Van camping is on the rise! Many people are ditching their homes in favour of the open road. That’s why I’ve compiled this list of van camping hacks. Hopefully, by using these tricks, you’ll make your time on the road a little easier!
What is van camping?
Van camping is a new outdoor adventure where people travel in their vans and camp in different locations. This activity has become popular, especially among the millennial generation.
Benefits of van camping?
Here are some reasons to go van camping:
- It will help eliminate your fear of the outdoors and allow you to explore the natural world.
- Van camping can be super romantic – imagine laying down your head on a bed of flowers or gazing up at the stars while cuddling up to your special someone!
- It makes it easier to have an adventure.
- It’s an affordable way of travelling.
- Allows you to bond with loved ones – there’s nothing better than spending time with your loved ones when they’re only going to be there for a limited time. Use van camping as an opportunity to bond with those you care about most!
- Van camping is easier than ever before, thanks to Instagram! Find new spots on social media channels, or hire an adventure guide if it’s your first time out.
Here are some of our favourite van camping hacks that will help you make the most out of your trip.
Proven van camping hacks
For many, van camping is a way of life. Being able to see the world without the encumbrances of a home is an opportunity available to everyone. That said, it’s not easy. Van camping requires you to pack smartly and be prepared for anything. Here are our top tips for van camping, so you can be prepared for whatever comes your way.
1. Keep things organized
Van living isn’t easy, and it’s really important to stay organized. We’re not just talking about keeping grocery lists written on the back of takeout menus stuffed into the glove box either – you need to keep everything in its place so you can find it when you need it. This means labeling everything and keeping like with like, so things don’t get jumbled up.
Keep your stuff dry
Waterproof gear is a camping essential, but we’re not just talking about tents and raincoats here. You’ll constantly be exposed to things like rainstorms while van camping, so it’s important to keep everything dry. Invest in some good-quality sealable plastic boxes for storage, and make sure all of your clothes are waterproofed before you get out on the road. Here are some tips for staying warm in a vehicle overnight.
Make your stuff yours
Above all, don’t lose sight of the fact that van camping is about enjoying yourself and getting back down to basics. While we certainly advise you to be prepared for anything, we don’t want you to forget why you’re out on the road in the first place: to explore and enjoy yourself. Make sure your van is an extension of your personality, and make it a home you love coming back to.
4. Pack light
If you’re living out of a car, packing smartly will make all the difference. We recommend you make a packing list and cross things off as you use them to know exactly what to take on your next trip. The best items to keep on hand? Boredom-busting supplies like books, games, and playing cards.
5. Keep your van cozy
Van living isn’t for everyone, but it’s easy to make the experience as warm and inviting as possible by keeping a few key things in mind: first of all, invest in a good quality mattress topper – trust us, you’ll thank us later. You should also invest in a small heater for the winter months and make sure you use lots of blankets and rugs to cut out drafts.
6. Be ready for any weather
Living in a van means you experience various weather conditions in various places – sometimes, it can be hot as hell, and other times it can be cold as a witch’s teat. Make sure you’re prepared for anything by keeping a stash of warm clothes handy for when things cool down and some more lightweight gear to stay cool on hot summer nights.
7. Consider your options
Van camping doesn’t have to mean roughing it 24/7. If you’re the kind of person who likes to vary your experience, then van camping is just as much about being able to live it up when the occasion calls for it. There are many great campsites out there that are set up specifically for campers, with hookups for electricity and water – best of all? They don’t cost a fortune.
Places to camp
Getting a camping spot can be difficult. Fortunately, there’s always somewhere to find a campsite! Here are some great locations:
- National forests – Make sure to check out local/federal rules and regulations, but various national forests allow vehicles or campers. These areas often have a small fee for use.
- Private land – This is more difficult to get permission from, but it’s possible you could get permission if you ask politely enough!
- Walmart Parking Lots – Most Walmart locations have fairly visible parking for overnighters.
