Living van life can be one of the most, if not the most, rewarding experiences and adventures in a lifetime. Not only does it open up so many doors for meeting new and interesting people, but it also affords you the opportunity to explore and adventure to places most people only dream and read about.
While it is possible to just jump in a van and just trek out into the countryside, preparing yourself for living van life would be a smarter approach.
We have compiled a list of 15 tips and secrets for living van life to better prepare you for your adventures. We could easily come up with 15 more tips and secrets, but we will start with this list today.
1. Know what you are getting yourself into.
This is probably the most important tip and secret for living van life. Living and traveling full time in a converted van is much harder than one might imagine. It’s not just the small space you are living in. It isn’t the constant unknowns that cross your path every day. It is much deeper than that.
Living van life full time is as much of a psychological challenge as it is a physical acclimation. If you are living van life as a single person, then the challenges are even greater.
The feeling and realization of loneliness creeps in slow, but when it lands, it lands hard for some people. Understand that sometimes, you may go a week or more without human contact. Now, while that sounds very appealing to most of us, the way we are genetically designed, we need human interaction.
That is why planning on attending organized social gatherings is so popular and important for van life and full-time nomads. Staying at RV campgrounds is another way to satisfy that innate need for human interaction.
When living the van life, there are going to be so many instances and circumstances you have never encountered before. Rely on your past experiences that can apply to your new situation, and you should be fine.
2. Plan your trips and destinations
For some people, this is a no-brainer. For many people, planning a trip or destination is nothing more than where the next stop for fuel or food will be.
There are a couple of reasons why it is a good idea to plan your trips or destinations.
One, it gives you clarity, purpose, and drive. Living and traveling full time in a van can get somewhat monotonous if you allow it to. Being purposeful in how you travel and how you live once you find a place to park is essential.
3. Set a time frame to how long you will try living in a van
It doesn’t matter if you think this is going to be a summer fling or a lifetime of traveling. Have a preset amount of time you are going to allow yourself to get acclimated and enjoy living the van life.
4. Be aware of your surroundings
This is another very important tip and secret for living van life successfully. It doesn’t matter if you are in your hometown where you grew up. You may find yourself in the middle of a mega-metropolis city. Boondocking on some BLM land out in the middle of nowhere could be your current position. It really doesn’t matter where you are, just be sure to be aware of your surroundings.
There are many reasons for this and we will touch on a couple we feel the most important and critical to ensuring you get the most out of your van life experience.
Safety when urban camping: Know the laws when it comes to living in a vehicle in the current city you are in. Stealth camping is a great way to spend a night or two until you get that dreaded knock on your van window at 3:00 in the morning by the local police officer.
Also, understand that some parts of town are not as safe and friendly as other parts of town. Rely on your gut feelings and street smarts to know where an area you are planning to stealth camp for the night is safe or not. If you are not sure, rely on the local police. Call them and explain your situation and ask for their input.
You can look up 911 call logs and dispatches for local police or sheriff departments.
Safety when suburban camping: This can be just as awkward and potentially dangerous as parking or stealth camping in an urban setting. Not all neighborhoods are equal when it comes to those who are inclined to vandalize or try to steal or break into your van.
Some neighborhoods in a suburban area may have rules or laws about sleeping in your vehicle. Most people across this country do not understand the idea or concept of full-time van life or RV life.
They have the misconception that if you are living in a vehicle, you are homeless and up to no good. So if someone in a neighborhood you are stealth camping in suspects you are doing just that, they may call the police and report you as suspicious.
Safety when camping on BLM land or Parks: Parking and camping in a county, state, or national park doesn’t give you a pass on being aware of your surroundings. Especially if you are parking on some BLM land out in the middle of nowhere.
Keep an eye on who is around you. Be mindful of people who may pass by your campsite. Know the types of animals, reptiles, and insects that are indigenous to the area you are in. This rings especially true if you travel with pets.
Always carry some form of protection. It doesn’t matter if you carry a can of mace, a taser, gun, or a baseball bat. Having something that gives you a sense of self-reliance and security goes a long way in establishing peace of mind and security.
