6 Things You Need To Know
Before Living In A Camper Van
So you’re thinking about living in a camper van, well you’ve made a very good choice! We honestly couldn’t have imagined traveling around New Zealand without living in a camper van. It was a truly unique experience and one that changed the way we look at how we live back home. We spent just under six months traveling around New Zealand living in a small Toyota Liteace. When we bought the van (after a lot of searching and research, read some tips about building a camper van in New Zealand here) it was half built, but we decided that was exactly what we needed and wanted because we wanted to personalize whatever van we ended up getting. The backpackers before us had built a wooden box with a few storage areas and on top was a mattress that took up the entire back of the van.
After we bought the van we decided we wanted a little more space in the back to sit comfortably, which meant we had a little bit of handy work to do. So we borrowed a saw and a few small tools and on the sidewalk outside of our hostel, we cut out a portion of the wood and managed to get a free mattress that was shorter from the hostel. After we completed our mini ‘renovations’ we had a foot of space between the back of the seats and the mattress. In the corner of the van in that small foot of space, we fit a water jug and a small shelf with a few inserts to hold our items.
We successfully turned our camper van into a mini mobile home, a very mini home.
Living in our new home came with a few challenges though. These challenges were pretty easy to overcome but were definitely little things we wish we knew from the beginning because it would have made it even easier right from the start. So if you’re planning on living in a camper van hopefully these tips help make it even more pleasant for you right from the beginning.
1) Don’t Be Picky About Food
First off, no you won’t just be eating a bunch of really bland food when living in a camper van, but you won’t be necessarily eating gourmet either. We assume that if you are thinking of living in a camper van you might already know that your daily food is going to change. Unless you have a REALLY good cooler like a YETI Cooler or you splurge on an electric cooler (electric cooler are pretty big though and will take up precious space) you most likely won’t be able to keep meat and dairy fresh for very long. Which means for the most part you are going to have to eat your meat and dairy on the same day as you buy it. Non-perishable foods have now become a staple and let’s face it, most non-perishable foods aren’t THAT delicious. On top of that if you are living in a camper van you are most likely on a budget, so things like canned soup, canned tuna, pasta, rice and if you’re lucky fruit and vegetables will be the only things you’re going to want to buy. But don’t be turned off by this! Simply get creative, use different spices and vegetables to turn your bland food into something more delicious. Google is always a great tool for finding ways to change up your food. If all else fails, rice with tuna, carrots, garlic, and spices makes a pretty decent meal and is incredibly cheap.
If you’re anything like us you’ll end up enjoying a few meals at local restaurants as well, which will help break up some of those more bland meals.
2) Organization Is Really Important
Being organized when living in a camper van is essential. Organization while living in a camper van will do two things for you: one, it will help you actually find or know where your stuff is (obviously) and two, it will help to ensure you keep things fastened and put away so it doesn’t fly around the back of your van when you’re driving around. The more organized you are the less you have to worry about taking the time to turn your van upside down when looking for that one item you need that seems to have grown legs and walked away. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to locate something that seems to have a new home every day. You might be thinking, ‘how can you misplace something in a van that is no bigger than like 100 square feet,’ trust us…it’s a lot easier than you think it is. Organization bins were extremely helpful in helping us organize all our stuff, each bin was exclusively home to a group of items and never changed (eg. one had our clothes, one was for food and one for dishes). The more time you spend in the van the more you’ll figure out how best to organize it depending on its setup and your preference. It took us nearly two months to (somewhat) perfect our organization. But get it started right off the bat and you’ll be well on your way to a nicely organize living space.
3) Keep Your Camper Van Well Ventilated
Every breath you take (every movvee yoou mmakkkeee) while living in your camper van is one you have to take out, science tells us every breath that leaves our body has a tiny amount of water vapour in it. Which inevitably will end up all over the inside of your van, much like fogging up a mirror. If you don’t crack a window throughout the day or even as you sleep (highly recommend doing it as your sleep) this water vapour will get trapped in your camper van and potentially cause mold and bacteria to grow or a musty smell. On top of that, there is nothing worse than waking up to little water droplets dripping on your face as water condenses on the roof.
Living in a camper van also means you might not be showering as often as you’d like (we hope you are), washing your clothes as often as you’d like (again we hope you are) and you’ll be releasing some gas (hey we are all human) in the van. In such a small space with a combination of all these smelly scenarios, you’re going to want to ensure your camper van is well ventilated.
If you’re going to be living in a camper van you probably already know you’re going to have to cut down on some of your everyday necessities. Most backpackers already live in a minimalist fashion and living in a van isn’t much different. The less stuff you have, the better.
Living in such a small space might mean making sacrifices on buying new stuff, including souvenirs. So before buying anything you’re going to want to ask yourself if you absolutely NEED it, or if it’s possible to ship home a box of stuff. A lot of people we knew in New Zealand shipped home some of their winter gear after the season and their work contracts ended, which helped them save a lot of space in their bag.
5) Find Good Hiding Spaces
You shouldn’t be afraid that your camper van is going to get broken into, but you also shouldn’t assume it won’t happen to you. Camper vans can be targeted by thieves because they know peoples entire lives and expensive items are inside. Let’s face it, most travellers bring along cameras, laptops and maybe even jewelry, all things thieves are looking to steal. So finding a great space right off the bat to hide your valuables is essential. Most people won’t risk breaking into a vehicle unless they know it’s going to be easy to grab and go. Breaking into a vehicle and risk getting caught for no reward simply isn’t worth it. So make sure anything valuable is well hidden and not visible anytime you leave your camper van. Our passports and a few pieces of jewelry were the only items we kept on us at all times, simply because they were simply too important to risk getting stolen.
6) Keep The Outside, Outside
We are just going to come out and say it….it’s nearly impossible to keep dirt out of your camper van. No matter how many precautions you make dirt will somehow get into your van and if you visit a beach, sand will get in your bed. None the less, try your best to keep all of that stuff out. It can be really hard to find places to vacuum our your van and give it a good clean. Remember this is your living space and you probably wouldn’t wear absolutely filthy shoes in your bedroom so why would you wear them in your van? Plastic bags can be great for putting your dirty shoes in before getting in the van to help keep sand and dirt off your floor and out of your bed. Another thing to mention is if you know you’re going down a dusty road, make sure all your windows are closed properly so you don’t end up with dust everywhere in your camper van.
Try and wash your bedding once a week or once every two weeks, especially if you’re moving around a lot and dust and dirt is finding a way in. Things get dirty living in a camper van so you have to try your best from the start to keep it out.
Knowing these 6 things before you live in a camper van will certainly make the experience even better. It took us a little while to figure out a few of these things and they would have been really helpful to master from the start. If you are even slightly debating living in a camper van, take the plunge! It is so well worth it and it is even something we are now considering buying back home here in Canada so that we can travel around whenever and wherever we want.