At first glance, #vanlife seems to be the perfect, glamorous, and minimalist lifestyle anyone with a wanderlust bug (or urge to travel) could dream of. However, there’s way more to it than what meets the eye.
You see, many enthusiasts underestimate van life because of the pictures they see on Instagram. Doing so will lead to you jumping face first into a lifestyle you know nothing about!
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This will ultimately leave you with a negative and regretful experience, which will cost you severely mentally, physically, and even financially.
So, we put together this guide (along with our contributors) as a means of helping you understand the exact steps you would be taking, if you do decide to pursue van life. This will give you a very clear birds-eye view (or overview) of what it’s like to life in a campervan so you can make your decisions accordingly.
Their are many things about living in a van that can cause a big challenges for some van life enthusiasts without proper planning and preparation. Reading our guide is a great start to understanding the lifestyles of these nomads, so when you’re ready to join the van life movement, you won’t have second thoughts.
Before getting started we want to make it clear that this entire guide was not written by us (ProjectVanlife). Instead we teamed up with OutboundLiving and 22 other van life nomads who contributed towards writing this guide for you.
As a reader this gives you a HUGE advantage, because now you get to consume a ton of valuable information which around 2 dozen experienced vanlifers helped put together. Be sure to check them out by clicking the button below:
Is Van Life For Me?
The fact that you’re here, means you’ve taken the initiative to begin researching about this topic and that you already have the ambition to live such a lifestyle.
However, sometimes our desires could be misleading as they are based upon incorrect, or incomplete information.
It’s very important for you to understand whether or not van life is for you, and failure to do so, will lead to regret.
Before you dive deep into living the van life, you should try it out first. There are a number of companies that you can rent a van from for a week or so. If you can’t afford a van, you can always use your current vehicle. If your current vehicle is very small, see if a friend or family member will let you borrow theirs.
Likewise, you can setup a tiny living space or even room in your hope to get a feel for what it’s really like.
If you plan on starting your van life journey in the near future, you will also need to start practicing. By practicing, we mean slowly getting rid of things you don’t need. You may have to throw away some things you really like, but when the time comes to hit the road, you will know what’s truly a necessity.
The Cons Of Van Life
Space – The size of the van can make for constant reorganization of things, and a lot of bumping elbows.
Regularly finding water – This might be the number one thing people take for granted in their everyday lives that becomes a bit of a shock for van lifers. This not only makes quenching your thirst difficult, but cooking certain foods, cleaning your clothes and dishes, and taking showers become a bigger challenge.
Temperature changes – In the summer, as you know, a vehicle can get really hot and uncomfortable, and in the winter, a van can get really cold. Having a heater and AC will certainly help, but a van’s insulation is not like a house, which can cause temperatures to rise and fall much quicker.
Homesickness – This will come and go. You will certainly make some new friends along the way, but not seeing your closest friends and family on a regular basis can be a struggle for some.
Hygiene – If you absolutely can’t deal with public restrooms, van life might not be for you. If your van has a toilet, you’re golden (pun intended). But, if you don’t have a toilet, you will be getting very close with nature, porta-potties, and if you’re lucky, a well-maintained public restroom. Most vans also don’t have a shower, which makes it a bit more difficult to stay clean.
Reliability – If you need to bring your van to a mechanic because of a breakdown, you could be without a home for a couple days.
Stable income – If you work as a freelancer, income will not be much of an issue. The only difficulty in that is finding reliable WiFi on a regular basis. If you’re not a freelancer, finding stable work can certainly be challenging.
Insurance – Vehicle insurance can be challenging for a converted vehicle and getting an appraisal done.
Finding where to sleep – If you don’t sleep well at home, it will only be more difficult in a van. You will often be looking for a new place to sleep every night, which can get very stressful. Some places are illegal to sleep at night, so you may be woken up in the middle of the night by authorities.
Difficulty Driving – If you consider yourself a sub-par driver, a large van will take some time getting accustomed to.
The Impression – In some cities, RVs and vans are really not well seen. In some big cities such as LA, you may feel judged and unwanted since many poor-homeless people in those big cities buy RVs or vans to squat in neighborhoods.
The Pros Of Van Life
Freedom freedom freedom – You can go wherever you want, whenever you want, within reason of course.
Cost – It all depends on how you look at it. Compared to most cities, living in a van is going to be much more affordable, but with fewer options in terms of income, it can be more expensive.
Experience – New cultures, new relationships, new sights to see. Your adventures turn into amazing stories and unforgettable memories!
Less B.S. – Getting away from society can be very therapeutic.
Perspective – You learn to appreciate the little things, and begin to take less for granted.
Community – The van life community is a friendly, tight-knit group. It’s hard to find any other group of people that have so many amazing stories. You can bond with others who live the same reality as you and share a similar outlook on life.
Simplicity – Fewer things means less stress. Having only the things you truly need blocks out the noise and distraction in your life, providing greater meaning. This may sound silly, but it can really change the way you think about material things.
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Choosing the Right Vehicle
It will take careful consideration when deciding on the best van to live in. There are numerous things to keep in mind such as the number of people you are living with, whether or not you have pets, the amount of money you’re willing to spend, your handyman/handywomen ability, where you will be traveling to, your likelihood of becoming claustrophobic, your concern for safety, your driving skills, and more. A little research will go a long way, and we’re here to help!
Hippie Van – VWs in Particular
Pros of living in a hippie van (VW van)
- Easy to fix/easy to learn how to fix.
- Even if it’s not 4WD we were able to go on most dirt roads we needed to because of the weight of the engine in the back.
- Huge VW community. You’ll get help and meet friends everywhere you go.
- It drives slow. We see this as a pro while others wouldn’t. We have more time to admire the views when you have to stop every now and then to let the van cool down. Style baby!
- Less customization is needed because they’re already meant to be lived in.
Cons of living in a hippie van (VW van)
- Can’t stand up if the pop top is closed (during a storm, if it’s too cold, you have to keep it low profile).
- Break often. But as we said, most of the time it’s an easy fix.
- Parts are less available than a standard van.
- Not as easy to get away with parking and sleeping in certain areas.
Passenger Van & Cargo Van
OutboundLiving gathered statistics from surveying 725 van lifers and found cargo vans to be the most popular van to live in. This is no surprise as it’s practical, affordable, stealthy, easy to repair, easy to find on the market, and much more.Pros of living in a passenger van or cargo van
- You can get away with parking it in certain areas because it blends in with other vans.
- They will last many miles.
- Not too difficult to fix if broken down.
- Better MPG compared to other options – RVs and Skoolies in particular.
- Much easier than others to convert into a camper.
- Some allow you to stand up inside.
- Very safe and secure.
Cons of living in a passenger van or cargo van
- Don’t expect to get great mileage, especially on older models.
- Less character than something like a VW.
- Less natural light and viewing for some models because of fewer windows.
- Everything needs to be customized.
Passenger vans and cargo vans are similar, but they do have a few differences worth pointing out:
- Passenger vans have more windows which can be nice because it makes the van seem bigger and provides for better views and more sun.
- Passenger vans are more difficult to convert because the inside of the vans have junk that you will want to tear out like seats and walls.
- Cargo vans are easier to insulate than passenger vans because they typically have ribs on the van walls allowing you to stuff with insulation. Cargo vans also have fewer windows which allow for better insulation.
- Fewer windows also allow you to be more stealthy when sleeping at night.
High Top vs Low Top Cargo/Passenger Vans
High Top Vans
Some examples of high-top vans include Mercedes Sprinter, Freightliner Sprinter, Dodge Promaster, Ford Transit, Nissan NV
Pros of high top vans
- They allow you to stand up inside
- They allow for more storage
- The taller sealings allow heat to rise, keeping you cooler
- You can build bunk beds, which is nice if you’re traveling with more than a couple people
Cons of high top vans
- They are not always easy to find when you’re looking to buy
- They are more expensive than low top vans
- You may be too tall to fit under some drive-throughs or parking garages
Low Top Vans
Some examples of low top vans include Ford Econoline, Chevy Express, and GMC Sierra.
Pros of low top vans
- They are more affordable
- They are easier to find when you’re looking to buy
- If you’re willing to spend some money you can get a pop top or extended roof installed
- Typically better fuel economy
Cons of low top vans
- There’s typically only room for two people to sleep comfortably
- Less storage space available
- Short ceilings force you to crouch or sit at all times
Credit: click here
Pros of living in a conversion van
- Already converted and most are ready to move in if you’re not picky or are on a budget
- Sold relatively cheap
Cons of living in a conversion van
- Inside is usually outdated and not very aesthetically appealing
- Harder to customize without tearing it apart
- Hard to find one with few miles on it
Pickup Truck Camper
Pros of living in a pickup truck camper
- All-wheel drive.
- Removable living quarters to explore/use truck.
- RV attachment was not a big investment.
- If need be, you can sell the truck without selling the living quarters and vice versa.
Cons of living in a pickup truck camper
- Not ideal for pets.
- The heavy weight causes poor gas mileage.
- You won’t get away with parking and sleeping in non-prohibited areas.
- No open floor plan.
Pros of living in an RV
- Price! RVs depreciate very fast so you can find a great deal.
- Low mileage (It is very rare to see an RV over 100,000 miles.).
- Having a shower and a toilet all the time (especially with a kid being potty trained).
- More living space and storage.
- All the important and tedious parts of the build were done by professional. These include plumbing, electrical, insulation, walls, shower, toilet, stove, fridge, carrying tanks, etc.
Cons of living in an RV
- Limited access to some campgrounds.
- Hard to park and drive in major cities.
- Bad fuel economy.
- RVs don’t look as cool as vans. They usually put off that retired old person vibe.
School Bus (Skoolie)
Pros of living in a bus
- Space! Our friend @mamabirdbus has two twin bunks, a king size bed, full kitchen and refrigerator, plus ample living and storage space. Not to mention a full bathroom with shower and a washing machine, which most vans don’t have. Our friend @alwayshomebus mentioned that it’s the perfect amount of space for their dog to roam.
- Safety and durability. School buses are made to carry people and have an incredibly sturdy steel frame that will last a long time. This is especially important for families with small children.
- Cool factor. I think this one is obvious… everyone loves a school bus! It will attract all kinds of friendly people.
Cons of living in a bus
- Size! Sometimes it’s difficult to maneuver in city streets or find parking.
- Insurance and registration can be very difficult to obtain at first. It took @mamabirdbus 4 trips to the DMV until it was figured out!
- Our friends @alwayshomebus mentioned that their van doesn’t have an easy way to charge electronic devices. This may not necessarily be a con because it allows you to disconnect from the world a bit more and appreciate the beauty around you.
- It’s easy to be seen when you’re looking for places to sleep at night.
