Van Life Safety in Southern California (Avoid Sharks)


Many van and RV nomads make the pilgrimage to Southern California at least once in their traveling career. Who could blame them; Southern California is the land of sunshine, surf, and great tacos.  

The first question that people always ask me about visiting Southern California is where to go. They worry about not seeing all the key attractions while here. They want to know all the exciting places to see in the desert, beach, and mountains

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But when we finally finish that conversation, they will ask their second favorite question; Is Southern California safe, and is the beach full of sharks? Ok, that is two questions, but you get the point.

Van life is absolutely safe in Southern California. The odds of you or your van being impacted by any safety issue while in SoCal is extremely low. 

Like any big city, the news of the area is dominated by negative press. Any outsider who sees this negative press will naturally get worried, especially if their plans involve visiting Los Angeles.

Many people now associate Southern California, particularly Los Angeles, with crime, auto thefts, sharks, riots, gangs, and poverty.

They naturally want to know if van and RV life in Southern California is safe?

YES! Of course, van and RV life in Southern California is safe. I have lived everywhere in Southern California for 40 years and never experienced any level of serious crime, shark attack, or know anyone who has.

I have spent the last two years traveling to every corner of Southern California. Besides a few isolated incidents with drunk party goers and one mad horse, I have never had anything serious happen.

The odds of you getting stung by a jellyfish are greater than being a victim of a violent crime while visiting Southern California.

Most of the places you will be visiting while in Southern California are not known for any type of crime or violence. As a friend once told me, no thieves are wandering around in the middle of the desert.

This does not mean you do not need to take precautions. Leaving your van unlocked or your windows down invites the opportunity for anyone to take your stuff. The best advice I can give you is to stay smart, use common sense, follow your gut, and you will be safe.

Now that you have decided to visit sunny Southern California, there are a few things that you need to do to guarantee a safe and wonderful trip. This blog will teach you how to stay safe in Southern California and your other travels.

If you neglect any of these, you could become the first victim in a long time of a shark attack.

Is Van Life in Southern California Safe?

The answer is yes. Southern California is a very safe place to visit and explore for any van and RV nomad. The odds of you having a nasty encounter in Southern California is exceptionally low.

Most people who visit Southern California never experience any problems. The most significant problem these people might encounter is a bad sunburn. (First Advice: Wear Sunscreen)

But let’s be honest, there are rare exceptions. I believe the most significant threat you face is someone stealing your property.

If your van has a lot of equipment hanging off it, you are more likely to be a victim of theft. That is why I do my best to keep everything inside my van.

In extreme circumstances, you could become the victim of physical violence. Although this is extremely rare, it does happen. But for the most part, this can be avoided if you stay out of the bad areas and avoid the wrong people.

The only instances where I have ever heard of a van or RV nomad being assaulted have been in campgrounds due to intoxication. If you keep your drinking to a minimum and be respectful, I doubt you will have any problems.

Below is a list of Southern California statistics that I have gathered to showcase how the trend for less crime was occurring in Southern California pre-pandemic.

  • Los Angeles Crime Violent Crime Increase, but overall crime has decreased. LA has seen an increase in violent crime shootings by 40%, but robberies declined by 17%. (Stay Away from the bad areas of LA)
  • Statewide property crime rate decreased. The 2019 property crime rate of 2,272 per 100,000 residents was down 3.6% from 2018 and was the lowest observed since 1960. California’s property crime rate was above the national rate (2,110 per 100,000 residents) and ranked 19th among all states. Of all reported property crimes in California in 2019, 68% were larceny thefts, 17% were burglaries, and 15% were auto thefts.
  • The majority of counties saw decreases in violent crime: A total of 38 of the state’s 58 counties saw violent crime decline. In 14 counties, the violent crime rate dropped by more than 10%.
  • Prior to the pandemic, California’s violent crime rate decreased in 2019. California’s violent crime rate decreased by 2.9% to 430 per 100,000 residents between 2018 and 2019.

