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Theft: How to Avoid it & What to do if it Happens

It’s time we talked about the topic of theft, of your vehicle, caravan or belongings. It’s not a nice subject I know, but unfortunately quite necessary to prepare ourselves against.

Camping poses a serious security risk, especially if using a tent. According to The Camping & Caravan Club last year alone it is suggested that 1,200 caravans were stolen in the UK, that’s not including the figure for tents on camp sites, motor homes, or break-ins at service stations etc. 

Being targeted will likely ruin a good holiday and often results in losing something that’s worth more in terms of sentimental value. It makes me angry to think that there are people in the world that feel that they’re somehow entitled to what others have worked hard for, but there are plenty of them around.

We shouldn't allow the worry of theft to ruin our enjoyment of camping but we also shouldn't be reckless with our valued possessions, I personally find a degree comfort in having taken steps to be safe - as we wish you to stay safe as well!

See below for our tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of theft and what to do if it happens anyway:


Camping with tents:

In this scenario really the best option is to just not bring any expensive gadgets with you to start with. It’s good to get away from technology for a while anyhow! If you have no choice, then make sure that the goods are safely locked away in the car when you all totter off to the shower blocks in the morning. If you have bicycles with you then remember to chain them up, ideally to something immovable like a tree or perhaps the car again!


Motor Homes & Caravans:

Unfortunately motor homes and caravans are also notoriously easy targets for thieves due to their high value and weak window and door locks. Older vehicles are generally more unsecure than newer ones but then the newer ones are worth more and so offer yet more of a motive. The habitation door can very easily be popped open with a bar or large screwdriver, often without even bothering with the lock itself, and the flexible walls can even leave you with structural damage after such a break in.

Caravans are not registered like motor homes and other vehicles, so can be easier for thieves to sell on and get away with. However there is a scheme running where you can register your caravan and receive an equivalent to the V5 vehicle registration document which will make it easier to track and prove it’s yours. Having the number etched on the windows can be a good deterrent. See  for more information and to register your caravan. 


Who are thieves and how can you spot them?

Unfortunately modern day thieves don’t wear black and white stripy clothes like the cartoons, carry swag bags or wear masks. They don’t sneak around looking shifty and hide behind walls. Well OK, some do!

Some thieves are better than others of course, but the professionals will generally remain calm and confident, and may look like any other holidayer on site whilst walking around on the look-out for potential targets. They might even wave and say hello!

They don’t always wait for the cover of darkness either, if an opportunity presents they will strike whatever time of day it is and no matter if someone else may see. They know the likelihood is that by the time the police attend they will be long gone and are unlikely to be recognised anyway. Some thieves can be so brazen they may even talk an unwitting passer-by into helping them, believing that they are the owner!

We don't wish to cause you to be suspicious of everybody you meet and prevent you from making friends on your holiday, rather we just want you to be aware.


What do they want?

Everyone wants the easiest option in life and a thief is no different. They want something they can sell fast, is easy to get to and get away with, and preferably without a fight.

Try to look at where the weak points and temptations are on your vehicle from a strangers’ perspective. There are often things we overlook or take for granted that may be very obvious to someone else. You’ve worked very hard to earn the money to buy all of those things so don’t make it easy for someone to take it away!


So what can you do?

First and foremost, use common sense and don’t leave the keys lying around or in the ignition while you check your rear lights or doze in your camping chair!

Buy a Wheel Clamp on Amazon now!Buy a Wheel Clamp on Amazon now!

Buy padlocks on Amazon now!Buy padlocks on Amazon now!Don’t leave your caravan parked on your driveway with the hitch facing out ready to go.

The most basic step you can take is to use a lock. Use your existing window & door locks when you go to bed or pop over to the toilets, and consider installing some additional or up-rated locks where possible. Even the poor standard locks on motor homes and caravans will still be a deterrent, as we said before thieves like it easy so if they have to use a tool they will likely move on to try somewhere else instead unless they've seen something they really want.Buy Steering Wheel Lock on Amazon now!Buy Steering Wheel Lock on Amazon now!

