Camping In A Van – 10 Tips For Making It Awesome!

Camper van parked in campground with door open

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I’m am amazed each time that I take a trip in my camper van that I am actually pulling it off. There is something amazing about driving your small home around and parking it somewhere for the night that just seems surreal. Even after camping many different places over the past few years, I still get a little giddy each time I pull into a camping spot.

As the evening sits in and I find myself going about my normal routine as if I were at home, I stop and think about how amazing it is.

Camping in a van is a unique experience but one that will make you feel right at home if done right. Most converted vans or manufactured Class B RVs have all the comforts of home so it’s just the experience of being in a new place that makes it different.

Though a van is small, you can still have the time of your life if you have it set up right. A van that is set up to maximize the space is going to be one that will give you the best experience when camping.

After all the traveling and living in my van that I have done, I have gathered a few tips for making it an awesome experience. Though I am still figuring out hacks and ways to maximize my enjoyment, the list below will help give you ideas of ways you can make camping in a van fun.

1) Have The Right Expectations

Camping in a van is going to be a different experience than what you might experience if you are used to something larger. The square footage of a camper van is generally much less than 100 square feet. However, this amount of space shouldn’t deter you even if you have multiple people. A well organized and thought out van design will offer a comfortable and roomy trip.

However, even the roomiest van is small and cramped in comparison to larger RVs. It will be best if you set your exceptions so that you will not be disappointed. Most everyone that camps or lives in a van will probably tell you that along with the good, comes the bad. On one hand, it is nice to have a small vehicle that can go nearly anywhere. On the other hand, the limited space can make for some challenging living arrangements.

If you have multiple people camping with you, expect it to be tight inside the van.

There have been times when I was staying in an RV park and could see much larger rigs all around me. Oftentimes, windows are open and you can see inside as they are cooking or lounging in their nice, large living space. I have often thought of how nice that would be as I look around at my tiny 70 square feet.

However, I have also watched these large motorhomes and trailers battle to get into a parking spot. It’s nice to know that my van doesn’t have these problems and I can park easily and pack up and be gone easily when the time comes.

A van will provide you with a nice shelter to stay in and allow you to sleep, cook, and live comfortably. However, don’t compare it or expect it to be a luxurious trip or you will be very disappointed.

2) Clear The Clutter With Great Storage

Perhaps the most useful tip for making van camping more of a pleasure is to make use of good storage and keep the clutter at bay. A van is a small living area and I can say from experience that clutter can make the experience less than pleasant. When you keep the place cleaned up, it makes for a nice and organized living space that ultimately makes for a better trip.

There are a few ways to accomplish this other than just being a neat freak. It all starts with the way your van is designed. If you have purchased it, then you’ll have to work with what you have. If you are converting a van, you have the advantage of being able to create storage areas and cubbyholes galore!

Here are a few ideas to help you tidy up your space:

  • Overhead storage. This type of storage is great for keeping often-used items up and out of the way. Clothes, food, cooking supplies, and other essentials can be stored here.
  • Bench storage. If you have seating in your van, make sure to utilize every square inch of it for storage space.
  • Hanging storage. There are plenty of hanging storage options available that can attach to the seats, and walls.
  • Netting. This can be a great way to store odds and ends. Attach it to the wall and it will keep small items from scattering about the van.
  • Multi-use items. Items that have multiple functions are great for small camping spaces. My collapsible ottoman is a great example that serves as a step to my bed, a seat as needed, and a storage box.
  • Hooks & Tie Downs. You can never have enough hooks and bungee cords in your van. These are essential for keeping items secure.

If you put a lot of thought into your storage solutions, you’ll be much happier in your living space. Everything should have its place and be stored there at all times. When camping in a small area, things can get misplaced and lost in the shuffle so it’s important to put things back where they belong once you are finished with them.

3) Pack Lightly

Organizing is easy to do when you pack only the essentials without going overboard. A van is not the place to carry lots of unnecessary items just because you think you MIGHT need them. Instead, it’s a place to carefully consider the most important things you need and only plan for those items to come along.

You’ll be thankful that you packed less stuff in the end and be glad that you won’t have too much extra stuff to pack and keep track of. I’ve always been bad about packing way too much stuff when I travel. I usually pack my bags with things I think I might need but usually end up never touching.

I’ve had to learn a different strategy when traveling in my van. Taking less stuff with me has given me fewer options and allowed me to have a clutter-free space without all the extras that I don’t need. If you are camping in a van, I would suggest packing as lightly as possible.

4) Camp In Remote Locations

Van parked in a remote location

Take advantage of having a smaller RV and head for remote areas rather than sticking to the crowded RV parks. Since you have a van, you can get off the beaten path and go to places that larger RVs won’t be able to go. This is great news for those who want more than the typical campground experience.

Being in remote areas is a great way to enjoy your van as it was meant to be. If you have solar or a generator to enjoy electricity, your in for a great trip! Remote areas beat crowded areas any day and if you have a chance to boondock in a great location, take it!

The times when I have truly enjoyed camping in my van have been those times when I have been alone in remote areas. These areas aren’t always easy to find but when you find that perfect spot, it can be a magical experience. It’s surreal being in a prime location and having your little home complete with electricity, running water, entertainment, and all the other creature comforts.

5) Spend More Time Outdoors

Camping in a van is a little different than camping in a larger RV. Those who have larger RVs might spend more time inside and enjoy the large living space available to them. However, in a van, you are limited on space so you are forced to either make do with it or spend more time outdoors.

