Extra security is provided by dead locks on the habitation and garage doors and a tie-down that we use to strap the cab doors together (in case someone broke the glass or locks and tried to open the door).
Safety When Wilding
For us, safety usually starts before we leave the current parking spot. We know that many people love to fly by the seat of their pants and just drive until they find somewhere that looks good to stay at. We prefer to have a bit of a plan for the day’s travel and research potential parking spots around our destination using something like Park4Night. We read the reviews for each spot, note if anyone has had issues with security or break-ins, and may reject a spot or increase our security measures accordingly. Using locations from Park4Night often means that there will be other moho’s in the same spot, which adds to the security and social interests of a location. We will check Google Maps to get as much information about the spots as we can and to also scout around for other possibilities. We will normally have at least two potential places programmed into the GPS with some idea about where else we could go if those don’t pan out. Having a plan gives us peace of mind which we like. Others prefer more excitement and the feeling of the unknown. Everyone is different.
Listen to your gut. We have a rule in our Moho that even if one of us has a bad feeling about a spot or a concern for safety, no matter the reason, we don’t question it but move on. What’s interesting is that if one of us voices a concern, quite often the other person was thinking something similar. Communication is important here so don’t let your desire to park and sleep override the need for safety.
Good general principals to follow include:
- Avoid using leveling chocks if possible, as you may need to drive away in the middle of the night. We have a cheap set of small chocks which we would be happy to leave behind for the sake of our safety.
- We generally park out of sight of main roads and public areas wherever we can.
- If possible, we like to park where there are one or more other motorhomes as there is definitely safety in numbers.
- Have a backup for where you might go is important if you have to move in a hurry, e.g. park at a service station for the night.
- Ensure you know the phone numbers for police and other emergency services. Have these written down or in your phone. The main number throughout Europe is 112.
- Limit the alcohol consumption so the driver is not over the limit should he/she have to drive. It’s important to know the different alcohol limits in each country (some countries have a low or zero blood alcohol level limit)
- Park your motorhome so it is facing forward and has a clear unrestricted exit, preferably having open space in front of you rather than a single track. Pre-plan what you might do if your Plan A exit is blocked.
- Beware of parking on grass if there is any rain forecast as you may get stuck in the mud.
Preparing the Cabin for Sleeping
Every night before going to bed we have a routine called ‘preparing the cabin’. Here’s what we do.
1. Make sure everything outside is put away at night – chairs, awning, doormat etc, and the garage doors are locked and dead-bolted.
2. Turn the front seats forward into the driving position.
3. Ensure the keys and alarm fob are beside the bed for easy access.
4. Put the computers, wallet and valuables (passports, documents and drivers licenses) in the locked safe. (Most of this stuff tends to stay there in any case, but if we’ve had them out for some reason we make sure they are returned before hitting the hay.)
5. Push all buttons to cupboards and drawers in to secure them.
6. Secure the TV and shower doors (or anything else that would typically be secured before driving away).
7. Ensure the dishes are either washed and put away, or at least stacked so if we have to drive off quickly they’re not going to crash into a thousand pieces across the cabin floor.
8. Draw the curtains around the front windows but we avoid putting up the reflective/insulating screens as these are slower to remove and can cause a lot of condensation on the inside of the windscreen especially in colder weather.
9. Remove the GPS and dash cam from the windscreen but have them handy should we need to take off quickly.
10. Set the alarm on sleep mode.
There are always going to be places where you feel 100% safe and other places that feel less comfortable. When we are in those places we take some extra precautions to make it harder for anyone to break in. We lock the external deadlock on the habitation door then run a tie down between the front cab door handles.
Leaving the Moho Unattended in Wild Spots
Here are a few tips about what we do when leaving Betsy alone in a remote location.
1. Our first tip is don’t do it. The first choice is always to re-park somewhere more public.
2. If for some reason we are going to leave Betsy unattended, then we ensure that the area ‘feels’ safe to leave. If we have any hesitations then we will simply drive to another car park, e.g. supermarket parking area.
3. The fabric strap that we use at night may not be sufficient if someone breaks a window, because they could reach through and cut the strap. Therefore we have a secondary system – a light chain that we thread around our door handles and secure with a combination padlock. The door handles have Velcro around them to protect the plastic from the metal scratching them.
Whilst nothing is full proof, this system will give an opportunist burglar a bigger headache. If someone is prepared they may be carrying bolt cutters which would make short work of this. Our intention is to slow the burglars down and have them look for a softer target.
4. We put our TV under the pillows so it’s out of sight and not obvious from a quick look around inside the vehicle.
5. The speaker system goes into the safe, as does the remote for the TV.
6. All our important documents and devices are put into the safe including extra credit cards, passports, driver’s licenses, computers, tablet, kindles, etc. Whilst this seems obvious, we have heard about people leaving these in a cupboard and them being stolen.
7. We remove our GPS and dash camera including brackets and cables from the windscreen and these are also put into the safe.
8. Important medicines are also kept in our safe, particularly things that need a prescription to replace and are not used on a daily basis.
We have a big, good quality, and heavy-duty safe which is bolted and screwed down to the Moho. Some pretty specialised wrecking equipment would be needed to rip it out and they would then need to carry a very awkward and heavy (16kg) safe somewhere they could take their time to break into. That’s unlikely to happen easily or without someone noticing, we hope. By that time our credit cards would all be stopped and our passports reported. We have electronic copies of our passports and credit card information stored up in the cloud as well as recorded and in the safe .
The most anyone could hope to find inside our motorhome is food, clothes, a microwave and the odd bottle of wine. If they are desperate for that, then they are welcome to it.
