After over last 2+ years on the road, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to have a smoother and easier life when living in a camper van. In fact, we have a growing list of van life dos & don’ts, rules to live by when on the road.
We created our top 10 tips that we adhere to to help us get the most out of our camper van journey.
1. Do: Keep Your Van Clean
Van gets dirty real quick
You are more likely to spend your time outdoors in van life. Going on a hike in the mountains, surfing in the ocean….YES It’s one of the most amazing things about van life, being close to nature. That means, you are more likely to bring in more dust and dirt into your van.
In a small space, dirt is easily noticeable. Our van gets full of dust on the floor after 2 days without sweeping, and it is pretty unbearable.
dirty van is dangerous
Accumulating sand and dust is not ideal for your furniture and electricity. Sandy countertop and table can ruin your electricity devices like laptop or phone, also the dusty electricity wires and cables can bring possibilities of hazard accidents.
Air circulation is the key
While you are cleaning your van, make sure to open the windows / doors and turn on the vent fan to bring the fresh air in.
Mold is another factor to be careful in your van, moist wood and fabric can create a mold that you don’t want to live with.
Helps to avoid frequent deep cleaning
Cleaning every morning has been a great ritual for me in van life. First in the morning I open the sliding door to let my cat out, sweep the floor, wipe the countertop and table. Also if I’m not in a hurry, I pick one extra spot to clean. One day I clean the sink, and another day I clean the vent fan.
Cleaning every single day sounds overwhelming, but it’s easier task than deep cleaning an entire space in one day. In tiny space like a camper van, sweeping the entire floor takes only 5 minutes. Wiping entire countertops and tables takes only a few minutes. Trust me, I HATE spending time on just cleaning. Cleaning every day a little by little helps prevent me from doing frequent deep cleaning.
Lastly, Clean space = healthy mind
In Japan, cleaning is a big part of culture. In elementary schools, students clean the classroom, hallways, and even toilets by themselves daily, that is how they learn about cleaning.
We believe that cleaning brings in a positive energy, and kicks out a negative energy from your home. This is one of the reasons that we have a custom of doing a massive cleaning at the end of the year, so that we can start our new year with fresh, positive energy in our house.
State of your room reflects the state of your mind. Not only a clean space can help you not feel claustrophobic in the tiny space, but also helps you feel fresh, positive and make your day productive and fulfilling.
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2. Do: Proper & Regular Maintenance Of Campervan
Just like cleaning, doing maintenance of your campervan regularly can save you a lot of money and time in the future. Here are suggested maintenance list:
If you have lithium battery, you should pay close attention of the percentage of your charging. Healthy battery percentage should be between 50-80%, and bring it to full charge (100%) once a month
Read More: Proper Battery Maintenance For Campervan
Dust can clog the air circuration so make sure to clean the surface at least once a week
Driving makes everything shakes and rattles. Every screws become loose eventually that can cause collapses of the furnitures and leaking in plumbing systems.
Especially batterys can be very, very expensive if they don’t function correctly. Paying close attention and proper maintenance regulary can save your time and lots of money in future.
3. Do: Always Be Nice To People
Seeing the title, you may think “dah, of course”. However sometimes van life can be unpredictable, you might encounter in the situation that is not your fault at all but you have to deal with the situation just because you are in the wrong place, wrong time, just out of luck.
It can be frustrating especially in different countries where you don’t speak the local language. Never show your frustration or anger to strangers. In general people are basically kind and if you are nice to them, no one will be aggressive towards you most of the time. Remain calm and always talk respectfully can solve problem quickly and avoid making situation worse.
4. Do: Download These Useful Apps
Throughout our travels in the USA and Canada, we have relied heavily on the below three apps primarily for sleeping and national parks information.
a) iOverlander App
For any camper van or overlanding journey, the iOverlander App is practically a must.
Lots of great information around the world for where to sleep (both official campsites and free overnight spots), safety insights, and where to get gas, water, and mechanical help.
The user interface could use a spruce up, but it’s a free app with lots of great and constantly updated information.
b) Flying J App
This is just for the USA and Canada.
All across the two countries, there are thousands of truck stops and many (though not all) will allow free overnight parking. Some even provide paid showers and laundry service.
We have used the Flying J App to find these truck stops and to check which of these stops officially allow overnight parking for camper vans.
The app also provides the phone numbers for each truck stop, so if you’re, you can always call ahead to ask.
c) Recreation.Gov App
One of the highlights of any road trip through the United States is visiting as many of the national parks as possible.
But if you’re traveling during high season, there’s a good chance that many of the national parks on your radar will be full when you arrive. It’s not a great feeling to show up to the campsite in the late afternoon only to be turned away and then having to leave the park to look around for other places to sleep.
We use the Recreation.Gov App to plan 1-2 days ahead and look for campsite vacancies. This way we can plan and change our itinerary accordingly.
5. Do: Leave No Trace
Although van life is very self sustainalbe way of living and no matter how hard you try there are always wastes. It is important to keep the place you camped clean (even cleaner than when you arrive) Never dump the waste water ( gray or black) onto the ground directly, make sure to dump them in either public toilets or official dump station.
