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Traveling in a Camper Van: Surprising Benefits

Tonya Prater, Owner

Traveling in a camper van is an excellent alternative to hotels or RV travel. Camping in a van is comfortable, budget-friendly and a lot easier than you may realize!

While my husband and I love to camp, we’re now in our mid-forties and the air mattress that fits inside our small tent isn’t nearly as comfortable as it used to be. 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. That makes tent camping tough.

Van camping on Jekyll Island in Georgia

We’ve been full-time RVer’s in the past and have considered returning to that lifestyle. But we’re not really in the position financially to buy another camper or motor home right now.

After careful consideration, we decided to turn our mini-van into a camping van. And we put it to the test on a recent road trip through North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Read more about traveling in a camper van in our post Van Camping 101

International Peace Garden

Benefits of Traveling in a Camper Van

Camping in a campervan is a comfortable compromise between tent camping and RV camping, and there are several surprising benefits.

Van camping is affordable.

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

You’ll also save money on lodging. We didn’t have to pay for a hotel or even a campsite some nights (more on that below).

minivan converted to campervan in parking lot

Campervan camping is comfortable and secure.

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

As for security, I admit there have been times when I’ve worried about our safety while 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.

Traveling in a campervan is also more homey. There are so many ways to organize and decorate your camper van, you’ll feel comfortable and cozy no matter where you park for the night.

Flowers and lake at the International Peace Garden

You can drive and park a campervan anywhere.

When you’re in an oversized vehicle like an RV, it’s important to consider the route you’ll take to your destination. 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 them in our mini-van. We could go anywhere a regular car could go and parking was never a problem.

Lake and rock views.

Van Camping is less work than tent camping. 

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. And we only need to climb into the back of the car to sleep – no setting up and breaking down a tent every time.

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. It’s easy to 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. 

Enjoying the view with a Nature Valley Biscuit Snack

One night, we ended up in the Walmart parking lot. Many Walmart stores welcome campervan camping in the parking lot overnight for no charge. 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. I can easily find many of my van camping necessities at Walmart.

I was looking at the Nature Valley Cups and Biscuits when I spotted the 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.

If I have convinced you to try traveling in a camper van, check out Van Camping: Everything You Need to Know.

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

Traveling in a Camper Van: Surprising Benefits

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?

Julia

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.

KR

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. ;)

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