My partner – Sam Salwei co-founder of YogaSlackers – and I traveled together in a 1988 Ford Festival (the Peace Love Car) for over 6 years. Now we live in a 1988 Mitsubishi Delica. Living in a micro car – now a micro van – for an extended length of time allowed us to learn a thing of two about turning any vehicle into a comfortable and utilitarian camper.
A few years ago, we realized we could use an adapted version of our micro vehicle nomad system to avoid depending on hotels or expensive travel vehicles. Instead of spending tons of money renting a camper, we rent a car and turn it into a temporary camper ourselves.
On this blog series we want to share with you our system to turn any vehicle into a camper. Each article will address the essentials to live and travel as a digital nomad: sleeping, cooking, working, and safety (this post). Our hope is that you can use this guide to turn a car rental into a camper or to turn your current vehicle into a weekend warrior’s haven.
A Complete Guide to Car Camping: Safety and Security Edition
Traveling both locally and internationally can at times let you wonder – how to keep stuff safe, while exploring? I bet that at one point or another we have all wonder about this. Particularly if you are traveling with valuable gear.
First let me clarify that in the 20 years I have been traveling the world, I have only lost gear to the hands of thieves once. Someone broke into our car while visiting a beach in Puerto Rico. Because I was home… I lowered my guard and lost most of my valuables in our 15 minute stop. Including the most precious item in my purse: 2 titanium spoons, my 5 Rps Nepalese rupee note and my purse! It was so annoying… particularly because I knew several ways to deter people from breaking into my car, and – if the still broke in – to reduce the chances of them taking valuables in a quick break in, grab and go.
I do believe that most places are safe and I try to live my life without allowing over worrying to creep in. But that doesn’t mean that every place is safe. It also doesn’t mean that I am always careless about my things and allow the universe to protect me. No. There are a few things I have incorporated into my daily and traveling life to decrease the chances of losing my gear in the hands of others. And most importantly to decrease my tendency to worry about it. Because the constant worrying and all the negative ‘what ifs’ can easily ruin any trip. Instead, having a safety protocol can help you lock your stuff and walk away with ease.
The thing is this. Everything listed here, has a downfall. Everything can be opened, cut, slashed and stolen, given enough time, the right gear and knowledge. Instead of thinking about security measures as complete security, think of them as deterrents. We often joke that many of our safety measures are just ways to help keep honest people honest. Since if someone really wants to take something… they’ll find a way to do it.
It was a little tough to figure how to organize this blog. Since security while traveling varies greatly base on owning or renting a vehicle. Instead of listing just the things we travel with, I decided to list our safety measurements based on lowest level of security to highest. You can decide which one is best for you.
Cover Things Up
This may sound simple. But quite often we look into people’s cars to see wallets, cellphones, backpacks. Remember, help keep honest people honest. Don’t allow easy temptations. Hide your stuff.
If you are covering things, actually make an effort to camouflage your stuff. Hang a towel, and make it look like it is drying. Toss a jacket over a computer, and make it seem like nothing is underneath it.
Take your time to say ‘nothing to see’ instead of ‘something valuable is hidden under this’.
Make a Mess
and cleaning up afterwards
This is by far one of our favorite security measures. Make a mess! Make your car look like no one wants to get in it. Sam used to place underwear in the dash – which I think is brilliant – as a way to deter people from getting into our car. A little bit of underwear here, a few pieces of trash there, can help people think twice about entering your car. You can always clean it up later.
The point is to make it look like nothing of value is inside. That was our number two secret while living in the Peace Love Car. First – most people didn’t think we lived there. Secondly, they got so distracted by the car, the stickers and the jalopines of the situation that they couldn’t see anything else. Our stuff was truly hidden in plain sight.
Lock Your Doors
all of them... including the trunk
Sounds silly right? But you may be used to living in a place where you don’t have to lock your doors. Get used to locking things up. Make it a habit so once you are 1 mile up the trail you don’t question if you locked the doors or not.
Hide a key and lock it!
Wherever we head into the mountains we leave our keys near or at our car. This way we are not worried about losing our keys while walking or adventuring… or in a worst case scenario – let’s say someone gets lost – they keys are still in the car and everyone in the party knows where to find them.
While using an old school hide a key provides some level of security, we think actually locking a key in place is a better choice. That way we don’t worry about someone seeing us place the key in it’s secret spot. Nowadays we keep a realtor’s combination lock attached to our Yakima Racks. This way we always have a key accessible. There’s no worry about locking ourselves out. The box has enough space for more than one key, when leaving, we add our second key to it.
While traveling abroad and renting a car, we use the same system. Some new cars now have proximity sensors. To work around this, we find a fence or post and add our lockbox to it. That way both our fancy key and the car are secured.
Talk to the Locals
We were once warned by the locals on an Island, that rental cars were a huge target. They said, do not lock your door AND always leave your windows completely down. This way local mischives would know that there’s nothing valuable inside, and they will be able to check for themselves without breaking a window. So… there’s that.
Talking to the people in the area is often the best way to know where is or isn’t safe to park. This was an extreme situation, and we have only encountered it once.
During this particular situation, we were tent camping at a public beach. Instead of leaving our stuff in the car or in the tent, we opted for packing everything in our Pacsafe Bag Protector. We don’t always love using these, because it does call attention to our bags. But we knew that we were in a place safe enough – that if someone saw another person trying to cut through them – they may have stopped them.
