The morning had the crackling cool of early fall. As usual, my first instinct was to start a campfire, still my favorite way to cook breakfast while “roughin’ it.” True, we were staying in a four star campground, about as far away as rougin it got, but eggs on a hot griddle is a tradition that I seldom part with. I surveyed the scene as I descended the steps of the motorhome, waving to neighbors, inhaling deep breaths of an autumn day. But just where had the firewood gone? It wasn’t tucked underneath the vheicle where I had stored it for the night. A quick polling of the crew suggested no one had moved it or burned it up in some midnight ceremony I didn’t know about. It was gone, and I immediately suspected foul play.
The snickering of the two little kids across the road was about all I needed to hear to know it was them, an inside job – inside the campground that is. Ah well, what are you gonna do? I’d done worse back in the day, and if the two boys didn’t get such a perverse thrill out of their antics, I might have been peeved. Everyone onboard thought it was sort of cute, actually. I ponyed up the $5 for another stack of timber and resumed breakfast duty – with one eye always on the terrible twosome across the street. My first – and hopefully last – run in with “crime” while RVing. We should all be so lucky.
Truth be told, RVing is a fairly safe way to travel. Campgrounds don’t attract much of a notorious criminal element, and RVs usually don’t rank high among the richest scores for thieves and ner-do-wells. However, the fastest way to become a statistic of a criminal act – from stolen firewood to something much worse – is to think it can’t happen to you. So goes the first rule in avoiding crime: Accept that crime does indeed exist and that you are not immune.
Here’s some ways to help keep you safe.
For the most part, campgrounds are safe. You’re more likely to fall and skin a knee or stare down an angry chipmunk than run into trouble of a human kind. It’s not so much that security is an integral part of most campground operations (although fenced-in perimeters, security gates, cameras and 24-hour security are fairly common), but rather RVers aren’t likely to prey on one another – and criminal elements can find better and easier scores elsewhere. Frankly, it’s tough for outsiders to sneak around rows and rows of parked RVs looking for loot. But again, it pays to be careful.
Get in the habit of locking your rig everytime you depart. I know, the place looks so quaint and charming nothing could happen, right? Why take chances – it takes but a matter of seconds to lock up and dissuade the family of kleptomaniacs next door from rummaging through your CD collection. This RV lockdown should include securing exterior storage compartments and windows as well. Close blinds and shades to make “casing the joint” a tougher task. Another perk? Shades keep the sun off the fabrics, which reduces fading. Take cooking items, chairs, and anything you want to be there upon your routine inside the RV or tow vehicle when you’re off at the swimming hole. Set up a neighbor watch by getting to know the people next to you, who are more likely to look after someone they know than complete strangers.
Consider a few devices to protect your vehicle and valuables while you’re away. Although it won’t win you any friends when it goes off accidentally in the night, a vehicle alarm system is a useful defense when you’re away. Motion-detecting lights, also known as “scare lights,” should scatter would-be intruders (not to mention critters). Safes are fairly common options on higher-end RVs, serving as an ideal spot for jewelry and traveler’s checks. If you’re worried about RV theft, invest in a trailer hitch lock or more pricey Lojack-type recovery apparatus. Otherwise, a hungry looking dog might do you just as good. Personally, I like to travel with a Louisville Slugger – just in case.
The choice of the RV park itself is also important. Question management about security. Do they have nightly patrols? Is the park well lit? How hard is it for non-guests to come and go? Opt for a visible campsite in the heart of the park if safety is utmost on your mind. Travel the grounds in pairs and stay in lighted areas. RV parks in urban settings may be more prone to crime than the Ma and Pa campground tucked away in the boonies. But don’t let that be an excuse for letting your guard down.
You’re always taking a risk when camping in parts unknown. Whether it’s catching a few Zzzz’s in a rest stop or camped in a forest grove, boondocking lacks the security and predictability of an established campground. Yes, we all have our reasons for doing it, so we’ll shelf the discussion of whether or not this practice is a good idea. However, it does require a more zealous approach to safeguarding your well being.
If it’s a quick power nap you seek, always favor busier locales, such as travel plazas, truck stops, or active parking lots. True, it may be harder to sleep in areas with greater commotion, but the traffic, bright lights, and steady activity reduces your chances of becoming a potential target. Pulling off to the side of the road, a vacated rest stop, or that cozy-looking enclave in the forest up your risks substantially.
Of course, you know you should always get permission when camping off the beaten path, whether it be a Wal-Mart parking lot or on a deserted beach. Beyond that, my recommendation is never open the door unless there’s someone wearing a badge on the other side. Pull the shades, lock the rig up tight, and try to stay within earshot of civilization. Your faithful rottweiler certainly earns her keep on dark nights when you’re far off the beaten path. Your trusty beagle? Well, not so much.
Every city has its bad parts of town. Avoid these. Lose that wide-eyed touristy look and stay alert to your surroundings. Don’t flash the cash or valuables, which only put a bullseye on your head for would-be thieves. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are the way to go when on the road.
Vehicle trouble can lead to all sorts of problems. God has a wicked sense of humor for those who travel without roadside assistance or at least a good cell phone with a comprehensive service plan to boot. Get both if you don’t have them. Remember the saying, “The best offense is a good defense?” Well, it works here too. The best way to circumvent a night stranded on the side of the road – leaving you and your family vulnerable - is to keep your RV in peak working condition, inspect it regularly, keep gas tanks full, and call for back-up (again, cell phone and roadside assistance) early and often. Stay inside until help arrives.
Travel long enough and you’re bound to tangle with an irritable driver. They don’t call it road rage because it’s pleasant, and unfortunately these people do exist. The best response is not to get into this situation in the first place. Some folks feel that your tailgating, erratic maneuvers, and aggressive driving merits a response (or vice versa), which is how these things usually get started. Diffuse the situation by letting ornery drivers pass; don’t respond and escalate matters. It’s not worth it. If the problem persists, notify the police on your cell phone (you did get one, right?). Get the license plates and help remove this pest from the roadways.
You’re off having a wonderful time. Your home, however, sits idle as a potential target. The old tips for protecting the homefront are still the best. Make the residence appear lived in by entrusting someone to pick up mail and the daily newspaper. Get them to feed your iguana while you’re at it. Lights on timers will give the home a lived-in look. Leave the car in the driveway instead of the garage, which suggests a presence. Enlist the help of neighbors to keep an eye on things, and be sure to reward them with a souvenir from the trip. Pulling all the shades sends a message that the place is boarded up. I believe a better idea is to close the obvious ones, which prevents peering eyes. Lock all doors and windows, and don’t forget about securing the family vehicle, garage, and shed. You might want to call the police and ask if they could pay special attention to your residence on their patrol. Don’t expect a 24-hour security detail, but another set of eyes is always warranted.
Scared? Never leaving your house again? Going to only travel with a SWAT team from now on? Nonsense. The RV life is pretty safe, assuming you don’t tempt fate. It only takes a little extra time and a few extra brain cells to protect you and your valuables from harm, and I’m sure some of these things you’re probably already used to doing anyway. Keep it up, and stay safe.