Van Living Tips | 9 Ways To Make Van Life More Comfortable

by Vera Lawrence | LAST UPDATED July 2, 2021

van living tips
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Van life is one of the most liberating ways to travel. The road trip lifestyle is all about freedom and seeing something new every day. The appeal of living out of a van for an extended period attracts many people. We want to share some of the best van living tips we picked up along the way.  

Van lifers are free from the regular grind, like repetitive office work and waking up to the same routine. The cherry on top is the ability to go anywhere and experience different cultures and see breathtaking sites daily. 

With that said, van dwelling requires problem-solving, planning, and patience. At least if you’re going to live comfortably. To help you get the most out of your experience, we put together this list of nine van living tips. But before we get into the details, let’s briefly discuss what it means to live as a van-dwelling nomad. After that, you’ll be ready to hit the road. 

van life more comfortable infographic

The Nomadic Lifestyle

Being a van dweller essentially means that you’ll get the opportunity to live as a full-time camper. While you won’t be living at campgrounds every day, it’s primarily a lifestyle for those who love the great outdoors. 

Van living will involve giving up many everyday amenities that make life easier. Still, minimalism is part of the greater appeal for many.  

The more you strategize in the world of van life, the better. There’s no reason you shouldn’t have some level of access to running water, power, and wifi. Preparation is critical, and all the van living tips mentioned below support this idea. 

We should mention that we wholeheartedly believe that living on the road is a great lifestyle choice for adventurous spirits. Not to mention, the pros highly outweigh the cons. 

Additionally, we tried to focus our van life tips on people who are already somewhat familiar with the lifestyle. So we’re just going to assume that you know the essentials. If not, check out our other article, Beginner’s Guide to Van Life. It’s a bit more beginner-friendly. 

Van Living Tips & Helpful Hacks

There are plenty of different aspects of van life that are inconvenient. Since we can’t cover all of them in one article, we’ll focus on nine areas you can improve. 

two people living out of a blue Volkswagen van

The items below are in no particular order. We believe that they are small changes that can cause significant improvements in your day-to-day van life. You’re free to disagree with any one of our van living tips, but we find them useful. 

1. Choose your van build carefully

Picking out the right van will affect your overall van life experience. Therefore, you must take your time and determine the top van for your situation.  

The first of our nine van living tips is that there isn’t such a thing as the “best van.” Different vans offer different options, and all of them can be useful. That said, our personal choice is the Promaster sprinter van.

We chose this model because its large size allows for a more straightforward campervan conversion. As a result, turning it into a comfortable living space will be more sensible than some smaller alternatives.

As we said, there is no perfect choice for your van conversion. Full-time van lifers are free to go for any model that suits them the best. However, we’d still recommend going for a new van or something without too much mileage under the hood.

Your van is your home and your transportation, so it needs to be reliable. Make sure that it’s in peak running condition before hitting the road. In most cases, the more mileage, the higher the chance for mechanical problems. 

2. Be familiar with different types of camping spots

Van living isn’t illegal, but using certain parking spots as free camping zones will get you in trouble. Luckily, these situations are easy to avoid, as long as you follow these basic van living tips. 

First, if you’re careful and don’t draw attention to yourself, you can get away with stealth camping (or urban boondocking) in more populated areas. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, stealth camping is spending the night in a parking space within the city limits. 

Although it isn’t against the law, you need to choose an overnight parking spot and avoid drawing the attention of the police. You should be fine if you don’t have cookouts in the middle of the night or start doing your laundry on the sidewalk. Certain states have restrictions, but sleeping in your van isn’t disruptive to public decency. 

You can check out our article for more detail on van life parking. In the meantime, here’s the cliff-note version.

  • Most national parks provide free campsites. To locate one, check out the maps on the bureau of land management site.
  • Truck stops are a great place to sleep for the night. They also provide access to a bathroom and even shower facilities.
  • Almost every Walmart location allows you to spend the night in the parking lot. In any case, you need to be as quiet as possible. We also recommend that you ask for permission from a security guard or manager.