@Mamabirdbus has some really great advice that can apply to people living in either a bus or a van: Make the most of what you have. We camped in our bus for a long time before it was even close to finished. We took our time to save money and finish things when we could afford them or had the time. Now that it’s done we appreciate it all the more! Also, I would mention that you don’t have to spend a fortune to do a conversion. We found most of our supplies for free or cheap on Craigslist, eBay, and even picked up furniture on the side of the road to repurpose. We were then able to spend more money on other things like eco-friendly wool insulation, our solar setup, and our rooftop AC unit.
In this chapter, we will show you the best ways to insulate a cargo van for your conversion. There are countless types of insulation out there, not all of which are well suited for a van conversion. Our how-to guide will explain the best insulation options for your lifestyle and budget along with answering many common questions.
What you should know about insulation
- R-value – The R-value of insulation is a measurement of its ability to block out heat and cold. The higher the R-value, the more effective it’s going to be.
- Get the right type – There are many different kinds of insulation used for different purposes, so you want to get the right type. You want to get your conversion van insulation right the first time because you will be forced to take apart your walls and ceiling to fix it.
- Is there such thing as too much insulation? – Yes. Don’t squeeze or compress insulation in order to fit it into small spaces. This will actually decrease its R-value because by compressing it, you don’t allow space for the insulation to trap the air.
- Insulation can be flammable – some more than others. Don’t allow your insulation to be exposed to anything that can get hot, such as lights, heaters, and certain wiring.
- Wear protection – regardless of the material you use, its always a good idea to wear a mask, gloves, goggles, and a long sleeve shirt when installing insulation.
Option 1: Rock Wool or Sheep Wool Insulation
Many cargo vans are double walled, meaning there is going to be space between the inside wall of your van and the outside wall. You should stuff this space with either rock wool or sheep wool insulation. After filling in the gaps, you can begin installing the outer layer. Both of these types of insulation should only be used if you plan on staying in primarily cold places. Otherwise, you will be better off with foam board insulation (option 2).
Roxul Rock Wool Insulation – Rock wool insulation is relatively affordable, does a great job with heat and cold, blocks out sound well, and is very effective in fire resistance. Rock wool is also eco-friendly, containing 75% recycled materials. Our friends vanlifeadventurers use rock wool insulation and can attest to its effectiveness! The only downside to this material is it can attract a bit of moisture.
Sheep Wool Insulation– Sheep wool is used to protect sheep from some of the roughest conditions, making it a great insulator for homes as well. It works great in harsh weather conditions and keeps sound level to a minimum. Sheep wool is also very breathable and doesn’t hold as much moisture as other wool insulation. However, sheep wool is a bit more expensive than other insulation materials.
IMPORTANT: I’m sure you’ve heard of fiberglass insulation, it’s the pink insulation that you see inside many standard homes. Fiberglass insulation is effective and affordable, however not recommended for camper van conversions. It’s not safe for camper vans because its toxic particles can be released into the air in your van when you’re driving around and hitting potholes and bumps in the road.
Option 2: Polyiso Foam Board Insulation
If you plan on traveling to primarily warm places, thick insulation like wool will not be as necessary for your van conversion. However, keep in mind that less insulation will also make the outdoors a bit noisier.
Polyiso foam insulation is made from foam plastics and is a very popular choice among van dwellers. It has a high R-value for its size, making it a great option for camper vans. However, rigid foam does have a couple downsides: it’s less environmentally friendly, and it has the potential for moisture build-up if left exposed to inclement weather during the conversion process.
Because rigid foam is difficult to bend and curve to fit certain areas, don’t be afraid to use a bit of wool insulation in those areas.
You may have heard of Reflectix. Many van dwellers use it to insulate their vans. Reflectix is not insulation, it’s a sun reflector and radiant barrier. It works great for covering your windows on a hot day (it’s also good to put on your windows at night to block out light and peeping toms), but not very effective to put on the walls of your van. You can put it over top of your insulation to act as a vapor barrier, but it should never be your only source of insulation. The vapor barrier may keep some warm moisture in your van, but for the price, its cost-effectiveness is very questionable. Also, If you are putting it on your walls, you need to have at least 1/2 inch of air space between it and your wall for it to provide any effect.
Is there ever a time when you shouldn’t insulate your van?
Yes. If you are only going to be living in hot places, insulation is not going to be a great idea unless you have a strong a/c unit. When you are in a hot place, the insulation will delay the heat from getting into your van, but once the heat gets in, it’s going to stay there longer because the insulation will actually trap the heat into your campervan. So at night when it cools off outside and you’re trying to go to bed, it will take longer for your van to cool off because the heat is trapped.
When you’re only going to be in the heat, this is when Reflectix is not a bad choice for covering windows to cool down your van.
Ceiling & Walls
Converting the walls and ceiling of your van is a time-consuming process, but is vitally important to the look and functionality of your camper van. In our guide, we show two different options for building your van’s walls and ceiling. The first and most popular option is wood paneling, and the second option is cork board paneling. You can’t go wrong with either, but you’ll have to read through to see what will work best for you.
Before building your van’s walls and ceiling, be sure to install some flexible tubing to run wires throughout your van for lighting or any other electronics. You can see in the video below, how this can be done.
Option 1: Wood Walls and Ceiling
First, you’ll be installing the wood paneling by using a furring strip. You screw the furring strip to the van’s ribs instead of the main shell because you don’t want your screws puncturing through to the outside of the van. If your van doesn’t have any sort of ribs, a wood wall and ceiling will not be a good option.
After installing the tongue and groove pine, you may decide that you want to touch up the wood with some varnish to give it a layer of protection and a nice clean look. If you decide to do this, be sure to give the wood a light sanding beforehand.
Furring Strip Boards – Use strip boards for a base. You will need to buy a few boards to fit throughout your van.
Assorted Screws – Use screws to screw in the strip board to the van. Make sure you screw the boards into the ribs of the van so it doesn’t puncture through the outside of the van.
Tongue and Groove Pine – Use this to easily install your finished outer layer. These fit right into place with one another so there are no cracks or crevices.
Assorted Screws – Use these same screws to screw the tongue and groove pine into the furring strip boards.
Here is a great video to give you more of a visual:
Ryobi 18-Volt ONE+ Lithium-Ion Cordless Drill
Ryobi 18-Volt One+ Lithium-Ion Cordless Orbital Jig Saw
Ryobi 18-Volt One+ Lithium-Ion Cordless Circular Saw
Ryobi Titanium Coated Drill Bit Set
Impact Driving Kit
Option 2: Cork Board Walls and Ceiling
This option will only be ideal for vans without ribs on its walls and ceiling. If your van does have ribs, you will need to install a layer of wood before sticking on the cork board.
Cork Board – This is a great alternative to your typical wood paneling. It’s great for hanging things and very easy to install.
Cork Underlayment Adhesive – You will need to glue the cork board in place with the adhesive. Do not use staples or screws to secure cork board.
Trowl – Use a trowel to spread the underlayment adhesive.
1/8 Push Pins – You can’t forget the push pins for hanging a map, pictures, etc.
Roof Vent Installation
A roof vent/fan is the key to keeping your van cool during the hot summer months. It also brings a bit more natural light into your van. We strongly recocmmend a Fan-Tastic vent. They are not cheap but provide numberous features including an automatic rain sensor that will close the vent when it gets wet, along with reversible air flow, and a remote.
Installing a van floor is a relatively easy process and a great way to give your camper van a more homey feel. We show you a step by step process for installing your van flooring, along with a couple different material options to best suite your needs and preferences.
1. Prep and Level the Van Floor with Insulation
Step one involves leveling out your camper van floor with insulation. Many vans have ribs on the floor, so you will fill the gaps between the ribs with rigid foam insulation. The insulation will also help with sound deadening, so if your van doesn’t have ribs, you will still see some benefit from adding a layer of insulation to the floor.
Rmax Rigid Foam Insulation – Fill in the gaps between the ribs with rigid foam insulation. You can use a tape measure and a sharpie to draw on the back of the rigid foam board to get the right size.
2. Install Plywood Flooring
Before installing the plywood, we recommend using a large sheet of cardboard as a template to get the right size and shape to cut out. You can also use this template for your top layer of flooring. It’s also very important to get a sheet of plywood that’s thin. Every centimeter of plywood, is a centimeter shorter that you can stand in your van.
Plywood Board – This layer will go on top of the van’s ribs and rigid foam insulation.
Ryobi 18-Volt One+ Lithium-Ion Cordless Orbital Jig Saw – Use a jigsaw to make your cuts. After making a few cuts, put the plywood in the van to make sure it’s in place so far. If everything looks good, make your remaining cuts.
To secure the wood to the folor, drill holes into the wood from underneath the vehicle. Make sure you drill your holes through the ribs so you are drilling straight through the metal and plywood and not the polyiso.
Here is a great video explaining the drilling process:
What you’ll need:
3. Install Top Layer of Flooring
You may be thinking about installing a really nice looking hardwood floor in your van. A hardwood floor would look great, but it’s just not practical for a van. We recommend either vinyl or linoleum flooring for a few reasons. They’re much easier to install, more affordable, lighter weight, and they still look great. Additionally, over half of your van floor is covered by your bed, cabinets, etc. so you won’t see very much of you floor anyway.
Option 1: Vinyl Flooring
Vinyl flooring is affordable, easy to install and easy to maintain. Vinyl flooring is also waterproof, and relatively durable, typically lasting between 10 and 20 years.
Vinyl sounds great, but you need to be careful because it’s a synthetic product that contains chemicals and other additives that may cause harm.
Option 2: Linoleum Flooring
Linoleum flooring is made from all-natural, biodegradable materials, which makes it much healthier and environmentally friendly. Linoleum is also incredibly durable, lasting between 20 and 40 years.
Linoleum is a bit more expensive than vinyl and requires a bit more maintenance than other flooring options. We recommend applying a top coating of protective sealant annually to protect against dirt and stains, apply wax for scratches, and use neutral detergents when cleaning because linoleum can be sensitive to some cleaning products.
Additional Tip for Those with Passenger Vans
The flooring on a passenger van will be a slightly different because there are rails on the ground from where seats used to be. Here is a great video explaining how to install a stock floor to adjust for the rails, along with the installation of a vinyl floor. But overall, it will be a similar floor build as any other van.
A good portion of your van is your bedroom, therefore it’s important to maximize that area for comfort, storage, and functionality. This section allows for a ton of creativity. Depending on the number of people you’re traveling with, and other personal preferences, your bed can be built to perfectly suit your needs.
