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A Woman Traveling & Living Solo in a Van–Why?

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By: Brenda Curtiss of

Editors Note: The safety tips found here are common sense and apply to everybody, regardless of gender.

I am a 50-year young, God-loving divorced mom of one adult son. I have spent most of my life working far more hours than I should. I am very responsible and have always worked myself to the ultimate (& at times ridiculous) to build other people’s businesses… and I have been pretty successful at it!  At the same time, most of my life I have been a single parent, so though I made a decent income compared to many women in my shoes, living on one income and paying all the bills solo, I didn’t have anything extra for savings. Often I felt like I worked from can ‘til can’t, and the only thing that kept me going was the ongoing motivation to provide a good home and environment for my then “growing up” son.

I have gotten burnt out from time to time amidst the mad crazy pace of management and business life, but I’ve always ended back in the rat race due to the responsibilities and demands of being a single mom for the most part. Since my son is now grown and a man on his own, after my current corporate management “gig” is over (I plan to make that happen before my next birthday) I will then full-time and travel using my van as a home base while supporting myself primarily through my online businesses, occasional consulting and speaking engagements, and my true passion: writing.

How did I come to discover this free (& honest) nomadic gypsy spirit that lives inside of me?  First, I always have been drawn to small spaces inside, and wide open scenic vistas outside; love nature, love scenic beauty, love exploring, love uniqueness and discovery of all kinds. I loved every movie I saw with the actors living in a well kept RV or travel trailer… actually, although I don’t remember the names of the movies, those are the “clips” that live in my head: an older woman with a bird on her shoulder sitting at the table of the nice travel trailer she lived in since her husband died, she was happy and at peace though others didn’t understand her choices. Another movie I remember vividly was about 2 women who traveled the country heading to Canada (with breathtaking footage along the way). An unhappy waitress who joins them along the way has a very unique personalized (too pink and frilly for me but cool nevertheless) travel trailer that she just gives away without thought when she meets the “man of her dreams”. (What????? Don’t give that away!!! What was she thinking???) As long as I can remember I have been drawn to the gypsy life, from the travels to the ornate cozy gypsy wagons, travel trailers, and small RVs and campers to the biggest perk of all: Independence and Freedom to live life outside the “societal box.”

When my now adult son was from the ages of 7 to about 14, we often went camping in various places on many weekends. Not having much money for extras, we also vacationed as campers. Two of our most memorable vacations camping were at The Great Smoky Mountains NP in North Carolina & Tennessee and at the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

I guess where the casual weekend camper took on a whole different mode was in the whole pre-Y2K frenzy. I found my natural survival mentality becoming more and more immersed in the preparedness and survival aspect of it all. At that time I thought, “Hey whether Y2K brings on anything difficult or not, the bottom line is I am living week to week, what if something catastrophic happened in my life; how would I take care of my son?”  I was supposed to receive $100 a week in child support for many years but long story short (not worth writing or talking about) I never did. I pursued it for a while through the courts and child support agencies. But after their not securing anything worthwhile, the state agency wanted me to sign papers to pay for their costs in finding my ex “once again” to make him comply! I gave up! Things were very different back then with the courts and compliance. So I didn’t look to anyone else but myself (& God) to help me. I ended up buying a $1,000 travel trailer and fixing it up so that no matter what happened we would have a roof over our heads. I didn’t talk about it to people because I knew that if one didn’t follow the societal guidelines of a big home with a white picket fence or at least a nice apartment, people thought you were out of touch with reality! But when my son reached 16, we moved out of our nice luxury apartment into the 24 ft. travel trailer when they were enforcing a rent increase from $600 to $700 a month (which was pricey for South Carlina in ‘98).

I found there was a beautiful resort campground near the infamous Charleston gardens and historic antebellum homes on the outskirts of Charleston, South Carlina not too far from my job as a purchasing manager for a national high-tech manufacturing company. I spoke with my son (who was always very adaptable and always ready for a new adventure) about how much I could save. I took him to the beautiful resort campground with a large lake, White Ibis and Blue Heron nests right behind the area we would be parked in, and beautiful amenities all housed in cedar wood buildings. On top of all that we were only a couple miles from where the islands and swamp areas merged with the ocean and all of it in the up and coming area of town with trendy and new shopping areas and restaurants. We stayed there over a year. We thoroughly enjoyed it there and I was able to save enough money to fund much of his first year of college as a result of the reduced costs. After I moved backed to upstate South Carlina and to a new job we were in not so beautiful grounds and it wasn’t nearly the same experience, but still worked out fine for a time.

There were a lot of things I learned about myself between the Y2K revelations (and the time period thereafter) and moving from the beautiful grounds to not as nice facilities as I was saving monies for my son to go to college. I found that people were generally pretty enjoyable to get to know. I loved that everyone seemed to be on the same level when out in the camping world… whether doctor or janitor, people were people without the dictates that society normally labels people with. (That’s the way it should be everywhere in my opinion!) As far as the travel trailer, I adapted very well to the small space and made it homey and enjoyable just as I had prior to our apartment.