3. Thoroughly plan your route

The most appealing part of van life is the freedom to travel the world and go wherever you want. But travel also comes with a lot of headaches if you’re unprepared. Throwing caution to the wind and simply setting off without any plan may seem like a great idea, but it’s likely to end up in disaster.

Regardless if you’re in Oregon or New Zealand, you’ll benefit from planning out your route. Whether you do it months in advance or days is up to you. The important thing is you do it ahead of time. Planning out each destination gives you time to scout the potential camping locations and find a comfortable one. In many cases, unpleasant travel experiences often come from being unprepared. 

Driving at random is an excellent way to get lost and be forced to stay the night in the middle of nowhere, cut off from wifi. You’ll avoid many potentially stressful situations and enjoy van life more by planning. 

If the above van living tips aren’t enough to make you feel comfortable, you could invest in a good GPS. Although a decent smartphone will do just as well, depending on your country of travel. 

4. Clean your clothes with a portable washer

Van living and washing machines don’t mix that well. Aside from a steady water supply and a power source, you also need more space. As a result, you have two options—the laundromat or an off-grid washing machine.

Laundromats are the more straightforward solution of the two van living tips. You can pop your clothes in a machine and wait half an hour. However, not every city has a laundromat, and, likely, you won’t be near one regularly.

Since you can’t go that long without clean clothes, you’ll need a plan B. And the most reliable option is an off-grid washing machine. There are plenty of different types of off-grid washing machines. Our personal favorites are The Wonderwash or the EasyGo Hand Powered Clothes Washing Wand. These portable washers are perfect for van living. 

The Wonderwash is a compact hand-crank type washer. To operate it, fill the container with soapy water and clothes, then turn the handle. To use The EasyGo Wand, you need to fill up a tub. But this feature also makes it cheaper and much more compact.

You can find more information on washing your clothes off-grid in a related piece. Either way, there are limited options for washers that don’t require a lot of power and water. We hope that you are now more familiar with some of the alternatives. 

5. Figure out the shower situation beforehand

You can’t fit a bathroom into your van. Therefore you’ll need to improvise when using the toilet and shower. The toilet situation is easy to solve since plenty of good compostable toilets are available. However, the shower situation is trickier.

One option is to get a PlanetFitness membership and use their facilities anytime you need to take a shower. This suggestion is feasible since this particular gym chain has a location in nearly every city in the USA. 

The other option is to make a DIY shower. Although it sounds complicated, you can build a shower with nothing more than a privacy tent and a propane water heater. After that, fill the water heater and set the showerhead on the privacy tent. Voila, you have an instant outdoor hot water shower!

Keep in mind that both of these van living tips have their downsides. There’s always a chance that you’re not in the vicinity of Planet Fitness. An outdoor DIY shower isn’t working for vans parked in the city. So, what’s the takeaway? 

If you’re staying in the city, we recommend going for the Planet Fitness membership. The outdoor shower is ideal for those camping or parking at a remote campsite. 

6. Prepare a cooking station

Depending on your budget, you might treat restaurants as the occasional treat or an everyday occurrence. Regardless of how often you eat out, you won’t be able to skip home-cooked meals entirely. It doesn’t take long to learn that a simple cooking station goes a long way, so it’s on this list of van living tips. 

Most off-grid cooking stations are incredibly portable and minimalist. When living out of a van, optimizing your small space is essential. So it’s helpful to have a cooking station that you can take apart.

First, you should determine what to use as your heat source. We recommend the Gas ONE GS-1000 or the Coleman Gas Camping Stove. The clear difference between the two is their overall size and the number of burners.

The propane-powered Coleman provides two stovetops, an electric ignition, and a BTU of 22,000. As a result, this particular stove is ideal for cooking, not just heating your morning coffee. 

