Van Camping 101: Things You Need to Know

Van camping is a very challenging but fun activity. It requires a lot of planning and organizing within your supplies and equipment. The key to perfecting your van camping experience is knowing what stuff you should bring and what can be left behind. Traveling and camping in a van can be one of the most enriching experiences, but traveling in a van without the proper gear can be a nightmare. The van camping craze is undoubtedly getting more popular nowadays. If your curiosity got the best of you, then you’re in the right spot. This list will help you navigate the adventure towards your van camping travel. 

1. Find the Right Van for Your Needs

To make sure that your van camping experience goes smoothly, you should select the right van. There are different types of vans that you can choose from and choose to build your home on wheels. The first type is the minivan which is small and discrete. It is a good choice for those who prefer a simple van camping setup or if you are a solo traveler that doesn’t need too much space.

The second type is the cargo van which is one of the most popular types of vans for custom builds. They are spacious, stealthy, and very versatile. You can do different designs so that you can be comfortable while on the road and during your camping adventure.

The third type of van is the fixed roof campervan which is designed straight from the manufacturer as a camping van. Usually, these vans have a fixed roof that can’t be changed in height. On the other hand, a pop-top campervan is pretty similar to a fixed roof van. The main difference is the pop-top van can be extended while parked for more interior space and standing room.

Lastly, you have the Class B RV, which is a more luxurious take on the type of campervan. These types of van usually have extra-long van-sized RV that comes with a complete kitchenette and a very small bathroom on board.

Now, if you already own a van, there should be no reason why you can’t build that model out to something that will meet your needs while you are on the road. If you want to know more about building a van from the ground up, here is an articleOpens in a new tab. that I have written for you.

2. Van Build: Make Sure to Stick to Something Simple

When it comes to van build, you can get overwhelmed with the beauty of plenty of camper van builds. The ones that you usually see on Social Media, YouTube, and blogs are usually the cream of the crop. They can take plenty of time, skill, and effort to achieve. Aside from that, it can cause you big bucks when you plan to have an over-the-top design.

Browsing through the internet on van builds is great for inspiration, but it is best to create your van build with a realistic budget in mind and stick to it. You can start with a simple van build, upgrade as you go, and then go from there. All you need when it comes to your van build is a place to sleep, while the rest, such as kitchen and bathroom, is optional.

As time passes, you can add more features to your van when you have the right budget. Now, if you have the money and time, there is no reason that you shouldn’t build your dream van from the beginning, especially if you plan to do this full time.

3. What to Bring: Things You Should Pack

For a weekend, week-long trip, or a change in lifestyle, you should know the right things to pack so that you are comfortable on your adventure on the road. You need to keep in mind that with van camping, less is more. You don’t want to be stressed about bringing all of the unnecessary things into your home, and make sure you enjoy a simple life as much as possible when it comes to van living.

Having said this, when you are renting a campervan, or you have your own, make sure that you go through it before you head out to the great outdoors. It can be hard to have a pleasant time when you discover that you didn’t bring utensils with you. If you are wondering what you should bring, here is an articleOpens in a new tab. that I have written for you.

Bear-proof Canisters. One of the most important essential camping things that you should bring on your van camping trip. Make sure that you lock up all your food since there might be bears snooping around while you are camping. Now, some camps offer campsites, and it is still your responsibility not to lure animals into your campsite with the smell of food.

Bed Platform. When you need more storage, you can build a bed platform at the back of your van where it will hold an air mattress or a regular mattress with space underneath where you can place your belongings.

Laundry Machine. Now, as you may know, accidents happen, so an emergency washing machine may not be a bad idea. You can purchase a machine, but a bucket and a plunger will get the job done. You can also purchase an ultrasonic device that can wash clothes with shock wave technology when you love high-tech appliances.

Compression Bags. These bags are great for making bulky clothes and bags more manageable while you are in a van. You can shove dirty laundry, clothes, towels, and sleeping bags in them. You will free up a ton more space when you have compression bags. All you have to do is remember what is stashed in each bag to avoid chaos or label them.

4. Small Space: Always Stay Organized

Whenever you are working in a small space, it is always important that you stay organized. Once you become more familiar with van camping, you will surely come up with your own storage hacks so that you can stay organized at all times. However, for beginners, it is recommended that using soft-sided bags such as duffel bags will work great in storing supplies.