Option 1: Traditional Van Bed
A traditional camper van bed isn’t going to be as user-friendly as other options, but the conversion going to be more affordable than option 2 and easier to install than option 3. You will likely feel cramped in this style of bed, and it’s more difficult to enter or exit the van from the rear. What’s really great about this design is the plethora of storage underneath the bed. For those with loads of cargo, this may be your solution.
Stripboard – Start by building the bed frame. The size of your frame will vary depending on the size of your bed and van. This is a 1-inch x 2-inch strip which works well, but it’s up to you what size to use.
Tip: If you will have storage bins under your bed, design the bed frame so the bins will fit.
Option 2: Bed/Table Hybrid
We have found this bed/table hybrid option to be the most effective for those that want to comfortably eat, work, play card games, etc. It gives the van an open feel, and allows room for more than just a couple people to join you at the table.
The downsides are it’s a bit more expensive compared to other options because of the need to buy an adjustable table, and most likely custom made cushions (you can get this done at most foam and fabric stores). It also takes a bit more time to set up the bed every night before going to sleep.
Option 3: Pull-Out Bed/Couch
The pull-out bed option is great option for those looking give their camper van a more open feel. It allows you to maximize floor space in your van during the daytime, which is great to have during times when your doors are closed. With a pull out bed, you don’t need to buy custom cushions to fit, like you typically do with option 2. Also, provided there is enough room, a fold out table can be added opposite the couch for working and eating!
The downside to this design is the lack of storage space. You still have a little space under the bed, but if you want to add storage across from the bed, you will have to sacrifice sleeping room.
Building a kitchen in your campervan will make van life much easier. It may seem daunting to fit your entire kitchen into your van conversion, but with some strategic planning and purging of anything except the essentials, it’s not a difficult task. Your kitchen doesn’t need to be anything extravagant, you’ll just want something that can at least provide quick and easy access to your kitchen appliances. Your van kitchen will ideally need space for a stove and/or oven, sink, fridge, and storage for cooking accessories and utensils.
In this chapter, we highlight numerous DIY kitchen layout options for any type of camper van. The size of your specific van will play a big role in the layout of your kitchen, so you’ll need to plan accordingly. Another big factor to keep in mind is whether you will be primarily cooking inside or outside. If you’re traveling to climates with inclement weather, cooking inside is a very nice luxury, and it’s far more stealthy. When cooking inside, keep in mind that you’ll likely want to keep a window cracked.
DIY Camper Van Kitchen Ideas
Side Door Slide-Out Van Kitchen
This is my favorite kitchen design for low top vans that are shorter in length. I like this pull-out option for low top vans in particular because you can stand up to cook without hitting your head. And if you wanted to cook inside as well, you could place the stove on the inside countertop.
Back Door Slide-Out Kitchen
This is a great design if you have a van short in length. It allows you to have more room towards the front of your van for a longer bed, more storage, or whatever else you need space for. The only downside to this design is you’re required to cook outside, so unless you live in a warm climate with minimal inclement weather, this may not be your best choice.
Basic Materials for a Slide-Out Kitchen:
Drawer Runners – You will need 2 heavy duty drawer runners for sliding from under the bed. You will need to purchase more if you want them for pull-out drawers.
Birch Plywood – We recommend purchasing a large piece of plywood and cutting it up into whichever size pieces are needed to fit into your van.
Hinges – If you want to have a sink, we recommend using hinges to allow the sink to lay flat when not in use.
Knobs – You may also want to purchase knobs or handles for the kitchen cupboards.
Kitchen Parallel to Front Seats
This option is great for vans shorter in length. The downside to this option is you will not be able to access the front seats from within the van. You could, however, split the kitchen area into two sections to make a walkway to the front seats. For the van pictured, they will need to exit the van to access the front seats anyway because they have 3 seats.
Kitchen Parallel to Side Walls
This option is best for high tops and sprinter vans because you’ll want to have a clear walking space to the front seats.
Split Kitchen Design
She has her sink and stove parallel to the walls and her fridge next to the side door facing the back of the van. This is a great design if you have a large fridge or want a little extra cabinet space under your sink or stove.
Side Door Kitchen
This is a good option for optimizing space in your van, but you will need to be careful when closing the doors because it will cause things to fly around if not secured well. As you can see this is used on a VW van. Keep in mind that this will not work on a sprinter van because they have sliding side doors. However, there are numerous other cargo vans that have doors like this. This may also work on the back doors of your van.
This isn’t the ideal kitchen option for a van conversion because you’re forced to outdoor use only, but if you have a small van, it may be your only choice.
Installation of Kitchen Counter, Cabinets, & Sink
We encourage you to build your camper van kitchen in your own creative way, however, some direction is always helpful. This video will give you a good idea of how you can install your kitchen, including the kitchen sink, which is a bit more technical.
What you’ll need:
A magnetic knife bar is great because it frees up countertop space that a standard knife block would take up. This knife bar is made of some serious magnetic power so you don’t have to worry about your knifes flying off. And you can, of course, use the knife bar for other things besides knives like scissors or a whisk.
Every time you hit a bump in the road you will hear the metal utensils rattling. Metal is certainly more effective, so you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons for this one. A decent option is something like bamboo. It gets the job done and is easy to clean.
I’m sure you’ve seen these fruit/veggie hammocks in camper vans before. They definitely a staple of van life. They’re also very practical and pretty dang cute!
Mug straps are another staple of van life. They make it so your mugs aren’t in a cabinet rattling against each other in a cabinet. There are tons of these on Etsy, and they’re pretty easy to DIY.
If you’re cooking greasy foods in your van, you won’t want to get grease all over your blankets, sheets, clothes, etc.
One of the challenging and important decisions when converting your van is how to plan and construct your storage space. It definitely helps to set up a kind of analysis in which you take your general space requirements into consideration.
What exactly do I need space for and how much space do I need?
Be it the clichéd shoe cabinet, a desire for designer caps, or, for taller people, a larger closet. But not only do your clothes have an influence on the size of storage space you need, there are other factors aswell…
Those who like to read (old school and not eBooks) need storage space for their books. Those who like to drink tea and feel like packing all the varieties available may need an extra storage for their tea. Outdoor hobbies like surfing or diving may also occupy a little storage space.
Whatever it is, you will need storage, and the only question that needs to be answered is how much. And that is exactly what you have to determine. We know that it’s not that easy. We’ve all packed our suitcases to go on a trip and realized afterwards that you packed way more than you actually needed. But if you deal with the subject of storage at an early stage, you can definitely reduce the chances of having to fight space problems.
The storage space and the optimal use of every square inch are the biggest challenges in mobile home construction. The planning of all necessary furniture and equipment is the challenge, which is perfected only by providing sufficient storage space for the user. It is therefore the supreme discipline of self-converting.
When you’re building out your van, you’re going to realize that you have way too many things. We recommend putting every single item you want to have in your van in one big room, to get a visual understanding of how much stuff you actually have.
Our friends @vacayvanstook all their kitchen items and literally measured each pot/pan/plate to make sure the cabinetry just fit everything. You’re going to want all of your material things to have a “home,” whether it be a hook, cabinet, or drawer.
Think about the details of using your space– where will you put your laptop when it’s not being used? Where will you charge your phone? How much storage space do you make possible by this piece of furniture and how much storage space might you block with it?
Compare the alternative designs that you have considered and decide which combinations of function, design and storage space works best for your campervan. It’s amazing how much space you can make available if you pay attention and question it!
Van Shelves and Cabinets
Chances are you’re going to need to build some storage compartments on your own, whether they be shelves or cabinets. Here are a couple great videos that explain how you can effectively build your own storage.
When building top cabinets above your bed, make sure that you have enough space to be sitting upright in your bed without hitting your head on the cabinets.
What you’ll need:
What you’ll need:
Tip: Depending on the way your van is setup, and if you plan on putting heavy things on your shelves, you may need to use additional support such as L brackets.
Ideally, you use most of the space below your bed as storage space. This is prime real estate. Depending on the style and layout of your bed, you can really maximize this area for storage space. You can use pull-out drawers under your bed, in fact, many van lifers will build pull-out kitchens under their bed. We talk about the numerous ways of building your interior to maximizing space in our Kitchen Chapter and Bed Chapter.
Tip: Remember the bedding. If your bed is planned to serve different purposes during day and night – so if it’s not only a bedroom but a living room, kitchen, and office at different times of the day – you will also want to stow your pillows, comforter, and cushions if applicable. And that is often cumbersome. So remember that whilst planning your storage and interior.
It’s also important to think about shelf doors and flaps. Your storage space will usually be behind a door or flap. Depending on how much space is available, it may happen that a normal door isn’t the best solution for you. If you want to be able to access a storage compartment at any time, it can also be very clever to install a sliding door instead of a door with hinges. For a more open sense of space, open shelves are a very nice alternative to receive storage space, without closing it by doors or flaps. Of course, it’s most important to protect stuff from falling out. But there is an ingenious solution for open shelves. Our friends @wander.horizons have secured their open shelves with elastics, which are stretched at intervals of 1.5 inch top down. So you can take things off the shelf by pushing aside the elastics, but while driving these things are secured and won’t fall out. The elastics are available in many different colors and diameters and are actually a pretty cheap solution. So you have a beautiful design for small money and open storage space in your Campervan.
Van Storage Accessories
Waterproof Roof Top Cargo Bag – This rooftop carrier has 15 cubic feet of space and is designed to fit all roof racks. Keep in mind that it may be a bit difficult to have roof storage if you’re using solar panels.
Wall Coat Rack – For a jacket, hand towel, or anything else that you use on a daily basis, you will want it easily accessible. There are a ton of ways to get creative with hanging up your items, but if you’re looking for the easy route, go with a simple coat track.
Suspension Ceiling Hooks – If you have something long and awkwardly shaped such as a surfboard, we would recommend using bungee cords or a sturdy rope along with these ceiling hooks.
Electrical & Solar
Camper van solar panels and electrical systems can often scare people away because they seem like something that is very high-tech. In reality, it’s easier than you think, can save you loads of money, and make your life much easier while on the road.
1. How much Solar Power do I need for my Van?
Figuring out how many watts of solar power you need for your camper van is the first thing you need to figure out. This video explains the calculations that need to be made to give you the right amount of power for your van conversion.
2. Rigid vs. Flexible Solar Panels
Pros of Rigid Solar Panels for a Van
- They allow for an adjustable solar panel mount.
- They can dissipate heat easier because they lay about one inch off the roof, allowing air to flow underneath and cool off the solar panels.
- Slightly more powerful than flexible solar panels.
- Some flexible solar panels have been found to pool water when installed on a flat roof, causing debris to collect, which can cause damage.
- More durable than flexible solar panels. If something falls on flexible solar panels, they can scratch. If you will often be staying in a campground with an abundance of trees, flexible solar panels are a risky option.
