As an avid camper and multi-day sea kayak expedition leader, I was fairly well versed in meal prep, managing space and living without basic house essentials such as a refrigerator, full kitchen and en-suite bathroom.
The transition into full-time van life was actually fairly smooth. It's just like camping except with the storage of 20 backpacks and a far more comfortable bed! For others, it may not be so easy. So in this guide you will find a quick run down of the basics that will help make the process that much more enjoyable for you!
This is what most people envision when they dream of van life. By a forest, down at the river with a mountainous backdrop. Freedom camping is when you are out in nature at a spot that is not specially set up as a campsite.
Most countries have laws allowing people to stay on public land for a certain number of days before moving on. This allows us to drive down those hidden away roads and go live amongst nature for as long as the food rations and water last!
There are a number of apps that can help find such places, as well as looking for trail heads, logging roads and hiking areas.
RV Park / Campsite
Freedom camping is fantastic, but it does come with its risks and draw backs. Firstly, there won’t be any facilities. If you’re not a fan of the ‘nature dump’ (we’ll get to this later) then you would prefer finding a campsite. There is also the risk of being deep in the backcountry, far away from any help if it were needed.
RV Parks and campsites offer amenities such as showers, bathrooms, electrical hookups, fire pits and some even have wifi and washing machines.
This provides the safety of knowing you won’t be moved on in the middle of the night. You can also recharge everything! Just don’t become that weirdo that never leaves.
Places that you probably shouldn’t be staying in but you can get away with, if you’re careful. Having a stealth camper really pays off for this. There are certain roads in towns or cities that you are out the way enough that nobody will really notice. Be sure to arrive late, leave early and keep the noise down.
Our friend, Walmart. Certain stores (not just Walmart) allow overnight parking. This is ideal for the long road trips where you just don’t have time to go find a beauty spot and really just need a place to rest. Extra bonus as they have washrooms, wifi and snacks!
Pooping in a Van
ANY time I told someone I was living in a van, I could see their brain ticking away, puzzling over the thought of how the hell do you go to the bathroom in a van? There are lots of fancy vans with compostable toilets and there are many not-so-fancy vans with a designated bucket. I can proudly say that never in my time have I needed to poop inside the van, as with a little forethought it really isn’t necessary.
Here Are Some Better Options:
- public washrooms
- fast-food chains (free wifi, cheap coffee and bathrooms cleaned every 30mins)
- gas and service stations
- any cafe or restaurant if you purchase something
- transit terminals such as ferry, bus or airport
- trailheads and recreational sites / provincial parks
- library (free wifi)
- nature dump! Be sure to follow LNT
Let’s please all do our best to veer away from the stereotypical unwashed smelly van dweller. Showering can be made really easy be purchasing a Camping Shower. They are bags that you fill with water, leave in the sun on your dashboard for an hour and then have a hot shower from a tree! Usually good for 2-3 showers per bag and great for getting dirt and sand off your feet before getting back in the van.
Other options are campsites, gyms, recreation centres, service stations and even down by the river (if you use eco-soaps).
- Buy a cool box. If you’re in a cold climate you can pack it full of snow for extra freshness.
- Fresh veggies last 3 – 5 days if kept out of the sun.
- Almond milk is better than cows milk.
- Cut out the meat, it is too difficult to store and will be wasted. Except on your shopping days. You can treat yourself with frozen meats which will thaw out by dinner time. The frozen pack also helps cool your cool box in the process.
- Wraps are more versatile than sandwiches. They also take up less space and last longer.
- Boil excess water in the morning. It will go in your coffee, your oatmeal and then the washing up after.
- Oatmeal. Warm, tasty, lasts forever.
- Do the washing up immediately.
- Have a rainy day plan. If it’s hammering down or super windy, what are you going to do? Usually the best option is to just go to a restaurant. Treat yourself and avoid the hassle.
How To Refill Water
You can never have enough water storage. At some points it will feel like your entire life is now based around filling up water followed by looking for another place to refill the water. Here are some of the best places to look:
- National Parks & trail heads. Lots of them have drinking water taps.
- Ranger Stations.
- Visitor Centres. If they don’t have water onsite they will certainly know where does.
- Cafes & Restaurants. Anytime you buy a coffee or a meal, bring your reusable bottle and ask for a top up.
- RV refuse sites. There are locations for RVs to dump grey water that also have drinking water top ups.
- RV & Campsites.
- Friends house. Don’t ever, ever leave your friends house without a top up.
- Rivers. Mountain stream water is delicious, but it is always best to treat it anyway.
Be a Responsible Van Dweller
If you ignore everything else on the list, please just follow this last section. ‘Leave No Trace’ (LNT) is a set of principles for all outdoor adventurers to follow. It is a code of ethics designed to help steer you in the path of least disturbance when amongst nature. The principles of LNT are as follows:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Others
More information on LNT can be found Here.
Now You Are Ready For A Life On The Road
Check Out Chris’s Other Articles
- Top Tips And Handy Hints for Converting Your Own Camper Van
- How You Can Become A Full-Time Adventure Traveller?
- Check out Chris’s Ebook Get Paid to Travel. We have an exclusive discount code that gives you 20% off (use ‘wandering‘ at the checkout)
I spent a long weekend in an RV about two years ago because I was invited by a tourist board. I would have never chosen this kind of travelling, therefore I was grateful for the inspiration and opportunity. After that experience and being a novice, I find your tips truly valuable.
Planet Hopper Girl
Good job,,This is such an informative post and helpful to know these going in
Nina Out and About
Love this guide! I’m planning on transitioning to van life next year so learning about freedom camping is super helpful for my budget awareness
This is such a great article, good job. Van life is still on my list, and it helped me see more in detail and think about issues I might face once I finally do a van life. Perfect article to prepare me in advance.
Fabulous post with lots of practical and helpful information. I wish more people did more research based on facts and articles like this instead of making so many incorrect assumptions and regretting it later.
This guide is very helpful. Great tips for someone getting started. There are so many resources out there.
Linda (LD Holland)
I am not sure we could do van life for a long time. But it would be a great way to take a long trip and be able to stop in some great outdoor spots. I would love the ability to stop and eat when and where we want. I do get tired of restaurant food when we do our long trips.
Great tips and tricks to traveling in a camper van. A lot of helpful information for a new van life starter. 🙂
We RVed for 8 years so many of these tricks are familiar. This looks like such a fun way to travel