*if you do carry some form of self-protection, be sure to know and understand the local and state laws regarding self-defense and carry laws*
5. Using Propane
Using propane for cooking meals and heating up the inside of your van is inexpensive, convenient, and safe. Of course, it is all of those things provide you use and store it properly in your van.
#1 If you carry propan inside of your van, be sure to allow propper ventelation. Remember, propane is heavier than oxygen, so it is going to sink to the lowest point possible.
Store your propane in its own sealed box, with a hole in the bottom of the box, through the floor of your van to outside and underneath your van.
This will allow any acciendental propane leak to safely exhaust to outside of your van.
#2. While traveling, go ahead and turn your propane off. No need to have a potential knob on your stove or oven to open up and allow propane to escape into the inside of the van.
Once you reach your camp or destination, simply turn the propane back on for hot water or cooking.
#3. Periodically, check the connections to your propane hoses. Using a mixture of water and soap, you can test for leaks at connection points.
Using propane inside of your van for cooking or heating is going to create condensation.
Using humidity bags or a a dehumidifier inside of your van will help to eliminate unwated condensation on the inside of your windows or exposed metal.
6. Secure the exterior of your van before traveling
Before you start the engine and pull out of your camp, go through your Campsite Packing Up Checklist.
Many times, people leave magent lights attached to the side of the van. Cellphone, StarLink atenna, or something stored underneath the van.
It may sound silly to some of you, but for others, it is a mistake all too often made.
7. When boondocking, never leave behind personal items to “secure” your spot
This is a very popular strategy, espcially in high occupancy camping seasons and locations to leave an item in your campsite to “hold” your spot as you drive into the nearest town for supplies, or off on an adventure or excusions.
Leaving a shower or toilet tent, camping tent, camping shares, etc. sitting around your campsite is a good idea in theory, but could land you on the short side of the stick.
Unfortunately, there are some scrupulous people who also camp and do the things we love to do in parks and on BLM lands. Do not be so shocked when returning to your camp only to find your items meant to hold your camp, gone and stolen.
8. Do not leave food around your camp when camping
This is a mistake all too often commited, admittedly, by ourselves sometimes.
After a yummy breakfast, or especially a good evening meal, you settle around the campfire for a relaxing drink and engaging conversation. Before you know, you are nodding off and ready for bed.
It’s easy to say, “I’ll clean up the “kitchen” in the morning.
While you are sleeping, the smells from the dishes, and left over foods have made their way to a bears or racoons nose. Now you have a mammel in your camp. Could be dangerous for you and the animal, or it could just be a nuisance.
Either way, the mammal now associates campers with food. That is not a safe or good situation for anyone or any animal.
Be sure to properly store any cooked or uncooked foods. Clean and store all dishes and cooking apppliances for preparing food.
If possible, any food prep and cooking should be done a minimum of 200 feet from your sleeping area of your camp in bear country.
It’s not a lesson you want to learn the hard way!
9. Lock your van when getting fuel
While fueling your van at a gas station, regardless of how busy or not. Regardless of how “nice” and “safe” the area seems. Never leave your keys in the ignition or on the driver’s seat.
Never leave your vehicle unlocked and unattended while going into the store.
This is a perfect recipe for having someone steal your van or gettting inside of your van to kidnap or harm you.
10. Have a backup or alternative power source
Solar and batteries are an awesome, efficient, and ideal way to power your lights, electronics, and appliances while living and traveling fulltime in a van.
When something in your solar array goes wrong or you go through several days with cloudy skies and no sun, you are going to go low on your batteries or drain them all together.
Having a backup power supply such as a portable solar generator or an alternative way to charge your house batteries will save you from a lot of stress and grief.
11. Slowly acclimate to harsh temperatures and altitudes
It’s happened to us before. You go from sea level to a few thousand feet above sea level in a quick drive.
Maybe you start to feel quisy and a little dizzy. You think it may be from the roadside taco stand you stopped at in the last town you wheat ere in. Actually, it could be due to altitude sickness.
When you are traveling in a new area, be sure to acclimate yourself properly whether it is the altitude, cold or warmer temperatures and conditions than what you have been used to.