- State/National/Provincial parks – These are typically on the more expensive side (there’s likely a fee), but there’s usually water and an unlocked bathroom at the site!
- Cemeteries – Camping in a cemetery may seem a little bizarre, but it can be a quiet and safe place to sleep for the night.
- Parking lots – Some parking lots have rules against overnight parking, but many of these will allow you to stay if you’re discreet about it.
How to stay safe and secure while van camping
Whether you’re alone or with a group, staying safe and secure while camping is always a great idea. Here are some safety precautions for avid van campers:
- Protect your car with a steering wheel lock – These are great because they not only help you protect your car, but different ones even lock your steering wheel so no one can try to drive away with it. Also use car alarms.
- Put a GPS tracker on your vehicle – This is an easy way for loved ones to know where you are and ensure that someone will know where to look if anything happens on the road.
- Avoid sleeping in the front of your van – It may be easy and convenient to sleep up front, but it’s also dangerous because that’s where the engine is located. If you must sleep up front, make sure you don’t leave anything valuable or unattended in plain sight!
- Lock the doors before sleeping – This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s still worth mentioning. If you don’t, someone might try to sneak into your van while you’re sleeping or not paying attention.
It’s important to make sure you’re doing everything you can to stay safe and secure while on the open road. Next time a group of friends is going out for a night or going on a trip with your family, be sure to mention these hacks!
Related: Night hiking tips for beginners
How to make a stylish bedding setup for van camping
If you’re living out of your van, you probably dislike sleeping on the hard floor. Even if it’s better than sleeping in a tent, it may still make you stiff in the morning when you wake up. Find a way to make your own bedding setup that works for you.
If you have a small space, we recommend finding a way to combine the bed and chairs into one piece, especially if you’re just going to be taking naps here and there. This will give you more room than having one by the driver’s seat and another by the door. You can always switch them back around when it’s time for bed or an overnight camping trip.
These days, there are all kinds of self-inflating pads that you can get anywhere from Walmart to Amazon, but these may not always keep you warm enough for van camping in cooler climates. Even if they’re comfortable after getting used to them (which takes about three nights), it’s always good to have something else just in case.
Throw a twin-sized comforter, quilt, or large blanket over the air mattress, and you’ll be able to warm up right quick. If it’s not warm enough for you, double up on your blankets and see if that works better. With the enclosed space of a van, you’ll heat up fast and won’t have to worry about it being too cold at night.
Memory foam mattress
Another idea is to get a memory foam mattress topper that’s as thick as you need for your setup. It doesn’t matter if it’s as thin as a quilt or as thick as an air mattress because the point of comfort is what matters most, not its name brand.
Remember that before bed, you’ll still want windows open for airflow, the ceiling fan turned on, and music playing. The best part about van camping is being able to sleep under the stars while still knowing you are safe, warm, and right next to your car.
What if you break down on the road?
It’s never good when your car breaks down. You may panic and not know what to do if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. For any unlucky souls who find themselves stuck on the road, here are a few tips to help you survive spending time at the side of the road.
Vehicle safety is a must
Van camping doesn’t have to be risky, but it can create some situations that increase accident risks and being stranded on the side of the road. Be sure to pack a set of jumper cables, some extra food and water, and blankets, so you’re prepared for anything. Also, ensure you are up to date on routine maintenance to prevent breakdowns in the first place.
Fill your gas tank
Running out of gas is one of the worst things that can happen to a van camper. To avoid being stuck on the road with an empty tank, fill up your gas tank whenever you are at a gas station — even if the needle doesn’t show it’s running low. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
Bring tools for minor fixes on the road
Some easily fixable issues can occur on the road but will leave you stranded if they aren’t attended to. Keep a tool kit with you at all times, and make sure it includes Philips and flat head screwdrivers, duct tape, pliers, wire cutters, safety goggles, adjustable wrench, utility knife, tire pressure gauge, rubber mallet, jumper cables, ratchet straps, and some extra fuses.