Safety Common-Sense Tips

It does not matter what you do or where you go in the world; common sense is your best friend. If you decide to run around and lack any common sense of awareness, you are more likely to get in trouble.

The number one key to avoiding any severe mishap in Southern California is common sense.

The times that I have heard of any van and RV nomad running into trouble can pretty much be attributed back to a lack of common sense. If they just showed a little common sense, they would have avoided the situation altogether.

I have listed a few common sense tips anyone traveling to Southern California should follow.

  • Always be prepared.
  • Avoid intoxicated situations.
  • Be friendly and respectful.
  • Stay out of bad areas.

Van Life Personal Safety

Everyone’s number one fear while traveling is being assaulted or having our friends assaulted. Unfortunately, this is a reality that we all face anywhere, and Southern California is no exception.

The reality is the odds of you getting personally assaulted in Southern California are extremely low. Most of the crimes and assaults occur in the rougher parts of Southern California and Los Angeles.

Most of the time, you will be visiting the desert, beach, or mountains and not the inner cities.

The crime rate in these areas is extremely low. However, it’s still a smart idea to follow common sense tips to avoid any type of assault.

Your number one safety procedure is to follow your gut. Your gut instincts are probably your best mechanism for avoiding any type of bad situation.

If your gut tells you this is not a safe place to park, then find another parking spot. Do not settle on anything until you feel safe. This includes adventures, parking, sleeping accommodations, campgrounds, friends, and much more.

The second safety procedure is always to be respectful. Being respectful goes a long way in getting out of any situation.

If you do both of these things, follow your gut and be respectful, you will dramatically lower your chances of being a victim. I know this seems like common sense, but unfortunately, in the world we live in, it must be stated.

Keeping You Safe While in Your Van or RV

While on the road and exploring the world, your van is your home. Your home is your sanctuary and the one place that you absolutely must feel like you are completely safe.

That is why you must make sure your van and you are always safe in it.

I think every single van and RV nomad’s biggest nightmare is being fast asleep in your van and waking up to someone trying to break in. Although I have never actually heard of anyone encountering this situation, it has happened in the past and will happen in the future.

That is why it is extremely important that you prepare for this unlikely situation. The more prepared you are for this situation, the more peaceful you will sleep at night.

Below are a few of the steps that I take to make sure I minimize this situation as much as possible.

  • Step 1: Cover the Windows: most thieves who are looking to break into your van want to know that there is something valuable in there. It is important that you do not leave valuables insight and cover up the windows. Thieves are less likely to break into your van or RV if they cannot see what is in it.
  • Step 2: Have an Air Horn: if someone is trying to break into your van or RV, the best thing you can do is create a lot of noise. I have a small air horn next to my bed that I can activate if I hear someone trying to break in. This will scare most thieves away and is well worth the $10 investment.
  • Step 3: Keep Your Keys Close: keep your keys close to you while you are sleeping. If someone is trying to break into your van, it is best to grab your keys immediately and head to the driver seat.
  • Step 4: Park Your Van Facing Out: park your van facing out for an immediate exit, so you do not have to worry about backing up. The faster you can get out of the area, the better. I always position my van so I can easily get away.
  • Step 5: Personal Protection (Optional): a lot of van and RV nomads carry personal protection. This personal protection can be knives, guns, pepper spray, and a lot of other stuff. Just make sure you know how to use any personal protection devices before using them.

I do not advise you to carry a gun while in Southern California. Unless you have a concealed license permit. The gun laws in California are extremely strict and unforgiving. But this is a personal choice and up to you.

Keeping Your Stuff Safe

Keeping your stuff in your van or RV safe is a top priority. No van or RV nomad wants to see their home broken into and vandalized.

That is why you must protect your personal stuff. Keeping your home unprotected is never an option. You must become in the habit of always locking up and making sure your van or RV secure, just like you do in real life.

Van and RV Locks

The best theft prevention device on your van or RV is your locks. This is the number one deterrent for thieves. But far too often, we forget to lock our vans or RVs, only to return to find our stuff stolen and vandalized.

