I have excellent intuition. Always have.
My intuition is not just about boyfriends or the best person to pick for a jury. It includes feelings about personal safety and security. I just know it when things aren’t “right.” I felt it years ago when I was being followed through a grocery store. I turned and screamed at the woman, and she scurried away. I knew it the night a man approached me in a parking lot as I was getting into my car after a long day of working at a restaurant. (That night ended with a black eye for me and a broken nose for him. Buy me a drink and I’ll tell you the story some time.)
Conversely, I also know when concern is unfounded. An Egyptian man approached me in the Khan El Khalili bazaar in Cairo and asked me to visit his glass shop. I followed him down alley after alley, emerging in a beautiful store where we sat and drank mint tea before I purchased some delicate perfume bottles.
At times in my life I have ignored or denied my intuition, only to discover later I was right the first time. Let’s not talk about the boyfriends. I have been pickpocketed twice – first on a crowded city bus, and the second time when I left my purse sitting on a barstool. Both times I felt something and was suspicious, which I dismissed as being silly. I was in my 20s and 30s then, and I would not make such mistakes again. There’s a “peaceful, easy feeling” (RIP, Glen Frey) you get when you settle into the late 40s and beyond, recognizing and celebrating your innate sensibilities.
That’s why I was so surprised when I became a worry-wart, frightened little lamb when I moved into Nellie! The pendulum of my intuition, usually constant and level and swaying slightly, swung far into the red zone.
It first hit me when I camped by the river in Greenwater, Washington, two months after moving into Nellie. Before that I stayed at friends’ houses or went to rallies with groups, so I was never truly alone. This time, I was all by my lonesome. The Greenwater RV park, questionable enough with tarps and electrical cords hanging through windows, was full, but the manager directed me to a remote area behind a closed and abandoned restaurant at the confluence of two rivers, adjacent to the highway. It was private. It was 20 bucks a night. It was very close to the cabin where my friends were having their annual Labor Day weekend party; the country lanes to the cabin were too narrow for Miss Nellie. The power to the restaurant had not been turned off, and the manager told me and I could run a power cord to a plug-in on the restaurant’s outdoor patio.
Before I agreed, I walked the entire property. There were no cigarette butts. There were no beer bottles or used condoms. There was no evidence of people camping there without permission. There was a house just across the river, within yelling and horn distance, and a general store I could see from my rig. If I parked Nellie just right behind the restaurant, no one would be able to see it from the highway and come visit out of curiosity. There was no cell service.
I took the spot, and I … Was … Scared … Shitless. The first two nights, I sat upright in my clothes on the sofa with Olive in my lap just in case anything happened.
I’m so glad I did not let my fear overtake me. It would have been a shame to miss out on that fabulous spot.
It was in Greenwater that I began developing my Plan for Unlikelihoods and Uneventualities. I won’t go into the details here. After all, this blog is for public consumption. But, I will say this: It took some time to settle into the rig and realize that, while she is not impenetrable, it would be work for someone to break into Nellie when I am in it (as long as I have properly locked the doors and windows).
PANIC AT THE CASINO
The fear pendulum swung hard again when I camped at The Tulalip Casino in Marysville, but I won’t call it unfounded; while I was there, two rigs were broken into. In one rig, the couple was out for the evening. In the other, the man did not lock his front door and woke to find a man standing over him, reaching for his wallet.
Hearing this news, I immediately ran to the closest store to buy battery-operated alarms for every window and a baseball bat. Since then I removed some of the alarms on windows that are too small to get through, even for Peter Dinklage. But, I love my baseball bat.
TWENTY TIPS FOR YOU FEARLESS GODDESSES
I have been on the road long enough now to feel more comfortable with the rig and my safety. I have spent the night at truck stops and Walmart parking lots. I boondocked in the desert alone. Here are my tips for solo travelers, especially women, for a more enjoyable camping experience, hopefully free from excessive worrying about safety. These tips are meant for boondocking, overnighting in commercial parking lots, or any other place you might feel less than snug.
