If you’re new to van life or are looking for some van life tips before you get started living in a van, this post will share our best insights from years of life on the road!
Living in a van is not all roses like you see on social media. It is amazing and a great lifestyle! Many people enjoy van living. Some people just survive it. And still, others regret ever making the choice to live life on the road.
We have been living out of multiple vans over the last 10 years (both full-time and part-time) and we’ve come across a lot of experiences that have made life on the road easier. From tips for finding great stealth camping spots to having everything you need for every day van living – we’ve got you covered!
Here are our top van life tips for making the most of full-time van life.
Our Van Life Tips
We have lived out of our recent campervan full-time for a year of travelling through Australia and have also lived in a different camper van in Canada for 2 years.
Keep reading as we will give you some great tips on how to survive and live a happy full-time van life.
When you live in a van, minimalism is everything. You really need to think about everything you need and what you do not need.
Living in a small space, you do not have a lot of room for extra items, let alone all the essentials that will make van life possible. It may take time for you to adjust or you may already live this way, but it is the best way to be.
Even though we have spent years living out of backpacks traveling to over 70 countries worldwide, we still felt like we had too much when we upgraded to our campervan Marlee. So we are always critical of the things we pack and try to make sure that every item has it’s purpose and place.
Choose the right Campervan for you
This is one of the biggest van life tips to consider before you even set out on a road trip. You really need to think about what campervan you want to have.
You may want a small one as you are a solo traveller or a larger one to fit the family. Maybe you are not confident driving a larger vehicle. Choose the right van for you to help you go where you want to go, do what you want to do and live the way you want to live.
Do not get caught up in all the vans on Instagram. Use them for inspiration, perhaps. But choose your van for your lifestyle.
Do you want it to fit in a standard car bay or do you not mind that it is bigger as you need the space in a parking lot? Do you plan to spend a lot of time off-grid where you may require more solar panels, bigger batteries and more freshwater? Or will you spend a majority of your time stealth camping in cities trying to fit in with other cars in the parking lots?
There are lots of things you need to know and consider before purchasing a camper van. So think through what will be most important to you and plan your van living based on that.
For example, we live and work full time out of our campervan so it was important for us to have adequate workspace and a great power setup.
Organisation Is Key
Organisation is key. We can’t stress this enough. When it comes to living in such a small space it is important to know where every item you packed is and how to get through every day life on the road in your campervan.
Organisation keeps the van tidy and clean and helps your van look great. But it also helps your mental health.
When our van is organised, I feel so good about it.
It will take a bit to get in the rhythm of being organised, but it will come with practice. And you may find that you will change things around from time to time until you find a way to make things work the way you want them to.
You can get draw organisers, draw dividers, cupboard organisers and box organisers. Use them all and get organised right from the start!
Everything Has A Home
When everything has a home in your van, everything is tidy and the van looks tidy. This van life tip goes hand and hand with being organised.
In our van, everything has a home and goes back where it lives. When you’re living in a van, everything has to be put away each night and every morning.
So knowing where you put every item will help you find it when you need it, keep you from tripping on it when you have too many things laying around and you get that unwanted knock on the door in the middle of the night.
One In, One Out
In the van when one thing comes in, something has to go out. There simply is not enough space to keep piling things in.
You can not hoard items as this will be build up in your van and you do not have the space. So if you find a new gadget or trinket from an incredible experience then you need to make room for it by getting rid of something else.
Be strong and make sure you stick to this. You will be thankful and so will your van.
Have a checklist of what’s in your van
Knowing what items are in your van is important. There are boxes at the back of our campervan that we do not touch.
We label them so we know what’s in the box and we have a checklist in the glovebox. Everyone in van life should do this so you do not double up on items and you know where everything is.
This is also good practise in the event you need to make an insurance claim and the company wants to know which things were taken or destroyed.
Brighten your space with white walls and pops of colour
When you live in the small space of a camper van, you need to think of ways to make your area feel larger and bigger.
You will find that simple things like having a white interior will really make the campervan feel much larger in space. If you have windows, keep the clutter from blocking sunlight during the day.
