Van Life For Dummies
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For many, the notion of traveling and exploring is a craving that can’t be ignored. And for vanlifers, there is no better way to see the world than to travel self-contained in a camper van that affords them the freedom to pick up and go whenever the mood strikes.

Here are pointers on how to make sure your van life road trip is a success, how to level your van once you are parked for the night, and how to keep your van neat and tidy while you're on the road.

Planning your van life road trip

With so many amazing road trips around the world to tick off your bucket list, there is no better time to pack your bags and jet off along the highway. With these handy hints and tips, you can prepare for your next adventure and get on the road in no time at all. And who knows, the drive might even end up being more exciting than your end destination!

Have a general itinerary in mind

The best bit about a road trip is the sense of adventure and the feeling of being free. You don’t need to have a strict itinerary, but have a general idea of where you want to head to and the places you want to see along the way. Take it slow and don’t try to cram too much into your trip. It’s better to spend longer in one place and see everything than embarking on a whistle-stop tour and missing everything. If it feels right, then stay another night. You’ll know when you feel ready to move on.

Check that your vehicle is ready for the terrain

Whether you’re renting a vehicle or using your existing camper, you need to make sure it’s going to be able to withstand the type of terrain you’re taking it on. If you’re thinking about going off road, then make sure the camper you take has the correct tires and raised suspension.

Four-by-four vehicles exist for a reason, so don’t risk damaging a vehicle that’s not suited to the terrain. If flat campsites or forest park-ups are more your bag, then any kind of camper should be fine. Just do a couple of test runs to similar locations in your area before you head out on the open road away from family and friends to get a feel of the vehicle first.

If you’re a first-time vanlifer, then always weigh your van before you set off. In certain countries, you can be fined for driving a vehicle that weighs over the vehicle weight allowance on your driver’s license, so it’s good to know how much weight you’re carrying around.

Get roadside assistance/breakdown coverage

No one ever wants to think about bad things happening, but if you’re driving an older vehicle, then the chances are it might break down on the road. A broken vehicle can put a spanner in the works when it comes to all your van life plans, which is why it’s essential to have good roadside assistance on standby.

Get a good satnav

Google Maps and Apple Maps have their place, but they don’t always take you down “van friendly” routes. When you’re traveling the world, a satnav (satellite navigation system) designed for campers is way more useful. One example is the TomTom Go Camper, which enables you to put the dimensions of your camper into the settings so it only takes you on routes your camper can handle.

Use a park-up app to find overnight parking spots

There are so many resources out there to help you find a good parking spot. Take the pressure out of planning your route and picking a place to park; van life is supposed to reduce stress and not increase it, after all!

Park4Night and iOverlander are two such apps that can help you find exciting locations to call home for a day (or longer!), including information on whether certain spots have water or toilet-emptying facilities.

Remember, always try to arrive at a park up location in the daytime so that you can get a feel of the area for yourself in the light.

Keep tabs on your toilet and water

Want to know the real deciders as to how long you can stay in one place? It’s your toilet and water. If you’re traveling in a camper and plan on wild camping instead of visiting campsites, then you’ll probably need to empty your toilet every seven to nine days. The same goes for water. Be sure to pay attention to your water and toilet levels and refer to your park-up apps to find places where you can deposit both grey and black water and fill up with freshwater, planning them into your route as you go.

Leveling an RV or camper van

Getting a decent night’s sleep when your van is on a tilt can be quite a challenge, which is why it’s important to know how to level an RV or camper van before you head out on your first road trip.

Not only does leveling your van help to ensure you don’t have to sleep on a slant when parked on uneven terrain, but also, keeping your van leveled helps to prevent wear and tear on your internal structure and tires — not to mention helping to prevent your van from toppling over in a strong gust of wind!

Deciding on a parking spot

In most instances, campsites will already have level park-up spaces for you to park on. If the space isn’t paved, then they’ll usually be level grassy spaces or filled in with those little woodchips that you see in children’s playgrounds.

If you are boondocking or wild camping in a mountainous area or rural location, however, it’s a good idea to have a look around the plots first to find one as flat as possible before choosing. Grab a ball or skateboard and see how it rolls when you put it down.

Making sure you are level

Once you’ve decided on the perfect parking spot, get down on the ground and double-check the area. Most spaces can be made level with a couple of leveling blocks, usually either both at the front, both at the back, or both down one side of your vehicle.

Leveling blocks are essentially plastic wedges that go underneath your van tires. Imagine a huge door stop, some of which have multiple levels for your tires to rest on. The surface of most leveling blocks boasts a special design that maximizes friction between your tire and the block itself, preventing you from rolling backward into a lake or off a cliff while you’re counting sheep.

Place your blocks in your desired location and gently find your bite point, allowing your engine to pull you up onto the blocks rather than using any real acceleration. The last thing you want is to head straight over your blocks!

Keep a spirit level on your dashboard and watch it as you’re moving up the leveling blocks too.

