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RV Lifestyles: Staying Safe on Remote Campsites

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How to increase safety and security when overnighting at out-of-the-way campsites.

Considering several shocking occurrences in the Australian outback over recent years, it’s hardly surprising that many people are easily put off the idea of camping in remote areas because of what they see in the media. With crime seemingly on the increase, the comparative safety of ‘bricks and mortar’ becomes ever more comforting.

Right or wrong, this perception of potential danger out in the lonely places can be difficult to shake loose, particularly for anyone with limited outdoor experience. Realistically, then, is there anything we can do to make isolated campsites more user friendly -- at least from a security standpoint?

The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’, but before tackling the question in detail, perhaps we should make some attempt to regain our lost perspective.

Quite simply, crime and cities go together like fleas and dogs. That’s not to say there’s no threat at all in country areas, but the level of crime out there is way, way down on big-city rates. After all, as any seasoned crim knows, pickings in the bush are paltry compared with the unlimited ‘prospects’ of the big smoke. Result is, we’re a lot safer, by and large, the further we travel beyond suburbia.

Understandably, though, many travellers still prefer to stay within their ‘comfort zone’ by limiting their stopovers to tourist parks, campgrounds, or other ‘safe’ areas where like-minded company abounds. Despite the apparent wisdom of this approach, is that really all you want from your travels? Don’t you thereby place limits on your outdoor experiences, not to mention your overall enjoyment?

Some campers apparently believe so. In order to bolster family confidence, their strategy is to start out in tourist parks or commercial campgrounds, eventually move on to national and state park, then some time later, find a private Shangri-La somewhere further out.

Perhaps more importantly -- and regardless of where you camp -- your choice of outdoor lifestyle predetermines, to some degree, your inherent level of security. Sleeping in a tent, for example, rarely develops a sense of protection to equal that of a caravan; and even caravans, it might be argued, don’t offer the all-round safety of a motorhome. Obviously then, decisions regarding your outdoor accommodation may indirectly impact long-term enjoyment.

That being the case, a small to medium caravan, motorhome or campervan would seem a reasonable compromise amongst the camping trifecta of security, site accessibility, and outdoor lifestyle.

Indeed, the ‘hard-wall’ RV options have the additional advantage that external ‘interference’ would be instantly detected by the occupants, making intrusion during the night, for instance, highly improbable. Of course, extra safety is easily installed in the form of security screens on doors and windows, and additional internal padbolts.

Incidentally, evidence suggests a trend whereby travellers happily inscribe their names on an external wall of their RV. As welcoming as this might be, it could be unwise, given the possibility of ‘undesirables’ calling your name from outside, prompting you or the kids to open the door to somebody presumed to be a friend.

The same might be said for our natural inclination to help strangers along a backcountry roadside. Unfortunately, the old ‘help-each-other-out’ principle requires more careful consideration these days.

But getting back to the real issue: For travellers who eventually hope to move beyond the crowds and the costs of commercial parks and campgrounds, it comes down to how best to utilise out-of-the-way campsites where gut feel dictates that extra caution is warranted. And in most of those situations the number one rule is ‘Privacy = Security’. Generally speaking, anyway.

First, select a site far enough from nearby activity and passing traffic -- or well hidden by trees and bush -- so as not to invite unnecessary attention. Maybe it goes without saying, but anything within about five kilometers of a town or ten kilometers of a pub is best avoided.

Remember, too, that it’s a good idea to choose your overnight stopping place while there’s still an hour or so of daylight. Locate a spot well back from the highway, preferably along a sidetrack so your camp is not obvious to passing motorists.

Choosing a spot before dark also allows time to sus out the surrounding area (houses? farms? fences? alternative exit?) and take a good look around. Obvious signs of partying, reckless driving, or excessive pollution should prompt the decision to move on.

Yet another benefit of setting up in daylight is that cooking and other chores can be got out of the way early, meaning less need for lighting and stumbling about the site after sunset. Even so, it doesn’t hurt to keep one eye (and one ear) on passing traffic. Slowing or returning vehicles should get your antennae twitching.

Invariably, in these sorts of impromptu overnight camps, RV travellers choose to remain in ‘departure mode’. No awning, no camp chairs, no gear stored beneath the RV, no stabiliser jacks -- and generally facing toward the ‘exit’. Next day, if feeling more relaxed about the site, a longer stopover might be considered.

