Keeping Valuables Safe And Secure – Tips For Living In A Van

One of my first concerns about living in a van was how to keep my valuables safe and secure. There’s no way around it, when your home is on wheels you need to carry valuables with you and keeping them safe is a valid concern.

Simple tips to keep your important items as burglar proof as possible include:

  • Keep valuables out of sight
  • Use a Safe that can be secured or bolted to your van 
  • Hide valuables in hidden compartments inside your van
  • Use product packaging to hide valuables in plain sight
  • Securely hide a spare key on the outside of your van

Now, I’ll discuss each of these in more detail…

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A Personal Experience

I was robbed three months after I hit the road as a full-time van dweller!

My adult daughter was with me at the time. We were in hot and humid south Florida and no campgrounds were available. I wasn’t up-to-speed on boondocking yet so we decided to get a hotel (with air conditioning) for the night.

We had camera’s and other valuables strewn around the van. I had locked my van so I was confident that everything was safe.

The next day, on our way to the store, we realized that most of our valuables were gone!

Lessons Learned

The first lesson I learned was thieves go for what they can grab quickly.

My daughter and I had camera’s and other electronics laying on the floor of the van and in the glove compartment.

I also had a very nice laptop and camcorder, in plain sight, under my bed. You could easily get to these items from the back doors.

The thief (or thieves) opened the front doors and grabbed everything out of the glove compartment and the lower cubbie-holes of my high-top van.

They also opened the side door and had a grand ole time taking my camera’s, solar panels that I was going to return and a few other items of value.

They didn’t take anything they couldn’t reach while standing outside the van nor did they open the back doors.

My laptop and camcorder were still under the bed as were the few things that were “out of reach”.

The second lesson I learned was never use the key fob to lock the door!

My doors were locked but there was no evidence that anyone had gained access to my van until we found stuff missing.

The Miami police department explained that thieves use equipment that can grab the access code when the key fob is used to lock the doors.

A robber sits nearby (or even in the car next to you), grabs the code and waits for you to leave.

Once they have the code a robber has simple, easy access to the interior of your vehicle.

Keep Valuables Out Of Sight

Keeping electronics, money, jewelry and other valuables out of sight is a no-brainer but it’s the first line of defense against theft.

This can be as simple as putting your valuables in a drawer or behind something to conceal it.

Van Life Tip: I keep my notebook (laptop) in a drawer with my clothes. I have a sleeve for my notebook that’s black and made of cloth. When you open the drawer, my notebook looks like the bottom of the drawer.

A simple, secret compartment can be made in your drawer using painted cardboard or wood (if you’re handy at sawing) so that it looks like the bottom of the drawer.

To hide your laptop, put it in the bottom of the drawer and place the painted cardboard or wood on top of it. Then, put some clothes on top of the the secret compartment to make it look natural.

Keeping Valuables Safe and Secure With A Safe

A secure safe that attaches to your van is a good way to protect your important property from thievery.

Keep in mind that a safe can be used for protection against burglary, fire and/or water but not all safe’s protect you against all three elements. Be sure to read the description to determine if it’s the type of safe you want.

Compact Safe

A small compact safe that secures to your van is a good way to help secure small items like emergency cash, passport, vehicle title, credit cards and more.

Van Life Advice: I’ve used the compact safe since day one in my van. It’s attached to an inside rib of my van and hidden in a spot under my bed. I took the plastic insert out of the safe so that I had more room. When I was robbed, my compact safe was left untouched. But, to be honest, if a thief would manage to find where I hid the safe AND somehow get it loose from my van, they would probably be able to get into the safe. On the other hand, this safe is handy because it’s small and more hide-able along with the added feature of being able to attach it to an immovable object.

RV Burglary Safe

A bigger safe that is still small enough to fit into your van is an RV Burglary Safe.

This safe can be securely bolted down, holds more and is stronger than the compact safe described above.

Hidden Compartments

Every van set up is different but we all have nooks and crannies where valuable items can be hidden.

A burglar is typically looking for quick access to your valuables so they can make a fast getaway. Keeping valuables safe and secure in the nooks and crannies of your van – where they are more difficult to get to – is a simple way to deter a thief.

Van Life Idea: After I made my bed frame, I thought it might have been a good idea to make a secret compartment in the bed frame so I could hide valuables in it. The underneath 2×4’s of my bed frame could be a good place to hide my laptop and other small electronics.

Hiding Valuables In Plain Sight

Hiding valuables in plain sight does NOT mean leaving your laptop on your bed and hoping a thief overlooks it.

Keeping your valuables in plain sight is a matter of making your valuable items go incognito.

Hide Valuables In Product Packaging

Storing valuables in empty food or personal care product containers is a simple way of keeping your valuables safe and secure in plain sight.

You can do this yourself using a clean, empty container or you can buy a specially made container that looks like the real thing.

The container (below) is from Bed, Bath and Beyond. The bottom of the can opens and closes. I’ve hidden some valuables in it and keep it with my canned goods.

The only thing I’m not keen on is that “Heans” is a fake brand name. I’m not sure it matters, though, as a thief probably wouldn’t take time to read and analyze everything.

Here’s a list of specially made secret compartment products to keep your small valuables hidden: 

  • Barbasol Can Safe – This can looks like a regular can of shaving cream.
  • Liquid Wrench Diversion Can – This one looks like a regular can of spray oil (like WD40).
  • Del Monte Fruit Cocktail Hider – This can looks like a can of fruit cocktail.
  • Hairbrush Hidden Safe – A unique way to hide money or jewelry in a hairbrush.
  • Candle Safe – A simple, hollow candle to hide small valuables.
  • A Book Safe – This is a book with a locking safe inside.

There are many other ready made products that have secret compartments. The list above is a good place to start and should spark ideas.

For example, if you drink a lot of Dr Pepper there’s a Dr Pepper container with a secret compartment that easily blends in with your “real” Dr Pepper.

Magnetic Lockable Key Case

Locking myself out of my van once was one time too many. So, I’d like to include how to hide an extra key as securely as possible and avoid the hassle of trying to get back into your van.

Magnetic Case

Magnetic Locking Key Case is safer than the easy open, no lock magnetic cases. The magnet is strong and a combination is needed in order to open the case and get the key. 

When looking for a magnetic key case be sure your key will fit inside. Many magnetic cases are for flat keys only.

Realtor’s LockBox

If you’re not comfortable with a magnetic case a Realtor’s Lock Box case is another option.

Naturally, you need to find a place on your vehicle where you can attach the lock box but the security of the Realtor’s LockBox isn’t dependent on a magnet to keep it attached to the underside of your vehicle while driving 70 miles an hour down the interstate.

Keeping Valuables Safe And Secure From Fire and Water

The tips I’ve shared above are ways to prevent thieves from stealing your valuable items.

Fire and water can also steal your valuable items so I’d like to end this post by sharing a bit about keeping valuables safe and secure from fire and water.

Fire resistant, waterproof safe’s are out there but I haven’t found one that’s fire resistant, waterproof, inexpensive AND easily attaches to the van.

For an inexpensive way to add a fire resistant, waterproof element to important documents and valuables a Fire Resistant Waterproof Bag can be used. If needed, the bag can be placed inside of a safe attached to your van.

These bags come in various shapes and sizes and offer protection against fire and water.

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