Outdoor adventurers, including RVers, are generally a friendly, helpful, outgoing bunch. Unfortunately, summer 2021 has cast a dark cloud over the outdoor industry and drawn attention to the dangers lurking at campgrounds or in the wilderness. Summer 2021 saw the high-profile murders of Gabby Petito and the unsolved double murder of Kylen Schulte, and her wife, Crystal Turner, in what should have been a beautiful and peaceful wilderness area.
But apart from these cases, there are many more people who vanish into the wilderness every year, including in the U.S. national parks. Sometimes there is foul play, and sometimes nature becomes inhospitable. Regardless of the cause, here are some strategies all RVers and outdoor enthusiasts can do to stay safer on the road.
- Carry personal safety equipment and know how to use it. There are several kinds of personal safety equipment RVers may choose to carry with them. Guns, pepper spray, and bear spray are popular choices for different situations. If it helps you sleep better at night or keeps you safer on the trails, go for it. Just be sure to be responsible and follow all local regulations when traveling or staying somewhere.
- Trust your gut. Before Kylen and Crystal were murdered, they reportedly told friends there was a “creepy guy” bothering them at their campsite. Unfortunately, their gut was probably right, and even planning to change campsites didn’t save them. Of course, the fault is not with the victims, but it serves as a grim reminder to all of us. If you get a bad vibe from somewhere you plan to camp, leaving is the safest course of action.
- Travel and hike with a partner. Traveling with a partner isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be safe, but it increases your odds of survival if something happens to one of you. If you twist your ankle out in the boonies, a friend could help you make it back to camp much more easily than you could on your own. Injury, illness, nature, and foul play can all be easier to take on with two people rather than only one.
- Monitor the weather. Even if you aren’t heading into the backcountry, keeping an eye on the weather when RVing can help you stay safer. Severe weather is a big deal. When you get caught in severe weather in an RV, it can be deadly. If you plan to travel somewhere where severe weather is likely (such as tornado alley), make a safety contingency plan as soon as you arrive. Where will you go if severe weather arises suddenly? How will you get out in the case of a wildfire? Where will your family reunite if needed?
- Have an emergency bag packed. When Joel and I spent last summer on the west coast, wildfires were constantly on our minds. If you travel to places where emergencies are likely, having a “go-bag” packed is a good idea. A change of clothes, food, water, medicine, pet supplies, etc. should all be ready to go, so you just have to grab them and run.
I also recommend having your toad filled with gas and ready to bug out at a moment’s notice. If you are given advance notice of an emergency like a hurricane or wildfire and are advised to evacuate, please heed those warnings. It could save your life.
- Keep someone informed of your travel plans. If you are planning a cross-country adventure or will be heading into the wilderness, tell someone where you are headed and when you will return. In a search and rescue situation, time is of the essence. If you find yourself in need of support, your contact person could save your life by reporting your absence to the relevant authorities as soon as possible.
- Take your time while driving. Another critical way RVers can stay safe is by taking the journey nice and easy. Driving more slowly and leaving plenty of space between you and the person in front of you gives you more time to react and avoid an accident.
Giving yourself lots of time to reach your destination is also a smart choice. If you find yourself getting tired because you’re trying to drive too far in a day, accidents become more likely. Know your limits and stick to them. Giving yourself plenty of time to reach a destination before an event also allows you to take a day off from driving if the weather gets bad.
- Keep on top of your safety equipment. Test your smoke detector and carbon monoxide detectors often. Every RVer should also have all the proper RV safety equipment and an emergency escape plan in case of fire.
- Lock up valuable items. I’m currently camping at a park where someone has their thousand-dollar e-bike unlocked a few sites over. While we are in a safe area, all it takes is one bad egg to walk off with your expensive gear.
I see RVers leave valuable items like grills, camp chairs (some of those are pricey!), e-bikes, and more outside all night and all day. Often while they leave for a day of sightseeing in the area. Many people even leave their travel trailers without any kind of lock to deter thieves. Most of the time, your stuff will be fine, but locking up valuables is never a bad idea.
- Take care of your body. There are also simple tips you can use to keep yourself safer and healthier while you are out RVing. Wearing sunscreen and insect repellent can protect you from the elements and potentially disease-carrying bugs. Staying hydrated and cool when the temperature rises can also keep you safer. These things are especially important for the young and the old.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Whether you are in a brand new place or somewhere, you go every single weekend, it is important to be aware of your surroundings. When walking around (especially at night), keep your head on a swivel for anything out of place. This doesn’t just go for watching out for bad people. Animals like rattlesnakes, bears, cougars, and the like can also pose real safety threats in many areas of the country. Staying vigilant will keep you safer while you RV.
- Lock your doors and windows at night or when you leave. Another no-brainer way to stay safe while you travel is to lock your RV. Changing the locks is also a good idea since there are only a handful of RV keys. That means someone else’s key could very well open your rig. Locking the deadbolt is one way to protect against this versus just locking the door latch.
RVing is a lot of fun and most of the time very safe. Don’t be afraid of living your life, but do be smart. It will make for the best experiences while mitigating the potential downsides. Stay safe out there, Cool RVers.