Top Ten Tips for Van Camping

Well, the last few months have been a learning experience… When a person is converting a van, he or she often has ideas that seem well-planned out and infallible.  Floor plans are drawn, materials purchased, and potential spaces populated.  When you go to install the floor and walls, put artifacts into place, and even take a maiden voyage, you learn how much you don’t know.  Everyone goes through this.  In David Letterman fashion, I complied this list of problems encountered and suggestions on how to combat these issues.  It is hoped that you will find this list both entertaining and helpful.

1)  Floor plans will always let you down.  Be ready to adapt them.  One of the biggest problems I ran into was with fitting things in or building components that had to be adjusted due to the curved walls. I had everything planned down to the inch.  It led to a lot of consternation.  The bed had to be increased in size due to being a large person.  All the computer planning had to be tossed out – at least as far as the specifics.  At first, keep your plan to the bare essentials – bed, storage, tv placement etc.  The rest will fall into place.

2)  You will never know how your bed will work till actually camping.  The homemade cushion didn’t work for me.  I’m heavy and bottomed out on it.  Then I switched to an air mattress which was comfortable but cold.  For some reason, the air in the cushioned always seemed to be cold.  The mattress stretched, distorted, and made weird noises when I rolled over.  I went to a regular twin mattress.  It works just fine!

3)  Learning different bathroom habits.  Mom was right – go to the bathroom before bed.  I normally just flop down in the bed.  You can go number 2 in the van using a camping toilet but I found out that your living space will stink for hours even with a fan.  Even passing a little gas can be pretty stinky.  If you can pooh outside in your camping toilet, all the better.  I often camp near a gas station or rest area where I go #2 if need be.  If camping at WalMart, I park near a storm drain so I can dump a little pee down if I need to.  You may need to try various “urinals” until you find something that works for you depending on if you can stand up, your … anatomy, etc.  I prefer a 64 ounce mug (wide base) which will not tip.  When full, I put it in the step area of the van where it fits nicely.

4)  Don’t park in the parking ramp unless you can clear it. There is only one parking ramp I know of in town where I can park and that’s only on the lowest level.  Trucks park in there for Farmer’s Market.  I learned first hand that you can clear the little “low clearance” sign and still scrape your roof vent.

5)  Don’t tell your neighbors about your camping, if you can help it.  Mine started gossiping and rumors were flying.  Fortunately, I am well-established and could quash the rumors.  The only unsettling part was when a local cop talked to me and asked me where I camped.  I was evasive.  There are great places to go but the fewer people who know, the better for all of us

6) Make your van look like home.  The cleaner the van the better it looks to everyone – law enforcement, your friends, yourself.  It only takes a few minutes to tidy up.  My trailer is such a mess that it gets on my nerves.  Not so with the van.  It’s quick to clean and draws some oooohs and ahhhhs when people see it.. I have stuff on the walls for decorations and people really like it.  It makes me feel more comfortable, too.

7) Buy as much battery and inverter as you can.  I’ve got a modified sine 2500 watt inverter which is adequate with lots of extra capacity.  I messed up at first and only got a 1000 watt inverter.  The little 600 watt microwave uses 950 watts alone! I bought the 2500 Cobra and everything works fine. Fortunately, the 460 Amp Hours of batteries that were purchased was a perfect choice… Lots of capacity and bigger batteries mean an easier life.

8) CPAP is not an option.  I had to return home several times because I forgot the CPAP machine (for sleep apnea).  Since the home CPAP machine was old and had some problems, I needed another anyway.  The old one is in the van and wired in to the 12V house batteries.  No scrubbed missions now!

9)  Always keep baby wipes on hand.  Guys have a great advantage in that we can pee anywhere.  Unfortunately, as a van camper or van dweller, you will likely get your hands wet as you are hunched over using your cup.  Baby wipes smell great and work well on all parts of the body.  About any trucker will tell you the same thing.

10)  You can never have too many light sources because none are perfect.  Anything that gives off plentiful, warm looking light will suck your house batteries down in short order.  You will learn to use LED sources more than likely.  They work fine but you might need to try several kinds.  I have UFO lights (past article), a little rechargeable trouble light, a lantern, and several wall mount stick on switches with built in LEDs.  Keep tons of batteries on hand.  It sucks to try and get up for a bathroom break only to find you have no light!

These little suggestions are all things that have helped make the camping more fun and enjoyable.  I hope some of these ideas help.

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About VanTrekker

I am a former vandweller in Eastern Iowa who, for several years (off and on), lived in a 2007 Chevy cargo van. I still travel around Iowa with my tortoise shell cat, Jennifer Stefanie. Our favorite place to explore is the Country Heritage Community, the four far northeastern counties of Iowa (Clayton, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Fayette). Ride along as we fish in pristine trout streams, enjoy fine home cooked camping meals, and meet new people. It's all possible on a shoestring budget. Happy travels always! --- Brad, the "Van Trekker"

2 Responses to Top Ten Tips for Van Camping

  1. Ash says:

    Nice tips! These are totally things that you don’t think about until you’re in full camping mode. I always hear people saying that it’s takes a few months both before and after moving to the van to get all the kinks worked out.

    ~ The Tuckerbag ~

  2. Hey Brad

    I have the perfect low tech solution, I installed a 3″ bilge fan inside my homemade 5 gal prota potty, it sucks 120 CFM and leaves a nice cool breeze on your butt …the fresh air goes outside under the trailer, check it out, it really really works good… I was surprised at how well it worked, because I also noticed if you pass a little gas you could have a major problem. Now I also use a 14″ under floor fan 2000 CFM very quiet and only uses 50 watts. It also solves my problems with gas from the interior 400 amp hour batteries and really keeps the trailer cool.

    3) Learning different bathroom habits. Mom was right – go to the bathroom before bed. I normally just flop down in the bed. You can go number 2 in the van using a camping toilet but I found out that your living space will stink for hours even with a fan. Even passing a little gas can be pretty stinky.