Safety Tips for Women Living in Cars: How To Make It Work

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With the cost of living skyrocketing, more people choose or are forced to live out of their cars. However, if you are a woman and considering the necessity—or adventure—of living out of your car, there are extra precautions to consider. Security, privacy, and biological differences are challenges to plan for when living in a car as a woman.

However, many women have successfully taken on these challenges and lived to tell the tale. You can too.

image: woman in brown sweatshirt leaning against open trunk that holds a box, pillow, and bag


Be a Safety Girl

Safety is the foremost consideration for any woman living alone in her car.

Don’t make yourself an easy target.

Although relatively safe, a car can’t provide the same level of protection as four walls and a locked door. Careful planning, however, can reduce those risks and make car living a viable option.

The following are some guidelines on how to live out of your car safely.

Situational Awareness: A Crucial Skill When Living Out of Your Car

The number one way a woman can protect herself is to be alert and aware of her surroundings at all times AND be prepared to act if necessary. Situational awareness is being aware of potential human and environmental threats and analyzing possible exit strategies.

If you can make the following practices an unconscious habit, you will master a critical skill for safely living out of your car.

  • Train yourself to observe others without staring at them. Observe body language and behavior to identify potential threats. For example, someone watching you with too much attention is a red flag and may require action.
  • Follow your gut. Our brains process a lot of information that we do not register consciously, so when an “alarm goes off in your gut,” heed it. And if you sense danger, don’t be afraid to act. Of course, it might be inconvenient if you’re in your car after you’ve set up for the night, but trusting your instincts should always trump inconvenience.
  • Always have an escape route available. Always park your car so you are facing toward an exit and can leave quickly. Oddly enough, backing into a space is illegal in some states, so know your state laws, but if possible, park your car nose out or point toward the exit.
  • Set things up inside your car for a quick exit. One woman always keeps her front seat clear and car keys within reach in case she needs to make a quick getaway. Creating habits like that will help you respond more quickly in a tense situation.

Case the Joint

Another component of situational awareness is knowing what an area should be like before you set up for the night. This helps you know when something is out of place.

Basically, you should try to case the area before staying overnight. For example, is the area generally quiet, or do individuals or groups frequently pass? Or worse, hang out? Is it a popular dog-walking spot in the evening or a running route in the morning?

You are trying to blend in, so having information about your environment is vital for both situational awareness and inconspicuous car living.

Sfrog self defense kit


Tools to Defend Yourself

Whether to have a weapon at hand and what that weapon should be require careful thought. A physical confrontation is more likely to be in close quarters when living in your car, so consider that. Some possibilities include:

  • air horn
  • pepper spray or gel
  • dog spray
  • kubaton
  • stun gun
  • tactical pen
  • tactical flashlight
  • keys
  • knife
  • firearm This one is tricky because it may be illegal in some states. Know your state’s law regarding conceal carry and keeping a firearm in your car. Never possess a firearm that you do not know how to use safely!
  • A self-defense course This is highly recommended, but it can be expensive. Your local recreation center or area YMCA might offer a reasonably priced course. Some martial arts schools will sometimes have free or very inexpensive classes for women. 


Also, never choose a weapon that you don’t know how to use in a scary situation.

Firearms, especially, require training and practice, but pepper sprays and stun guns also need some practice to be safe and effective.

Whatever weapon you choose should be stored so that it is readily available. Placing it under your pillow, velcroed above your head, or tucked into a handy seatback organizer are all possibilities.

Organization is a Safety Measure When Living In a Car As a Woman

Organization is going to be important for successful car living regardless of your gender. But for women, it’s even more critical. In the event of danger, delays of mere seconds while you attempt to locate an item could spell disaster.

Arrange your belongings for comfort and cleanliness, but also so you can escape a situation easily. For example, keep car keys, a flashlight, a self-defense item, and a cell phone within easy reach when you are sleeping.

You should also keep them in the same place every night so you can react more quickly to a developing situation.

As a bonus, keeping things clean, organized, and stowed is also a way to blend in and avoid a “homeless” label. 