Always Lock Your Doors

Below is a list of items that I have purchased to go along with the standard locks on my van to keep it safe.

  • Lock Keypad
  • Read and Sliding Door Pad Locks
  • Hide-a-Key
  • Steering Wheel Lock
  • Kill Switch

Travel Safety Essentials

The most dangerous time you will have is when you are traveling from destination to destination. Car accidents harm more people than all violence.

The odds of you being involved in a major traffic accident are rare, but they do happen.

Most accidents that occur are going to be minor fender benders. You should prepare for these in advance, so it does not stress you out and ruin your entire experience when they do happen.

You also might encounter situations while traveling to the next destination that requires you to be prepared. These situations can include a breakdown, minor injury, flat tire, and much more.

I take a few steps to make sure that I am safe as possible when traveling in between destinations. These steps are:

Step 1: Have Enough Gas: running out of gas while on the road is embarrassing and a royal pain in the butt. It is too easy to understand how much gas you need to get to your destination, so plan accordingly.

Step 2: First Aid Kit: A well-stocked first aid kit will help if any minor medical injury occurs. Every van and RV nomad should have a first aid kit within their vehicle.

Step 3: Roadside Assistance: having a form of roadside assistance will help if you break down while traveling to your destination. Roadside assistance has saved many van and RV nomads from being stranded in the middle of nowhere.

There are a variety of roadside assistance options available. The major ones are AAA, Good Sam’s roadside assistance, and your insurance company. Each of these offers valuable assistance programs.

  • AAA: I have AAA roadside assistance and they have been great. The only downside with AAA is that they do not offer off-road assistance. You need to get towed to a paved road first before they can help. AAA offers three basic types of Membership, ranging in price from $56 to $119 per year.
  • SAMS Roadside Assistance Program: Provides a good comprehensive roadside program that is affordable and offers many levels. It provides comprehensive roadside assistance for vans, RVs and trailers. It also provides emergency medical assistance.  Membership prices range from $49 to $239 a year depending on level. They are always having deals too lowering the price.
  • Insurance Company: Many insurance companies offer roadside assistance programs to their customers.
  • Credit Cards: A few major credit cards offer roadside assistance.

Step 4: Tell Someone: It might seem like common sense, but not telling someone of your travel plans has led many van and RV nomands stranded without anyone knowing where they might be.  Always leave your travel plans with someone so they know when and where you are going.

If you do find yourself stranded in a situation where you have no contact, it is good to know that someone will be looking for you. You do not want to be stranded without anyone knowing where you are.

Just make sure when you arrive at your destination that you contact that person to tell them that you have arrived.

Step 5: Have an Inflated Spare Tire: there is nothing more painful than getting a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. If this does happen to you, having a spare tire that’s inflated helps. Before you leave on any trip, make sure your spare tire is inflated correctly.

Step 6: Have an Emergency Locator: one of the best investments I have made in venturing around Southern California is to purchase an emergency GPS locator. I have a Garmin Inreach that has an SOS function that can alert anyone to where I am anywhere on the globe. This is a crucial device if you ever find yourself stranded either in your van or out on an adventure. $15 a month is a small price to pay for the added security of knowing that you can contact someone to be rescued.

Staying Safe Stealth Camping

The key to staying safe while stealth camping is to keep a low profile. Your goal is always to make everyone believe there is no one sleeping in your van. The less likely people think someone is in a van, the less likely you will have any bad encounters.

All the advice and steps mentioned in this blog benefit anyone stealth camping. For a more detailed description of how to stealth camp in Southern California, read my following blog.

Guide to Stealth Camping in Southern California

Adventure Safety

With all the other safety topics we discussed, we cannot skip over adventure safety. Because this is the real reason you came to my website. You want to figure out what adventures you can have while in Southern California.

The reality is, you are more likely to encounter an injury on your adventures than you are in any other way. With any adventure, there is always a certain level of risk associated with it.

Making sure you are safe is the primary goal. Nobody wants to get hurt while being adventurous, it ruins a fun trip.