Pros of Flexible Solar Panels for a Van
- They are less bulky so they are more aesthetically appealing.
- They are more stealthy so others won’t know you’re living in your van.
- Lighter weight.
- Can bend up to 30 degrees, which can allow for more sun exposure.
- You don’t need to drill holes in your roof – you can use double sided mounting tape, Velcro, or glue such as Dicor lap sealant.
- Drilling holes can also increase the risk of water leakage.
We couldn’t find any flexible solar panels that come in kits, so you will need to buy the parts separately…
What you’ll need:
Renogy Battery 12V 200Ah – this is a deep cycle pure gel battery. Renogy is known for making really reliable, safe, and long-lasting batteries which is why we recommend them.
BESTEK 1000W Power Inverter – this is one of the most affordable and basic inverters, which gets the job done for most van dwellers. We talk more about what inverters are used for and how to install them in step 5.
ALLPOWERS 20A Solar Charger Controller – the charge controller is used to limit the amount of electric current being pulled from the batteries. It stops you from overcharging, which can damage battery performance and increase safety risks.
ALLPOWERS MC4 Male and Female Cable Connectors –these are used to connect your solar panels in series. Watch the video at the bottom of the page to decide if you would prefer to hook up your solar panels in series or parallel.
ALLPOWERS Male and Female Branch Connectors – these are used to connect your solar panels in parallel.
Renogy 16FT 12 AWG Wire – this is used to connect your charge controller to your battery.
ALLPOWERS MC4 Connector Assembly Tool – Very handy for the assembly of custom Mc4 wires. For breaking connections after they have already been locked together.
VELCRO Extreme Outdoor – using Velcro instead of a permanent adhesive will allow you to move your solar panel to best face the sun.
Solar panels are commonly installed on the roof of a van, but this video shows an alternative method. Flexible solar panels can be easily maneuvered so they are always facing the sun, which is explained in this video:
3. Hooking up your Solar Panels – Series vs Parallel
Solar Panel Tips
- Solar panels are more efficient in cool temperatures.
- When deciding on solar panels, it’s ideal for all of your solar panels to be the same size and type. When they provide different amounts of power, or if one is older than the other, this can cause complications.
- Even the smallest bit of shade or shadow can affect the efficiency of a solar panel. If you have a roof hatch that is casting shade over just a few inches of your solar panel, your power output can decrease quite a bit.
4. Feed Wiring from Outside of Van to Inside
5. DC to AC Van Power Inverter & Wiring
Our friends Crystal and Ben (@earthisourfavoriteplanet) will take you through their electrical setup in this section. Ben, who is an electrical engineer, breaks things down into digestible steps.
We are capturing power from the sun, and storing it in our 12 volt DC batteries. Lots of appliances can run on DC power, such as lights, fridge, fan, and USB outlets. In order to use wall outlets, we need to change our power from DC to AC. Hold on tight and I’ll explain how this works and walk you through the process.
Choosing an inverter
The ﬁrst step is choosing what size inverter is right for you. We choose a 1000 watt BESTEK inverter for the low cost and simple features, but depending on what you want to power you may need a diﬀerent size. It’s important to properly size your inverter because an inverter will not be able to power your devices beyond the wattage threshold.
So, what are you going to be plugging into your outlets? Your appliances should list how many watts they draw on them, so check the wattage for all your appliances and add up the total that you could be using at a time. Pick your inverter based on the maximum you could be drawing at once. For example, we choose a 1000W inverter because all we plug in is a coﬀee grinder and computer chargers. Don’t get an inverter that is too powerful because your inverter itself takes power to run, so if you have a powerful inverter, it will use up more of the power from the solar panel than it needs to. Also, be aware that if you’re charging devices that take up 800 watts, but your inverter is 500 watts, you may blow a fuse.
Decide on your design and inverter location
Once you have your inverter picked out and you’re eager to wire it up, you have one more decision to make. Do you want to use the outlets that are in the inverter (option 1) or put a true wall outlet in your wall (option 2)?
If you put the inverter in a place that will be convenient then your wiring will be signiﬁcantly easier. You can turn the inverter on and oﬀ from the box itself and plug your appliances into it. If you go this route you only have to follow along through step 5.
We went for option 2 and put true wall outlets into the wall so that our inverter could be hidden away near our batteries. Even if you don’t have anything plugged into the wall, when the inverter is on it is drawing a little bit of current.
So this brings us to the next decision; you can just say “ahh whats a little bit of power” and hide your inverter away and always leave it on, you can keep the inverter in a convenient place so you can use the power switch on the device itself, or choose to buy an inverter that comes with a wall switch.
Now that you have a plan, let’s wire it up! We are starting from the battery with 12 volt DC power, which is about 10 times greater than the current the inverter is outputting (110 volts AC). In order to handle this large current, you need a big wire going from the battery to the inverter (we used a 4 gauge wire). You also want to keep the wire as short as you can, which is why we hid the inverter under the bed right next to the batteries. Longer lengths between the battery and inverter or larger power requirements would require an even larger wire gauge.
Measure out the length of two 4 gauge wires and cut them. Strip about an inch of the encasing, so the wires themselves are out, on each side of the wire.
Connect a crimp ring terminal to each side of your 4 gauge wires using a hammer crimp tool.
Screw the crimp ring terminal onto the positive battery terminal with a bolt (we used a wing nut).
Connect the other side of the wire to the inverter.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the ground wire. If you are planning to plug straight into your inverter then congratulations! You’re done! If you’re an over achiever then keep reading.
The wires coming out of the inverter with 120 volts AC can be smaller and longer wires, we recommend using 12 gauge Romex wire, which is what is used in homes. The Romex wire is one yellow wire with multiple wires hidden inside, so although you will now only be working with one wire, you still have a positive and negative wire inside the yellow casing.
You may be scratching your head about now since there is no clear way to connect the Romex to the inverter, you are correct, there isn’t a clear way. We need to do some magic so one side of the Romex wire has a plug on it. We cut an old extension cord and spliced the Romex to the power plug – if that made your eyes wide you might prefer to just buy a garbage disposal wire to do the trick.
Connect the Romex and garbage disposal wires. We need to make sure we connect the wires positive to positive and negative to negative, which is easier said than done. Plug in the garbage disposal wire and using a multimeter touch each wire (to complete the circuit), if the voltage reads positive, you have the positive (red) touching the positive wire, if it’s negative vis versa. The Romex wire should have a white and black wire sticking out, the black should be positive and the white is negative. So now that you can match up the positive and negative wires, connect them using twist quick connects.
*THIS IS IMPORTANT* The joint where you connected wires in step 6 needs to be put into an electrical junction box so that if the connection loosens you don’t have live wire free in your van.
Connect the other end of the Romex to the wall outlet! (This should be easy to ﬁnd on youtube.)
Congratulations! You have successfully wired up your inverter! If you decide to leave the inverter on, or have placed the inverter in a convenient location, you’re done! If you want a fancy wall switch to turn your inverter on and oﬀ then hopefully you bought a power inverter with a remote switch. The inverter should come with instructions on how to connect it!
6. Van Lights
The lighting creates the ambiance, sets the mood, and lets you function when its dark outside. Needless to say, it’s pretty important and luckily, it’s not that diﬃcult! Follow along and we’ll tell you everything you need to know.
Wire from solar panels to battery – Once you’ve ﬁnished insulting your van (if you choose to do that), it’s time to ﬁgure out where you want your light switches, where you want your lights, and where you’ll store your batteries. Once you have that ﬁgured out, run your wires! By this, I mean simply start the wire at the battery *give yourself extra length*, run it to where the switch will live (taping it to the wall along the way), and then to where each light will go.
Running wires – We choose to do two diﬀerent light switches so we have kitchen lights and house lights. The kitchen lights are adhesive string lights and we highly recommend them! For our house lights we used inset LED lights, using a hole saw we cut a circle for our lights and simply placed them in. As we put each wood plank onto the ceiling we added the light to the circuit.
What you’ll need:
Add your lights to the circuit – Using wire cutters, cut your wires and strip about 6 inches so the wire itself is exposed. Then twist all power wires together (red) and connect them using a twist crimp connector. Repeat for the ground wires (black). We wired all of our ceiling lights in parallel using the same wire (all light power wires connected to 12V power wire, all light ground wires connected to single ground wire).
What you’ll need:
Wire up the switches – Wire in a light switch between the fuse box/battery and the lights. You can use multiple switches for diﬀerent zones – we wired all of our ceiling lights to a single dimmer (worth it) and string lights under the kitchen cabinets to an additional switch. This process is the same as in step 3, cut and strip the wires, and connect them with twist connections.
What you’ll need:
Connecting to the battery – From the switches, run wires to the fuse box. Place appropriate fuses (A = W / V, so for our six 3W lights 6 * 3W = 18W / 12V = 1.5A we used a 3A fuse) and connect the fuse box to the positive battery terminal. Connect all of the ground wires to a common bus bar and then to the negative battery terminal.
What you’ll need:
- Go for warm lights! Especially if you have exposed metal inside your van, they help it feel homey.
- When you run the wires, make them longer than you think you’ll need! It’s easy to cut them down, it’s not so easy to solder extra wire on…
- Keep everything 12 volts.
- LABEL YOUR WIRES! Put a piece of painters tape on all your wires and write what that wire is for, do this on both ends of the wire.
- Dimmers are easy to add in and give you so much more ﬂexibility with your lighting choices!
Heating & Cooling
There are a ton of options for heating and air conditioning your camper van when encountering inclement weather. It is primarily dependent on how much you are willing to spend and where you’re traveling to. With a little creativity and elbow grease, even the penny pinchers can get by just fine.
Camper Van Air Conditioning
One of the most important things about living in your van is staying comfortable. If your not comfortable in your home on wheels, you won’t want to spend any time in it, and as a result will make you miserable!
Van life does indeed have some trade-offs to living in a house, but being comfortable shouldn’t be one of them.
Building your van to accommodate for comfort will give you a much better nights sleep and make any long road trip go much smoother. Additionally, If you have pets or children, keeping your van cool is a necessity.
So our first piece of advice on staying cool when the temperatures rise, is to drive where the cool weather is. Hopefully you have some mountains close by…
With a well-insulated van and a fan, you can manage to stay very cool and comfortable. We really do stress to new van lifers how important a fan is to your comfort, plus, it also aids when cooking inside to get rid of any smells. And of course, nothing ever beats parking beneath a nice shady tree! Nobody wants to lay around in a sticky hot, sweaty mess, and you shouldn’t have to!
Sometimes a fan or a shady parking spot isn’t going to do the trick, which is why we recommend an air conditioning unit. If you’re traveling to incredibly hot places regularly, a portable ac unit for your van is an absolute lifesaver.