On the other hand, the Gas ONE is much more suited to everyday use as it can only reach up to 7,650 BTU. But what this model lacks in heat capacity makes up for in portability. The Coleman requires more time to set up, takes up more space, and is less conservative with propane.

Considering both of these items are useful, which one is best depends on what meals you prefer to cook. As with all van living tips, their value depends on your lifestyle and individual needs. 

[Enjoying these van living tips? If so, check out a similar read, the complete guide to tiny home appliances.]  

7. Consider installing a hand pump sink

After every meal, you’ll need to wash the dishes. You can quickly fill a tub with soapy water and do it outside the van. However, that would probably take up more space than installing a sink.

If you put in a sink with a hand pump water faucet, you can do the dishes in the privacy of your van. You can also store them in the sink until you decide to use them. Although the setup is troublesome, the benefits are worth the effort.

In any case, there are always solutions. It would be best to have a small countertop, a small sink to put inside, a hand pump faucet, and two water containers. (You’ll need one container for the clean water and one for the greywater). 

The good news is you can find all these items on Amazon, and the process is simple. We dedicated an entire article to the topic. Check out our guide on installing a hand pump sink and drain to learn more. 

8. Don’t overlook the value of a comfy bed

There are plenty of things that you can live without while you’re on the road. However, the one thing that you cannot live without is a decent bed in your van. When it comes to van living tips, this one is huge. 

Van dwellings aren’t exactly known for their roomy interior. It’s not uncommon to modify the built-in bed and go for a simple cot or an inflatable air mattress. But when you spend a lot of time out of your van, it becomes imperative to have a comfortable place to sit. After all, lumbar support is vital for good sleep and a healthy lifestyle. 

A week sleeping on a subpar bed can seem like a year. And it can also do a lot of damage to your body. This sort of discomfort can lead to minor back problems. It could also lead to severe pain from accumulated stress. That’s why we can’t recommend skimping on the mattress. In fact, we recommend dedicating a large part of your van to sleeping space.

We won’t give any van living tips on this particular item because different people prefer different types of mattresses. Whether you choose a more rigid or a softer variety, make sure you pick something that feels comfortable. Otherwise, you may regret it.

9. Get a portable propane heater

Dealing with heat isn’t that difficult, so we’ll keep this bit brief. As long as you keep a window or door open, you should be able to deal with most temperatures. In the event of a heatwave, turn on your built-in AC. Another option is to install a few car fans around the cabin.

The bigger problem is dealing with the cold. Many states get pretty chilly at night, especially during the winter.  You’ll need something more potent than your van heater to stay warm. Luckily, you can keep the inside of a van pretty toasty with these van living tips.

You can choose any heater you like, but we recommend going for the Mr. Heater F232000 MH9BX. This portable propane heater can generate between 4,000 and 9,000 BTU. It can heat rooms to 225 square feet and takes up very little storage space. It also has an auto shut-off function if tipped over.

This item has an impressive list of functions for a modest price tag of $111. Mr. Heater is a great little device that can keep you warm with minimal power. You can practically charge it by using solar panels on a rainy day. 

Final Van Living Tips

A couple kissing in front of a van

We hope that the nine van living tips in this article prove helpful. If you’re looking for more information, there’s a slew of solid content focused on van life. There's no format left out, from social media channels to podcasts and everything in between. 

For readers interested in van life tips about finance or ways to save money, we wrote a separate blog to cover that topic. Our piece about van life costs discusses financial aspects like insurance and living expenses. 

As for the more comfort-related van living tips, we tried to cover the crucial points not already discussed in your everyday Facebook group. Although we covered a lot, it’s far from exhaustive. 

Vera Lawrence
Vera is a part-time van lifer after spending nearly four years in her 1990 Ford E350 (named Fred). She currently lives in Utah and takes extended weekend trips into the desert with her two dogs. She is an ice cream fanatic and avid runner.

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