A van should be seen as a home base for you and the great outdoors is your living space. A van is plenty big to organize into a livable space but you aren’t going to want to sit in that tiny space ALL the time. It’s a good idea to spend as much time outdoors as possible. When the weather permits, it’s a great idea to sit up an outdoor living space with chairs, a table, and other living features.

Beyond that, planning outings during the day is a great way to be able to use the van for camping but also get away from it when you feel cramped.

6) Cook Your Own Amazing Meals

When traveling in my van, I rarely eat out. Instead, I make use of my fridge and freezer to store lots of food so that I can cook my own delicious meals. It’s so awesome to be able to open up the fridge and pull out all the ingredients you’d expect from a nice cooked home meal.

It’s one of my favorite parts of the experience and I look forward to mealtimes. I love to crank up the camp stove with the sounds and smells that let me know I’m about to have a great meal! No matter the meal, it’s a fun experience to be able to cook it yourself and be self-sufficient.

To do this, you’ll want to have a spacious refrigerator that is able to store the essential ingredients. If you are converting a van, I would suggest a fridge that has a freezer. It can be tempting to go small and install a fridge only or even a cooler, but if you really want a home on wheels, a fridge/freezer combo is the way to go. I have a top load fridge in my van and it makes a perfect solution for a small van.

Having a setup like this will allow you to buy groceries as you would at home and have ingredients on hand for some amazing meals.

7) Make It Self-Contained

A self-contained camper is one that has all the essentials included inside the living space. Everything that you can do can be done inside the van. There are many benefits to having a van or any type of camper that is completely self-contained.

Many places will not allow you to stay unless you have a self-contained RV so it’s extra important in these locations. It’s so convenient having everything available to you in your van. One feature that van-lifers often disagree about is whether or not to have a shower and toilet in a van.

If you don’t have a toilet, it won’t be a self-contained van. You’ll need to go outside the van and find facilities in other places. A shower isn’t a necessity but sure is nice to have. I have both in my van and it’s so nice to be able to shower and use the toilet without leaving my van. A simple cassette toilet will do the trick.

A self-contained van will allow you to enjoy it to the fullest. You’ll be thankful in the middle of the night when you have to get up and use the bathroom. It’s a huge benefit to simply use the bathroom right inside your van and then go back to bed.

8) Add A Bug Screen

I consider this a MUST HAVE now that I have added this feature to my van. It makes the experience so much better when you have a way to keep bugs out of your living space. Back before I had a bug screen, I would open my door quickly and shut it quickly so that I wouldn’t let any bugs in.

Now, I open my door and leave it open so I can enjoy the fresh air and views. I often leave my side door open the entire time I am parked somewhere if the weather is nice. It’s a great way to add a view to your living space and not have to worry about getting eaten alive.

Van side door bug screen

There are many solutions on the market but I created my own DIY solution for my van. Whether you make your own as I did or you buy a more expensive pre-made version, you don’t want to be without this feature. You can add one to the side door and one to the back door if you wish. This will depend on your van layout and the areas you use the most.

The image above was taken in an amazing location where I was able to leave my side door open the entire time. The weather was pleasant and I was in a very private area. This made the whole experience better and without it, my living space would have been filled with mosquitos and other annoying creatures.

9) Add Some Good All-Terrain Tires

Although I’ll admit that I have not done this yet, it is next on my list of upgrades. I have traveled to many areas and some were a little beyond my comfort level with the stock tires I have on my van. While I don’t feel like a 4×4 is necessary for my travels, I do feel like better all-terrain tires will be a difference-maker.

Having a van with all-terrain tires will give you more peace of mind in knowing that you are less likely to get stuck. Even wet grass can be a problem if you have slick road tires and find yourself parked in an odd position in wet conditions. It’s better to have more grippy tires that will work better in areas like this.

If you plan on camping in remote areas, having better tires is a great idea and can make for a better trip.

10) Go Far & Travel Often

Winding road through the mountains

Perhaps the best part of using a van as your camping vehicle is that you can go anywhere you want. There is no need to stay in one area and deal with heat waves or cold spells. If you really want an awesome experience, take that van and travel further. Go to locations that may be off-limits to larger motorcoaches and trailers.

I have been to locations in my van that would not have been accessible if I had been pulling a travel trailer. The small size of my van allowed me to drive right into a tight location without any issues. Besides the fact that your camping vehicle will be smaller, it will also likely get better gas mileage than a larger RV.

Newer camper vans are generally built to get great fuel mileage so going further distances is not as costly. My RAM Promaster van gets around 20 MPG on average which isn’t much different than other vehicles I’ve owned. The fuel economy will vary depending on where you travel but you can usually expect to be pleased with it.

Bottom Line

A camper van can be a lot of fun to own and an awesome experience to camp in. I have had a great time over the past few years with mine and look forward to many more great camping trips in the future. If you are planning on using a van as your camping vehicle, be sure to take the time to set it up properly to get the best use out of it.

A well-organized van has been the key to making it work in my experience. When there are multiple people in the van, it is especially important that you do all you can do to make it as roomy as possible. Otherwise, the messy small space of the van will become a nightmare rather than a fun camping trip.

Whether you plan on going on short camping trips or extended travels, a van is a great way to get it done!

Dan Collins

I consider myself an outdoor enthusiast. I love to travel and go to places that most people don't get a chance to go. I want to see it all and live life to the fullest while I'm alive. My camper van is helping me to do just that. I write about my experiences to help inspire others to do the same.

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