Walk the Extra Mile
In areas where we didn’t feel secure or had been warned about leaving our vehicle, we opted to talk to businesses or friends to let us park our vehicle on their property. Even if that meant adding extra time to our trip, walking or taking an additional bus to move from one place to another. People relate to these situations and are often quite happy to help.
Post a message on Facebook to your friends and in local groups. You may get the added benefit of connecting with some really cool people.
We travel nationally and internationally with a PacSafe Bag. Unfortunately the one we use is not being developed anymore, but any of their other safety bags would do. If we are leaving the car and our belongings are inside, we add them to the bag and then attach the bag to a hard surface. Often the trunk hinge or the connection for the seats.
While we may not be able to stop people from breaking a window to get in, at least we will stop them from taking any valuables with them. A photographer friend of mine keeps a Pelican Case locked and connected to the trunk of his vehicle. Another great way to prevent people that got into the vehicle from walking away with our valuables.
We prefer using bags instead of hard cases, because we can stuff the bags in different places, depending on the situation and what we are storing.
One of our favorite places to use PacSafe Bags is at the beach. Before going swimming or running, we attach it to a palm tree, a pole or any other stable surface. That way we can enjoy our activities without worrying about someone casually walking by and grabbing our stuff.
We also use these bags while staying in hotel rooms.
If we know we are going to be carrying boards, gear or bags outside the vehicle we pack Yakima’s RipCord. The Ripcord is a locking cargo strap.
They are super easy to use and lock with the same key as all of our Yakima products. This way if we have to strap something to the top of the car, we do so knowing that it is going to be secured and locked in place.
On a daily basis, while they are great for surfboards and other sports equipment, we use it more often to secure random items we purchased at the hardware store.
These are items to consider if you are turning your own vehicle into a camper. We don’t think rental car companies may appreciate your upgrades.
One overlander once pointed out to us – that often travelers suffer from smash and grab. Either a window gets broken or a wire is used to unlock the doors. All in an effort to get quick access to whatever is inside.
Hasp locks are designed to keep the doors shut. Discouraging those that don’t want to crawl through a broken window to access stuff.
Whenever possible, we prefer keyless systems. These combination padlocks are much more expensive that the key alternative. But we enjoy a life with limited keys. We have reduced our system to just two keys: one to turn the van on, one to access all our Yakima products. That’s it.
Due to their high price, we have been purchasing them one by one whenever they are on sale. We think they are totally worth it.
If you are turning your own vehicle into a camper, we would suggest adding a safety box into your design. Somewhere safe where you can keep your passport, extra cash or any other important items. If you are purchasing a safety box, consider acquiring a fire proof box. That way if you vehicle catches fire – that’s a think – you will not loos everything.
A safety box can be an actual safety box, or a hidden area to keep your belongings safe. Do think outside the box – pun intended. Don’t go for the obvious glove box, under the seat or visor. Get creative.
We choose to keep our valuables safely stored inside… – did you really think I was going to tell you? 😉
Add a removable steering wheel or quickly disconnect any vital part of your car system.
This is an easy way to deter people from stealing your vehicle. Again, these are simple ways to ‘throw thieves off their rhythm’ – (if you get this reference please let us know in the comments!). Add a little surprise here and there to have them slow down and reconsider their lives choices.
I enjoy how Ottolock explains the equipment required to keep your bike safe: as a function of time vs crime level. With that in mind, this is how we have reduced our fear of losing our bikes. Listed from low risk to highest risk.
Our first lock was the Yakima SKS cable. We gravitated towards this lock because we could use it in addition to our Yakima System and we had it available. We have one key to open all our boxes and also our bikes. However, after biking places and forgetting our key, we transitioned to a combination lock. We still use the Yakima SKS cable in our van to add extra security and complexity to our bike system.
If we are leaving the van somewhere and we fear about people seeing our bikes. We store the bikes inside the van. When we do so, we make sure we also lock them to a hard point in the van.
Ottolocks are simple to use, store neatly and look quite fun. They are super compact and lightweight. The type of lock that you won’t second guess taking with you and actually using it. They are meant to be used for short periods of time as a deterrent to theft.
They also come with a new hexband for added security.
In an effort for full transparency, we have not tested these locks. Mainly because we usually do not leave our bike parked outside for a long period of time. We are too paranoid to do that. But, if we were going to be using our bikes on the city for a while, we will probably purchase one of these U-Locks.
They seem light, compact and come in our brand colors: orange and blue. Although, we may also search for a combination lock. You know… to avoid… keys.
We love our bikes. This is the chain we use to protect them on a daily basis. Our bikes live outside our van. We carry them on a Yakima Dr Tray and Backswing. While the Dr Tray comes with a locking system, we added this chain to increase our peace of mind.
This chain is heavy. It is tough. It looks badass.
We don’t strap it around our chest while city riding but given the need, we may consider it. Because, it will just make us tougher riders.
Leave Your Gear Home
And even there someone may steal it.
Reality is that we cannot be 100% protected. Go outside, use your gear, have fun. Do insure your gear if possible! Add your gear to your home or renter’s insurance.
Pack as much as you can with you, and enjoy life.