As more people seek ways to connect with nature, camper vans are becoming one of the hottest new trends. Whether you’re ready to commit to van life full-time or you’re planning an extended vacation, you’ll quickly see that there are tons of amazing benefits… and a few challenges.
Living in a van teaches you how to embrace a simpler lifestyle and allows you to explore the country on your own schedule. It’s also a great way to save money and enjoy the great outdoors. However, space is tight, showers are infrequent, and van life requires some serious lifestyle changes.
Making the most of campsites and rest stops is an important key to enjoying your adventure. To do this, you’ll need to plan and make sure you have all the right equipment and supplies. Before you head out on your next trip, take a look at our round-up of the most important van life tips.
1. Plan for Personal Hygiene
While RVs typically have a shower, converted vans usually do not. This makes figuring out how to maintain basic hygiene one of the most important van camping tips. If you stay at paid campgrounds and parks, you’ll have access to their showers and facilities. However, this won’t always be an option.
Investing in a solar shower will ensure you can enjoy a shower whenever you need it. It’s also a great idea to keep a supply of no-rinse wet wipes for times when you’re in places (like cities) where it’s not practical to use a solar shower. If you’ll be living the van life long term, you might want to invest in a membership at a national gym. This will allow you to use their showers and other facilities whenever you come across one of their locations.
You’ll also want to make sure you do some laundry at least every couple of weeks. You can always stop by a local laundromat, wash them by hand and hang them to dry or find an RV park with laundry facilities.
2. Maximize Your Space
Before you head out for your next van camping adventure, you’ll need to pack up all your gear. Since you’ll be so tight on space, it’s important to only bring items you use most often in your daily life. Pack wrinkle-free, machine washable clothing, preferably in solid colors so it’s easy to mix and match. Make sure you consider how long you’ll be on the road and, if necessary, plan for a change of seasons.
Purchase clear plastic containers with lids in various sizes so you can keep all your gear organized. It’s also a great idea to use a label maker to know exactly what’s inside each container. Not only will this prevent you from having to dig through container after container looking for what you need, but it will also make it easier to keep your van clean and clutter-free.
You may want to use packing cubes to hold your clothing and prevent clutter. For smaller items, a few over-the-door organizers can also make a world of difference. This will help you keep things organized and hide them out of sight.
3. Find the Best Places to Park and Camp
There are plenty of ways to find places where you can park and camp. One of the best van life tips is to make sure you download the Ultimate US Campgrounds and iOverlander apps. We particularly like iOverlander because other overlanders add all the camping spots in the app. The listings also provide detailed reviews, including the cost of each site and the poster's experience while staying there.
You can also park your van at some 24-hour stores like Walmart. While you’re there, you can stock up on everything you need and get a good night’s sleep before you take off on the next leg of your trip. Rest stops and truck stops are other options, but you’ll want to approach them with caution. While some are clean and nice, others are certainly not.
4. Set Up Your Site for Comfort
When you’re staying at a campsite, this is your opportunity to really get out and enjoy some time in nature. To make the most of it, you’ll want to take the time to set up your site for comfort. Start by setting up a pop-up canopy so you can create a comfortable, shaded area that’s protected from the rain. You’ll also want to pull out some comfortable folding chairs that will allow you to kick back and relax.
You never know when you’ll be lucky enough to camp or park near a beach or lake, so make sure you have lightweight backpack beach chairs and a beach umbrella handy at all times! This way, you can relax and enjoy some time by the water without any hassle. After you’ve been cooped up in a van all day, you’ll find that this is a much-needed respite.
5. Commit to Eating Healthy
While most van life tips cover logistics, it’s also important not to forget about your health. It’s easy to fall into some less-than-desirable patterns, so make sure you make it a point to adopt healthy habits.
Staying away from fast food is another one of the most important van life tips! Yes, it’s cheap, convenient, and tasty, but it’s also really bad for you. The pull of a greasy burger and fries is super tempting, and once you start, it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole and end up craving it all the time.
To help keep your eating on track, make sure you have a basic kitchen setup. Some camper vans have kitchens built-in, but if yours doesn’t, you’ll want to make sure you have a camping stove and/or a small grill. If you don’t have a refrigerator in your camper, you’ll also want to put some thought into choosing the right size cooler for your needs.
If you’re camping on your own, a small soft-sided insulated cooler may be sufficient. However, if you have the room, you might decide a larger, durable cooler is a better option. This will allow you to shop less often and keep plenty of healthy foods handy at all times.
When you’re at your campsite, it’s also a good idea to cook several days’ worth of food at once. For example, you can grill up a bunch of chicken, then keep it in the cooler and use it to make various meals throughout the week. Setting up a foldable camping table will allow you to create a makeshift cooking station so you have plenty of room for healthy food prep.
6. Stay Physically Fit
Spending days at a time inside a cramped space can have an impact on your physical fitness. This is why it’s so important to commit to staying physically fit. When you’re camping, you’ll have plenty of time to take long hikes, go for a run, or do exercises like squats and pushups.
If you’re going to be on the road and doing city travel for an extended time, this is yet another reason to consider a gym membership or seek out a gym that offers day passes. This will allow you to get in at least a few good training sessions to balance out your outdoor workouts.
7. Create a Routine
You’ll feel physically and mentally healthier if you stick to a routine while you’re on the road. It’s easy to let things go, so living by some basic guidelines will help you stay on track.
It’s a great idea to set an alarm and get up at the same time each day. This will help you take care of your chores early on so you can spend the rest of your day enjoying your adventure. When you get up, spend a few minutes cleaning up your van. Put things away, wash any dishes from your breakfast, and sweep the floors. Making your bed will also make your van feel more like home.
If you’re not on vacation, you may also want to spend a few minutes each day writing down your daily goals. This will help you stay on track and give you a sense of accomplishment when you’ve scratched all the items off your list.
8. Prepare for the Unexpected
If there’s one van life tip you don’t want to forget, it’s to always expect the unexpected! Make sure you bring along some tools so you can change out parts on your van if needed and repair other things while you’re on the road. Some of the things you’ll want to have in your toolbox include duct tape, wire strippers, extra fuses, spare electrical connectors, and a headlamp. Also, make sure you have emergency items like a full first aid kit and a fire extinguisher.
Of all the van life tips we’ve covered, the most important is to have fun! Remember, this is an adventure. Try to spend your days exploring new areas, meeting people, and making friends. There will be some ups and downs, but even the hard times are a chance to learn and create memories you’ll never forget.