Get ready to drive off into the sunset…
Thinking about upgrading from camping to a van? Fancy renting a shiny VW camper for a holiday with a difference? Or perhaps you’re wanting to travel for a longer spell, or even making a permanent home out of your van.
Since we bought our converted Mercedes Sprinter (fondly named Sadie) last year, we have been the object of envy for many of our friends. The freedom and flexibility it gives is unrivalled, but every van has compromises. We’re lucky enough to have a toilet and shower (luxury!), but the trade-off is a large van that’s tricky – verging on impossible – to turn in small spaces. But that’s a small price to pay, and we’ve managed to get her up most roads to date. (Just.)
So to celebrate the joy of living in small spaces, here’s a collection of tips from our experiences of van living (plus a selection of the best tips from other van dwellers) to make your life on the road that little bit easier.
1. Have a system
First rule of living in a small space: everything has its place. Work out where you’re going to put your clothes, books, cooking equipment and food and stick to it. That way you’ll always know where everything is.
2. Line your cupboards with non-slip matting
You don’t want all your jars, tins and glasses rolling around as you drive. A roll of non-slip matting will set you back a couple of quid and is worth triple its weight in gold.
3. Shower when you can
Take advantage of friend’s homes, local swimming pools and gyms. If you’re going to be living in your van for long periods around a city then it may be worth getting a a cheap gym membership so you’ll always have a shower to use. Check out this site for more tips on keeping clean in a van.
4. Keep the van prepped to go
If you’re a weekend van-dweller then half the fun of having a van is being able to just jump in on a Friday evening and drive off. Make sure you keep your van supplies stocked up and you can be away from work and off on your adventure in half an hour.
5. Find somewhere to park up before it gets dark
You want to see what you’re waking up to before you get settled and cosy, so there are no nasty surprises in the morning. It’s never nice being woken up by an angry farmer because you’re blocking his gate access.
6. Do your research
If you’re not one for campsites and you’re wanting to park up in a city or a popular tourist destination, there’s likely to be a shortage of places to stop overnight. Do some research in advance, or speak to local van owners for tips on where to park – or not to park. That way you can avoid getting your sleep disturbed by the sudden realisation that your chosen spot is also favoured by the local ravers.
7. Don’t forget the tin opener
If you don’t have a fridge (and even if you do) then campervan cooking involves a lot of tins. Keep a tin opener permanently in the van to make sure you don’t end up going hungry because someone forgot to pack it.
8. Make sure everything is locked down before you move
Double check this. Then check again.
9. Keep the insects out
Anyone who has ever experienced the Scottish midge (or rather, swarm of midges) will appreciate the importance of this. Keep doors and windows closed on balmy, still evenings and definitely do not accidentally switch your fan to suck in air when they’re swarming outside. (Yes, that is the voice of experience.)
10. Pack a flyswatter and incense sticks
For when you fail to keep the midges out.
11. Don’t park if it says ‘no overnight parking’
Obvious right? But when it’s getting dark and you’ve been searching for a spot to park up for hours, it can be tempting to ignore the sign. I mean, if you keep the lights down and head off early in the morning, no one will know right? Wrong. Be cool and don’t give van dwellers a bad name.
12. Learn where you can tap into free WiFi
The bane of many van-dwellers lives – where to get WiFi. Your best bet is coffee shops and public libraries (if you’re in a town or city). If you get desperate there’s always the golden arches.
13. Light a match
No, not to light the stove. Or at least, not just to light the stove. Lighting a match and blowing it out is an effective way of neutralising odour. Particularly useful if you have a toilet in your van. I’ll say no more.
14. Keep your drinking water and cleaning water separate
Every van has it’s own water system. But it’s best to have designated containers for drinking water separate to water you use for washing and cleaning, so you don’t accidentally run out through being a bit too virtuous with the washing up.
15. Pack messy food in sensible containers
For example, don’t pack coffee in the top third of a stacking container tower you got from a charity shop. It will end in a coffee-spillage disaster. And a lot of hoovering. Just buy clip-top tubs instead.
16. Pack tools and know how to use them
Self-explanatory. (Still working on it.)
17. Pack a lot of books
And games. And colouring books / sketch books / artistic tools of choice. One of the beauties of living in a van is that there’s not much to do in the evenings. See it as an opportunity to chill out and catch up on that reading list.
18. Boost your WiFi
Trying in vain to tap into the WiFi signal at a campsite? Check out this site for tips on boosting your WiFi-receiving capability.
19. Use mesh pockets for extra storage
Stick them everywhere: on the backs of doors, sides of cupboards or even ceilings. You’ll never lose your slippers again.
20. Create a virtual closet
I love this idea from Andy at soweliveinavan.com which is a particularly useful if you like to be nicely dressed or need to go to an office job. Take a photo of each item of clothing and keep it in a collection on your phone, so you can flick through each morning to decide what to wear.
21. Invest in a multiple charger
Only got cigarette socket for charging in the front of your van? Not any more. Make sure you’ve got enough plug in points for charging phones and your sat nav by fixing an extension pack like this to the top of your dashboard – one socket is now three.
22. Attach a CD storage wallet to the inside of your sun visor
Easy-to-access tunes on the move.
23. Clearly label your pee bottle
If you don’t have a toilet in your van (and most don’t), then one option many people use when you need to go in the night is a pee bottle. Just make sure there’s no way you can mix up your pee bottle and your water bottle in the dark.
24. Make friends with someone who has a better van than you
As a last resort, buddy up with someone whose van has the features yours is lacking. Especially if they have a fridge and are willing to chill your beer.
Got a tip of your own to add to the list above? Share it in the comments below and I’ll do an updated post with your suggestions!