Written by Bree Contreras
Inauguration week is upon us, and after the way the first week of 2021 played out, a lot of folks are rightfully nervous about what this week will hold or what any of it might mean for our country, our democracy, and our safety. For many of us living life on the road, the new year has necessitated movement in one way or another, with recent events presenting a whole host of new and unforeseen safety concerns.
Let me start by saying: discord and the civil unrest following elections and amidst power transfers are not unheard of.Bree
Let me start by saying: discord and the civil unrest following elections and amidst power transfers are not unheard of. In fact, it happens kind of a lot across the globe, for various reasons, and I would know. Before I moved into a van, I was a Global Security Operations and Intelligence Analyst for one of the world’s largest travel insurers. I got paid to watch (among other things) civil unrest and societal upheaval unfold across Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean and make security recommendations/plans for travelers in the event of an emergency.
I was a part of a small team of folks, each highly trained in crisis management and armed with specialized knowledge of the social, political, historical, and industrial happenings of a particular region of the world. 24/7, 365, one of us was always monitoring some type of unrest. I’m telling you- it happens a lot.
Despite its regularity and the fact that most of the time, folks can avoid major incidents by taking a few extra steps, the civil unrest of any sort still has the potential to be incredibly dangerous. Particularly for anyone undertaking road travel.
As we see white supremacists continue to be emboldened on our national stage and disperse across the country in preparation for the inauguration ceremony, the risk presented to road dwellers– particularly road dwellers that exist at the intersections of marginalized identities—is elevated. Generally, the most secure advice I or anyone can give in this particular situation is to avoid travel for the days leading up to the inauguration and roughly 1-2 weeks after, depending on personal comfort/starting region, unless it is absolutely necessary.
I imagine if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably found it necessary to move your home in the next few weeks. Whether your destination is around the corner or across the country, keep reading for 8 nomad safety tips for inauguration week travel.
1. Stock up on supplies, water, shelf-stable foods, etc., to minimize stops on the road.
If you must travel right now, make sure to do so with a house stocked full of the essentials. Grab plenty of extra water and pantry staples like granola, freeze-dried meals, oats, jerky, rice, beans, and dried fruits for cost-effective shelf-stable and filling eats in between grocery stops.
2. Research travel routes
Cross-compare with news and social media reports to determine the risk level. Plan backup routes or stop alternatives as an extra precaution.
We live in a digital age, y’all. It’s tedious work, but I suggest searching the internet, news reports, and social media (mostly Twitter) and using specific keywords including protest, riot, attack, roadblock, nationalists, militia, etc. This can help clue you in on places to avoid as you make your way to your destination. Use timeframe filters when searching to help you narrow in on recent activity for relevance.
3. Try to restrict all movement to daytime hours if possible.
Travel during the day is generally a bit less risky than traveling after dark. Factors that can decrease safety include decreased visibility, unfamiliar roads, and the prevalence of sundown towns, all present increased safety risks, particularly to minority travelers. Scheduling all travel to occur during the day is a good way to mitigate some of these risks.
4. “Minimize” your likelihood of being stopped by police
Check your lights before traveling and always use turn signals.
Not that it should be our job as citizens to avoid interactions with police, but we do know that police are often not our friends, so doing what we can to fly under the radar is never a bad thing. Check all lights (including clearance lights for buses and RVs), turn signals, and brake lights before travel, which is especially important if you must for any reason travel at night.
5. Ensure all documentation for vehicle and travelers are up to date.
Keep copies on hand.
Before undertaking any travel, ensure all necessary documentation for both the vehicle and ALL travelers are up to date. If you know your route or backup route passes near a border or checkpoint, for example, ensure that everyone in the vehicle has valid identification and proof of citizenship from their home country.
6. Avoid state capitols and major cities leading up to and following the inauguration ceremony.
State capitols and major cities have been sites of violence and protest in the past. In the days following the storming of the Capitol, the FBI is aware of several threats of “armed protests” made against the capitols of all 50 states in the U.S. While the validity of the threats is unclear, similar threats were made before the January 6th storming of the nation’s Capitol. Avoid state capitols and major cities along your routes where possible to reduce your risk of encountering these demonstrations.
7. Only unpack as much as you need
When you arrive at a new campsite don’t leave anything out overnight that you wouldn’t want to leave behind.
As you set up camp, take note of your belongings and what you’re setting out. Before you turn in for the night, make a note of what you’re leaving out. If you had to leave in the middle of the night for whatever reason, would you be sad to leave it? If so—pack it in, just in case.
8. Avoid areas known for “right-wing affiliation, militia, proud boys, conservatism,” etc. remember- police are unlikely to help
This seems like a no-brainer, but seriously. Some places in our country are notorious for their intolerance. Remember that even in “progressive” areas, police are still police at the end of the day. Part of their duty is to uphold white supremacy and are largely unhelpful to Black people, Indigenous folks, and POC—it only gets worse in more conservative places. Avoid these areas wherever possible in the coming weeks unless you have a network or access to a safe space in the area.
9. Maintain a heightened sense of situational awareness
If anything makes you uncomfortable, remember that you’re on wheels, and you can leave.
Try to arrive at camp before sunset. When you arrive at your campsite, take stock of your surroundings. Do you have neighbors? Are there any walk-up trails near your site? How far is the nearest town? Double and triple-check that you have service or some means of communication (satellite phones are the BEST for this, but they can get kind of pricey) and ensure that you’re 100% comfortable before committing for the night. Also, be sure that you can quickly access the driver’s seat from inside of the vehicle.
Should something happen to make you feel uncomfortable, do not hesitate to leave and find a more secure location—even if that’s in a truck stop parking lot. Your safety and peace of mind is the ultimate concern in all things, so do what feels best for you.
As I mentioned earlier, not traveling unless absolutely necessary during the next few weeks is likely the easiest way to ensure your security as our nation undergoes a transfer of power unlike any we’ve seen before. However, if traveling is on your must-do list for 2021 for any reason, take these tips with you, and please, be safe out there, friends.