Be ready to tackle any weather
When van camping, it’s important to be ready for any type of weather that you might encounter. Check the forecast before leaving to see what you should pack, and use those projections as a guideline for how to dress throughout your trip. If you’re camping in a colder climate, bring an ice scraper, winter clothes, and snow tires. If you will be in a hot climate, pack plenty of sunscreen, bug spray, and high SPF body lotion.
Be ready for any emergency
Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid being stuck on the side of the road. Prepare for this inevitability by packing an emergency car kit that includes jumper cables, tow straps, first aid kit, tire plug kits, water, and non-perishable snacks. This way, you’ll be ready for whatever happens.
Your first aid kit should have these essentials:
Band-aids, antibiotic ointment, gauze pads (small and large), medical tape, tweezers, safety pins, butterfly bandages, cotton balls, cotton swabs, alcohol wipes, hydrogen peroxide, calamine lotion, aspirin, ibuprofen, antacids, eye drops, sunscreen medication for migraines, heartburn, indigestion, etc. Latex gloves, paper clips, paper towels, tampons, liners, and maxi pads.
More van camping hacks
Bring a knife or multi-tool
This might sound super simple, but it’s easy to forget that you don’t always have your kitchen sink at your disposal when van camping! Pack a knife or multi-tool, which can be very useful for anything from chopping down firewood to opening a can of beans.
Sleep when you’re tired
Remember that part from earlier where we told you to remember your tent? This is it. Don’t go out in the middle of the night just because you’re too excited to see your campsite. Get some good rest, wake up when the sun is up and enjoy exploring when you’re feeling refreshed.
Take it slow
This might be hard for some people to understand, but there are no rush hours in van camping. There’s no reason to cram your days with as many things as possible. You can take your time, stop and smell the roses, and arrive at your destination whenever you want – there’s never a “wrong” time to set up camp!
Keep food cold without an icebox
Foods like vegetables and fruits can go bad quickly when you’re transporting them in a hot car. Instead of popping them in your main cooler, try packing them inside a simple fabric bag and place them inside an ice chest. If you have a few frozen water bottles on hand, they can also help to keep things nice and chilled.
Keep food fresh without an icebox
While keeping your food cold is important, you don’t want it to get too warm either. Pack your food inside individual Ziploc bags before adding them to the ice chest. This will help prevent any leaks and help food stay fresh longer!
Prepare your meals ahead of time
By now, you’ve probably already realized that cooking in a van camping setting can be a bit more difficult than your average kitchen. Instead of trying to play chef in your small, confined space, pre-prepare some meals or snacks before you head out. If you’re planning on eating sandwiches for most of your trip, consider cooking up some meat beforehand and adding it later.
Practice Leave No Trace principles
Whenever you’re van camping, it’s important to think about how your actions affect the environment around you. Keep in mind that other campers or backpackers will most likely use the space you’re currently in after you leave. Think twice before picking up a piece of trash and breaking down your campsite. Every one of us can help to protect the environment we love so much.
Ways to save money while van camping
With ever-increasing gas prices, it can feel as though money is being sucked from your budget with every mile you drive. However, there are many money-saving hacks for those who choose to do a bit of van camping. Some of these hacks include: free campsites, cooking with a cooler, and following the 70/30 rule.
With free campsites, you can sleep without spending a dime on somewhere safer to park your rig overnight. Some cities have designated “free camping” sites, which are perfect for drivers who want to save money and still be able to rest their heads at night.
If you’d rather not work with city officials or worry about where your next meal is coming from, cooking with a cooler is a perfect solution. You can save money by using ice from coolers to cook food and ice from stores for drinks throughout the day. The 70/30 rule simply means that for every $70 you spend on luxury items, such as fancy foods or iced coffee, try spending no more than $30 on necessities. There are several ways to keep your wallet happy while still enjoying the finer things in life, and this money-saving hack can help you achieve just that.
It’s no secret that van camping is on the rise. Whether you’re a seasoned vet or this will be your first time sleeping under the stars, we hope these van camping hacks will help make your next trip as comfortable as possible!