Altitude sickes, hypothermia, and hyperthermia is no joke and any of them could land you in an emergency room quick.
12. Be careful of what you carry your tiny house on wheels is still legally a vehicle, so sometimes a warrant is not needed to search.
With so many states allowing recreational use of marajuana, it is very common for any given person to have weed, edibles, tinctures, or RSO in their van.
Sometimes, it is medically prescribed. Other times, it may simply be for recreational use. Either way, just because a physician prescribed it to you or you purchase it in a legal state, doesn’t mean it is safe or legal to carry across the state line.
If you get stopped by law enforcement in a state where THC is not legal, they can search your vehicle with probable cause, and you can get into legal trouble for it.
We know, it is bull! For now though, until the Feds declassify it as a Tier 1 drug and all states decriminalize it, it is a reality some of us have to contend with.
The same goes for certain firearms and how you transport those firearms across state lines.
You know where your trip’s itinerary is going to take you. Take the time to do a little homework for the laws in the state you will be traveling through.
13. Plan for the potty
When you don’t feel well or have a late-night emergency, having your own potty can be very nice. Sometimes the feeling comes up on your quickly and you have to act fast.
If you do not have a potty in your van, be sure to have a contingency plan for when you get caught with your pants down.
14. Fesh Potable Water
Water is essential for life and survival, we all know that. We aren’t suggestion that your life may be in perile if you do not have access to fresh, potable water.
I mean, if you go long enough without it you will be.
We are talking about the convenience of finding fresh drinking water and replenishing your fresh water tank so you do not have to go withouyt good water.
Some reliable places to fill your tanks with fresh water are:
Whether you go to a county, city, state, or national park, there are more often than not, opportunities to get fresh potable water from a spring or spigot.
#2. Truck Stops
Places like Flying J and Pilot often have potable water available.
You may have to go to the “trucker” side pumps to access the water hoses.
#3. Gas Stations
If you notice a spigot on the side of the building or a water hose by the air station, ask if you can top off your tanks.
It helps your chances of a positive response if your buy something there.
For a complete list of places to get your water tanks refilled, be sure to give the post, “Places to Refill Your Fresh Water Tanks”, a read. Lots of good information here.
15: Have a paper road map for backup (no GPS or cell signal)
It’s happened to all of us once or more while traveling. If you are a fulltime nomad, it is going to happen to you, if it hasn’t already.
Your GPS is going to send you down some hoaky, spooky, bumpy-as-hell dirt road when there is no logical or illogical reason for it to do so.
Okay, maybe your GPS thinks it is going to save you a couple of dollars from a toll or it is a minute or two shorter than another route.
Turn those settings off of your GPS to save you from this misrouting mistakes)
You may lose your GPS connection all together depending on what part of the country or continent you are traveling in.
When that happens, it is so nice to have an old-school Rand McNally paper map wih you. Go analog and plot your trip until you have a solid GPS or cellular connection again.
We had to bust our our Road Atlas last summer while up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It did exactly what maps have been doing for humans for centuries. It got us back on track and where we wanted to go!
Wrap Up to 15 Tips and Tricks for Living Van Life
Van Life is the best way to travel and experience the truest notion of freedom we have ever experienced in our lives so far.
Nothing we have done prior even comes close to comparing. Besides the experieces, contenment, and adventures we are expereince as both individuals and as a coulple, our pups are living thei best lives as well.
Both Kona and Kinzie are great van life dogs. They are exploring and adventuring right along with us. Whether it is the beaches of Central Florida, the Smokey Mountains, the Pine Fortests of Coastal Maine, or the High Desert Plains of Colorado, Utah, and Arizona, they are doing their living and adventuring their best lives.
Having some insider information on secrets and tips to live the best van life possible is a huge head start.
We don’t mind figuring things out for ourselves and even learning things the “hard way” once in a while. Having some of the good, real information is a nice boost!We hope these 15 Secrets and Tips for Living Van Life is helpful to you and your van life expereince.
We’d love to hear from you! Leave us a comment, or drop us a message on our Social Media channels.
See ya on the road!