I remarried during my son’s last year of college and moved out west. Unfortunately, it became a bit of a nightmare. About  2 1/2 years ago I found myself in a crazy, dangerous situation and as a result left my now ex husband, and traveled back across the USA by myself in a ’97 Dodge Dakota with a truck camper. I literally left everything behind and was very short on money. That was right after “Katrina” so gas was high (about what it is now!) so I only stayed in a hotel one time in 3 months and stayed in camp sites about 5 days total. Most of the time I stayed overnight at Walmarts and Flying J’s and while still in the West at a few Casinos.  I always tried to park near other RVers so I wasn’t out there isolated. One time at one of the casinos there was a man picking up a vehicle for someone at the casino and saw me step out of the back of the camper and started flirting with me, soon followed by trying to talk me into he coming in to the camper with me to “visit.” He kept “nicely” trying to work his way into the camper. I finally got in a few words and told him “my husband” was due back any second, “no thanks” and went back in and shut the door. It was at night and I was going to go into the casino to use the restroom and maybe get a bite to eat. I decided not to take the walk to the casino with him out there. I was a little uncomfortable but the story about a husband to return any second seemed to do the trick.

I found everyone other than that man to be very kind and genuine to me and I never felt threatened other than him. I did feel scared a few times until I found everyone so kind to me. Even when there were more truckers around me than RVers, they seemed to be more protective of me than threatening in any way.  I do think that a woman traveling alone should make sure she is not isolated if at all possible for safety reasons. When I go full-timing I will be using my van instead of a camper or RV that is more conspicuous. Being in a van, I feel more comfortable to park in more areas as it is so unassuming as compared to a camper or RV. Even if I go out of the van I can use the driver side door to exit if I feel it necessary, so no one will know I am basically living in the van unless I feel comfortable enough with others for them to know.

A few safety targeted suggestions especially geared for women:

  1. If possible park near other campers/RVers/ travelers at campgrounds, Travel Centers (IE: Flying J’s), Walmart or Casinos. {Editors note: listen to your intuition/instincts! SomeWalmarts are in the bad part of town. If you have a “gut feeling” a place isn’t safe, listen to it and find another place!}
  2. Consider an inconspicuous (stealthy) rig/vehicle.  (I personall yprefer a van specifically for this reason.) {Editors note: vehicle you drive a remote starter/alarm system with a “panic button” is a very good idea. Just push a button on the key fob and the engine starts and the alarm goes off. That will end nearly every problem before it starts.}
  3. Once you locate your spot to park don’t go in and out of your rig any more than necessary.
  4. Don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself, especially when boondocking/dry camping. (i.e., if, like myself, you have magnetic business signs on a white van, remove them before you arrive to where you will park.) {Editors note: Also, arrive late (but not too late) to sleep, and leave early. The longer you are in one spot, the more noticeable you are.}
  5. Although we have free choices in life, some choices may speak what you don’t really mean to say. So be aware of your clothing. If you wear daisy duke shorts and a top exposing your naval and hips and/or a neckline cut “way down to there,”  you will most likely draw attention to yourself that is not safe for you!
  6. Be prepared for emergencies so you don’t have to unnecessarily exit @ night: Keep a portable “potty” of some kind in your rig. I have a non-flushable Reliance Hassock Toilet that uses disposable bags.
  7. If you have windows in the “living spaces” in your rig, as I do in my van, make sure to prepare your vehicle to reveal as little light as possible. (i.e.,  pply a dark tint to the back windows, additionally cover them with shades, etc.. Also, put some kind of divider between the front and back of your rig or put sunshades on the windshield and side front windows to keep anyone from being able to see into your living areas.
  8. Keep the noise level way down. If you watch TV or listen to music, use earphones.
  9. Stay aware of the sights & sounds around you. Know where you are parking and what’s near your parking site. Also, only use one side of your earphones so you can hear if someone comes near your vehicle. {Editors note: some vandwellers share their lives with dogs since their better senses provide more warning and a good bark might prevent a problem.}
  10. Have some kind of protection available. I am personally not one to carry a gun, so I have pepper spray handy just in case. Have you ever been sprayed by that stuff? OMG!!! It is definitelyeffective enough to buy you the time to get safely away if needed.  {Editors note: consider wasp spray as an alternative. It is cheap, easily available, legal, and throws a 20 foot spray. Anyone shot in the face with it at 20 foot probably will be unable to carry out a threat against you.}
  11. Keep a cell phone charged up, with service in range  and withinyour reach if at all possible.
  12. Most important of all: exude confidence (not arrogance) that you are where you are supposed to be and doing what you are supposed to be doing. If you give off fear and uncertainty, that will most likely concern others around you. However, if you smile and wave and give off confidence in who & where you are, that will go a very long way to keep you safe and alleviate suspicions of passers by.

I have now lived and traveled in several “portable and mobile” dwellings (travel trailer, pick-up camper and van) for various reasons, as well as enjoyed camping and the community that stems from campers, frugal travelers and RVers. I have always loved the freedom the portable lifestyle offers. For many years (since the pre Y2K days) I have been the member of RV, Camper Van & Boondocking online groups, browsed newsletters and own tons of related books. Now my spare time is filled with preparing to go back out there, but this time for an extended time period, maybe forever… who knows? From building businesses online to making preparations with the basic gear needed, including a few extras like a laptop with a long battery life & a cell phone with national coverage, to sprucing up my 97 GMC Safari Van to ready it for travel, and yes even finding cool products to live well along that venue… My eyes sparkle and a smile settles deep within as I get closer and closer to my life becoming more and more mobile/portable and less dependent on the normal bricks and mortar of society. I am preparing with anticipation to the soon coming day that I take my life full time on the road. By my 51st birthday you may pass me down the road, or maybe we will sit next to each other at a little mom and pop diner in a quirky little town…  or just maybe we will meet each other at a planned get together with others of like mind along the way! I look forward to it! See you along the way…

Blessings for your journeys,
Brenda Curtiss of


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