There are plenty of ways to stay cool in your van. Check out a few ideas below that work with your budget and space accommodation.
This Dometic AC unit is the most ideal way to keep your conversion van cool. It can generate quite a bit of cold air and is efficient in doing so. Since it’s on the roof, it doesn’t take up space in your van, and it doesn’t take up precious window viewing space like the option below.
Watts: runs between 1,500 and 1,800 watts
The homeLabs Window Air Conditioner is one of the best-selling ac units. This isn’t an ideal way to cool a camper van, and it’s not quite as powerful as some other options, but it gets the job done, and certainly brings out the spirit of a DIY van conversion. A window ac unit in your van isn’t the most attractive looking option or the most stealthy option either, but if you’re on a budget it’s a good solution.
Watts: 460 when running
Window ac units aren’t the easiest to install in a van, so here is a video which does a good job at explaining the install process. When installing this unit, you may also want to put some really thin strips of foam board insulation between the wood window frame and the ac unit to prevent it from rattling while the van is moving and to act as an extra sealant.
Similar to the window ac unit, this unit isn’t traditionally used in a camper van. However, it will get the job done for a reasonable price. A big downside to this ac unit is it takes up a ton of space in your van. With this unit, you will also need to cut a hole in the side of your van so the hose can let out the hot air. You will also want to put a thin layer of insulation over the hose because it will get very warm, therefore making your van warm.
Watts: runs between 1,000 and 1,500
This AC is great because it’s affordable and only uses 102 watts of power. Keep in mind that this does not actually blow cold air – it reduces the temperature through water evaporation. However, if you do want it to blow cold air, it comes with an ice compartment. Overall, it’s a great unit for van lifers who aren’t staying in areas that get really hot. It will bring down the temperature a few degrees, which is worth the money for most.
Roof Vent Fans
Roof vent fans are the most popular form of air conditioning for a camper van. Since they’re just fans, they don’t generate cold air like some of the other options, but with the reverse airflow, they can blow the hot air out of your van quickly. They’re affordable, stealthy, they’re not clunky and won’t take up space, and they’re not difficult to install.
A Fan-Tastic Fan is the key to keeping your van cool. It has some great features such as a rain sensor that will automatically close the vent when it gets wet, reversible air flow, a thermostat, and a remote.
Watts: about 17
This fan is a bit more expensive, but a great alternative to the Fantastic Fan. It has all the features a Fantastic Fan has along with the ability to keep the fan running when it’s closed, allowing air to circulate in the van. It can also stay open while driving, while the fantastic fan cannot.
Watts: about 14
DIY Air Conditioner
Additional Cooling Tips:
If you are traveling in an area that is primarily hot, paint your van white, or at least the roof. A light-colored van won’t absorb as much heat. Our friend @brisbanegirlinavan mentioned that she is always looking for shady areas to park and she often keeps all windows and doors open to allow for air circulation.
Camper Van Heating
No matter how well you insulate your van, it will never have the same insulation properties of a house. Period. Hate to break it to you but that is a fact. This means feeling the highs and the lows of the temperature, which can be difficult to get accustomed to at first. However, you may even grow to like waking up in the cool crisp air and letting the sun slowly warm you as it rises.
The number one key to staying warm is installing quality insulation in your van. We talk about this in our insulation chapter. But even the best-insulated van doesn’t keep you warm overnight, it only slows down the cooling process, so other methods are necessary as well. Try a propane heater if it’s really cold, but always, always keep a window cracked for ventilation. On the coldest of nights, you can get away with a mummy sleeping bag and a blanket over the top. The sleeping bag stuffs away small which is key when space is limited. Big bulky blankets may take up a lot of room. Also don’t be afraid to bundle up. Wear some warm socks to bed, a hoodie, and a beanie to keep your head warm. And of course, cuddling up with your dog or partner always does the trick!
Put a thick curtain or blanket behind the front seats in your van. Cold air will get into your van through the front because of the windshield and windows. Many cargo vans will have a built-in wall which will make this easier, but if not, you can install a rod or hooks to keep the curtain hanging.
And of course, our biggest piece of advice: if the weather gets chilly, be a snowbird and fly(drive) south! Don’t be afraid to drive to where the weather is more suitable! Good luck out there and stay warm!
Wool Socks – Merino wool socks will do wonders for your feet.
Packing just the essentials for van life is really your only option. Van dwelling allows for very little space, making it a huge challenge to successfully pack everything you think you need. Here is a good rule of thumb: Don’t bring anything that you’re not going to use on a weekly basis unless it’s an “in case of emergency” item.
Our Favorite Camper Van Essentials for Van Life
Scroll to the bottom for the complete list of essentials and PDF packing list.
You can only live off of dry foods for so long. Therefore, a portable fridge or cooler is a necessity. The Dometic CFX Fridge/Freezers are arguably the best on the market. They’re reasonably affordable, incredibly energy efficient, and durable.
A vent fan is a definite camper van essential. They will keep your van cool, especially at night when it’s not always safe to keep a window cracked. A great feature of a Fan-Tastic Fan is the rain sensor that shuts the vent when it gets wet. They’re affordable, stealthy, and not a pain to install.
Having a Mr. Heater Buddy is a lifesaver in cold climates. It’s indoor safe and will keep your camper van at a bearable temperature. It runs on propane and has an auto shut off feature if it gets tipped over or oxygen levels get too low. Keep in mind that it uses propane (attaches to mini propane canisters) so there is a risk of carbon monoxide. Mr. Heater recommends having a carbon monoxide alarm to be safe.
A Coleman Stove is perfect for van life as it’s very affordable, works very well, and is lightweight. It’s very easy to use and has a collapsible lid and side protectors to avoid grease from splattering in your van, and if using outside it helps protect from the wind blowing out the flame. It also has two independently adjustable burners and a grate that can be removed for cleaning. This is our favorite option for cooking, but if you would like to check out more stoves, you can visit our Camper Van Cooking Chapter.
A portable shower such as a Hozelock is a van life essential. This shower is super affordable and requires just a few hand pumps to keep the water running for about 3 minutes. We talk more about the Hozelock and other portable shower options in our Showers and Toilets Chapter.
Epic wipes are an essential item to have at all times. When there isn’t access to a public shower and the temperatures are low and unsuitable for a regular outdoor shower, you will be glad you have a backup solution. Epic wipes are toxin-free, biodegradable, and made from anti-bacterial essential oils. They’re also very large so you can easily clean your entire body.
A toilet of some sort is essential to have in your camper van. There are more “luxurious” options to choose from in the Toilets and Shower Chapter of our van life guide. The Luggable Loo is a great option if you’re on a budget.
Even if you have lights permanently installed in your van, these lights are still a great option because they make for a perfect bedside lamp! They’re solar powered, so you can set them on your van’s dashboard during the day to charge. They’re inflatable so they can collapse small, and they also change colors so you can set the mood to your liking or put them on a color cycle (they have a regular white light color setting as well).
Odds are you will be off the grid at some point during your travels. This may make it difficult to find and keep vegetables and other healthy foods fresh at all times. An organic meal replacement such as this one from Orgain is an easy way to get all of your essential nutrients in times of need.
If you didn’t build a table during your van conversion, you’re going to need something lightweight and portable for eating, outdoor cooking, etc. This table is great because it’s affordable, durable, can fold up very small, and has adjustable height. It also comes with 2 little folding chairs
When you’re planning on spending time off the grid, it’s essential to have an emergency medical kit at your fingertips. This kit has all the basic essential items for almost any situation.
Complete Van Life Essentials Packing List
Visit our Storage chapter to see how you can maximize the space in your van.
Most of the items on our packing list are essential, although it will certainly vary depending on your needs. If you take a look at most of our other chapters, you may find additional necessities to bring in your van.
Cooking meals while living the van life isn’t as difficult as you may think, but it’s not going to be the same as what you’re accustomed to. You won’t be forced to eat Clif Bars and nuts every day, but you will be limited in the way that you cook certain foods, and you will need to be a bit more strategic with your shopping trips.
With a fridge/freezer and an electric or propane stove, you can ensure some healthy and delicious meals.
Camper Van Stoves & Ovens
Portable Gas/Propane Stove
A propane stove or oven is a great option for camper vans and conversion vans. You can buy cheap small propane canisters or buy a larger standard size propane tank with an adapter to power your cooker. Propane stoves are great because you can use them inside or outside of your van, and you don’t need to worry about using up any of your electrical power. The only downside is the cost of propane will add up over time.
The Camp Chef Oven is for really great cooker perfect for anyone looking for a bit more power and sophistication. It comes with a matchless igniter, a built in oven thermometer, and a collapsible lid and protectors on the side so grease doesn’t splatter around your van’s counter tops, or if you’re using it outside it protects against the wind blowing out your flame. It also has independently adjustable burners, along with a removable grate and oven racks.
Approximate Price: $200 Sold on Amazon
Power: Range is 15,000 BTU, oven is 3,000 BTU (up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit)
Product Dimensions: 18 x 24 x 31 inches
The Coleman Propane Stove is very affordable and one of the best stoves for a campervan. Just like the Camp Chef Oven, this stove also comes with a collapsible lid. It’s super lightweight, easy to use, and we’ve had success using this stove both inside and outside. This camper van stove also has two independently adjustable burners and a removable grate for easy cleaning.
Approximate Price: $43 Sold on Amazon
Power: 20,000 BTU
Burner Dimensions: 21.9 x 13.7 inches
This stove is super portable and easy to store in your van or backpack. This is great if you go on all-day hikes and need to fire up some lunch. It’s made from non-toxic anodized aluminum, making it extremely durable. It also has an easy to use matchless igniter. The only downside is it’s small so you’re limited in the amount of food you can cook and the types of food you can cook. However, if you get creative you can cook almost anything in this little stove pot.
Approximate Price: $23 Sold on Amazon
If you absolutely love to grill, you may need to get yourself a Coleman portable grill/stove. It has wind blocking side panels that also fold down to use as side tables, along with 2 independently adjustable burners, and a removable grease tray for easy cleaning.
Approximate Price: $82 Sold on Amazon
Power: 20,000 BTU
Burner Dimensions: 24 x 15.4 Inches (stove area can fit up to a 10 inch pan)
Portable Electric Stoves
Electric cookers are a great option for camper vans with solar power. Propane tanks aren’t too expensive, but they can add up over time, making electric cookers the much more affordable cooking option in the long run.
The downside to electric cookers is it’s difficult to take them outside of your camper van to cook. The only easy way to do this is by having your cooking/kitchen setup at the back of your van facing the rear. Some van dwellers have installed drawer runners so they can slide their cooker farther outside of their van – you can check this out in our Kitchen Chapter. If you decide to stick with cooking inside, you’ll want to at least crack a window, but preferably open a door.