Buy Hitch-Lock on Amazon now!Buy Hitch-Lock on Amazon now!Take a second to lock your doors when you make a quick stop at a petrol station. Consider just how short a timeframe it takes for someone to hop inside and drive away, or even just to grab your camera bag off the sofa – seconds? They could be gone before you even reach the petrol station’s kiosk door!

To make it easy there exists a lock for literally everything you could possibly want to secure: 

Buy Milenco security door rail on Amazon now!Buy Milenco security door rail on Amazon now!padlocks, wheel clamps, hitch locks for caravans, steering wheel locks, clutch or brake pedal locks, 

Buy Milenco Corner-Steady Locks on Amazon now!Buy Milenco Corner-Steady Locks on Amazon now!

and handbrake locks.

<Milenco corner-steady locks are a great idea making it extremely difficult to tow the vehicle away without dealing with them. As is their security hand rail for the habitation door which comes in useful for getting safely in and out.

Buy Extra-Long Security Cable on Amazon now!Buy Extra-Long Security Cable on Amazon now!


Remember also to lock up any outside-stored valuables like the BBQ, generator, and any bicycles and chairs when you’re not using them.  Have a good quality cable for looping through a variety of things.



Insurance is a good idea although it’s not a legal requirement for a caravan to be on the road. Although insurance doesn’t stop the problem from happening, it can give you peace of mind to not have to worry about how you would afford to buy it all over again. Also don’t forget that it might easily be a fire or a flood that takes your caravan or motor home instead of theft, so insurance is definitely worth having! Make sure it covers what you may have had inside or strapped to the roof etc.

Have a record, and the receipts if possible, of your valuables, including serial numbers etc. Keep the record separately at home of course rather than inside the stolen vehicle!

On this topic, some insurers will refuse to pay out if you had not taken certain pre-agreed security steps like hitch locks and security etching on goods, so be sure to enquire and check the small print as to what is expected of you.

Buy an etching kit on Amazon now!Buy an etching kit on Amazon now!



It’s recommended that you get the windows etched with the vehicles VIN number in case the plate is destroyed or changed and some people even go to the length of etching it or their postcode on the roof, I say if it has a chance of getting your van back then it’s worth the effort! You can buy DIY etching kits on Amazon for a reasonable price.

Buy a property marking kit on Amazon now!Buy a property marking kit on Amazon now!


Also mark the rest of your belongings with a security marker pen. Again it may not stop the thief from initially stealing the items but will prove that it’s your stuff and can help secure a conviction against the perpetrator. Without a mark of this sort the Police really have no evidence to prove that the item they may have found on the suspect is indeed stolen.


Alarms & trackers:

There are all kinds of fancy alarms and tracker systems available so we suggest that you personally do the research to find the best one for your budget and situation. There’s just too many for us to give any recommendations on here!

One thing we agree on regarding alarms however is that it should be loud, and I mean LOUD! Some alarms are so weak they’d barely disturb anyone never mind the burglar or neighbours. You want something that’s impossible to ignore, and I would rather have complaints about the noise from a neighbour than lose the vehicle altogether!

If you can afford one, tracker systems have proven themselves time and time again for many lucky people.

We should also mention immobilisers here for motor homes as they too have proved effective in protecting vehicles from theft. Newer models tend to come with them as standard now so again older motor homes are an easier target and may benefit from having one installed.  

Again check your insurance policy as you may be required to have an alarm and immobiliser to be covered.

With any of these systems we really do recommend getting professional help, they can be immensely frustrating if something's done wrong and may even leave you stranded instead!



Buy the Sentry Safe on Amazon now!Buy the Sentry Safe on Amazon now!Invest in a fire-safe for your high value or important items like fine jewellery and passports etc. Since we're talking about protecting your important property, it also goes to say you should consider what you might lose in a fire or similar accident. If touring abroad, losing your passport or other important documents could prove very troublesome indeed!

The size you go for really depends on exactly what you want to secure in it and how much weight you can afford to carry on board as they are very heavy items.