What happens if I don’t level my camper or RV?

Don’t worry, the world isn’t going to implode if you can’t level your camper van, but it can have some long-lasting effects on your vehicle if it happens often. Parking on slant can eventually lead to damage to both your chassis and your suspension, especially if you leave your camper or RV parked on a slant in the same place for prolonged periods of time. It can wear your tires down, too — imagine putting all your weight on one leg like a flamingo while holding 3.5 tons of your belongings. That’s definitely enough straining to blow a tire while you’re driving.

Other than slipping and sliding around like Bambi on ice inside your van, your 12-volt refrigerator won’t work as effectively if your camper isn’t flat. Absorption fridges contain chemicals, and if they can’t flow properly, then you might end up causing complications inside your expensive fridge that could lead to it breaking.

Can I level a camper van on my own?

While it’s possible to level your RV or camper van on your own, it’s so much easier with another person there to help “spot” for you when you’re about to drive off the levelers or when you’re at your desired height. If you’re traveling solo and you park up next to some other vanlifers, just ask them to give you a hand. We’re all one big community and always willing to help a slanted van in need!

Keeping your van clean on the road

The great thing about living in a van is that while stuff can pile up quickly, it’s far easier to clean and tidy a camper van than an entire house. After all, when you live in one room, there’s only one room to clean.

Housework isn’t the most exciting topic, but a tidy home makes for a tidy mind, and with these tips and tricks, you’ll always have a comfortable and clean van to come back to after a day on the beach or a hike in the mountains.

Regularly check for mold and mildew

No one ever wants to broach the topic of mold or mildew. It seems to be a bit of a taboo subject in the van life community (especially on Instagram), but it happens to all vanlifers and isn’t something to be embarrassed about.

Mold and mildew build up in places where you don’t have a lot of airflow, more often than not in the back of your camper in the garage area. You can clean it up with a bit of antibacterial spray and a whole load of elbow grease. Just grab a sponge or cloth and give it a good scrub. You can also buy mildew sprays that kill the mold once and for all.

Travel with a dustpan and brush

A dustpan and brush are two of the most underrated pieces of van life equipment around. Van floors can hide so much dirt, especially when you are walking in and out of your van from the beach or after hikes in the woods. Get into the habit of sweeping the floor a couple of times a day; your feet will thank you for it.

Buy a cordless vacuum

In areas like the inside of your drawers, behind your shoe rack, and inside your cab and bulkhead, use a cordless vacuum that you can charge up from your inverter or plug into a 12-volt socket. You can pick them up pretty cheap, and they’re great for thrusting into pesky corners and hard-to-reach places to get crumbs that might attract unwanted guests.

Empty your black and grey tanks on a regular basis

No one enjoys cleaning out the toilet or wastewater tank, but emptying them and cleaning them on a regular basis before smells have a chance to seep into your living area will make your van feel (and smell) much nicer. Everything smells worse in a tiny space, so keep your eye on these.

Really go to town when cleaning your cassette toilet. Use an eco-friendly spray and lots of water when you’re cleaning it out. Don’t bother with the harsh blue chemicals for the bottom either; cheap household washing powder works perfectly when breaking down your waste and reducing smells. Those clever enzymes will save you a ton of money!

Clean the inside of your bin

Food smells from garlic peels, veggie skins, and other organic waste you accumulate when cooking meals in your van can quickly be overpowering, so always make sure to give your bin a clean with spray and warm water whenever you take your bin bag out. You can buy bin deodorizers if you’re going to be in a place without a waste disposal area for a while. These powders are also especially useful if you live in a warm climate.

Clean your windows on the inside and out

What’s the point in traveling the world if you can’t see out of your windows? Smudges on the inside and general dirt and grime from dusty roads on the outside build up all too easily, so adding a little window cleaning into your routine certainly doesn’t hurt.

Use a microfiber cloth and some window spray on your side windows and your windshield once a week. Some gas stations have window washing facilities that you can use after filling up, but you can always just tape a squeegee to a broom handle and throw some water on your windshield too.

Don’t forget to clean your roof and solar panels

Just because you can’t see your roof doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give it a clean from time to time. What with bird poop, leaves, and other debris falling on it as you travel the world, there’s a good chance your roof panels could go rusty or moldy if left unattended. If you don’t have a ladder on your back door, grab a pair of extendable ladders and keep them in your garage area. A little warm soapy water and a bucket and sponge is all you need.

While you’re on the roof, give your solar panels a wipe down, too.

Open your doors and give your van a good airing

Chances are that you’ll sit with your doors open most of the time anyway, so this one is so easy that you can do it without even lifting a finger. By keeping your doors open and allowing air to flow through your van on a nice day, you’ll keep it smelling nice and fresh.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Seb Santabarbara is a writer and alternative living enthusiast. Seb established himself as a van life expert by living in a self-converted camper while helping others reach their alternative living goals as head of written content for an online van life media brand that reached five million readers. Keep up with Seb at

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