Are you ready to try van camping and looking for tips to improve your experience? We’ve got you covered with some of our favorite van camping hacks.
After living full-time in an RV for 18 months, we have picked up quite a few tips and tricks for RV camping.
As our kids fly the coop, my husband and I think more and more about returning to that nomadic lifestyle, but the expense of owning and maintaining an RV is just too much.
We’ve dabbled in van camping out of our minivan here and there, and this year are having a go at converting a Dodge ProMaster into a camper van we can take on extended trips. You can learn about our van and more about van camping in our post Van Camping 101.
#VanLife is becoming increasingly popular, so I wanted to share some van camping hacks to help you get started.
Here are the Van Camping Hacks You Need To Get Started
Find Free Campsites
The best money-saving hack for van campers is to find free campsites.
This is also known as boondocking, dry camping or dispersed camping. With the cost of commercial campgrounds climbing, you can end up spending around $30 per night for a tent site with no electricity or water. If you want to save some money on your camping trip, look for free places where you can camp.
Many people know that Wal-Mart allows overnight campers in their parking lots, however, this does not apply to every location, so be sure to check for signs before settling in for the night.
There are tons of apps and websites to help you find free campsites along your route.
National Forests, BLM land and some interstate rest stops also allow overnight camping. Rest stops will vary greatly by state; they aren’t intended as campgrounds.
Camper Rewards Programs
If you prefer a more modernized campsite, then perhaps a camper rewards program is a better way for you to save money while van camping.
Two popular programs are the KOA Value Kard Rewards and the Good Sam Club. KOA charges $30 per year, which entitles you to 10% off your camping fees, plus additional discounts and occasional free nights.
You also accumulate points for each stay, which can be cashed in for future stays. With an average nightly rate of $30 or more, if you plan to spend at least ten nights at a KOA in a year, then the program pays for itself.
The Good Sam Club is similar, in that an annual fee of $29 entitles you to campground and merchandise discounts.
Now that we’ve talked about a couple of budget hacks for van camping, let’s talk about hacks you can use at the campsite!
Stay Organized with Bins
Bins will become your favorite camping hack after just one trip.
Nobody wants to rummage through a packed van looking for a can opener or some matches. Start out with one large Rubbermaid bin to keep all of your camping gear organized.
If you consider yourself a chef du camping, then you may want smaller bins to organize your kitchen gear separate from toiletries, lights, etc. An 18-gallon bin is a good size to start with.
It also helps to repackage a lot of items like soap, oils, and spices into smaller travel-size bottles.
The ultimate goal of your camping bin is to have it always ready at a moments’ notice so you don’t really have to pack or unpack for your camping trips.
Tote Bags & Packing Cubes
The second life-saver container to bring on your van camping trip are some tote bags.
Depending on the length of your trip, you may have a lot of clothing to sort through each day. Packing cubes can help you stay organized by having one for tops, one for bottoms, one for underclothes, etc.
When it’s time to head to the shower house at night, you can grab a few pieces of clothing, your toiletry kit, and a towel, and throw everything in a tote bag to cart along with you.
Most campground showers will have at least a hook where you can hang a bag, but not all of them will have a bench to set things on. You do not want to have to put anything on the bathroom floor at a campground!
See how many van camping hacks you can get with Thirty-One totes!
Those plastic shoe organizers that hang on the back of doors aren’t just good for keeping shoes organized at home.
These are a great van camping hack and you can use them to keep just about anything within easy reach. Think kitchen utensils, paper towel rolls, wipes, spices, snacks and just about anything you can think of.
The clear sleeves make it easy to see what’s in each section, and they are easy to hang from a couple of hooks or even the car frame.
Magnetic Window Screens
If you’ve ever slept in your car, either intentionally or not, the worst thing is choosing between windows open or closed. If you leave the windows open for some fresh air, you end up with bugs in the car, and the incessant buzzing will keep you awake all night. If you leave the windows closed, you end up in a stinky, steamy cloud with no fresh air circulating through.
The best van camping tip is to make some screen windows for your car. With a bit of mesh screen and some heavy duty magnets, it’s pretty easy to rig up a screen you can attach to the outside of your car that will allow you to crack or roll down the windows for easy breathing.
Alternately, if you prefer to keep the windows closed, throw some Damp Rid in the car and it will help keep the humidity level down.
Aside from the window issue, the second most common complaint about van camping is the feeling of sleeping in a fish bowl.
If you don’t have tinted windows, it can feel very strange knowing that anyone can see right into your bedroom. Likewise, it can be hard to enjoy a late morning snooze with the sun shining through your windows.
We have a whole post on how to make privacy curtains for van camping. Whether it’s prying eyes or just bright light that you want to keep out, this is one of the simplest van camping hacks.
Table & Chairs
While you can really kit out your van to be super comfortable, the general goal of van camping is to spend as much time outside of the van as possible.
Otherwise, you run the risk of going a bit stir-crazy, as we learned on our van camping experiment trip this year.
Having a quick collapsible table and chairs will allow you to set up your kitchen and dining area outside of the van.
Likewise, if you end up with a rainy day at the campground, a tarp setup can be a lifesaver.
With a couple of poles or tie-out ropes, you can create a canopy that keeps you out of the rain, but doesn’t force you to stay cooped up in the van, or end up at a local movie theater!
Tarps are inexpensive and don’t take up much room at all, so they are an easy van camping hack to pull off.
Test Run & Take Notes
Our last van camping hack is to make sure you take a test run.
Do not plan a 3,000-mile road trip with van camping for your first time out.
Set up in your driveway, or even a nearby campground. Take notes throughout your test run – what’s working, what’s not, what do you wish you had, what did you not use at all?
After your first run, maybe you want to step it up to a weekend trip and then continue to refine your camping approach.
Even after years of camping, we’re still always thinking of new hacks and tricks that make our trips more enjoyable.
Have you tried van camping? What’s your favorite hack?
Thursday 17th of February 2022
Thank you!! This is very helpful! We just set up our little 2020 ford transit connect into our new road trip summer van. 2 weeks in southern Utah in august. Wife and I with our baby girl and 2 dogs. It’s going to be tight, and very warm that time of year, but we are planning ahead, so we will be fully prepared.
Saturday 2nd of April 2022
Utah is beautiful! When we started full-timing (we're not now but were 12-14 years ago) we had three teens and a pound puppy in a 31-ft RV. We couldn't have done it in a van but hubby and I love traveling that way now. I hope you have a wonderful experience!
Wednesday 15th of April 2020
Hey, nice job.. U did a terrific job about 'van' campin'... I have an Odyssey which I have sorta' camped in for a coupla' times.. Ur info is very helpful in making the event a little more alluring.. and comfortable.. and easy.. I also have a regular 22' TT [travel trailer for those un-initiated!] which I use for longer [distance and time] trips.. OK, thanks for your website, keep it going! Larry
Tuesday 28th of April 2020
Hey Larry! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I hope you got some ideas for your next 'van camping' trip and stop back for more ideas. :)