Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.
How to keep safe on solo road trips in Canada
Venturing on many epic solo road trips has taught me how to be safe travelling solo through Canada’s most remote places.
I’m pretty much relaxed and I feel safe when I’m on the road. Of course, we never know what can happen during an extended solo road trip. Fortunately, after travelling solo on many of Canada’s wild highways I have the experience and the skills needed to deal with most situations.
Solo road trips in Canada and safety
I have travelled to many parts of the world. But, it is only been the last few years that I started to explore Canada’s big north and drive the lonely highways to the most off-the-beaten-path places. I always camp along the way.
My first extended solo road trip was from Lumby, BC to Bella Coola, the wilderness town in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, on BC’s northwest coast. The road to Bella Coola with its famous Hill is known as one of BC’s most treacherous roads. It was already late in the season and not the best time for tenting along the way. I learned a few important lessons on that trip.
Most tourist areas are safe. Violent crime in Canada is low compared to other countries, but it does exist. Yes, there were a few situations during my trips when I was worried and scared, but it was never as bad as it seemed and I survived. In the end, it is up to us to decide how much risk we want to take and what we are comfortable with.
You don’t have to spend a night on a road pullout along a lonely highway or boondock where there is no one around like I often do. Find out what your comfort level is and adapt your trip accordingly.
Everyone advised me not to go north after three travellers were killed along the Stewart Cassier highway, the highway I wanted to take to the Yukon border. Once it was known who the killers were and that they were seen in a different province, I went anyway. I couldn’t see the risk anymore. The night I spent at the side of the road, close to where the murder happened, it was raining and cold. And yes, I was pretty restless all night.
The most important advice I can give you is: Listen to your guts!
My 12 Top Tips to keep safe on solo road trips in Canada
1. Use a reliable vehicle
Make sure that your vehicle is in excellent mechanical condition. Have a tune-up and inspection done by a trustworthy mechanic. Let the mechanic know what kind of driving you are planning to do. Invest in good tires and a full-size spare.
You don’t want to get stuck on a lonely highway. Unless you’re in a town, cell phone reception in Canada is not guaranteed.
Learn how to change a tire before heading out on a road trip.
If you decide to rent a car for your adventure, let the rental company know what kind of driving you’re planning to do.
- Why I decided to buy a RAV4
- RAV4 camper conversion for minimalists
- What you should know about car rental in Canada
- Car buying tips for tourists in Canada
2. Get a Roadside Assistance Membership
I’ve been a member of BCAA for years and have never used them on any of my trips. Still, knowing that I can get help on the road when I need it gives me peace of mind. The Premier Membership covers 320 km for free, which is often the distance I travel between places. Depending on your travel plan, a cheaper membership might work for you.
3. Plan your route and let someone know where you are going
Know what kind of roads you will be driving. Will you need to bring extra gasoline?
I plan my trips using google maps. When I adapt my travel route I try to send a message about my whereabouts to a family member or a friend whenever I have cell phone reception or Internet.
Check how long the distances are between towns and gas stations. Is there camping along the way?
4. Pack the right gear
Check out my Road trip planner for the wilderness and adapt it as necessary. Do not overpack and keep your gear to a minimum. It is easier to get organized this way so that everything you take along is within easy reach. If you’re in Canada, MEC is a great store for travel gear.
Store your valuables in different places. Don’t keep all credit cards and bank cards, plus all your cash in your wallet. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.
5. Know what the road rules are in Canada
It’s important to know Canada’s road rules for keeping safe on Canadian roads.
You will encounter fast and aggressive drivers wherever you go and especially on lonely highways. Drive slowly on gravel roads. Slow down for approaching trucks, it will save your windshield. Watch out for wildlife at all times. In Canada, every year many accidents happen because of wild animals.
6. Use a navigation tool to keep on track
Since I invested in a car GPS I feel much safer and I don’t get lost anymore. I always know where I am, what direction I’m heading, and how far it is to my destination. Make sure you update the software before you leave for your trip. Using your cell phone might be sufficient for shorter trips, but I trust my car’s GPS more than I trust my cell phone.
I also carry all available paper maps for the area I’m going to and I use my cell phone navigation as a backup. There are also many free apps for your cell phone available and some work offline as well.
7. Always check on road and weather conditions
Roads and highways in Canada can be treacherous at any time of year. The further north you go, the bigger the chance that you encounter roads in bad condition. It only needs a couple of rainy days to change a gravel highway into a muddy disaster.
To keep up with road conditions download the appropriate Highway Conditions app for the province or territory you’re travelling in.
8. Don’t pick up strangers
It’s kind of hard for me to suggest this, after my hitchhiking era in my twenties. But for my own safety, I don’t pick up anybody along the road. My RAV4 is converted into a mini camper and there is no room for a passenger, which makes it easy for me to decline any rides.
9. Don’t drive at night
Unless you have accommodation booked and you know where you will spend the night, don’t drive at night. This keeps you from stopping at a place for the night where you don’t want to be and you don’t feel safe.
Also, collisions with wild animals are more common at night and can result in serious accidents.
10. Sleep in your vehicle
During my first few solo road trips, I slept in a tent. That might be a good option if you stay at the official campgrounds. But, it could be pretty scary when you’re on your own in a wild place where bears, cougars, and other wild animals are a common sight.
Since I converted my RAV4 into a mini camper, I enjoy travelling alone much better and feel safer.
If you are not an experienced solo wilderness camper yet, you might want to stay at official campsites.
My top tips for sleeping in a vehicle on solo road trips:
- Lock all the vehicle doors at night;
- Keep one window open a crack for oxygen and fresh air;
- Hang the car key on a string within reach, just in case you need it quickly to drive off;
- Keep bear spray and flashlight within reach.
11. Protect your identity
Be cautious when using the free Internet in public places for doing money transactions and keep safe from online identity theft.
If you’re worried, you can invest in a VPN (Virtual Private Network), an app that’s added to your computer or phone to increase security. I don’t use an app, but I’m careful where I do my online banking.
12. Get travel insurance
I never leave home without travel insurance. As a BC resident, I need additional insurance whenever I travel to another province or Territory in Canada. Check with your insurance before leaving home.
Safety Wing is a great Startup Travel Insurance company with excellent conditions and prices worth checking out.
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