Keep the safe out of direct sight in a cupboard, perhaps even behind clothes, to minimise temptation. Some can be affixed to the vehicle itself to stop it being removed to access later if it's discovered in a burglary.


Buy BW70 CCTV Camera on Amazon now! Buy BW70 CCTV Camera on Amazon now! Have a CCTV system installed at home to keep an eye on your vehicle whilst you’re not looking, they’re relatively cheap nowadays and it may well pay for itself by saving your vehicle or even your house. If you are still burgled then CCTV may help identify the individual responsible and secure a conviction that just couldn’t have otherwise been proven.

Don't bother wasting your money on dummy cameras, you'll be kicking yourself if you got burgled and couldn't identify who did it! For just a few quid more you can buy one like the BW70 CCTV Camera on the left, a mere £13.33! Of course if you can spend more on a system then we suggest you get the best you can, as you probably still stand to lose more than it's outlay.

Be sure to take advantage of the CCTV in car parks and shopping centres when you’re out and about. Take a moment to try to park in such a way that your weak points are covered to reduce your vehicles attraction as a target.

We have a reversing camera installed on Waki which can also come in handy for seeing what's going on at the rear if we hear a noise at night, without having to step a foot outside.


Other tips to avoid break-ins:

  • Use gravel, dried leaves or other noisy surfaces to take away the option of anyone sneaking up quietly whilst you're inside.
  • See also our tips on wild camping to avoid dodgy areas or confrontations.
  • Make sure you always put things away out of sight in general, don’t leave camera and laptop bags laying around in view.
  • As we said before, thieves like it easy so make it difficult!
  • Keep your blinds closed when you’re not in the vehicle to stop anyone from being able to peer in and check out your stuff and the position of locks etc.
  • Remember also that you don’t always need to see the actual gadget to know of its existence so clean off the windscreen marks from phone and sat-nav holders, and also tidy away any accessories like charger cables or ipad add-ons.
  • All vehicles are different and generally have a selection of places to stash things away so get to exploring yours. You could even go as far as to creating false cupboard and drawer backs to hide your valuables behind.


What to do if it happens;

In the event of a theft from your vehicle or if you find it abandoned do not touch anything. Scenes of crime may want to look at it for finger prints etc.

  1. Contact the police immediately. If the whole vehicle has just been stolen dial 999, or 112 in Europe, and tell them the make, model and registration number of your vehicle. Include the road name you’re on so they can get to searching the right area quickly. Give as much detail as you can such as anything that makes your motor home recognisable against all of the other tourists in the area. Most people have something that personalises their vehicle but perhaps also consider having something on the roof that can be seen from a helicopter. Note that if you come home to discover that your vehicle has been stolen or broken into, likely hours ago, it’s best to telephone your local station directly to report the theft instead of putting needless call traffic through the busy emergency telephone system.
  2. Give a list and description of the items stolen from or with the vehicle, with as much detail as possible, including the serial numbers of the gadgets you noted down earlier! You will need this information for an insurance claim but also passing the list to Police means they might find the evidence that catches the thief.
  3. Ask if anyone around saw it happen or anything suspicious. Get the names and contact details of anyone willing to give a statement to Police.
  4. Activate your tracker system if you have one and pass the details to Police.
  5. Go to for help and advice on dealing with the aftermath and any worries you may have.

Social Media:

Another step available to use to our advantage in this modern era is in the use of social media. These days a single photo can be seen by millions of people all over the country within a matter of hours! Use a recognisable photo of your vehicle clearly showing the reg and share it to all of your friends asking them to also share. Don’t forget to include information about where and when it was stolen from, and how people can get in contact with either you or the Police department dealing with it if they know anything. Perhaps even offer a reward for information that leads to its recovery if you can afford to, it will encourage people to contact you if they wouldn't otherwise want the hassle of getting involved.

I do hope this advice serves you all well, and that you don't ever need to use this last section's advice. Just make sure to take some steps to protecting your property before an incident occurs, lock the stable door BEFORE the horse bolts so to speak!

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Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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