The Secura Induction Cooktop is a highly recommended option for campervans as it’s equipped with 15 power levels ranging from 200 to 1800 Watts and temperatures ranging from 140 degrees F to 460 degrees F. It has a digital control panel with a built-in timer, along with auto-pan detection and a high voltage warning system.
Since it’s an induction cooker, it’s only compatible with certain pots and pans such as cast aluminum enameled iron and steel, stainless steel with a magnetic bottom, or cast iron. If you’re not familiar with how induction cookers work, they use electronic magnetic induction to produce heat, which is great for a number of reasons: They heat up much quicker, they’re more energy efficient, and they don’t get hot unless you place a pot or pan on them because they don’t use traditional radiant heat. To see if your cookware is induction capable, grab a magnet and if it sticks to the bottom of the cookware, it will work with an induction cooker.
Approximate Price: $70 Sold on Amazon
Power: 120V AC and 200-1800 Watts
Burner Diameter: 8.25 Inches
The Ovente Countertop Burner is an infrared burner so it works with all cookware. It’s a bit more affordable than the Secura Induction Cooker and it works great, but it only has the basic features and won’t be as energy efficient as an induction cooker.
Approximate Price: $26 Sold on Amazon
Power: 120V AC and 1000 Watts
Burner Diameter: 7 Inches
Approximate Price: $47 Sold on Amazon
Power: 120V AC and 750 Watts for each burner
Burner Diameter: 7 Inches each
The Sun Oven as you can probably guess uses the sun as power. It’s not cheap, but since it uses the sun it’s more affordable in the long run, environmentally friendly, and works quite well. On a great day, it can reach up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Approximate Price: $274 Sold on Amazon
Van Life Food
Eating raw foods will cut out the need to cook as many meals, and is healthier in many cases. Cooked foods tend to destabilize enzymes, kill vitamins and antioxidants, and are more difficult to digest. Raw foods will include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, extra virgin coconut or olive oil, and raw yogurt, to name a few.
To give you some extra space in your van, you can make fruit and veggie smoothies.
If you are really cramped for space, you may need to start eating foods that take up less space in your van or go shopping more frequently. Small or dense foods that are high in calories are typically going to be foods higher in fat. Living in nature will hopefully cause you to be more active so you can get away with eating a few more calories!
Here a list of (somewhat) healthy dense foods for a balanced diet:
- Peanut butter
- Protein bars
- Almond butter
- Dark chocolate
- Olive oil
- Salad dressing
- Condensed milk
- Ground beef
- Protein powder
- Dehydrated foods
- Dried Fruits
- Fruit Smoothies
- Cous Cous
Unfortunately, we are not chefs. Here are some websites with camper van friendly recipes that we turn to for inspiration!
When it comes to keeping your food and drinks cold, you have two options: an electric refrigerator/freezer or a standard cooler. If you decide to go with a standard cooler, you will need to grocery shop often and keep your ice stocked. You can usually get ice for free or really cheap if you bring your own container to fill up at a gas station soda dispenser.
With a powerful electric fridge/freezer, you won’t need to worry about eating your food really quickly or going to the grocery store on a daily basis. You can travel out in the middle of nowhere for days on end and still be able to eat your favorite ice cream. Electric refrigerators can range from a few hundred bucks to over one thousand. Refrigerators such as an ARB can get pricey, but the technology and features are astounding. With an ARB fridge, you don’t need to worry about your car battery dying, because it shuts off automatically when it senses the battery getting low. It also plugs into the cigarette lighter in your van and a standard AC socket in your home as well. Not to mention the front-mounted control panel with an electric temperature setting.
Capacity: from 26 to 90 quart
Capacity: from 37 to 82 quart
Capacity: 58 Quart
Capacity: 48 Quart
Where to get water
- Grocery/Dollar stores – Our friends @travelingtuttles often get their water at water-filling stations outside of grocery stores. Some grocery and dollar stores have vending machines that let you fill up your jugs for very cheap.
- Campgrounds – Our friends @runksy often use campgrounds and motorhome stops to refill their water tanks.
- Gas Stations – many gas stations will have water access.
- Parks – Many city, state, and national parks will have areas to fill up.
- Rivers and Lakes – If you have a quality water filter, this is a good option.
- Rest stops – In some states, public rest stops will have water taps for you to use.
- Friends/Family – If you have friends or family nearby, you can ask to use their hose to fill up.
- Private residents – If you’re desperate, you can ask strangers if they will allow you to use their hose to fill up. You may need to fork over a few bucks with this strategy. Be careful in some areas of the country, as trespassing can get you in some trouble!
Tip: Bring your own hose because most places will not provide one. When using a hose from an outside tap to fill water tanks for drinking water make sure you use the white, food grade hoses that can be bought from any store with RV supplies. Don’t use regular (normally green) garden hoses as they can leak lead over time, potentially making the water toxic.
Tip: If you’re traveling to a country with unsafe drinking water, be sure to have it purified. Our friends @vantacruz_ and @d_bus_life have traveled through Mexico and found purification stores or “agua purificada.” It is an extremely cheap and simple process. You simply bring the container you want filled and they do it for you on the spot with filtered water. A 25 liter container usually costs around 10-15 pesos to fill (less than 1 dollar). Some purification stores also can connect your hose to fill your bigger fixed tanks.
Tip: You can also set up your own sink and faucet with running water. We talk about this in our Kitchen and Bed chapter.
Those long drives would be brutal without your favorite drink. Here is a couple of our favorite off the grid coffee makers to help you get to your next destination.
Pets & Kids
Although your pets and kids can be difficult, you love them! You want your kids in particular to experience the diverse culture and landscape of our beautiful planet. Living out of a van is certainly not for every family, but by doing your research and planning ahead, it can be relatively easy.
What to Consider
Our friends @rvlifediaries mentioned that having a routine for their kids is hard to follow on the road. Loud Walmart parking lots, constantly moving and not knowing where you will be sleeping are tough sometimes. When they have a place to stay over a week or longer, they are typically happier. Schooling can be difficult when living the van life as well. Many families will travel while their kids are under the age of 5 or 6, before schooling is required. For some families, this is not possible because their kids are older. Homeschooling and/or online learning programs are going to be the only option.
The van life is an amazing experience for kids to learn and grow. Here are just a few benefits:
• Teaches kids to be minimalistic and less materialistic
• Immerses them in nature, when they would otherwise be watching TV, playing video games, etc.
• Spend more time with family
• Kids will learn to get out of their comfort zone at a young age
• Kids will be able to get more exercise.
• More opportunities to meet new people and experience different cultures
Things to bring
• A highchair that can be attached to anything.
• Child toilet seat – Getting your little ones to go potty isn’t always easy. If they have their own toilet seat to take with them, they will feel much more comfortable.
• The security blanket – Every kid has that special blanket or special stuffed animal. When being surrounded by different people and different areas, they need to feel secure. Kids need to bring these one or two things that give them this sense of security.
• One toy – If they have a favorite toy, it will be nearly impossible to tell them they can’t bring it.
• Nature books and toys – Providing your kid(s) with things that allow them to play and experience nature is a great learning experience. Animal books, insect jars, binoculars, etc. Anything to get them away from the iPad.
• Something to show other kids – Your kids may not get as much interaction with other kids their age when living the van life, so if they have a collectible, an insect jar, or something cool to show other kids, they will be more likely to socialize.
• Hiking backpack with a child holder.
• Stroller – This isn’t necessary because you can just use the backpack with a kid holder, but you may need to give your back a break.
• Something for exercise – A football, soccer ball, or if you have room for something larger, a bike is a great option.
The bottom line: Unless your kid will need something on a daily basis, don’t bring it.
Your pets will likely be anxious at first, so it will be challenging. You can’t let this discourage you because they will eventually adapt to the continuously changing environment – dogs quicker than cats.
Things to Consider
- You need to thoroughly think through every travel decision to make sure it will be suitable for your pet(s).
- Sacrificing space, additional temperature control measures, more mess with fur, dandruff, pee, poop, etc.
- It becomes that much more important to make sure they get out and get enough exercise every day.
- What to do with them while you are at work (unless you work out of your van), what if they get sick, and the main one: do they get car sick?
- They can’t go everywhere in places like National Parks but National Forests, and BLM are very lenient. Those spots are usually quieter than National parks and free most of the time.
- It’s difficult to travel to cold places or really hot places. In the heat, plenty of fans are a must. In hot places, run your errands at night when it’s cooler, so the pets can breathe easy in the van. If you are with another person, have one of you go in so the other can stay with the pets.
- It needs to be easy for them to sit and stand – sitting especially when the van is moving.
- You don’t want to travel too far out in the boonies, because if your pet gets sick, there might not be any vets in the area. Most towns have a vet, but it’s something you should be aware of.
- For cats and dogs, some countries require them to be up to date on their rabies certifications, and possibly other vaccinations.
- With a van having little room for storage, it is more difficult to keep things out of reach such as food and sharp objects.
- Get your pet microchipped so if they get lost, you can find them
- If you have a cat, you will need to clean their litter box often.
- Our friend @travelingtuttles mentioned that although a lot of places tend to have rules about dogs, they’ve NEVER had problems having a cat with them. Even the Border Patrol on their way back into the USA from Mexico told them they didn’t care about cats, just dogs.
Things to Bring
- Toys – even though you have little space for extra things, it will mean the world to them.
- Traveling water bowl that won’t spill easily.
- A cat carrier of some sort is a must when traveling with a cat. Also get a covered cat litter pan.
Our friends @ramblindawgs couldn’t have said it any better:
“There’s some good and bad but remember that they’ll be here to cuddle when you’re down, they’ll keep you warm at night, and give you an excuse get out of the van and explore!”
Sleep & Safety
Sleeping in a van is generally not an issue for van lifers. There will always be some areas that are not safe, but most of the time, you will have nothing to worry about. If your van has decent door locks, and your van doesn’t scream “this is my house,” you can sleep easy.
Although, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so having a lockbox to store passports, money, etc. is always good for peace of mind. Stealth van living is a skill that you will pick up as you continue on your journey, and will become vitally important when traveling to foreign places.
Before embarking on your journey, it’s a good idea to take your van to a shop to have it inspected by a professional. Unless you’re a mechanic, you’re going to be kicking yourself if it breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Also, learning the basics of car/van repair is going to save you a lot of hassle and keep you safe. Udemy has a beginners guide to automotive repair that is really helpful. We also have an article with some great tips for tuning up your van before embarking on your trip, along with how to keep it in check while on the road.
Having AAA is very helpful as well. Our friends Irie to Aurora have the premier membership, and once got a tow 180 miles in the snow on a mountain in southern Oregon. Pretty handy!