You can also add your style and colour to your campervan to make it feel like home by adding a back splash or accent wall here or there. But do not go over the top. Simple is best.
Reduce your waste in the van
One of the best ways to stay organized inside your camper van is to reduce the amount of waste inside of it. This is something both Jarryd and I are very conscious about.
We try to minimise our rubbish and think about the waste while we are purchasing food.
Our camper van is equipped with a great compost toilet, which is amazing for minimizing wasted water. And we do not use any chemicals for this such that our solid waste turns into soil in the end.
We also use biodegradable products such as dish liquid, shampoo, condition and soap. And when we empty our grey water we do not feel bad as we know it does not affect the environment.
And we recycle everything we can. There is a little basket when we collect the recyclable items and we drop them into a recycle bin every time we see one.
There are many ways to reduce your waste. We highly recommend this for van life and for the environment.
Don’t forget to follow us on social media, where we share the real story of what it’s like travelling and living in a van full-time!
Hang personal Items to feel more homely
Hang personal items around the campervan to make it feel like home and a place you want to be.
We recommend things like pictures, paintings, plants or sentimental items to make it your own home on the road.
This is just a small van life tip but one we think will make every day feel even more special when you wake up and see your beautiful home to your campervan after a long day exploring, as it is your own and you have beautiful items around to make it feel cozy.
Have both Winter and Summer clothes with you
The seasons can change so quickly. When you are living out of a van you need to be prepared for the cold and the warm.
We have winter clothes ready to go in vacuum bags in storage. We also have another blanket for our bed in a vacuum bag also.
When we pull out all the winter gear, we pack away the summer dresses, skirts and shorts and store them for later.
This saves you money as you do not need to buy anything as you already have it with you. And unless you have a lot of stuff you really can’t downsize and can store things in a central location you will frequent seasonally, having just enough of the right clothing will go a long way in allowing you to explore all sorts of places in all kinds of weather!
Have the Right Gear
Perhaps the most important of all of our van life tips is having the right gear from the start. What I mean by this is having things that you can not live without.
At the very least we would recommend a shower so you can freshen up, a solar system to charge your battery bank, water storage so you can wash dishes and cook, a cooker so you can cook your meals and a great fridge so you can store your cold items.
Going the cheapest with your gear can not be the way to go as it can break or stop working. And sometimes having a workaround can be far more work than it is worth.
For example, we can’t imagine owning a camper van without a toilet. Even if it is a portable bucket toilet, the idea of having to find a restroom or digging a hole in an emergency is just something we don’t want to consider!
Do your research and see what others are saying about items before you purchase. Sometimes spending that little more money can save you so much money and headaches in the future.
READ MORE: Be sure to check out our post on all of the campervan accessories you should consider for living in a van.
Bring Only What You Need
When you move into a new apartment or house you have all the space and you can have many items.
But living in a van is different and space is not on your side. Really think about what you need to have in your campervan. And try to think critically about whether you will ever actually use that one thing or another.
Will you use that kayak or mountain bike regularly? Will you need that many books and do you really need that many shoes?
Really think about what comes into your van and takes up your space. If you don’t use it regularly, or at least often enough to offset the cost of replacing it later, consider giving it away to another camper or selling it for a little extra money to get you what you know you want and need.
Do a Spring Cleaning twice a year
Van living is surprisingly messy. From tracking mud and sand into the van after a long hike or day at the beach to the dust that seems to find its way into every seam when driving down a dirt road, van life can be filthy!
Doing a spring clean regularly will help you keep the van tidy. We clean the van weekly but a couple of times a year we pull everything out and wipe down cupboards, draws, storage areas and clean out the battery box.
This will help with dust build-up and clean out items you are really not using anyway. It will likely surprise you to find something you forgot you even had tucked away and taking up space.
It is important to do a spring clean out at least twice a year and give everything a good wipe down.
Learn About Your Campervan Inside and Out
Know your van from back to front and back again. This will help when there is an issue – and (spoiler alert!) there will be an issue at some point when you are living in a van.