Once camp is set up and the sun goes down, the most obvious announcements of your presence are a campfire and various types of camp lighting. Keep in mind that if you can see passing headlights, it’s likely that your camplight and fire are visible to them. However, if your fire is small, set low in a trench away from the ‘highway side’ of your camp (screened by van or vehicle), all should be fine. For reassurance, walk out to the road and look back toward camp.

Similarly, try to minimise camp lighting, and keep RV curtains and blinds completely drawn. And although an effective flashlight is essential for bush travel, light beams flashing through trees is an instant giveaway.

Most commonly, though, traffic all but ceases come nightfall and you’ll have the area to yourself. In the unlikely event that someone does pull in, remain calm. Be friendly -- helpful if necessary -- but it’s best not to encourage them with invites to ‘share a beer by the fire’. More than likely, it will be just another Pilgrim seeking the security of fellow travellers.

Before retiring for the night, it’s wise to walk around your outfit to check the fire is out, the car locked, and no gear has been left lying about.

Assuming everything pans out and you settle in for a few days, chances are it will become necessary to drive to the nearest town for supplies. If so, leave the campsite looking like the occupants aren’t far away: camp chairs set up, coffee mugs on the table, some laundry hanging on a line. Of course the caravan should be locked, with curtains drawn, and anything of value secure inside or taken with you. It’s not a bad idea to leave a radio playing inside the van, either.

Not surprisingly, it’s during the night when nervous campers experience their greatest concerns. Fortunately, the best deterrents against would-be troublemakers are also the simplest: light and sound. As security professionals tell us, when intruders feel compromised, their knee-jerk reaction is to get out of there -- fast. Off down the road to find an easier target!

One way to achieve this is to rig up some form of lighting that can be switched on from your bed, and a 12-volt floodlight or two does the job. By the way, outside lighting is more useful (and your own movements less obvious) if internal lights remain switched off while you are peering out into the darkness.

In addition to outside lighting, you might consider some sort of noise making device. Compact personal alarms available from electronic shops (Dick Smith, Tandy) are inexpensive and effective. Mind you, it is embarrassing when you finally storm out of the RV, lights blazing, sirens wailing, to be confronted by a cheeky possum! Chances are that’s all it will ever be.

On the other hand, if you prefer to take campsite security even more seriously, here are a few more possibilities to consider:

Dogs: The best all-round security service a traveller can get, but they come at a cost in both money and upkeep. And many caravan parks -- plus all national parks -- don’t allow them.

Alarm indicator lights: Those tiny, flashing red lights, usually fitted inside a car to indicate there’s an alarm active (even if there isn’t) can be fitted anywhere 12-volt power is available. Make them just visible without being too obvious.

Strobe lights: The greatest value in a flashing blue strobe light is the universal recognition -- among good guys and bad -- that an intrusion has occurred. From that viewpoint these can be more effective than basic security lighting.

Timers: A light, randomly activated during the night by a 24 hour x 15 minute timer, may suggest that a restless camper resides within. Anyone watching your camp would become frustrated enough to seek easier spoils.

Alarms and sirens: Several types are available, variously activated by trip wires, infrared sensors or internal switches. They take a bit of setting up, are prone to accidental initiation, and are, generally speaking, gross over-kill. All the same, if that’s what it takes to put family fears to rest, visit those electronic stores again.

Communications: In outback areas, mobile phone networks are rarely within range, so for emergency communication consider a satellite phone or HF radio. For most campers, though, the $2000-plus price tags are difficult to justify. AM/SSB and UHF sets, although less expensive, rely on a trucker or farmer being within three or four kilometers. Nevertheless, from the outside, hearing the occupants put out a ‘distress call’ would be reason enough to move on.

Firearms: From a legal viewpoint -- and keeping individual firearm training and competence in mind -- this is definitely an issue for cautious, personal evaluation. Without doubt, any weapon in the hands of the inexperienced, or someone overtaken by panic, soon becomes more danger than protection. And should the weapon fall into the hands of the intruder, an extremely awkward scenario could be the outcome! Your call.

As mentioned earlier, human dangers in isolated areas are so rare as to be almost non-existent. But that said, it doesn’t hurt to be realistic. A healthy dose of controlled paranoia, backed up by thoughtful preparation, not only improves your level of safety, it also helps the family feel more at ease while enjoying real bush solitude.

This article may be copied, transmitted, shared or used in other media, but only on condition that his byline and the following information is included:

Bill Revill is an Australian freelance writer, fulltime RV traveller, and remote lifestyle expert. Further information is available from wrevill.iinet.net.au


© 2007 by W.V. Revill

Published - June 2011

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