There’s so much online content out there about vanlife and how to make it work for you. But it seems most of those stories focus on the weekend warriors or one-time van trippers, rather than the full-time vanlifer.
Some of those vanlife hacks are helpful, but many are impractical for any full-time vanlifer.
But as a vanlifer, problem-solving through years of experience and on-the-go adaptations, I’ve compiled a list of the most valuable vanlife hacks. While these van hacks work for any van dweller, this article focuses on tips for full-time (or close to it) vanlifers.
As such, it makes some assumptions about your build and experience with van life. To take advantage of most of of the vanlife hacks below, you’ll already have a fridge or have figured out how to make a cooler work for you. You should also already have some kind of charging/power system (solar, battery-to-battery, etc.) that allows you to charge or power electronics.
Related Read: Living in a Van Full-Time: 6 Questions to Ask First
Vanlife Build Hacks
Everyone needs to build out their van how they see fit. A lot of the build suggestions below are dependent on your budget, what size van you have, and how you want to live. However, having lived in a van for a couple of years, I have some suggestions that add to the comfort of van living.
1. Use Two Fans to Circulate Air
Whether your van is short, long, tall, or low, circulation is key to comfort, especially during summer. And when I say fans, I’m referring to the ceiling vans you cut into the roof. The most popular are MaxxAir or FanTastic.
Having one fan in front and one in the back allows for air circulation throughout the van when you can’t have the doors open. Counter to what you might expect, the best way to circulate the air is to close all windows and doors, open both fan vents, and then turn one vent to exhaust while leaving the other one off.
2. Get a Toilet
I know some vanners who choose not to have any toilet in their van and instead go to a gas station every day. That works for some and is likely fine if you’re only making short trips in the van. However, if you’re attempting full-time van living, there will come a time when a toilet in the van will feel like a lifesaver.
Those middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom are much more comfortable when they’re inside. And when the urge to go hits while you’re driving down the interstate, it’s less of a big deal if your bathroom is with you. It’s not pleasant to talk about, but at some point, you inevitably get sick (flu, food poisoning, etc.).
If that happens, you could get a hotel to ride it out, but if you have a toilet in your van, you’ll be in a space where you’re comfortable but still weather the storm.
3. Opt for Swivel Seats
They’ve become fairly standard in camper vans these days, but if you’ve never had a camper van, you may not realize how helpful they are. Being able to rotate the seats to face each other or to the back opens the living space and gives you more options for design and seating layouts.
Vanlife Comfort Hacks
Comfort is important when it comes to living in a van. Let’s face it: vanlife can be challenging and is regularly uncomfortable. Your space is small, cooking is harder, and finding a place to sleep is a daily challenge. So it’s imperative to find ways of making your living experience easy, even if it’s in a small way.
4. Invest in a Battery-Powered Portable Fan
A small and portable rechargeable-battery-powered fan has been a surprisingly nice addition to my own van experience. Even if you already have the roof vents for circulating air, a small fan that you can put anywhere helps in a few ways.
When it’s extremely hot, you point it directly on you while you work or sleep. A small van blowing on you and a wet washcloth on your skin is an amazing way to help stay cool on a hot night.
Secondly, when running your heater in the winter, you may find that the heat doesn’t get evenly distributed around your van. Voila, your fan. The fan will move the heat around so when you set the temperature it actually feels the same everywhere in the van — or close to it.
5. Use Reflectix Window Covers
Window covers are a must-do vanlife hack year-round. Not only are they integral to privacy (no one needs to know that you’re sleeping in there), but they help regulate and maintain inside temperatures.
Any window cover is better than none, but I’ve found that tight-fitting covers that use Reflectix as an insulator are the way to go. Not only do they keep heat out when it’s hot outside, but they also help you stay warmer inside when its cold out.
6. Make a Bug Screen
Summer and bugs go hand in hand. But when you live in a van, having the doors open during the day is a must for staying cool. Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, having the door open is a great way to fill your van with bugs, especially if you have lights on inside.
So either buy a net and adapt it or make your own for your side and back doors. The netting will cut down a little on airflow, but you won’t have to deal with all those pesky insects when you finally close up the van for the night. It can also help keep curious critters like chipmunks and squirrels from sneaking on in when you’re not looking.
7. Utilize Leveling Blocks
A night or two of sleeping, living, or cooking at a slight incline every once in a while is tolerable, but it gets pretty old if you live like that for a few days. If you’re a full-time vanlifer, you’ll eventually get good at analyzing a parking area and figuring out exactly how to park your van to be as level as possible.
