If you have a campervan, caravan, or motorhome, you know that one of the best parts of owning one is being able to pack up and go anywhere. But once you’re out on the road, there’s no telling what problems you and your vehicle could be faced with. Loss of phone service, theft of your belongings, a serious injury, or a breakdown could spell trouble if you’re not properly prepared.
How to stay safe while travelling in a campervan
Caravan vs campervan vs motorhome safety
Most of the safety tips on our list are applicable to campervans, motorhomes, and caravans alike. However, there's a feature of caravans that distinguish them from the others. Caravans need to be towed by another vehicle, while campervans and motorhomes don't, as they have engines.
The good thing about owning a caravan is that you can park it at the site and take the car to see some sights or get some food. However, there are some safety precautions we'd recommend taking when travelling with your caravan, especially when it comes to towing.
Driving while towing can be more stressful than regular driving, so you should allocate some extra time for rest stops. You also need to account for extra length when merging and may need to lower your speed to maintain control and prevent your caravan from swaying behind your vehicle.
Before heading off, ensure the weight of your caravan does not exceed your vehicle’s tow bar or maximum ball weight capacity. Make sure the coupling socket and ball match each other in size, and that they are correctly fastened. Likewise, ensure that the safety chains are correctly connected for safe towing.
Lock up your van before going to sleep
Just as you would in an apartment or house, lock all doors and windows before nodding off for the night. While peering eyes might not be much of an issue during the nighttime, if you park in a public area, or you’re around other campers, they may survey your campervan for any valuables they fancy during the day, and strike once the sun goes down.
To prevent prying eyes, we'd reccommend some blackout curtains. They might also help if you struggle with sleeping in your campervan, as they make it easy to sleep in almost complete darkness at any point during the day or night.
Hide your valuables
Your motorhome or campervan has the same function as a home. You use it to shower, eat, and sleep – the key difference is that it has wheels. You wouldn't leave your curtains open and your most valuable possessions in plain sight at home, so you should have the same mentality when it comes to your campervan.
Things like your wallet, keys, laptop, passport, or phone should be kept away from prying eyes, and locked away in a safe is one of the safest places you can store them. That way, if a stranger does happen to break in, they’d have a pretty hard time getting to your belongings.
We like the QQIMAX Security Case. It's sturdy, waterproof, compact, and easy to hide or tether to the furniture. If anyone does happen to break in, they wouldn't be able to just up and take it.
Turn your engine off
One of the most important things you should always remember is to ensure the engine is off before hitting the hay. If you don’t, it can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
This odourless, colourless gas is released by your vehicle, as well as any appliances you might own, like dryers, water heaters, gas stoves or ovens. It typically evaporates in the open air, but it can be detrimental if released in an enclosed area – like a parked car with its windows closed.
If you need to charge any devices, ensure you do so before falling asleep so you can call emergency services if you need to during the night.
Ensure optimal ventilation
As you shower, boil water for your morning coffee, and cook inside your van, there is a build-up of heat and water vapour. This can cause humidity, creating a thriving environment for mould, mildew, and dust mites. This can pose a major hazard, especially if you or any of your passengers have asthma.
Your campervan or caravan is much more compact compared to a home or apartment, so ventilation is extra important. Good ventilation can fight heat, humidity, and pollutants, reduce stuffiness, and combat odours.
We'd recommend opening all doors and windows, and think about installing a skylight or rotating roof vent for maximum ventilation.
Pay attention to your surroundings
Paying attention to your surroundings is a huge part of staying safe, even when you’re not travelling in your campervan. Get to know the people, animals, and things around you, and if something doesn't feel right, pack up and drive away.
When choosing a place to park, sometimes it's a good idea to pick a spot within the eyesight of other families or campers, especially if where you’re staying is off the beaten path. This can help ensure that if anything goes wrong there are people around to help you, as well as ensure your safety. Above all else, make sure the location is safe, secure, and adequately lit.
Before you arrive, know where you’re going to set up for the night. When you stay in a new area, or visit an Airbnb, you’d typically do your research before you book. What's the reputation of the place? What neighbourhoods are known for being safe? What areas should you avoid? What areas are typically populated with other occupants? The same goes for planning where you’ll be staying with your caravan or campervan.