We did not build our van. So instead of knowing everything we wanted to install and actually doing the work of installing it, we researched everything when we bought the van.
This includes the big things that you need to know, such as how the battery and solar system works, how the composting toilet works, how the water system works and the hot water system.
It is important to know your gear. We, unfortunately, did not know where the piping and wires were located and how they were connected and plumbed.
But we just use command hooks for the walls to hang items up so we do not drill into anything.
Make a Full-Time RV Budget
Make a full-time van living budget and stick with it. This will help you extend your money further to make more of your time on the road.
We make our budget monthly and reevaluate it from time to time to take note of what we spend our money on and how we spend it. If we spend too much money in an area we take note and work on it for next month.
You need to spend some money on fun things to stay sane, so do not be too harsh on yourself and treat yourself now and then.
READ MORE: If you’re interested, check out our monthly budget where we account for every dollar we spend starting with our first month on the road.
Have a fun fund
This is where the fun fund comes in, to keep you sane. Like I said in the above tip, treat yourself from time to time.
Have a fun fund for date nights, or for a new book or clothes, or to go to the movies or concert from time to time.
It can be whatever you like. But stick to the amount you put in there. Do not spend more than what you have as this can get dangerous where you may be tempted to continue to spend on fun things because it is, well, fun!
We are not going to tell you how you should spend your money when you’re living in a van. But we think you need to know that there is a lot of freedom in giving yourself a fun fund that is a sort of reward for sticking with your budget.
Do note that these van life tips are more for full-time van living. If you are just planning an epic road trip with your mates and want to blow it out one night after the next for a few days or weeks, by all means, enjoy the best that living in a van has to offer!
But if you are like us, where you live and work on the road and every day is as important as the next, having a fun fund will also help you break up the monotony that may make camping in a parking lot to save a few dollars worth it all!
Look after your mental health
Because living in a van means that you are living in a small space, it is important to take up hobbies or get out daily for exercise.
Do not abandon this time. Make time for it. It will release the stress you may have and get you out of the van.
It will be good for your relationship also if you are travelling as a couple.
We also find it is important if you work out of your van on the road. Staring at a computer screen or participating in virtual meetings all day can suck the life out of you.
But if you can go for a SUP paddle before you clock in, or can hike to a nearby peak to watch an epic sunset at the end of the workday, no doubt you’ll appreciate the benefits of living in a van!
Cook the meals you want
We love having a kitchen (well a cooker) in our van. By having a cooker you can cook what you want and how you want it.
We have found our meals to be healthier and we are trying more different foods. We cook all our meals daily and only dine out now and then. But we really enjoy cooking and eating what we prepare.
By doing this you safe healthy, your body thanks you and you save money from not dining out all the time that you are traveling.
Have respect for others
This is not just for other fellow van lifers but also locals in the area where you are camping or hanging out.
Have respect for your fellow campers by keeping your area tidy and keeping the noise down (especially at night).
Greet your neighbours. Usually, other travellers have advice or great tips and can help you in situations if you need them. They are also full of exciting stories that may give you new ideas to add to your road trip bucket list!
This also goes for locals in whatever area you are camping or hanging out in.
The locals pay taxes and have worked hard to have a house in this area, so please be respectful and don’t hang your laundry out everywhere, go to the toilet wherever you want, clean your teeth on the sidewalk and leave toilet paper where it does not belong.
Make a List of Destinations to See
Make a list of where you want to go and what you want to see. This gives you a bit of direction, even if you want to live free and enjoy traveling around wherever the road will take you.
You can change the list or add to it along the way. But by making this list, you won’t miss out on the chance to see or do anything you want to.
We do this as well so that we do not backtrack and waste time and fuel having to turn around to return to a great place we didn’t know existed when we first passed through.
Backtracking is the most annoying thing and a waste of fuel and time. Make a list of places you always wanted to go and then enjoy the road trip that gets you there!
Sometimes things can change on the road, so it is important to be flexible.
I know I said above to have a list of destinations that you want to visit. But do make sure that too many things are not set in stone so you can change things quickly if the need or opportunity comes up.
