking down on the side of the road is the last thing you want to happen when solo car camping but being prepared and knowing what to do are the most important things you can do for your safety.
Service your car
One more car-focused safety tip is to always keep up with servicing your car. Regular upkeep and maintenance will help avoid serious complications on the road and help your car last longer. Oil changes should be done every 10,000 miles if your car uses synthetic oil (earlier if not). Frequently check tire tread depth and replace if needed. Use RainX on your windshield and ensure wipers are functioning properly, along with all headlights and brake lights.
I have always maintained regular maintenance and am still driving my 2010 Hyundai Santa Fe with over 156,000 miles. I’ve spent an estimated $8,900 on car upkeep over the last 10 years. Many people say it’s time to get a new car at 100,000 miles, but I hope mine lasts another 100,000!
Fill up frequently
Keeping your gas tank at least 1/2 full is another helpful car camping safety tip I always try to stick to. You never know when you may want to take an unplanned detour or get stuck in traffic, and nothing is worse than sweating about running out of gas. Gas Buddy is a popular app that shows you where the cheapest gas is in a specific location; Google Maps also has a similar feature. I always use google maps for navigation, and then I “search along the route” for gas stations and select the one I want according to distance.
This car camping safety tip goes back to researching. Choosing a safe sleeping spot is very important on the road alone. Always park legally and never on the side of a highway. Only use pull-offs marked for overnight parking and avoid residential neighborhoods and city-owned land. Try to get to your overnight spot before dark to scope out the surroundings and leave yourself enough time to move locations if needed.
I love car camping in state and national parks because it is so dark and quiet, but when I drive long distances between destinations, I often stop at travel centers to park overnight. They are always noisy, but they are my go-to for “safe” overnight parking. Just make sure to call ahead and confirm the best area to park overnight for your type of vehicle.
If you have trouble sleeping while car camping, these tips for sleeping comfortably in your car may be just what you need.
Be Ready to Move Quickly
One of the luxuries of car camping is the ability to move quickly, which also adds to its safety appeal. It is essential always to be ready if something strange happens and you need to bolt. Always lock your doors, keep your car keys and defense spray nearby when you are sleeping, and park in an area with a clear exit; don’t block yourself in.
Don’t leave anything set up outside of your car, so if you do need to go, you can do so quickly and not have to waste time packing. Approaching voices or cars could be nothing, but if you feel uneasy, set off your car alarm to discourage anyone from coming too close.
Keep your car tidy
If you choose to sleep in your car and want to be safe, it’s best to use a vehicle that doesn’t draw too much attention. Avoid driving a messy, unkempt car. Keep your vehicle clean, and make sure your headlights, brake lights, and turn signals work. Don’t drive around with duct tape holding your car together. You should make sure your car has all of the necessary driving features in good working condition and get any car damage fixed that would deem it illegal to drive.
Different states have different laws regarding street-legal cars, but in general, driving with major bumper damage, missing mirrors, broken lights, or structural issues like hood damage is illegal across the U.S.
Keep your Electronics charged
Another helpful car camping safety tip is always to keep your electronics charged! This may be a no-brainer, but sometimes I still forget to plug my devices in. My car outlets charge so slowly that I now travel with a Jackery 300 on all of my car camping road trips. The Jackery charges all of my devices fast, and it is so compact for its power taking up very little space in my car. It is always a good idea to have a portable power source to ensure you have a charging method for emergencies, and it is especially wise to have one on cold weather days when batteries die twice as fast.
At the end of the day, sometimes bad things happen, no matter how prepared you are. One thing I have learned about travel is no one can predict your experience. Even in the “safest” of towns, something could go wrong; you never know, but don’t let that stop you from adventuring.
More often than not, solo female travelers have the best experiences and return with the most amazing memories. It is essential to be a smart traveler, use common sense, and all of these car camping safety tips to ensure your experience will be the best it can be.
I hope you enjoyed this article and feel more confident setting out on your first car camping experience! If you have any questions or more car-camping safety tips, please leave them in the comments below.
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