Have an exit plan
If you’ve done all the right things and something goes awry, you may need to leave the vicinity quickly. This is why it's important to have an exit plan. For you, this could mean backing into your campsite so you can step on the gas and drive away quickly without having to reverse. It could also mean familiarising yourself with other campers around you so you can reach out if you need help in an emergency.
It can be useful to brush up on some basic self-defence classes in case you’re in an unexpected situation and need to outsmart an attacker. Especially if you’re a woman on a solo trip, you can be seen as an easy target, so its important you know how to protect yourself. You don’t need to be a Krav Maga master, but we recommend having the basics up your sleeve so you can quickly break free of an assailant's grip.
Krav Maga is an effective option for many people, as it's designed to build upon the body’s natural reactions to an attack. It's rooted in reflexes and instinct, not just strength, so learning a few core moves can prove to be helpful.
Plan for a breakdown
It's no fun when your car breaks down, but it can be even worse when your campervan breaks down, especially if you’re in an area with no phone service.
Before you leave for your trip, make sure your insurance policy includes roadside assistance. If you’re fortunate enough to break down in an area where you still have phone service, roadside assistance is the first port of call. Even knowing you’re covered in case something happens can help make your trip safer and alleviate potential anxiety.
We’d also recommend creating a breakdown kit with some essentials, in case you’re in an area with no signal. Having a spare tire, road flares, a portable air compressor, and jumper cables can help prevent a long wait or a sticky situation where you can't get anyone to help you out.
Use camping apps
Camping apps are great for scouting out potential camping locations and reducing the likelihood of nasty surprises. Here are a few of our favourites:
- Wikicamps: This app operates entirely offline, and downloads maps for you so you can see where you’re going even if you have no service. It uses crowdsourcing to find the best campgrounds, caravan parks, day stops, toilets and showers. Try the 2-week trial, then pay a one-time $7.99 fee with no ongoing subscriptions or payments.
- BOM weather app: The Bureau of Meteorology has been providing Aussies with accurate, up-to-date weather information for over a hundred years. With the weather app, you can see forecasts for up to a week ahead and plan or adjust your trip accordingly. If you’re on the road and a storm is imminent, you can see where it’s headed and decide if you need to change course.
- Emergency Plus: Created by the Australian Government, this app allows users to share their location with rescue crews in the event of an emergency.
Trust your gut
If the camping ground or area you’ve parked your van in looked decent online but now you've arrived and it doesn't feel safe, don't stay. It's always better to be safe than sorry, especially if you're visiting a remote area or there are little to no other campers occupying the site.
Don’t second guess your instincts – if something doesn't feel right, choose a different spot. That's the great thing about a campervan, if it doesn't feel right, you can drive away.
Abide by the legal rules of owning a campervan
Like all other motor vehicles on Australia’s roads, passengers of the campervan or motorhome must be strapped in while the vehicle is in motion. We know it might be tempting to sleep in the beds on board or relax over the tables, but despite popular belief, it’s actually illegal to do so.
It’s okay for the rider in the passenger seat to nod off, but if you have kids or anyone else riding in your campervan with you, they should be strapped in with the appropriate seatbelt or child restraint. In Australia, this means determining what the right restraint is based on your child’s age and size, as well as what state you live in.
In NSW, a rear-facing baby seat or forward-facing seat with a harness should be used for babies between 6 months and 4 years. For kids between 4 and 7 years old, they must use a forward-facing seat with a harness or a booster seat.
The driver’s and passenger’s seatbelts must have a three-point retractable seatbelt (like you see in most vehicles). If the van has a front middle seat, it should have at least a lap belt, or ideally a three-point retractable belt. Seats in the rear of the campervan should have lap belts at minimum, and seats facing sideways must have lap belts and not any other type.
Campervans allow you to travel all over the country and off the beaten path, allowing you to see sights you never thought you'd see. But with this versatility comes a greater emphasis on safety, as your home and vehicle become one. While travelling in a campervan is generally quite safe, we'd recommend always being aware of your surroundings, protecting your valuables, and leaving if something seems off.