“Am I safe?” That is a question that I think every night that I am in the van. Am I in a good area? How am I parked in case I need to quickly leave? Could I get blocked in? What is my gut telling me? The fear of being a woman alone on the road is something that I get asked about a lot and something that is on my mind constantly.
Before I left on the trip I had multiple people express concerns about my safety. Would I be carrying a gun? What kind of defenses did I have? It was a scary moment, and I wasn’t even on the road yet. I also did not have my dog for the majority of my trip. When the trip started I wasn’t sure how it was going to look and if I was going to be backpacking or not able to take her on my adventures so I left her at home.
Once I started camping every night by myself in Alaska and the Yukon the reality of being a woman alone set in. More often that not I did not sleep soundly. Often waking up, tossing and turning, listening and analyzing for the tiniest noise. Every night I sleep with a can of bear spray and a knife my Dad bought me next to my bed. Additionally, I always keep my drivers seat open and the pathway to the seat clear. Just in case I need to make a quick exit.
What really gave me comfort (or at least strength in difficult moments) was the realization that if someone is breaking into my car, my home, without knowing that it’s just me in there they mean me serious harm. At that point I knew it would be a fight for my safety and potentially a greater consequence. I knew that if that happened I would fight with everything I had.
I’ve had some scary moments, where I woke up in the middle of the night and didn’t feel something was right so I moved on.
One night in particular I was in an abandoned campground by myself and an older gentleman came around selling wood. In a slow Canadian drawl he said “I see you got the campground all to yourself tonight.” I mentioned how odd I thought that was since it was still summer and people might come in later. It was a short interaction and I honestly didn’t think anything of it after he left. I went to bed early that night, sometimes it gets boring in these campgrounds and whenever I read I go to sleep quickly. Suddenly, at around 11:30 at night I awoke suddenly. Nothing woke me per say, but something just felt off. I felt scared and unsure of my campsite. I realized that my campsite was shaped like a funnel and someone could easily park in front of the entrance and block off my escape. I wasn’t sure if I was being rational or had just woken up and was unsure of my surroundings. But in that moment I realized that if I didn’t move because of some societal stereotype of me being ‘irrational’ I was doing a great disservice to myself.
And that’s the thing- if you don’t move because you think you are being silly, or irrational, or people might think poorly about you- those are the dumbest reasons to not take your safety seriously. So I moved, it was as easy as that. I felt like something was off. I got in my car and drove 20 minutes down the road to the next town and found a great campsite next to a trailhead.
So my advice to women and any solo traveler is this- listen, listen, listen, and then trust. If something is off it’s probably that way for a reason. Listen to your gut. Listen to your surroundings. Listen to your heart. And then trust your instincts.
Be aware of where you are camping. Is it an urban area? Can you easily get your home away from danger. What mechanisms do you have to protect yourself?
I’ve been very blessed in my trip. I haven’t had to many encounters that left me jaded or very afraid. But I have met fellow travelers who have shared some serious moments. When it comes to safety you can’t ever be to safe, or to aware.
Listen. Listen. Listen. Trust.