However, there will come a time when there’s no hope, and that’s where levelers come in handy. They come in a few types including both blocks and wedges. If I had to pick, I would go with the blocks. They allow you to easily adjust your van’s height, and when not in use, you can stack them to make an extra seat, table, or step-stool.
Vanlife Hygiene Hacks
There are two types of vanlifers: the ones who smell, and the ones who don’t. Most likely, you’ll fall somewhere in the middle. But just because you live in a van doesn’t mean everyone has to know it. However, staying clean while living in a van is challenging without the aid of a hot shower and roomy bathroom counter.
Even if you do have a shower in your van, you’re still limited by the size of your water tank. So if you want to stay clean but can’t afford to use all your water by showering after every run or bike ride, you may start to wonder how you can keep up on hygiene.
8. Stock Up on Wet Wipes
Oh, I know it sounds unappealing, and I was a skeptic at first, but picking up a bag of those body-sized wet wipes should be top of the list.
You are human, produce oils, and you live in a van, so you’re going to be dirty whether you’re actively adventuring or not. When you can’t find a shower but need to clean up, these things are key. You can also make your own from paper towels, but it’s hard to find a truly reusable option if you don’t have access to regular laundry facilities.
9. Stop By Nearby Rec Centers and Community Gyms
Vanlife hack: always know where the closest recreation center is. Many rec centers have shower passes available for purchase (and sometimes even have saunas and steam rooms), which is a huge boon to anyone living in a van.
It’s not as nice as having a private bathroom to clean up in, but the showers are almost always hot and generally cleaned quite frequently. Getting a membership pass to a chain gym or rec center is a great option if you’re traveling around the country.
10. Find Lakes and Rivers
Can’t find a shower? Take a dip in a lake. In many places, jumping into a local lake or river is a legitimate option for rinsing off. They’re a fun and cheap option.
Though I don’t condone full-on bathing at a beach, if you choose to soap up in a river or lake, make sure to use a biodegradable and environmentally friendly soap and shampoo and conditioner. And if you jump in a hot spring, know that you may have some sulfur left on your skin when you pop out — and that many of them are swimsuit-optional.
Vanlife Entertainment Hacks
Shouldn’t the freedom to roam and wake up where you want be enough? Well, sure, but sometimes you need a change of pace — and sometimes the weather sucks.
11. Use an iPad Mount
An item I use all the time is a mount for my tablet. There are many options, but the one I prefer allows you to both stand the tablet on the counter and mount to the underside of a cabinet or ceiling thanks to a sleeve accessory.
I love watching movies, so having the sleeve attached to the ceiling over the bed is really nice. Likewise, the stand part of the mount does double duty if I want to use the iPad on the counter while working or looking at a recipe.
12. Pick Up a Cell Booster
When you make the move to living in a van, you no longer have constant Wi-Fi access. While a must-do vanlife hack is to have enough hotspot data available on your cell plan at all times, a cell signal booster such as a weBoost is key to digitally working while on the road.
Signal boosters both help you have service in spotty areas, but also make the signal stronger and faster. A cell booster will give you enough extra range to tuck back a little farther down dirt roads. Just don’t leave it plugged in all the time as the booster will drain your battery after a day or two of being always on.
Mental Health and Wellness on the Road
We all need a mental break sometimes. When it comes to vanlife, sometimes your mental break can also coincides with a physical one. Even when you have a very comfortable setup, vanlife can just be hard on the mind and body. This is especially true if you spend a lot of your time in cities.
13. Get Out of Town
If you spend a lot of your time in towns or cities, make a concerted effort to get out for a bit. Schedule it. You probably became a vanlifer out of a desire for the freedom to live wherever you want. So take advantage of that and don’t fall into a rut of being in one spot. Vanlife hack: seek out beautiful spots.
So if you’ve found yourself in a rut, sleeping in the same spot, or just getting dragged down in the hubbub, do a quick search for nearby national forests or side-of-the-road campsites and get out there. It’s weird to say, but van life is really just life, and it can be easy to fall into the same patterns, just like if you lived in a house.
Remember: just because you live in a van doesn’t mean you can’t take a trip or vacation.
14. Book an Airbnb
I travel a lot, and since I work remotely, I can be almost anywhere. This means I can travel internationally to places I love. That’s made me realize that those month-long trips are a much-needed respite from the vanlife lifestyle.
Living in the van allows me to save enough money that when I need to take a break (usually once or twice a year), I can spend a little money with Airbnb. After staying in a house with a real bed and a shower for a week or two, I’m always refreshed and ready to go home to my van.
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