Places to Sleep in your Van
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) areas, National Forests, and National Grasslands
Just about all of these areas will allow free dispersed camping, meaning you can camp outside of the designated campground. However, there are certain guidelines you must follow. You can read those here: Dispersed Camping Guidelines
Some City Parks, County Parks, and Wildlife Management Areas (WMA)
These areas will allow free parking. If you are camping in a remote area, you will have a greater chance of getting in free, but this will, of course, vary by location.
Most Walmarts are available for free overnight parking, but check this list to make sure the one you’re staying at won’t get you in trouble: Walmarts with no overnight parking.
Hotel and Motel Parking Lots
Don’t stay at a hotel or motel that is too big because they will have security checking license plates. But don’t stay at one that is too small because you will stick out like a sore thumb.
If an apartment complex doesn’t require parking passes, this is a golden opportunity. People are just going to assume that you live in there.
As long as you don’t get in the way of anyone in need of immediate medical attention, you will be able to sleep easy.
Businesses Open 24 hours
You will want to be careful with small businesses, especially if you have a van that is clearly used for sleeping purposes.
If you are staying the night at a rest area, you will want to make sure they have 24-hour security. This is likely not your best option, because they are much more prone to robberies. Rest areas are typically far from towns, and are right off of highways, so it’s an easy escape for criminals.
Bars, Nightclubs, and Casinos
People often leave their cars at bars, casinos, and nightclubs overnight when they have had too much to drink, so it’s a great opportunity for van lifers to blend in with the crowd.
If there are any airports close to where you’re traveling, this is an easy spot to sleep in your van.
Churches are easy to come by and typically pretty quiet.
Friends or Family
If you know anybody in the general area that you are staying in, we’re sure they will be happy to allow you to park your van in their driveway for a night or two.
Sleep and Safety Tips
- Both of our friends @irietoaurora and @traveltiph mentioned that the best places to sleep are in nature. You’ll be the safest, you’ll wake up with a good view, and you’ll feel less like a hobo.
- if you’re stealth van living in an urban area, it is best to get fully ready for bed (ie brush your teeth, make your bed, close your blackout blinds) in a different location to where you are sleeping. Even around the corner is better then nothing! That way when you are fully ready for bed you can move to the spot you want to sleep for the night and jump straight in to bed, making it much less likely anyone will notice that you are in fact living inside your van.
- Avoid sleeping in places that have evidence of partying, such as beer bottles and garbage on the ground. Sleeping in these places will increase the chance of someone attempting to break in. If people are frequently partying in an area, there is a good chance the cops will be monitoring it, and they could give you the boot, assuming it’s illegal to sleep there.
- Be aware of your position. Be able to locate it on a map. It’s best to use your phone to drop a pin with the “mark my location” feature on Apple maps or “set as parking location” on Google maps.
- If you or a friend/family member is ever lost, you can use the “share my location” feature on maps as well.
- Big cities are typically not very van friendly, but if you do decide to sleep in the city, look for places with street lights and security cameras if possible.
- Consider staying at a location no more than 1 night in a row. Thieves will notice your sleeping trend and may take advantage of you the following night.
Showering and taking care of your “business” are the parts of van life that nobody likes to think about. Unfortunately, to many people, van dwellers are seen as hippies with B.O. Maybe this is what you’re going for, but if not, you’re in luck. There are numerous easy, affordable ways to keep up with your hygiene while living in a van off the grid.
Camper Van Shower / Bathing
One of the biggest questions you will be asked when people first learn that your van is your home is, “How do you shower?” Camper van showering may be one of the most challenging obstacles you may face when first making the move into a van, but after some time you’ll find it’s not hard at all. With a little bit of adjustment, and maybe a little creativity, you can keep that personal hygiene up, and stay squeaky clean.
Depending on your lifestyle, a daily shower isn’t always necessary. Our friend Alex has the benefit of spending most of his time near the ocean, taking regular dips and or surfing helps keep fresh in between regular showers.
And of course, at the beach there’s always outdoor public showers to rinse off at. In between showers, he became a big fan of baby wipes. A friend who is a forest firefighter in California turned him on to this trick. They spend sometimes weeks in the forest battling the flames.
Living in a van, you may not always have the luxury of long, hot, showers but we all know the tradeoff is well worth it. In this section, we will explore some of the different ways to stay clean. Feel free to try them all and see what works best for you.
Budget Shower Options
With these portable shower options, you’re not going to have the luxury of an instantly hot shower. What you can do is boil some water to mix in with the water used for your shower to make it a more suitable temperature. Or you can buy a hot coil element to place in the water as well – we talk about this in the shower accessories section near the bottom of the page.
We’ve heard really great things about this portable shower being perfect for van life. It requires just a few hand pumps to get the water flowing for nearly the whole container. If you paint the outside black and set it out in the sun, this will warm the water up – just make sure you leave a vertical strip unpainted so you can see how much water is left in the container. The downside to this shower is it doesn’t collapse to provide for easy storage when not in use.
Capacity: 5 Liters (1.3 gallons) – it says it holds up to 7 liters but recommends only 5 – water runs for about 3 minutes
Hook it up to your sink or you can put the opposite end of the unit into a bucket of water and it will pump the water through to the shower head. What’s amazing about this option is it comes with a filtration device to ensure your water is fresh. The battery is easily rechargeable and lasts up to 1 hour of continuous use.
This option is really affordable and nice for hot summer heat as it uses the sun to heat up typically within 2 or 3 hours (that may sound like a long time, but if you have other things to do while it’s heating up, it’s not too much of an inconvenience). To use it, you can hang it from a tree branch or install a hook onto your camper van. It comes with a water temperature gauge. The water comes out slowly because it doesn’t have any pressure – it just uses gravity. This can be a little bit of a hassle for some, but it helps to conserve a lot of water. The shower head also has an on/off switch so gravity isn’t constantly forcing water through.
Capacity: 5 Gallons
Additional Budget Shower Options
24/7 Gym Membership
Planet Fitness is $10 per month, and they’re all over the U.S. Can’t hurt to get a quick workout in too!
Some campsites have showers, so keep an eye for them. Don’t forget to bring your flip flops!
Many beaches have showers for those who want to clean off after a dip in the lake or ocean.
The Counchsufing app is typically used for people looking to find places to sleep, but I’m sure people won’t mind if you just use their shower.
You’ll find that some truck stops have areas to shower.
Mountain Biking Trails
Some mountain biking trails have showers for riders to clean off their bikes.
Friends and Family
If they’re on the way to your next destination, use their place.
I wouldn’t go out and buy a weed sprayer because you can get a decent hand pump shower for the same price, but if you have one laying around your house, give it a try.
Use gallon water jugs to wash yourself off.
Cloth or Sponge
Use a wet cloth or sponge with a bucket of water.
If you’re desperate, you can always go into a McDonalds bathroom and use the sink to rub some water under the stinky areas.
If hair is the only thing you’re worried about, this is not a bad option.
The Eccotemp L10 is one of the best portable water heaters on the market and is a really great option if you’re using your own water tank. It’s very easy to install and comes with all the necessary accessories for installation – you will need to buy a shower head, hoses, and pump separately. It connects to a standard propane tank to heat the water and is powered by batteries. It also has adjustable water pressure and temperature controls (ranging from 50 – 140 degrees F).
This shower kit uses a small propane canister to heat the water. To use the shower, you submerge the battery powered pump into your water source and hit the pushbutton igniter to get it running. It includes a shower hose and head, along with the ability to adjust the water temperature up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
This shower uses a foot pump to get the water running and the suns heat to warm up the water. This shower is great because it has adjustable water pressure and can pack up small when not in use.
Capacity: 11 Liters (about 2.9 Gallons) – lasts about 5 to 7 minutes at max water pressure
The RinseKit doesn’t use electricity, gas, batteries, or a pump – this is how it works: you fill up the shower kit container by connecting it to a hose spigot or sink from a house, in a campground, etc. It works by taking the pressure from the a spigot or sink and converting it into pressure you can use to power the shower. The shower head has an adjustable pressure setting – If you don’t have access to a sink or spigot, you can buy their Pressure Booster Hand Pump Accessory to power the shower instead.
Capacity: 2 Gallons – will run about 1 minute 15 seconds when it’s in “shower mode”.
Because nobody likes a peeping Tom. This can also be used to shelter yourself if you’re going potty. We talk more about going potty in nature in our Camper Van Toilets section below.
DIY Outdoor Shower Curtain
This shower design was given to us by our friends @three_vanlifers. To make this, you can use any sort of rope or cable along with metal hooks to hold up the shower curtain. They also recommend getting something to stand on while showering, such as a wooden pallet.
DIY Indoor Camper Van Shower
In the winter if you’re staying somewhere cold or if you’re in an urban area and you want your privacy, this is a good option. An easy way to do this without having to build an actual shower inside your conversion van is to take a bucket large enough to stand in, a hula hoop, a shower curtain with hooks and then figure out a way to temporarily attach it to your van’s ceiling. You could do this by attaching Velcro, installing small hooks, or as you can see in the picture below, they are lucky enough to have a pole that allows the hula hoop to slide over.
Camper Van Toilets
Using a toilet while living in a camper van isn’t always an enjoyable topic to discuss. But nobody is excused from these natural processes. We all have to go, so might as well talk, and share ideas about when nature calls. When it comes to going to the bathroom, the best thing you can do is plan ahead. You don’t want to get caught with your pants down, literally. You can park your van at night somewhere close to a public restroom for when you need it in the morning. Check out some of the public restroom ideas below.
One method listed below is the use of a pee bottle, used by males, and females by way of the SHEWEE. If this method is for you, we recommend using a colored Nalgene bottle. They have a wide mouth, never leak, are discreet because of the color, and are virtually indestructible. But once again, plan ahead, don’t get stuck in the middle of the night needing to go and you already have a full bottle!
When it comes to going number 2, doing it inside the van is typically unnecessary. If you are boondocking or camping, there’s plenty of open space outside, and in the city. In the city, you will typically never be more than five minutes away from a public restroom. Gas stations are everywhere but can be unreliable. Grocery stores are great because you can pick up some fresh fruit and boom, two birds with one stone. If you do feel the need to go #2 inside the van, check out some of the van toilet options below.
Budget Portable Toilet Options
Every time you do your business, put a new bag(bio-degradable preferably!) around the rim just like as you would when putting a bag on a trash can. You’ll want to dispose of waste as soon as you can, but if you can’t get to a garbage for a brief while, you can leave the waste in the bucket – but be sure to tie the waste bag closed. I would also recommend adding some kitty litter or sawdust to the waste bag if you know you won’t be able to dispose of the waste for a while. You may think that it’s strange to be disposing your bodily waste into a garbage, but it’s perfectly normal – if you have a dog or baby you put their waste into a garbage.