Some destinations might be more your scene and you would like to stay longer. While some destinations may not be and you want to move on.
Be flexible and listen to what you want and how your body is. Maybe some days you might want a rest day. Remember, living in a van is about enjoying life every day.
So give yourself the flexibility to do the things you want to do, when you want to do them, rather than feeling like you are tied to the structured like you likely decided to escape through van life in the first place!
Be Prepared For the Unexpected
Sometimes things happen unexpectedly. Just know that in nearly every circumstance, everything will be ok and everything will work out.
Your van may break down and you may need to stay with someone while it gets fixed. Or you may get sick and need to spend a few days resting and recovering instead of exploring.
Things happen so be prepared and even have an emergency fund to get you through this time.
And this van life tip applies to the good surprises as well as the bad. Sometimes a spot comes up on a tour that you have been wanting to go on and you can jump at it. Or maybe you meet someone on the road that changes everything about your trip, or your life and makes you appreciate living in a van even more.
This just happened to us recently for a hike. We had to change a few plans around but it was worth it and we were grateful we had an open mind to live the life that comes at us rather than the one that we have planned every minute of every day!
Laugh at the bad times
Again, it may seem like a challenge in travel when something goes wrong. But always remember everything is going to turn out ok.
Even at the time when it is the worst thing and nothing is going right, it will be fine eventually. When this happens to us, we may be upset at the beginning but we do laugh about it.
There may be nothing we can do, so it is out of our control. And the sooner you can recognize what you can and cannot control, the sooner you can start to look for a solution.
The problem is done, so now it is time to fix it and we work out how to do that. This is what you should do too.
We would recommend having an emergency kit and jumper leads in your campervan just in case the surprise is a simple mechanical one.
But even if it is more serious, it’s good practice in life to keep calm and work through the challenges you face in life with an optimism that things will get better down the road.
Mix the accommodations with freedom camping and caravan parks
This is what we do. We try to camp for free as much as possible, even if it’s just a parking lot from time to time. But sometimes in cities, it is not possible so we stay at caravan parks.
We never stay at the big caravan parks or the caravan parks catered for families (as this is not for us). And we also do not want to pay for things we are not using like the game room, the playground and swimming pool.
Instead, we look for local council caravan parks or recreation grounds as they are way cheaper than the big caravan parks and the money goes towards the community.
We use camping apps to find these camps and we check out the reviews to see if it is the camp for us.
Always store food in airtight containers
Using containers to store food is one of the best van life tips that often gets overlooked. This will save you so much money. Food can go off quickly as you are moving and changing environments.
And another big issue is insects getting into your food and then creating a nest in your campervan. That will be bad and is something you want to keep from happening.
We use the airtight containers in the fridge and our vegetables last so much longer. And we also use them for biscuits, pasta, rice, dried fruits and nuts and everything stays fresh and the bugs stay out.
Have days where you do nothing
This is important for your mental health and not to get burnt out. Traveling continuously takes it out of you.
Living in a van is amazing for seeing new destinations, meeting new people and experiencing new things. But surprisingly, traveling in the campervan can exhaust you as well.
Take days off and get out of the van, spend a day on the beach or go for a hike. Read a book or spend the day cooking, whatever relaxes and distresses you.
If you work in your van, be sure to take a day off outside of the normal weekends. Just because you live on the road doesn’t mean you can’t add a little normalcy to your life.
Don’t be shy and have a chat
It is crazy how helpful the van life community can be. We see this all the time with many people helping one another. It is so lovely and we do our best to engage with other people as often as we can.
Don’t be shy and say hi to your neighbours because you never know what may form out of it.
We have really good friends that we have met travelling in Marlee, our beloved campervan. You may be new to van life and can learn something from those people that have been doing it way longer.
Remember to Have Fun
Traveling around and living the van life is such a wonderful experience and can become a great long-term lifestyle.
Remember to enjoy yourself and do not take too much too seriously. Enjoy the moment and enjoy life. Have fun. As Jarryd always says, life is good and then it gets better!
I hope these tips were helpful. If you have any other tips you would recommend for making the most of van life, please leave them in the comments.
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