Being on the road as a solo woman can be the best, most challenging experience of your entire life. It has changed me in ways that I never thought possible and forced me to discover who I really am at my core. There have been so many days that were excruciatingly difficult but I’ve never even considered giving up. As women, we have to choose to be strong, independent, capable, and not allow society to intimidate us into staying home. We can travel too. We can travel everywhere and we can do it all alone. These are the things that I have learned on the road as a solo female and the tips I want you to know in order for you to feel as prepared as possible.
THE VAN BUILD
A lot of people assume if you’re a woman doing van life alone that there’s no way you can build out your own van.. now obviously that’s not true. There is a reality that it’s much more difficult to build an entire tiny home by yourself but you CAN absolutely do it. I have seen many women do it and there is no reason you can’t as well.
If you plan on doing most the work yourself, what you need to keep in mind is:
There are a lot of tools out there to help you with the building process so you don’t feel alone. This Sprinter conversion book is a good example. It’s a walk through on the majority of a build. I have a van dimension guide with all my measurements in it. Watch Youtube videos where they visually show you how to do something you’re struggling to get done. Ask for help from people on social media who you see have what you’re looking for. Don’t be scared to message a few people asking the same questions so you can get different takes one it.
Head over to my resource page if you would like specific Youtube channels, books, & guides on van builds.
For both of my builds, I chose to have builders do that they do best while I work full- time on things I do best in order to pay for them. I truly do believe any woman is capable of building a van but I know my skill levels and even my best wouldn’t be great. My van is my home; your van will be your home. Don’t let your ego convince you that you HAVE to build your own van.
When it comes to negotiating with builders, be very firm in what you want. I love and adore my builders but there were still several times they said “we can’t do that”. I pushed them and told them certain things were a must- have and I can’t take no for an answer. This lead to them pushing themselves and learning to do things they hadn’t done before.. and me getting the van I really wanted. Make a list of things you know you want and find builders who are able to give that to you. Like I said, this is YOUR home. All of my van details and everything I used can be found here.
FIRST 30 DAYS
The first 30 days are the best and most difficult all at the same time. You will feel so grateful to be done with the build, so excited for your new adventure, and so confused about how to navigate certain things. You’ll be sleeping overnight in parking lots for the first time, wondering if this dirt road is too rough for your van, and trying to find anyone else driving in a similar van to meet and make friends.
My biggest advice for the first 30-60 days as a solo female in a van:
Okay, this is the big question for most women on the road. “Do you feel safe in Walmart parking lots?” YES, ABSOLUTELY, 100%. Because I’m smart, aware, and I use my head. If you get somewhere that doesn’t feel safe, leave. Park so that you can pull forward or back. Nobody can block you in. Sleep next to your keys and a pocket knife (at least). Triple check before going to bed that your windows are rolled up and the car is locked. Park near other vans or RVs which are usually in every parking lot you’ll be in. Use various apps to read reviews from other people who parked there. Here is a full overnight parking blog post where I go through every last detail.
This is my favorite way of traveling and highly preferred over parking lots. I stay on BLM 99% of the time and only park in lots when I have to. Movies and media have told us that there are serial killers lurking at every campsite but there is nowhere that I feel safer than in the middle of nowhere. You should always stay in places where you have cell signal if that’s more comfortable for you and tell friends or family where you’ll be regardless. I send my parents my location all the time just as a back up. You can read reviews for campsites as well to see if they are clean, have cell service, and are easy to get to. The more you travel, the more comfortable you will get. But camping is the best way to spend time alone or even with other van friends. So start practicing as soon as you hit the road! Build camp fires, leave your sliding door open, and cook outside! This is what it’s all about.
When I go hiking by myself (with my dogs), I always have a pocket knife and bear spray. The pocket knife is really for other animals considering Ella has been attacked by two dogs. So I carry that in case a similar situation occurs. The bear spray works on humans and bears. Two threats that I want protection against and don’t want to have to get close enough for a pocket knife with either.
I use AllTrails which is an app to find dog friendly trails and get a good idea what I’m in for. Most hikers are my kinda people so I never really worry much on hikes. I’m far more concerned about mountain lions, bears, and coyotes. Don’t be afraid to hike alone. Just bring your phone, water, and a few snacks. You will be just fine.
As for hiking with pets, I go where they can go. People always assume it sucks to miss out on a hike where my dogs can’t go but for every trail that isn’t dog friendly.. there are 5 that do allow them. It’s one million times more fun with them by your side.
Van life with dogs is the BEST way to do it. They are a security system, a best friend, a partner. I don’t know if I would even want to do van life without my dogs considering they make it what it is for me. Try getting your food from a store that you know will most likely be everywhere. Always keep plenty of water for both of you. Take them to dog parks to get out their energy. Travel with the weather so that’s never a concern. I have a full podcast episode about what I do when it’s hot and how I travel best with them for more info.
This will be the best time of your life if you make it be. Use this time to shift your perspective on everything. Fall in love with yourself again. Fall further in love with your pets if you have them. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Say yes to opportunities. Go to gatherings. USE THIS TIME. Being in the van has been the most important, impactful years I’ve ever had and I attribute that to the fact that I have learned more about myself than I ever knew before. People are not out to get you. Safety is a priority but it is not what van life is all about. Do NOT allow others constantly asking how you will stay safe to dictate your actual feelings towards it. Tell them you are smart, you are capable, and you will not live in fear because you’re a solo female. Say those things to prove them wrong.. But say them because they are true. You can do this and you will succeed.