After over two 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.
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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.
Ask Locals If It's OK To Park
During your travels, you’ll come across many instances where a spot looks like great overnight spot. Perhaps it’s on a quiet neighborhood road, or at a beach entrance parking lot, or next to a small urban/sub-urban park.
We’ve found that it’s best to first ask locals if it’s OK to park overnight before trying. Otherwise you risk a rude knock on your door by the police or neighborhood watch.
And sometimes just by asking politely, locals will warm up to you and be more welcoming to an overnight guest.
As always, if overnight is approved, be clean, be quiet, and be respectful.
Learn More: Is A Stealth Campervan Really A Good Idea?
Tired? Take A Break!
Sometimes van life is exhausting! When we first start our adventure in our campervan, we were always driving somewhere. After just a night or two, we’d pick up and go again.
There was just so much to see and so little time.
But over time we got burned out and were always tired. Suddenly, our desire to explore and visit new places plummeted.
We’ve learned a lot since our first 6 months on the road, and now we’re much better at pacing ourselves. Long term van life isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. And we’re much better about gauging our energy and enthusiasm.
When we’re tired, we’ll stay at a nice campground longer. And sometimes an entire day or R&R at a nice internet cafe or hot springs resort is in order.
Ask Freely, Give Freely!
Since we’ve been on the road, we’ve met a whole range of people living in their camper vans. Some have been living in their vehicles for decades and several others had begun their travels just one week before.
That’s to say, we’ve met people that had a whole range of life, travel, and camper van experience.
And we’ve certainly been on the receiving end of advice from some of the people we’ve talked to in the past. Everything from travel advice, camper van maintenance advice, and even simply life advice while sitting around the communal campfire.
But as we travel more and gain more experience, we’ve increasingly found ourselves on the side of giving advice, when it is asked of us. We love passing knowledge along because we understand we didn’t get to where we are today by ourselves. It was from the knowledge of others that was passed onto us that got us here.
So, when it comes to advice and knowledge, we try to remember the axiom “Ask Freely, Give Freely”.
Be an awesome van lifer and pass it along!
Read More: Van Life For Women
Get Your Groove On!
Whether we’re dancing awkwardly in our van, or working outside, or hosting a game night in our van with guests, we enjoy listening to our personal playlists and random beats on Spotify.
For all our music needs, we carry around the UE Boom Bluetooth Speaker.
For it’s size, this speaker packs a real punch and great audio quality without that tinny sound you get from cheaper and smaller speakers.
What we also love about this speaker is it’s form. It’s thin and tall, so it easily sits tucked away in the corner of our kitchen counter, or on our arm rests by our benches, or even in our cup holders when we’re driving.
Van life and portable music pretty much go hand-in-hand we think!
Get Your Documents in Order!
Border crossings are definitely not to be taken lightly, even the US/Canadian border. And when it comes to trying to enter the USA, if the border officer rejects your attempt, it can make your future efforts much more difficult to enter the country. And you risk getting banned from the US for a set number of years.
In Yuko’s case, because she’s not an US citizen, we’ve carried copies of her bank statements and personal references to attest that she is only planning to travel and not to live or work in the USA.
We’ve never had to show these documents, but given how intense the interrogation process can be, we try to be as prepared as possible.
When crossing into Mexico, the border crossing process is simpler and less stressful. But in order to obtain proper travel permits, we’ve needed the originals and copies of:
- Driver’s License
- Vehicle Title and Registration
But we would also make sure we bring proof of:
- Vehicle purchase (receipt)
- Travel Insurance
- Vehicle Insurance
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
Don't Be A Disrespectful Walmart Guest
This is a big one on our van life dos & don’ts list.
One of the great aspects of driving through the USA and Canada are the many free overnight parking spots allowed to travelers by Walmart (and several other big chain brands).
Not all of us want to pay $30-50 per night just to spend the night as we travel from one place to another. So for us, we’re grateful for this service to sleep for free.
Unfortunately, Walmart stores across the country are beginning to prohibit camper vans from overnight in their parking lot and this is in no reason to the tiny minority of disrespectful camper van travelers abusing this free service and being a nuisance.
We’ve seen travelers:
- Extend their camper slides out and take up as many as 10 parking spots,
- Dump their grey water right onto the grass,
- Leave garbage behind as they left the next morning,
- Take out their chairs, tables, and BBQ set and treat their Walmart parking spot like their own permanent camp site.
Please help preserve this great service by Walmart and the other big brand stores by being a respectful overnight guest.
Be clean, be quiet, and be respectful.
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Don't Disrespect Your Batteries
I’m a firm believer that our batteries are the beating heart of our camper van. They provide invaluable power to our electrical devices; bring us light, changing our air, powering our laptops, and keeping our food cold.
Which is why I’m often shocked by just how many people disrespect their battery’s life and abuse their capabilities.
For lead-acid and AGM battery owners, this includes carrying an undersized battery bank (total amp-hours) and discharging their batteries past the safe discharge level.
For lithium battery owners, this includes shortening their battery’s life by constantly charging and keeping their batteries fully charged at 100%.
Understanding battery usage and charging best practices is essential to getting the most out of your batteries and keeping them healthy and running for longer.
Learn More: Proper Battery Maintenance Tips
Don't Let Your Van Interior Get Dirty
Just like a normal house or apartment, your tiny home on wheels needs to be cleaned, vacuumed, and aired out regularly.
This is especially true when you’re at the beach or in humid environments.
When we’re camping and not in a traveling rush, we have a post-breakfast morning routine that includes sweeping our floors, de-dusting our cushions, and airing out our rugs. We understand this is probably a bit overkill for most people, but we’ve done it so many times now that it’s becoming a zen-ful morning experience for us.
We prefer to do daily quick cleans every day rather than a single big clean once or twice a month.
It must be Yuko’s Japanese cleaning habits that she brought to our van. 🙂
Don't Freely Dump Your Waste Water Wherever
And lastly, in our Van Life Dos & Don’ts, we deal with waste water.
We love being on the road, and we think you do to (or will once your van build is completed)!
It’s an exhilarating feeling to bring everything with you into a vehicle and just GO. However, this also means we are bring around our waste water with us.
We encourage all van lifers to be responsible campers and dump their waste water in appropriate areas. Our grey water is stored in a 6-gallon water container, so we’re always emptying our grey water at dump stations at campsites and bathrooms in big box stores, fast food restaurants, and gas stations.
It’s not the prettiest and sometimes a real hassle, but it beats simply dumping our water on the pavement or randomly in nature.
We Hope You Enjoyed Reading Our Van Life Dos & Don'ts
Thanks for reading our list of Van Life Dos & Don’ts.
If you feel that we have left out other crucial pointers please let us know in the comments below or by contacting us through email.
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Go Back: Van Life Hacks & Tips