Bags, nets, bungees, tie downs, velcro, hanging car seat organizers, and plastic boxes are just a few organizational containers you can use to keep your things organized. You can find things online or at a Home Depot, but may also be obtained for next to nothing at dollar stores, flea markets, garage sales, and thrift stores.

One woman used magnetic bars attached to various places in her van to hang sunglasses, tools, and small metal containers. She also used cargo net bags to stow her belongings and create more space.

Block It All Out for Privacy

Privacy is as much a security precaution for living in a car as a woman as it is a comfort measure.

Taking the time and effort to construct light-blocking window covers will prevent people from seeing that you are in your car alone. (They also allow you to sleep past dawn.)

You can make them in such a way that it is nearly impossible to tell that you have window coverings on the inside of your windows at night.

Crucially, if your car looks like any other parked car, you are less likely to be harassed. Curtains, newspaper, or reflective coverings are dead giveaways that someone is sleeping inside.

To create these privacy shades, you need Reflectix, a sturdy, insulating material sold online or at hardware stores. Cut the Reflectix to the exact size of your window, and cover one side with black felt and the other side with white felt.

They should neatly fit inside the frame of your window and completely block out any light. They also work as insulators to keep your car warmer or cooler. You can find the exact instructions here.

How to Pee Safely and Handle Periods

If you’re post-menopausal, periods won’t be a concern, but you’ll still need to urinate. However, if you’re still menstruating, then you need a plan to deal with Aunt Flo when she visits.

How to Pee Safely 

Men can urinate practically anywhere anytime. Women, not so much.

Getting out of your car at night to pee may not be practical and could even be dangerous. Fortunately, there are some solutions to this issue. 

One simple option is to use a plastic container with a lid. This is a cheap option, but, may be difficult to maneuver, depending on the space in your car.

Instead, you can check out the surprising number of products that make it easier for a woman to urinate into a bottle, even in the awkward confines of a car. This product is just one of the options that sell on Amazon for around $10.

There are other options with different configurations and funnels and such, so choose one that will work for you. I am getting one of these babies to have in case of getting stranded in plastic. They are a great invention for women!

How to Handle Periods

There are several views on how to handle a menstrual cycle, but the best method is going to be the one that works for you. So here are some options. Most hang on the premise that you treat your period normally. Experiment to see which you prefer.

  • Use tampons or pads. Keep used menstrual items in a ziplock-style bag and dispose of them as needed. If you find the odor to be an issue, keep a dryer sheet in the bag.
  • Menstrual cups are an option if you can empty them. However, if you require a midnight dumping, consider using them during the day when you can more safely access a restroom and use tampons or pads at night. Also, consider how you’ll clean and disinfect the cup. Baby wipes work in a pinch.
  • If you’re concerned about overnight leaking, consider wearing period underwear, sleeping on a puppy pad, or using a disposable diaper
  • Use baby wipes to stay clean and fresh between opportunities to shower. 

And, speaking of showers, most truck stops offer clean and safe showers for a fairly low fee. You can read more about them in this article.

Whether you are a woman living out of your car for financial or travel reasons, you can do it safely by planning and preparing.

Practicing situational awareness, staying organized and ready, creating effective window coverings, and thoughtfully choosing a mode of self-defense will give you an advantage in a new, sometimes difficult, lifestyle.

What women-specific tips would you add to these? Share in the comments!

8 thoughts on “Safety Tips for Women Living in Cars: How To Make It Work”

  1. When I travel I find it easier to wear a long flowing dress or skirt so I can pee without exposing myself. I have a container to catch and a separate container with a tight fitting lid to hold.
    Clothing choice might not work for everyone. I can actually do my thing sitting in the car seat if necessary

  2. I am not female, but I hope the following thoughts will be useful to women that find themselves, for whatever reason, having a vehicle as their home.

    An RV has its own accepted by society justifications. Living in any other type of vehicle, not so much. This being the case, here are some ideas that hit me after reading the article and responses.

