1) Pack smart. I used to overpack all the time and then I realized that I almost never used 50% of the stuff I brought along with me. So when came time to pack for the van, I knew I needed to pack smart. Packing smart means, bringing one of everything and only keeping essentials. If you’re traveling for longer periods of time and different climates, it can get tricky but layering and planning ahead will help. For this trip I brought, 1 pair of boots, 1 pair of runners, 1 jacket, 1 raincoat, 3 pairs of pants, a week’s worth of t-shirts, 2 dresses, 1 pair of nice shoes and 1 pair of every day shoes. Depending on what you’ll be doing day to day, your clothes may vary but you often end up wearing the similar outfits all the time.
2) Organize and compartmentalize. When you get the van you’ve purchased or are renting, take a good hour or more to organize everything the way you would want it. It’s kind of like when you move into a new house, you will have to find a place for everything. You may want to purchase a few boxes or organizers (a quick trip to the dollar store is all you need!) that will help keep everything tidy and clean in the van. You want to make sure you place your things at the same spot all the time, so that you don’t end up losing them in this tiny space. If you don’t take the time to do this, you’ll get frustrated and van life will be stressful.
3) Showering. Finding showers if you’re not staying in campgrounds or on someone’s property can get tricky but there are clever ways you can find showers and stay clean even while living in a van. My latest find are public pools. Because I like staying active while on the road, I research local public pools of where I’m going and their swim times and go for a few laps and get a free shower while I’m at all. Getting a membership from a chain of gyms is a good idea, though maybe a bit costly depending on budget. Picking a chain is important so that you can go no matter where you’re traveling to. I have also found showers in truck stops or rest areas. If you’re planning on traveling off the radar but still want to shower, get a portable solar shower (like the Helio Pressure Shower below) that you can just hook up to the van and either leave out during the day to heat up or put hot water in.
4) Solar panel charger. Most of us traveling in a van or living in a van will also be using electronics – mobile phones, computers, iPads, lights, etc. Since I have to be working while traveling, I found that having a solar panel charger on the roof of the van has been so incredibly helpful. Other options are the cigarette lighter USB charger but solar is definitely super practical if you’re traveling to somewhere sunny.
5) Curtains. These are a must not only for your own privacy and safety but also if you want to sleep past sunrise every day. Curtains are great to keep nosey people from looking into your van. They also give you the possibility to change in the van when you need to.
6) Wi-Fi. If you don’t have data in the country you’ll either be traveling too or just don’t have data on your phone, free Wi-Fi is pretty easy to find these days. Most fast food restaurants have Wi-Fi (McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Starbucks, etc.). Also, some city have wifi hotspots around town. A lot of malls, airports, grocery stores (like Whole Foods), cafés, etc., have free Wi-Fi you use. If you’re too broke to go inside to buy something, I recommend either staying in the parking lot or going to public places. Because I am working remotely, I decided to get a pay as you go phone with a data plan. There are lots of companies in the US that offer these plans. I was able to get 7 GBs of data + unlimited nationwide texting and calling for only $60 at At&t. You can even bring your own phone from another country and just change the SIM card in it. No contracts to sign, no activation fees either. A last option is getting an internet stick or mobile Wi-Fi box, but I found it easier to have a local phone to make calls, stay in touch with people at home, etc.
7) Where to park. If you’ve gone camping before, you’ve heard that Walmarts are great places to park. That said, they’re definitely not the only place you can find free overnight parking for your van. If you’re in California, chances are you will be able to find some easy street parking in quiet neighborhoods, since so many people live in their vans in the state. However, not all states have the same regulations, so make sure you read up on it before deciding to park in front of some quaint little house. If streets aren’t an option, there are some great rest areas along the highway that you can stop at, also Flying J’s or truck stops. Some municipal parks will allow overnight parking. If you know someone in the area, you can always inquire about parking in their driveway. If you’re willing to dish out a bit of cash, there’s a great site called Hipcamp, like an Airbnb for campers where you can find unique and cheap places to stay with your van. If not, campgrounds are also an option but tend to get pricey after a while.
8) Make friends. I was immediately surprised by the great sense of community you feel when you meet other people also either traveling or living permanently in a van. Everyone always has tips to give you, will invite you to have a beer, food, etc. I was astonished by the amount of people that either by choice or not, decide to pursue this lifestyle. Everyone has been so incredibly friendly to us during our travels thus far, it’s been really uplifting and nice to know that you’re not the only one in this adventure.
9) Write a journal. Because every day will be different and filled with so many incredible adventures, writing a journal is a great way to keep track of all the incredible things that will happen along the way and all the amazing people you will meet.
10) Books. If you’re either off the grid or looking a way to pass time in the van, then reading will become an important activity. There are lots of great used bookstores around where you can find books or even trade some with the new friends you’ll be making along the way. I’ve never read so many books in so little time since I’ve been in the van.
If you also want to give van life a try, make sure you check out Escape Campervans!