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Some Surprising Benefits of Van Camping

Fall is the perfect time to camp. The weather is cooler, there are fewer bugs, and in the Midwest, we’re rewarded with amazing scenic views as the leaves begin to change color.

International Peace Garden

While my husband and I love to camp, now that we’re in our mid-forties we’ve discovered that the air mattress that fits inside our small tent isn’t nearly as comfortable as our mattress at home. And I don’t know about you, but pulling my body to an upright position after sleeping on the cold ground is much more difficult now than it was when I was in my 20s. Yes, I’m feeling the effects of aging more and more these days as my bones creak and ache until I get moving.

Flowers at the International Peace Garden

While we’ve been full-time RVer’s and have considered returning to that lifestyle, we’re not really in the position financially to buy another camper or motor home. After careful consideration, we decided to turn our mini-van into a camping van.  We decided to put it to the test on a recent road trip through North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

You can read more about van camping in our post Van Camping 101

One of the surprising benefits of Van camping is that you can sleep overnight at Walmart for free

Here are some of the benefits of van camping that we found.

It’s affordable.

Since we already owned our minivan, we didn’t have to purchase another vehicle, plus our van uses less gas than even the smallest camper. Our round trip, over 3,000-miles, we spent less than $210 for gas. We would have spent more than four times that amount in an RV!

It’s comfortable.

Forget the air mattress! We van camp with an 8-inch memory foam mattress. No aching bones for me in the morning.

It’s more secure. 

One of the surprising benefits of van camping is that it is so affordable that you can go more.

I admit, there have been times when I’ve worried about our safety when tent camping. Though those moments have been few and far between, I do sleep more comfortably knowing we can lock the doors to the van and leave the wildlife pacing around the van and not the tent.

You can drive and park anywhere.

When you’re in an oversized vehicle, it’s important to consider the route you’ll take to your destination. Not only that, but you also need to make sure you’ll have room to park once you arrive at your destination. These were concerns my husband and I had when driving our 31-foot long motor home. Thankfully, we never have to worry about in our mini-van.

fishing at the Wisconsin Dells

It’s less work. 

If you’ve camped at all, you know it takes a fair bit of effort.  But the beauty of van camping- during camping season anyway- is that I can leave my van set up and my husband and I are ready to go with very little notice.


One key to keeping van camping prep to a minimum is to purchase and stock your cabinets with food and snacks that are easy to prepare on the road. Some of my staple items are canned chicken breast, tortillas, bread and cheese to make quick quesadillas or shredded chicken sandwiches. I also like to pack all the fixins’ for pancakes like pancake mix and syrup. I can easily cook any of these items with my camp stove at a rest area or campground.

I love to cook with my camp stove and pie irons, but if we need a quick on-the-go snack, I’m likely to grab granola bars, nuts, carrots, apples, cheese, hummus and pretzels. 


I spotted the Nature Valley Cups and Biscuits at Walmart while shopping for necessities when we were van camping overnight in the Walmart parking lot. I can easily find many of my van camping necessities at Walmart.

Keep in mind, that many Walmart stores welcome campers in the parking lot overnight, but if you see a sign posted that says, “No overnight parking permitted”, that property isn’t one of them.

We didn’t intend to camp at Walmart, but the nearby national park only accepts campers on a first-come, first-served basis. Unfortunately, the campground was full by the time we arrived. So off to Walmart we went. To show our appreciation of the store’s generosity, my husband and I went inside to buy a few items.

Enjoying the view with a Nature Valley Biscuit Snack

I was looking at the granola bars when I spotted the Nature Valley Coconut Butter Biscuits and decided to give them a try. This on-the-go snack is perfect for those van camping days when we’re relaxing by the lake, needing a satisfying snack to satisfy our sweet tooth after lunch, or when we’re driving down the highway en route to our next destination.

Have I convinced you to try van camping? You may enjoy reading this post—-> Tent Camping vs. Van Camping: Do you have a Preference? 


Do you enjoy camping? Would you give van camping a try?

Surprising Benefits of Van Camping

Tiffany Patterson

Wednesday 29th of May 2019

What do you put over the windows to keep bugs out when you sleep?

Tonya Prater

Saturday 8th of June 2019

We normally use a battery operated fan inside the van and use a screen with heavy duty magnets to hold it in place on the windows. It works really well.

Minda Beckwith

Thursday 28th of February 2019

Like your tips for snacks. Look for to reading more of your blog.

Tonya Prater

Thursday 14th of March 2019

Thank you, Mindy! Do you have a favorite road trip snack?


Saturday 17th of November 2018

Loved your article. Like you, I had a class c rv which was too big for just me. When finances become available, I will be purchasing a dodge minivan to get away on weekends. Hopefully in the spring.

Tonya Prater

Thursday 29th of November 2018

Good luck, Julia! We've found the mini-van to be a great way to travel and we both love van camping so it serves us well. Plus, as you know from owning an RV, it can be tricky to maneuver those things in attraction parking lots or down back roads. I enjoy having a bit more freedom.


Monday 19th of February 2018

As the occasional solo woman camper, this setup is great! We currently just have a hatchback crossover where the back seats & front passenger seat folds down. I love that I can have my bed already made before arriving to camp. No leaking tent & I feel safer being able to crawl into the driver's seat when something doesn't feel right.

Carol Cassara

Wednesday 18th of October 2017

My husband and I love traveling together, most of the time it's road trips with Riley (our fur baby). I think van camping is something that we wouldn't mind trying!

Tonya Prater

Saturday 21st of October 2017

Van camping works really well for my husband and I. We've only camped once with our cat and he wasn't feeling well so he slept through the night. Not sure how well it would go if he were his normal active self. ;) Protection Status
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