    1) Do not make the mistake I once made by saying I I might be homeless until I found a new apartment. It might be true, but since someone is living in a vehicle, the term I use, nomad, and ‘living a nomadic lifestyle’ does not have nearly as many of the negative connotations as homeless. You do have a home. It is that vehicle, so you are not lying. And the difference in the way people treat you is immeasurable.

    2) Another way to avoid many of the negative perceptions of people is to appear to be, even if not able to carry through, capable and willing to provide some type of gainful, useful, or creative action or activity.

    Such as having a set of handyman/handywoman tools, kept in good shape or at least looking good. A five-gallon bucket from a big box home improvement store, with a tool skirt with the tools inside gives the appearance of being ready and able to work, if you wanted to. If you can use the tools, so much the better, so if you already have them, do take them with you and keep them where authorities will see them if you want them to see them, but out of sight of any potential thieves. Also, if you need the space, fill the bucket almost to the top with what you need to store and add a cardboard or cloth cover over them and put tools on top.

    3) While it can be easier to have everything in bags and pouches that are easy to access, by keeping most of one’s things in suitcases, packs, and duffles, one of which can be set up with the immediate access items that are kept in the bags and pouches at the ready, everything will appear neat and tidy, and look like you are simply on a trip. Not living in the vehicle, the way a bunch of garbage bags or even store bags with the things you owon does. Whenever you do need to have the easy access item right at hand, take them out and arrange them the way you want for safety, convenience, and expediency.

    4) As part of my modular system of prepping LBE and mobile gear, I have picked up numerous day packs and school packs at end-of-season sales at Walmart for $5 to $10 each. Decent-looking suitcases can be had at the various discount and resale places for not too much money. Better to have one or two that might look well used rather than like they came out of a dumpster. Even if they did.

    The gist of my post is to look like you are just waiting to get to work, to be helpful for something going on locally, or an artist or photographer or bird watcher or anything that people travel to do or experience. Almost anything except look like you are homeless or a thief casing a place to rob. Or something even less savory in some people’s eyes.

    Just my opinion.

  3. Gallon plastic mayonnaise jars can be had from fast food garbage. The hole is big enough for a temp toilet and the lids fit tightly. Keep TP in a large coffee can.

    A black sheet makes a good blackout curtain.

    Wear clothing with plenty of pockets. Learn to love cargo shorts and pants.

  4. Got the windows, I saw that the reflectiv stuff and felt was used. Felt, as I found out, is pricey. Joanns has a sale on flannel right now. Got 5 yards for $21. I got corrugated plastic boards from Michaels for $5 each and in my Nissan I only needed 4. 2 for back window just duct taped together. Kept the black flannel folded and used gorilla spray glue nto hold it on. It’s meh but works alright. Can’t even tell I have anything on my windows. I’ll be looking to add the reflectiv stuff on soon. I left plenty of over hanging flannel to attach it yok. Right now just using duct tape to keep the extra out of the way.

  5. For the windows, I saw that the reflectiv stuff and felt was used. Felt, as I found out, is pricey. Joanns has a sale on flannel right now. Got 5 yards for $21. I got corrugated plastic boards from Michaels for $5 each and in my Nissan I only needed 4. 2 for back window just duct taped together. Kept the black flannel folded and used gorilla spray glue nto hold it on. It’s meh but works alright. Can’t even tell I have anything on my windows. I’ll be looking to add the reflectiv stuff on soon. I left plenty of over hanging flannel to attach it yok. Right now just using duct tape to keep the extra out of the way.

  6. Question: I know the seatbelt through the door handle hack for better security. However my car doesn’t have holes in the handles to do that. What’s another way to secure the doors besides the seatbelt?

  7. I lived in my car for six months after getting evicted because the landlord could get more money from someone else.
    I stayed in campgrounds and when they were overbooked, I stayed in hotels. I was a single woman in her 60’s and I wasn’t willing to stay out on the streets. I slept fine in my car seat but it was bad for circulation. People of course never think women should be alone so I didn’t fit in anywhere. When I could get a yurt at the campground I did that. I never told anyone I was homeless

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