Being Moved On – Whoops
In our first year of motorhoming we spent 275 nights wild camping including stopping at car parks, beaches, on top of mountains, in marinas, on the side of the road or tucked away somewhere else out of sight. Few of these places are specifically signposted as allowing overnighting by motorhomes. Therefore there is always the risk of falling foul of some local regulations, or parking in an unauthorised location and being confronted by someone in authority. Of these 275, we have been moved on three times by officials.
The first was in Gallipoli where we were inadvertently staying on a national park. At 8.00pm a security guard came around and asked us to leave, and gave us until 10pm to do so.
The second was in a supermarket car park in Naples where security were going to lock the gates for the night and suggested we went to a motorway service area close by. Whilst we did that and were okay, we would not usually stay in such places as they are not considered generally the safest overnight place for motorhomes. On that note, the Motorway Aires in France have a particularly bad reputation among the motorhoming community and should be avoided– just read the many posts on forums about people being broken into.
The third place we were moved on from was in Amsterdam where we had parked in a designated bus parking area within a larger car park. We had been hoping some cars would leave on so we could take their place but were moved on before this could happen – it was worth a crack and we then found a nice quiet residential street for the evening.
It is important to note that anyone official will not bang on your door at 1am and yell in a drunken holler for you to move (as happened to us in Denmark). We stay quiet and trust they will just go away but be ready to move quickly if the situation looks as if it may be threatening. In the Denmark case, there were eight other moho’s beside us so we didn’t feel in any danger and after waking everyone, he left.
Our number one rule for night time is…
“DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR TO ANYONE!!!”
Should you have a bang on the door from someone who is persistent and you want to respond then talk through the closed window. They will still be able to hear you. But under no circumstances should you open your door at night and definitely do not leave your vehicle at night.
One fellow camper told us a story of when he had someone bang on his door. He yelled back in his strongest, angriest voice ‘for goodness sake (ok, he wasn’t quite that polite) why can’t everyone leave me alone’. He said this puts people on the back foot immediately because they think you are angry, already been disturbed, and may be a danger to them.
If for any reason you have a need to knock on the door of another motorhome during the night, make sure you announce yourself and what you want. We had someone banging and banging one night, and of course, we ignored him. He eventually spoke in English (we were in Italy) to share valid information. Had the chap announced himself and said something like “hi there, I’m John from Australia and I just wanted to let you know our motorhome has been broken into tonight”, we would have answered him (through the windows) a lot earlier.
Water, Toilet, Electricity and Rubbish
Here are five practical matters that full-time wild campers need to manage as a result of not being on campsites regularly.
1. Fresh Water. For us, we can go four or five days on our 100-litre tank, plus back up water containers. However, we normally start keeping an eye out for water supplies after two days. Whenever you have the chance, top up your tanks. Some countries have been easier than others, for example, in Greece it was relatively easy to find water as there were many public taps, however south of Italy, in Sicily we really had to hunt as most of the public water taps had been disconnected. France, Germany and Sweden were easy and by using one of our apps we generally found a service point at an Aire or Stelplatz. Usually these are free but sometimes a token charge is made. Most cemeteries have water taps you can use to fill containers and many service stations have a tap you can connect a hose to. A big tip here is to always taste the water before putting it in your tank, especially if (as we do), you drink water straight from the tank (we have an in-line filter after the pump). Some of the water is highly chlorinated or just doesn’t taste good. We always make sure that we have a 12 litre container of known good water in the garage, for drinking and making tea/coffee, just in case we end up with a tank of tainted water as has happened three times.
We can carry our water containers on our bikes and have frequently ended up cycling around an area to find a suitable tap. We then just make a few trips to ferry 22 litres at a time back to Betsy and fill her up using a funnel which has a filter in it.
2. Black water (toilet cassette). Getting rid of your black water can be a challenge and you need to continually plan how to manage this necessary activity.
Again using Park4Night (or other apps) provides a source of dumping spots as these will show you the service points ahead and you can use these to plan your black dumping (and usually fresh water filling and grey dumping at the same time). Hint – you can often access the services at many of the paid camper parking locations even if you don’t stay there.
If you find an unlisted authorised dump location then please share the details on the apps so others can benefit.
Many of the motorway or main road service areas now have purpose built motorhome service points where you can take care of all these needs.
Campgrounds may also allow you to dump, usually for a nominal fee, which is much lower than spending the night there. However be aware that fundamentally when you free camp, they miss out on business so don’t be surprised if they refuse you.
Local tourist information centres may be able to direct you to services for motorhomes.
Service stations sometimes allow you to empty your cassette into their toilets, especially if you are buying something from them. Just ask first and leave the toilet clean. Emptying a full cassette into a toilet without making a mess takes practice but it can be done. We take a separate container of water in with us so we can rinse the cassette out a couple of times.
Many people carry a spare cassette just in case. We have one, in a separate box in the garage, but so far have not had to use it.
‘Boys pee in the bushes’ is a good principle for extending the time before the cassette is full, as long as you are somewhere wild, secluded and private.
Some motorhomers we have met put a plastic bag into the loo before doing Number 2’s then remove the bag and put it in the bin. This a more extreme way of keeping the smelly stuff out and making the cassette last longer but wouldn’t appeal to everyone.
In an emergency, some public toilets can be used however be careful to leave no mess that would give motorhomers a bad reputation. Also be aware that many of the toilet treatment chemicals can kill the good bacteria in septic tank systems so use environmentally friendly chemicals if you might use public loos on a septic tank system.
On that subject, there is a widespread debate on what to put in your cassette to break down the solid matter and control the odours. Just check some Facebook Groups or Motorhoming Website Forums and you will find lots of opinions and solutions that you can try out. In our experience, after trying many different variants, the commercially available tablets still work the best and keep the smells away for the longest.
We recently came across this map which gives a lot of dumping points across much of Europe. The details are in Swedish but the information is gold.
Camper Dumping Points