This portable toilet is simply a five gallon bucket with a toilet seat and sealable lid attached to it. The lid does a pretty good job at minimizing odors, and for the price, it’s a really great option.
This lid will seal 5-gallon buckets very tightly, making them practically odor free. The seat also makes the bucket more comfortable to sit on, but not quite as comfortable as the Luggable Loo. Another option is to put some cheap pipe insulation around the rim to act as a seat.
Additional Budget Toilet Options
Campgrounds, fast food restaurants, etc. We recommend using the Flush toilet finder app. As soon as you open the app, it will display the nearest public toilets to you. It’s free, and you can even search for toilets without an internet connection.
Grab a mini shovel and some biodegradable toilet paper and you’re good to go. If you decide to go this route, you can shelter yourself with a pop-up shower tent like the one mentioned above in our Camper Van Shower section.
This is great to have in case of emergency!
This device allows women to stand while urinating, without removing clothing. It’s super handy to have in case of emergency when public restrooms are not an option.
DIY Camper Van Toilet
If your van conversion is completely DIY, it’s understandable if you want your toilet to be DIY as well. It’s a really cheap option, and looks and seems a bit more civilized compared to a bucket toilet. You can also design it to fit perfectly into a designated space in your van.
“Luxury” Portable Toilet Options
The Cleanwaste Portable Toilet is similar to a bucket toilet in the sense that you will need to use bags to store your waste. What really sets this toilet apart is it folds up really small so you can easily store it in your van. The downside is it’s not super affordable and definitely the least luxurious of the luxury options, but it’s very practical for those with very little space to spare in their van.
Portable chemical toilets are great van life toilets because they’re very affordable, easy to use, you can go a few days without emptying them, and you won’t feel like a barbarian. The black/waste tank portion of the toilet is completely separate and it detaches when you need to empty it. This compartment has a strong seal so the smell is very minimal(except for when you have to empty them). To clean chemical toilets, you add a little bit of chemical solution and water to rinse it out. They’re also very lightweight and don’t require any installation so you can easily move it around your van when needed.
To dispose of waste, you can use public bathrooms, porta pottys, or if you’re really off the grid for a while, you can dig a deep hole.
The Camoco Standard Portable Travel Toilet is one of the best on the market and highly recommended. You can add up to 2.5 gallons of water to the fresh water tank. For it to function, you use the hand pump to add a little bit of water to the toilet before every time you flush. This model comes with bio-degradable chemical packets to clean the toilet.
Capacity: 5.3 gallon waste tank; 2.5 gallon fresh water tank
The Camco Premium travel toilet is a very similar option to the standard model. It’s a newer design but it’s features are almost identical. A nice new feature it has is the swivel dumping elbow which is an extended tube attached to the black water tank for waste to easily flow out of.
Capacity: 5.3 gallon waste tank; 3.75 gallon fresh water tank
The Thetford toilet is very similar to the Camco except it’s a bit more durable and has some additional features including:
- Has battery powered water dispenser instead of a pump such as the one seen on the Camco Toilet. This really isn’t a big deal but it will save you a second or two of pumping.
- Has 2 gauges. One that tells you how much waste is in your black water tank so you know when it’s getting too full and one that tells you how much water is in your fresh water tank.
- Comes with a side compartment for toilet paper.
- It has the ability to mount securely to the floor if you buy the necessary tools to do so.
- Along with the Camco Premium Toilet, the Thetford also has a swivel dumping elbow which makes dumping waste easier.
Price: $125 (there is also one listed for $160, but it’s the same thing so don’t get that one)
Capacity: 5.5 gallon waste tank; 4 gallon fresh water tank
Composting toilets are a good option for some as they are environmentally friendly, nearly odorless, they don’t require any chemicals or a fresh water tank, and you can go weeks without having to empty your #2 business
Composting toilets don’t smell bad for a number of reasons. They have a separate compartment for solids and liquids and you will also want to use peat moss or something similar, which will almost completely remove the poopy smell. The toilet has a spindle on the side which is used to combine the peat moss with your poop to create the compost. Lastly, composting toilets use a hose and vent fan system which takes out all the moisture to reduce the smell.
The downsides to composting toilets is they are expensive, and they need to be installed to 12v power for the fan(luckily it doesn’t take up much power) and a hole will need to be cut in your conversion van for the vent hose. This also means that once you install the toilet you can’t move it.
The Nature’s Head Composting Toilet is a great option for those with a bigger budget. It’s extremely durable, very easy to disassemble and remove waste, and comes with a hose and fan.
Camper Van Laundry
Finding the best method to wash your clothes on the road can be tricky. There are several factors that can influence what method is right for you, including your budget, how much room you have available in your van, and where most of your time is spent while on the road. Listed below are a few great options.
The Scrubba Bag – By far the most portable option, the Scrubba Bag is also an extremely affordable and effective method. While this option is a true off the grid method of washing your clothes, time is the one downside to this method as you do have to hang dry your clothes.
Panda Portable Washing Machine – If you have the money and the space, a portable washing machine is the best method. Highly effective and fast, this method is also off-grid friendly if you are running solar power.
5 Gallon Bucket – Old-school, cheap, and convenient. Wash your clothes wherever you have water. Again, since you must hang dry your clothing one downside to this method is time.
Laundry Mat – If you happen to be in a town or campground with a laundry mat this can be a great option. Two downsides to this method are the reoccurring costs and lack of convenience.
River, Lake, or Pond – If you’re in nature and can find a relatively clean body of water this can be a great option to keep you one with nature.
Hand Washing in a Sink – If worse comes to worse, you can stop by a rest stop, fast-food joint, or a gym if you have a membership.
Depending on your living situation, van life can be very affordable. For some, you may even save money. A huge concern for many people living on the road is their ability to keep a steady income, or at least make enough money to get by.
We have listed a number of ways to work and make money on the road including odd jobs, seasonal work, and freelance work. But living in a van doesn’t mean you can’t keep your current 9 to 5 job. You can live near your office Monday through Friday, and travel on the weekends. No one ever said van life needs to be completely off the grid!
- Online marketing – could be social media, email marketing, SEO, advertising
- Graphic design
- Web design
- Web developer/programmer
- Creative design
- Web research
- Audio and video production
- Writer, copywriter, editor
- Website usability testing – this takes little experience. Here is a list of websites that offer usability testing jobs.
- Data entry – this takes little to no experience. Here is a list of some of the best data entry jobs
- Influencer – If you build a following on social media or some platform where you are getting a lot of attention, you can get paid for advertising products.
- Tutoring – become a tutor on sites like tutor.com or Chegg
- Make art or crafts – Etsy
- Sell your pictures – here is an article on some great places to sell your pictures
If you want to learn a freelance skill, there are tons of resources out there to help you learn. You can use Lynda.com, Udemy, or if you want something free, there is always YouTube and good ol’ Google to answer your questions.
- One option for getting WiFi is to get an unlimited data plan for your cell phone, then use your phone as a hotspot to use your laptop.
- When you’re out in remote locations, a cell signal will be hard to find. Using a cell signal booster with an extended antenna is a great thing to have.
weBoost Cell Phone Signal Booster and Extended Antenna
- To find places with free WiFi near you, you can use an app like Boingo, which allows you to narrow down your location by type such as a school, restaurant, business, venue, or public space. You can also sort by the name of the hotspot, the specific address, city, and nearest to you. When you walk into a WiFi location, Boingo will automatically connect you to the WiFi, so there’s no need to figure out the correct network and password. WiFi speed and security is always an issue when using public WiFi, but Boingo uses their own secure connection so you don’t have to worry about any issues. Boingo will cost you just a few bucks per month.
Boingo has a free option that simply allows you to search for WiFi spots in a specific city or address, but it won’t come with a secure connection and any other fancy features.
Here is an infographic from rottenwifi.com that shows fast food chains with the fastest WiFi:
- Workamping, where you work part- or full-time as campground hosts in exchange for a place to park and maybe some money.
- FlexJobs, a service that helps job seekers find flexible professional positions.
- Working for retail chains during the busy holiday months (November and December).
- Work on a farm during summer months.
- If you are in a touristy location, you can certainly find seasonal work during their busy months, primarily in restaurants and hotels.
- You can be a sporting instructor for skiing or snowboarding in the winter months.
- Use apps like Task Rabbit, which allow you to run errands, help put together furniture from IKEA, gift wrapping, driving, dog walking, helping organize, and more.
- Speaking gigs across the country – If you have a great story to tell about your travels, speak at high schools, colleges, or at company headquarters and events.
Saving Money on the Road
- Keep track of expenses and make a budget. Use apps like Mint to see how much you’re spending.
- Do your own grocery shopping, those restaurant bills will add up quick. And don’t go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. When you’re hungry you’ll want to buy everything.
- Do more things yourself. Pinterest has tons of DIY ideas.
- To find fun free activities, visit recreation.gov. This will save you tons of money.
- Buy an America the Beautiful Pass – Costs $80 per year, and gets you into more than 2,000 federal recreation sites including national parks. You can get a discounted pass if you are a senior (62 or older).
Gas Saving Tips
- Use an app like gas buddy to help you find the lowest gas prices near you, or in a specific city, state, or zip code.
- Don’t get your gas on the weekends – the prices are higher.
- Set your GPS for the shortest route, not the quickest.
- Driver slow and remember that cruise control is your friend.
- Keep your tires properly inflated.
- Don’t travel during rush hour.
- Clean out your air filter.
- Drive when it’s a comfortable temperature outside, so you don’t need to use the heat or the ac when driving.
- If it’s hot and you’re thinking about rolling the windows down to stay cool and save money by not using the AC, you may actually be losing money. When driving on the highway with the windows down, it creates drag which will slow you down and cost you more money on gas that the amount it would cost to run your AC. BUT, if you’re driving at speeds below 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour), you are better off with the windows down.
- Recognize which states in the US are cheaper than others for gas. If you are crossing state lines think about filling up 1st! For example, diesel in Nevada may be 2.25 a gallon, whereas in California it may be 3.50 a gallon.
Mail Options While on the Road
Unfortunately, you can’t have a mailbox connected to your van, so you will need to come up with another solution for receiving bills and other information. You should do your best to switch as many bills to online payments as you can. However, you will still receive physical mail, so you can get can a P.O. box or use a friend’s mailbox if they’re kind enough. Another option is to use a site like mailboxforwarding.com. They will receive your mail for you, make it digital, then send it to you. If you’re in the U.S. and want to recieve a package from Amazon, you can use Amazon Locker. Amazon has “lockers” located all over the U.S. that allow you to have a package deliverd to wherever you want to pick it up.