How I find overnight parkups as a solo female traveller
I like to have a good mix between wild camping and campsites.
Campsites means I can shower, clean my clothes, and hook up to electricity for a night of little luxuries that you take for granted when living in a house. Also, there does tend to be British travellers in campsites who understand the need for a beer and a moan about Brexit. The value of campsites can never be underestimated for a solo traveller.
Wild camping has meant I have seen and stayed in the most stunning places completely free, but as a woman travelling alone the risk is higher.
That is why I have some basic rules to help keep me safe. Here is how I find park ups as a woman travelling alone.
The app Park4night is my go-to park up finder. I don’t go to a destination without checking this app first for finding spots that are nearby where I want to go. I only choose spots that have photos and no less than 4* in reviews. I find the high ratings and images somewhat comforting.
I then copy the GPS coordinates and put them into Google Maps.
If I like the look of the park up I then put the spot into ‘My Selection’ list on the Park4night app so it is easy to find again.
2. Google Maps
I use Google Maps for everything, including a Sat Nav. Once I have found a spot on Park4night I put the GPS coordinates into google maps to get an accurate look at where the site is. I then change the layout to terrain so I can see exactly what the area looks like and what is nearby.
If I like the look of the site I then “star” it on the map so I can find it easily. You can use the features such as, save as ‘want to go’ or ‘star’ a place once you have signed into Google Maps.
3. Other Apps
I do occasionally use other apps or sites such as, Search For Sites which I’m starting to prefer over Park4Night, but it does tend to be geared towards large caravans. More recently in Spain, I use Furgo Perfectos, which a Spanish van lifer recommended as it includes service points too.
4. BritStops and French Passion
These two organisations link local businesses such as, pubs in Britain and vineyards in France, with travellers. You can stay on their sites for free for one night. There is an expectation that you explore and buy their produce but there is no obligation. I’ve stayed at quite a few BritStops and it is a mixed bag. Some are really nice, while others are just a pub on the side of a road, but they feel safe and that is what matters.
Big downside is there is no app for either organisation. They send you a book with all the locations in with maps that aren’t wonderfully accurate, so I find them a bit of a faff to use!
5. Drive around
I did this a lot in Scotland as it was so easy to wild camp. There was never a bad spot in Scotland. The risk is of course, that you can’t find a place. It grows dark. You’re still driving. You’re tired. You get stressed and the world feels like it is ending.
This happened to me twice in Scotland. I’m not up for a third time.
As a solo traveller, it is all on you - the driving, finding the water, navigating a foreign country, the decision making - everything. Why add finding a spot in the dark to the list?
Every couple of days I plan where I want to go and flag night spots with the above routine to keep the stress levels to a minimum.
6. Ask the locals
This is by far the best method as locals can guide you to some real hidden gems.
I also have several rules to help keep me safe when wild camping alone;
Trust your gut.
Always. Even when logic is telling you, ‘you’re being silly, it’s fine.’ Ignore it. Trust your gut. Move on.
2. No city or built up park ups.
Let’s face it, the one major thing a solo female traveller has to worry about is men. I’ve stayed a couple of times in towns and absolutely hated it. The risk of being broken into is higher. The risk of someone seeing you are travelling and staying in your van alone is higher. The risk is just higher. I much prefer park ups that are more remote but ideally, has a house or a village in sight so if anything does go wrong I am not far from help.
Saying that, I do accept built up parks ups as long as I am surrounded by other campervans or caravans. Safety in numbers and all that.
3. The ability to leave fast.
I always park facing my exit. If the park up doesn’t have space for quick manuovering I don’t stay.
4. No park ups with high foot traffic
Personally, I wouldn’t stay in a motorway aire for this very reason. There are too many people coming and going which makes for not only, a noisy night, but also an insecure, worrying night. I like park ups that are no through roads that cars only come down for a reason and I can hear coming.
5. Keeping keys in the same place
Whenever I’m inside the van the doors are locked. When I go to bed I keep the keys in the exact same place so if I need to move fast in the middle of the night I can grab them quickly and go.
6. Be stealthy
I have thick thermal blackout blinds that hide my lights. I don’t blare out music or watch TV loudly. I also tend not to leave the van after dark. This is a personal choice though. I just don’t like the dark!
Do whatever you have to do to feel safe and happy. Expect those needs to ebb and flow while you’re travelling. For example, last week I was feeling a bit lonely and vulnerable so I stayed in a lovely campsite for a week. Now, I’m back on the road wild camping. Listen to what you need and do it.
You don’t have to wild camp everywhere to be a ‘vanlifer.’
You don’t have be ‘brave’ all the time.
My main advice would be to have a little emergency fund stashed away so you can splash out on a campsite or hotel whenever you need to.
Be kind to yourself and stay safe.
What are your rules as a solo female traveller? I would love to hear them!