Wanted Vanlife Advice
Whether you’re daydreaming about van life, in the research phase, or just bought your first van, you probably have some questions about the realities of the lifestyle. Questions like: how do I know what type of van to buy? Where will I park and camp? What does living in a van really look like? We have the answers to these questions and more in this guide for those new to the van life movement. Read on for our curated list of tips and tricks collected from fellow van dwellers around the country and the world.
1. CHOOSING THE RIGHT VAN
The variety of vans available can be overwhelming for new customers. Keep a clear head and focus on key factors like the dimensions of the van, features and interior layout, fuel efficiency, and special considerations like four-wheel drive.
“In my opinion, the first thing anyone looking for their escape pod might consider is whether you can stand up inside. The next thing is the length. While longer wheelbase versions allow for more space inside, they don’t fit into standard parking spots and also stand out as RVs on residential streets. Many coastal areas also put a cap on the length of vehicles that are allowed to park overnight in an effort to keep van lifers out.” – Ty (@themodpadvan)
The bottom line—consider the lifestyle you’d like to lead and shop accordingly. Planning to spend six months hopping from city to city? Look for a shorter van that can be parked almost anywhere. Prefer sunny vacations at RV resorts? Opt for a longer van with luxe interior features. Looking to get off the beaten path in nature? Choose a 4WD van that is compatible with boondocking.
2. STAYING SAFE
While unfamiliar settings and adventurous attitudes are part of what makes van life so exciting, you should still be pragmatic when it comes to staying safe. You’ll be able to sleep easy knowing you’re well-prepared for anything that comes your way.
“As a solo female van lifer, safety comes first! Always park somewhere with service and ensure someone you trust knows your updated travel plans at all times.” – Lauren Cayford (@laurenrosecayford)
“Our one piece of advice for new van lifers may seem obvious, but it’s an easy one to overlook. Always check that your spare tire is full and you have the equipment (and the knowledge) needed to change the tire yourself! Lots of times you’ll be far away from the next town and possibly out of service, so this is a really important one!”
– Ashia and Kevin (@highwayhoneys)
Vanlife Advice Finding The Right Camping Spot
3. FINDING CAMPING SPOTS
There are many options of places to park your traveling home, ranging from minimally-developed free campsites on BLM land to RV resorts with full hookups and onsite amenities like swimming pools. The Campground Reviews website (or app) is a good starting place to compare campgrounds, RV parks, and RV resorts across the country. Plus, they have user ratings and filters to help you narrow down the options.
“Finding a camp spot can be tricky; it’s always a balance of getting as far outdoors as possible while still having cell coverage to work. We normally use the iOverlander app to get an idea of spots, then we compare it to satellite view on Google Maps to see what else is in the area, and finally, we compare it to a cell coverage map to make sure we will have service. It’s a little bit of work, but if you’re trying to work from the road, it’s definitely worth the upfront effort!” – Ken and Sam (@gonevanning)
“Regardless of your wheelbase, if you need to park in a residential area, you can use apps like Vanly to rent locals’ driveway space for a fairly nominal fee. Hipcamp is similar in that it’s a website where property owners rent campsites on their land, with varying degrees of amenities and commensurate rates, like Airbnb for campers. If you’re looking for a free option, seek out parking lots at places like Walmart, but be mindful of signage. For the wild version, check the Bureau of Land Management website for National Park land, where you can basically pull off the road just about anywhere and spend the night, in addition to reserving a campsite for pretty cheap.”
4. STAYING COMFORTABLE
You’ll enjoy your travels even more if you have a great interior setup. Check out our posts “8 Tips for Van Life Storage and Organization” and “How to Make Your New Camper Van Feel Like Home” for more information.
“Before heading out in your van, start your packing with just the absolute necessities. Then move on to things that are most important to you but not necessary for everyday life and go from there! We had to give up some of our belongings (some temporarily, others permanently) but, in packing our van, we focused on what we really love and value—having all of the climbing and hiking gear we could want. You don’t really miss those extra pairs of shoes or a TV when you are fully immersed in your surroundings.” – Mitch and Stephanie (@itinerantadventure)
“Thermals are your best friend. Van life in winter can be chilly! I always keep lots of thermals in the van as they’re so toasty and take up way less space than extra blankets or sleeping bags.” – Lauren Cayford (@laurenrosecayford)
Once you’ve outfitted yourself and your van properly for ultimate comfort on the road, there’s one last thing to consider—your mindset.
Vanlife Advice people might think you lost your mind.
5. HAVING THE RIGHT MINDSET
When we asked van dwellers to provide advice for those new to the lifestyle, many shared tips related to mindset. Don’t underestimate the power of preparing yourself for a big change with the right frame of mind.
“Remember that the world of van life you see on Instagram is very often a highlight reel—don’t be discouraged or upset if your every day doesn’t look like that. Tons of people don’t travel full time—personally, I live in a van to allow myself to move a few times a year depending on work. There are so many different ways to do van life, and they’re all great!” – Josie Hartlin (@josiehartlin)
“Don’t do it to be ‘van life famous,’ do it because your heart tells you it’s right for you. Van life attracts a certain type of person. We have big hearts and small egos. We don’t need much to enjoy life. Peace, freedom, nature. The IG support is a bonus, but not necessary to enjoy van life.” – Matt Mancz (@circadian_man)
Once you’ve established that you’re interested in van life for the right reasons and you have realistic expectations, it’s time to adapt to the flow of the lifestyle. How you’ll relate to others, including a partner in the van or strangers you meet on the road, might be new to you.
“Get ready to spend a lot of time with your loved one. Long drives, close quarters. This environment will expose you both. You’ll have to communicate everything. Understand your mate and yourself. Sometimes the other needs space. Sometimes they need a loving embrace.” – Matt Mancz (@circadian_man)
“We have found that having some flexibility in our plans is beneficial. When living on the road full-time, it’s great to have the ability to fall in love with a location and decide to spend an extra week there (or to find that you dislike an area and want to move on quickly). This is also a great tip if you like to make friends on your travels as it can give you the freedom to say yes to that last-minute climbing trip or dinner at their local hangout.” – Mitch and Stephanie (@itinerantadventure)
Even if you don’t have every detail figured out yet, you can still take the leap. As Matt Mancz advises, “Follow your heart. If it’s something you really want to do, go for it now. Find a way to make it happen. There are so many loving and helpful people in the van life community to reach out to for assistance.”
At Rec Van, we want to help make your van life dreams a reality. In addition to sharing helpful information on our blog, we’re committed to helping you find the best camper van for you. Click here to visit our website.