Most people who are serious about their van builds take storage into deep consideration. The number one hack that you can do is build a platform bed that has plenty of storage underneath. Aside from that, you can add fold-away items, pop-up shelving, fold-up tables, and so much more.

5. Simple Meals: Stick to Them

Plenty of van lifers’ favorite part of living in a van is cooking. All you need are simple tools such as a camping stove, and you can make the most delicious meal possible. Make sure that you stick to simple one or two-pot meals so that you can maximize clean-up. Meals such as pasta, tacos, and grilled cheese sandwiches would be the best.

If you are going on a short van camping trip, then you can prep your meals at home before you head out on your adventure, so it will make van cooking even easier. When you plan on full-time living, it is best to designate a space for cooking so that you are comfortable.

6. Stealth Camping: Try It Out and See If It Fits You

Plenty of van lifers usually turns to stealth camping whenever they are traveling through different cities or towns. Stealth camping is when you usually park in a residential, industrial, or commercial area for the night. Your goal here is for no one to notice you while you are inside your van. It is best to arrive late, leave early, and don’t leave your vehicle at all during the night.

If you are interested in building a stealth van, here is an articleOpens in a new tab. that I have written for you. Stealth camping is possible in any type of van that you choose to purchase or build.

7. Showering and Using the Bathroom: How To Do This While Van Camping

The most people think about before going on a van camping trip is how you take a shower and use the bathroom. All types of vans, except for the luxurious Class B campervan, don’t come with a shower. If an onsite campground shower is not an option, the best choice that you have is a portable camping shower that will help you feel fresh. You also add a solar shower to your van that warms the water up through the heat of the sun.

If you want to know about the shower alternatives that you can use during van camping, here is an articleOpens in a new tab. that I have written for you.

Now, going to the bathroom is just as much important, or maybe more, than knowing where you can shower. Most campgrounds or RV parks have a vault toilet that you can use, but most camping areas don’t have this option. A portable is one option that you can go with when it comes to going to the bathroom.

The most cost-efficient options are the bucket method or burying it in a hole. All you have to do is make sure to follow all the rules and regulations in the particular area that you are camping in since plenty of camping places won’t allow you to bury your waste.

When it comes to showering, you can find free or very cheap places to shower throughout the United States. You can also stop at local indoor and outdoor swimming pools to take a quick shower. They often only cost a couple of bucks to use, especially when you are in a small town.

There are plenty of places where you can take a quick shower, and here is an articleOpens in a new tab. that I have written for you.

8. Magnetic Window Screens: Great When You Are Sleeping

As you may know, sleeping in a vehicle may be a bit hard due to the windows, especially when you want to take a nap in the morning or afternoon. If you leave the windows open for a bit of fresh air, you might end up with bugs inside your van, and it will definitely keep you awake all night. If you leave them closed, you can end up with a stinky, steamy cloud with no fresh air circulating inside your van.

The best thing to do is make some screen windows for your van. You can place a mesh screen and some heavy-duty magnets so that it is pretty easy to rig up the screen, and you can attach it to the outside of your car. It will allow you to crack or roll down the windows for a bit, giving you fresh air.

9. Staying Warm While in Your Van: What You Can Do

When you are van camping in the winter, it can get cold quickly. It is best that you bring along a portable heater that can keep you warm. Now, both electric and propane models are available for your warm needs; there are also some propane heaters that are perfect when it comes to van camping.

When using propane heaters during your van camping, it is important that you follow all safety practices which include keeping windows cracked for ventilation. Here is an article that I have written about 12V camper heaters that you can use for your van adventures during the cold.

10. Go On A Couple of Test Runs: Don’t Forget to Take Notes

If it is your first time going on a van camping trip, make sure that you don’t plan a 3,000 miles road trip. You can set up your driveway or even go to a nearby campground for practice. Make sure that you take notes throughout the entire test run. Note what is working, what is not, what items you were not able to use at all, or what items you wish you had during the test run.

Doing this will ensure a smooth van camping experience for you and your loved ones.


Overall, van camping is truly a rewarding experience. With the right tips and tricks up your sleeve, you can enjoy your outdoor adventure to the fullest. Always make sure that you follow the rules and regulations when it comes to spending your time outdoors. Be informed as to where is the best place for you to spend time van camping with yourself or your loved ones. If you want to know about the best destinations for the summer season, here is an articleOpens in a new tab. that I have written for you.

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