If you need to do the business outside, use a shovel and dig the hole deep enough. Also make sure to be away from the natural river, lake or ocean.
Camping availablitity is often based on how other campers treated the place. If they trushed the place, locals would not like campers hanging out in future. Having gratitude and respect towords local land and people leads to keep the camping option for future campers.
6. Do: Live Your Own Van Life
Travel at your own pace
What we experienced once before was the total exhaustion from “doing too much too fast” in van life.
When we traveled in US, Yuko had only 3 months visa, so we had to be in rush to do things. We visited as many national parks, hiked as many trails as possible, visited as many as “must visit” tourist spots and take pictures. We did all of these because we did not want to “regret” not doing. As a result, we were burnt out in the end. We were so tired that we couldn’t really enjoy hiking, nor magnificent views of the nature anymore.
If you are in full time van life traveling, you may consider to take your time, if time allows. If you want to visit every single must visit places which is totally fine, but it is always a good idea to add some “breaks”, staying in one camp spot for few days to recharge your energy, before visiting new places.
You don't have to be in the nature all the time
There are so many beautiful photos of people waking up in their vans with back doors wide open, and the amazing views in front. So often times van life associates with being in nature, which is true, but you don’t necessary have to follow the same path.
You don’t have to be in middle of nowhere if you like to just sit in a cafe in the cities. You can pick the place to visit based on what you like to do. Everyone’s has different ways to travel and there is no right or wrong answers. It is the same for van life. You can live and travel anywhere, anytime, and however you want. This is the true beauty of van life and you can create your own van life style.
1. Don’t: Have High expectation - Van Life is Not as glamorous as it looks
If you feel bad because you don’t have van life like everyone’s instagram photos, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And let me tell you, from our 2+ years of experience of van life, our van interior was never perfect. It often gets cluttered with stuff on the countertops, our underwear are always hanging in the air. It takes AT LEAST 15 minutes to clean and set up to take a pretty gram photo.
Also, we don’t park our van in the place with amazing views all the time. Even though when we do sometimes we rarely open the backdoor without bug net, or it’s too cold or rainy to open the back door. Often time we have a view of huge loud truck passing by at truck stop or Walmart parking lot.
This is pretty much reality of van life, and van life like a gram photo takes a lot of effort and energy. The most important thing is that you can’t have expectation van life to be glamorous, and you have to learn to be ok to have “not so perfect” van life.
2. Don’t: Abuse Stealth Camping Spots
Do you get excited finding awesome place to spend a night for free? Yes, I know the feeling. Especially if we find a place without iOverlander’s help, feels like we are some hardcore campers.
However, if you are stealth camping, especially in the city or residential neighborhood, it’s best to keep the spot private. If you put location and reviews on the camping apps, the same exact spot will be filled with campers, which ended up really pulling attention from the neighbors around. And if just one person decided to trash the place, maybe next campers see a sign of “no camping” or get knocking on the door by police at midnight.
Always, be considerate for next campers and be respectful about the place you are camping.
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3. Don’t: Get a small vehicle if you are planning to do full time van life
One thing we never regret about our van is van itself. We have a Ford Transit high top (regular length), being able to stand up straight really helped us getting through during the pandemic period, when we had no place to go in the rainy season of Mexico, just sitting in our van.
If you are planning to do a full time van life, you might want to consider getting a vehicle you can comfortably spend time inside. You don’t need a A-class RV to have everything you need if you can be creative with interior layout, but being able to stand up avoid being crustafobic.
4. Don’t: assume van life is cheap
We get this question A LOT. Honest answer is, it is all depend on what you do. If you drive / travel long distance, the highest expense is going to be a gas. We don’t sleep for free every single night. The reality is that it is very hard not paying at all for place to sleep. (Especially if you are not in US) As we travel, there are certainly temptation to eat out to try local foods. Often times we pay for coffee for better wifi. Therefore cost adds up.
But of course, if you don’t drive and just using your van as a living space, it is definitely cheaper than renting a room in US.
5. Don’t Wear shoes inside of your van
“Shoes off please!!”
This is one thing you can do to reduce your cleaning time. Not wearing your shoes in your van prevents from sand, dirt and dust coming into your van a lot less. Also, keeping a habit of cleaning your feet after a beach day!
6. Don’t : underestimate your battery usage
You don’t really think about how much energy you use in the house. Endress energy is provided at home to run AC, using microwave, or forever lasting hot shower. In van life we all usually have limited solar panels and batteries, you should be conscious about which energy you use the most. Also, If you are considering about installing induction stove, please, DON’T.
related Posts About Electricity Usage:
DIY a solar system within your budget with our FREE custom solar diagrams eBook.
7. Don't: Forget To Carry A Toolbox
Let me tell you from painful experience. Just because your van build is completed doesn’t mean you can leave your tools at home and forget about them.
Though we don’t bring our giant saws or Kreg Jigs, we do keep a small set of useful, every day tools and spare components WHEN something inevitably goes wrong and needs repair.
Learn More: Essential Tools For Van Life
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