1. Opening slides creates more windows to peer through or break into. In parking lots, even if others are opening their slides, I keep mine closed, especially the ones in the bedroom by my head. When you are away from the rig, retracting the slides will also limit access to certain drawers or cabinets, where valuables can be stowed.
2. Lock your doors and windows when you sleep. I don’t care if it’s 100 degrees outside. Run the jenny for air-conditioning if you have it and it is allowed. Program your ceiling vents to draw air in or out, depending on the situation. Use other fans. Just don’t leave your windows open or unlocked overnight. It isn’t safe. Period.
3. Close your shades and blinds at night. In the daytime, if a 6-foot tall person could look into a window of your rig while standing on the ground, keep that window’s shade drawn too. No one can discern who is in the vehicle if they cannot see into it.
4. Some people say to put a pair of men’s boots outside by the front door. I say that footwear is not going to deter someone who is intent upon doing you harm, and I don’t have room for someone else’s shoes.
5. If you have some form of self protection, whether that be a gun or a bat or a billy club, keep it in arm’s reach where you sleep at night. (For the gun people there are other safety considerations and laws, but I’m not going to go into that here, because I’m not a gun person. I do not have superior upper body strength to a man, and a gun could be wrested from me, used against me, and in other crimes.)
6. Keep the keys to the RV and your toad by the bed when you sleep. If you exit through an emergency window in your bedroom, you will have the keys to your toad. Key fobs with alarms on them might also be useful.
7. Keep your doorsteps retracted at night. It is more difficult to look in the door window or to break into it from the ground.
8. Your home is mobile. Your home has a horn. Some of us even have airhorns. Drive away if you must, even if you are plugged in or have your slides open. Worry about the monetary damage later. Honk that horn. Lay on it!
9. Consider getting a dog, especially one that likes to bark at strangers and door knocks.
10. If someone knocks on your door late at night, talk to them through the locked door. Don’t ask, “How can I help?” or “Is everything okay?” Just ask, “What do you want?” Do not open a door or window. If they truly need help, you can make a call for them. Don’t apologize for not being able to help further. End the encounter by saying something like, “There is nothing else I can do for you, so I’m calling the [police, ranger station, camp host, office, Wal Mart manager] to see if they can help.”
11. If you carry a gun, or if you are trying to bluff, don’t post NRA stickers or those “We Don’t Call 911” or “Premises Protected By Smith and Wesson” snarky signs. They just announce to the world that you have a gun on board for the taking. Read the forums on this issue if you don’t believe me. One day people post that it is their God-given right to have a gun in their RV, and the next day they’re posting again, lamenting that someone stole it. Shocker!
12. Stun guns are not legal in every state. Consider pepper spray or bear spray, but be aware of the laws in the states in which you are traveling on size, shipping, etc.
13. Consider joining groups with solo traveler chapters, like RVing Women. They are a great resource for tips, and you may not have to travel alone if you don’t want to!
14. Keep your basement bay doors locked at all times. Get in the habit of checking them when you leave the rig and when you get ready to drive down the road. Period.
15. Use Google Maps and Street View to virtually drive through an area before you arrive. Read campsite reviews, paying attention to the dates.
16. Check in with a friend. On the day I took a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, I phoned a friend and gave her specific details of my rig’s location and the time I would contact her at the end of the tour. I’m not suggesting that someone on this planet knows where you are specifically all the time. Many of us in this lifestyle want a little more freedom than that. But, if you are going into a situation where you feel unsure or where you could be hurt or injured, give your details and logistics to someone.
17. Keep your electronic devices charged and nearby.
18. When arriving for the night, scout out other campers and say hello. Ask them if they have already stayed there, and their experiences. Obviously use your discretion on whom to chat up!
19. If you see security guards patrolling the area, introduce yourself.
20. Relax and try to enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun, after all! Have a lot of faith in yourself, and at least a little in your fellow humans.