We finally started doing more travel in our van, investing in some stuff like a sleeping platform, pads, a plug-in cooler and a battery with a solar panel. While we’re still working out some organizational stuff and trying to really figure out what we definitely need/what we absolutely don’t, we did learn a fair bit from our first couple of camping trips. Side note: A lot of these tips are a) obvious to people who are already doing the #vanlife thing, and b) applicable to camping in general as well.
Know the Weather
Vans don’t really protect you from hot/cold at night. If it’s hot out, having a ventilation plan in place (we’re working on a permanent solution but for now, it’s a light fabric over the rolled-down front windows). If it’s cold, having a warm sleeping bag is way more important than the fashion-forward blankets that look better in photos. So before you pack, know the weather ranges for where you’re heading… And then, go broader in your planning. When we were near Louisville in November, we hit 85 degrees and 35 degrees, within the span of a week. And here in Rome, where I’m finally writing this, it’s snowing for the seventh time in the last century. A little unexpected, and I’m glad I’m not camping this week!
Have Extra Lights
I have a secret headlamp that Peter doesn’t know about. It’s my backup, because he is, quite honestly, hell on headlamps for some reason. Keeping a spare lamp, flashlight, headlamp, whatever around gets more important the more rural your camping spot gets, especially if, like me, you have a bit of an overactive imagination at night. When you can shine some light on the scary stuff/find a bathroom, it’s much better. And one of your lamps will die, I can practically guarantee it.
We didn’t plan to use a tarp, but we had one packed just in case. And I was amazed how handy it was for a bunch of different things. Extra straps (to attach the tarp) came in handy as well, when a sudden rainstorm meant we either both sat in the van to work in the somewhat cramped space, or figured out a waterproof solution. A van, a tarp and a couple trees later, we had an admittedly ugly “porch” off the side of the van. It also came in handy for covering bikes that we locked outside at night, and as a sun shade the next day!
Know Your Drinking Water
This is way more a camping tip than a #vanlife thing, but I think some of us (ahem, me included) forget stuff like that sometimes, especially for shorter stays. Having a couple water jugs filled before you leave, and knowing what your local water options are, can be a literal lifesaver, or just save you from a post-ride dehydration headache and (in one particular instance), a three-mile hike into town because I didn’t want to move the van since we had it perfectly dialed in place.
Vent Your Van
Just… trust me on this, especially if you’re sharing a sleeping space. Even if it’s chilly out, some fresh air in a tiny van makes a big difference for comfort levels.
Plan Your Time
This one could also go in my #VanLife without a breakup article, but it’s important enough to drop in twice. If you’re not camping solo, discuss jobs and do some together, some separate. If you’re just on a weekend trip once in a while, this is less urgent. If this is something you’re planning to do a lot, it becomes more and more critical to staying happy and sane the whole time!