Beach Safety

No trip to Southern California is complete without a stopover at the beach. A beach is a fantastic place, but it can be dangerous if you are not careful.

I spent years as a lifeguard rescuing tourists from the ocean. And the one thing they always said, I did not know how powerful the ocean could be.

Have the utmost respect for the power of the ocean. If you do this, you will be fine.

Below is a list of tips to make sure any adventure to the beach is safe.

  • Swim in front of a lifeguard
  • Wear sunscreen
  • Shuffle your feet when entering the water to avoid stingrays.
  • Don’t bury yourself in the sand
  • Avoid Rip Tides
  • Always swim with a buddy
  • Stay out of surfing areas if swimming

Desert Safety


The desert is my favorite place for adventure in Southern California. The amazing scenery, wildlife, and beauty draws me to the desert every single year.

However, the desert must be respected. A lot of the adventures in the desert are miles away from civilization. If anything goes wrong, you must be prepared.

Below are a few tips that will help ensure you have an enjoyable time in the desert.

  • Pay close attention to the weather
  • Avoid riverbeds if any rain is present, even far away
  • Bring plenty of water
  • Tell someone where you plan on being and when you plan to return.
  • Bring appropriate clothing (the desert gets cold at night, even in the summer)
  • Bring emergency locator

Mountain Safety

Southern California has some of the most impressive mountains in all of the United States. Located 30 minutes outside Los Angeles is the San Bernardino mountains. These mountains offer everything from hiking, skiing, paragliding, and much more.

The desert mountains also offer a wide variety of activities. These mountains pose a unique challenge due to their vastness and how remote they can be.

The number one priority for anyone hoping to have an adventurous time in the mountains is to stay safe. Although you’re close to the city, there are far fewer people in the mountains to help you out if you get hurt. So having the utmost respect for your time in the mountains is vital.

Below are a few tips that I put together to ensure that you have a safe time in the mountains.

  • Always tell somewhere where you are going and when you will be back
  • Bring emergency locator
  • Bring plenty of water
  • Dress appropriately
  • Stay on the trail
  • Leave note in van of itinerary
  • Memorize emergency contact information.
  • Don’t hike alone
  • Bring the 10-essentials.

Recommended Essential Travel Products

Now that we have gone over the basics of staying safe on the road and during your adventures, it’s key to understand what travel products you should have for safety.

Below is a list of the travel product that I recommend you always have in your van.

Air Compressor: an air compressor is needed to inflate and deflate your tires. There might be situations in the desert traveling over the sand where you want to reduce your tire pressure to get better traction. An air compressor also is handy when you’re filling up a paddleboard.

Code Reader & Scam Tool: These are cheap and come in handy when your check engine light comes on. It gives you a good idea of what the problem is so you can fix it. Saves money!

Emergency Locator: There are a variety of emergency locators on the market. All of them do their job, but some have more features than others. Most require a monthly subscription plan. A few of the models I recommend are:

  • Garmin InReach
  • Spot Gen3
  • ACR RSLink

Hatchet: a hatchet can be used in multiple situations to remove tree branches or other objects around your vehicle if you get stuck.

Hitch Safe: A hide a key location for a spare key. Prevents any lockouts.

Jumper Cables: every once in a while, you’re going to leave the lights on. Having jumper cables will help you get back on the road.

Shovel: it’s only a matter of time when you get stuck. Every van or RV nomad has gotten stuck at least once. Having a good shovel is the key to getting unstuck.

Tire Chains: you wouldn’t think you would need tire chains in Southern California, but they might need them to get up the mountain to go skiing. So it’s always safe to carry a set with you.

Traction Boards: don’t ever leave home without your traction boards. There are various makes and models of traction boards out there that range from cheap to expensive. They are a lifesaver when you get stuck in the sand in the desert or on the beach.

Windshield Wiper Fluid: if you plan on traveling a lot in the desert or around in the snow, I highly recommend you have extra with shield wiper fluid.

References and Other Adventures:


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