Learning How to Go Van Camping is a Process
Whether you are going van camping for a weekend or it’s a lifestyle, there are some things you can learn from seasoned van lifers.
According to a recent Outbound Living survey, about 51% of people live in their van full-time and 49% part-time.
Let’s Review Van Camping Basics
- Designing your camper van build
- Determining what camping accessories you need
- Establishing a schedule
- Van camping meals and preparation
- Water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning
- Staying warm and cool
- Is van camping safe?
Design your camper van build
When you are designing the layout of your van build for van camping, you need to determine what are must-have features. You also need to consider where you are going to be camping (geographically, urban versus country, travel versus stationary), what style of camping you want to do (primitive versus stealth), and your budget.
When building, take into consideration the weather of the location you want to live. If you are van camping in an area that experiences bitter winters, you want to preplan for that. If you want to stealth camp within the city, you need to have different options than if you are going to be in the middle of nowhere and can have your doors open all the time.
Another thing to consider is if you have the capability to do the van build yourself or if you need to hire the conversion out. The budget range for a van conversion is extremely fluid and depends on the options you choose.
Think about your long term van camping goals and plan your build carefully.
Determine what van camping accessories you need
Van camping without hookups is like tent camping, but in a super nice tent. Just like tent camping, you need to determine what camping accessories you need. These accessories are going to make your daily life easier. Your budget will determine what level of convenience you choose.
If you are van camping outside of the urban area, then you will likely want to invest in a shower system. A low budget option is a portable shower bag. A high budget option is a built-in van shower. If you are stealth camping in an urban area, invest in a 24-hour gym pass.
If you are van camping in remote areas and not in the city or campgrounds, then you will need to find a bathroom alternative. A low budget option is a camping shovel. A high budget option is a composting toilet.
Establish a regular schedule
Having a regular schedule where you prioritize your daily must-dos will help you when you’re van camping without hookups. This means know what you need to accomplish each day so you can plan trips to any necessary facilities – for example, shower facilities or washrooms.
Rebecca @beansofnebula, a now-retired van camper, used to plan her days around her martial arts training. Knowing she was going to be at the gym daily meant that she could plan to use the gym’s showers and bathroom facilities.
“28% of van campers use gym facilities to shower.”
This also means you may need to learn your body and its functions… and then establish a bathroom schedule. That might mean you park outside of your favorite cafe so you can grab a morning cup of joe and use the bathroom first thing. It might also mean you restrict your water after 6 p.m. so you don’t need a midnight bathroom break.
Van camping meals and preparation
When you are van camping without hookups, you won’t have an external power source to power your refrigerator (if you even have one). Preparing meals without a way to keep everything cold can be tricky.
Instead, opt for more frequent purchases of foods that need to stay cold. This means buying and eating those foods on an as-needed basis. You might also want to invest in a cooler that you can keep those foods in. You may also want to purchase more foods that are non-perishable like pasta or canned soups.
To prepare and cook meals while van camping, you have a couple of options. If you are camping at a campground, a campfire is a great cooking method. For stealth camping, you can invest in a stovetop. For higher budgets, you can install a drop-in cooktop. For lower budgets, you can buy a traditional single camping cook kit.
Water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning
With no hookups, you are going to be cognizant of your water consumption. Rebecca had two 30L jugs of water stored. On a daily basis, she would use these stores of water to fill a 4L jug for drinking, cooking, and cleaning.
There are lots of places to fill your drinking water jugs – but again, you are going to need to preplan (see point 3 above). If you are in the city, fill your water jugs at your local grocery store. If you are in the country, make a note of any water stations, gas stations, or clean water springs. If you are filling your jugs from natural sources, it would be a good idea to test the water.
To keep your dishes clean (even when stealth camping), Rebecca recommends a tub with a lid. Use the container to store dirty dishes, then when full, boil some water and wash the dishes.
Stay warm while van camping
Unless you are living in a super moderate climate, you will likely need to keep your van cool in the heat and warm in the cold. You should take this into account while you are building your van.
When building, do not skimp on insulation. Regardless of the weather, good insulation will keep you warm and cool. Also, consider that windows are huge areas where heat can escape or enter.
If you are in hot weather locations, you could consider adding a roof vent to help with the airflow. (Remember with no hookups, you won’t be able to power an external air conditioner).
In cold weather, ensure you invest in wool blankets or a good sleeping bag. If the temperature is super low and your investment budget is large enough, look into installing a diesel cab heater to keep you warm while van camping.
Is van camping safe?
The last point for van camping without hookups is to stay safe. Rebecca says “it is important to not downplay the dangers” of van camping. You may consider having a weapon (or two) stashed; do not use pepper spray in an enclosed area. She also recommends taking a self-defense course.
Keep in mind if you are stealth camping and frequenting the same area, people will notice. That can be a good thing or a bad thing.
“If you are van camping without hookups, you have to be tough.” – Rebecca