16 Unrivaled Camper Van Hacks
When you’re living in a camper van on the road, or even if you’re just spending lots of time camping off grid, you’ll quickly realize that the immense freedom a camper van provides is tempered by the inconvenience that inevitable accompanies van life.
After several years of living in my van and traveling full time, I’ve learned a few hacks to make van life a bit easier.
These are 16 of the best campervan tips I’ve discovered so far.
16 Best Camper Van Hacks
1. Use Spray Bottles for Cleaning Dishes
We’re going to start off strong with one of my absolute favorite hacks that I still use on a daily basis.
When you’re living the van life, water is always a premium commodity. You never want to waste any water, but you’ll need to use it for a variety of things.
It always seemed to me that the dishes were taking up more than their fair share of the water. Once I started using spray bottles to clean the dishes, I never had an issue again.
Spray bottles make great use of your water. You can wash dozens of dishes with the same amount of water it would take to rinse a single dish off in using the faucet.
Plus, spray bottles have adjustable spray patterns, allowing you to get some pretty decent water pressure, certainly sufficient for removing food particles and soap suds.
I suggest skipping the cheapest dollar store spray bottles and get some premium ones right off the bat. The cheapies tend to start breaking from the pressure of repeated sprays. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be using yours daily, so it’s imperative that my spray bottles are sturdy.
2. Install a Low-Voltage Disconnect
Few things are worse to a van lifer than a dead battery. Whether it’s your house battery running all of your electronics in the back or it’s your vehicle battery up front getting the engine started, a dead battery is nothing but bad news.
Luckily, there’s a solution that can prevent you from ever having to worry about facing a dead batter again.
Sound too good to be true?
I assure you it’s not. We’re talking about a low voltage disconnect, and it’s something that’s been a lifesaver for me more times than I can possibly count. Why they don’t install one on every vehicle is beyond me!
So, what is a low voltage disconnect?
Good question. It’s a device that connects to your battery and disconnects it from everything when its voltage gets below a certain threshold.
What this means in the real world is that before your battery gets so low that it won’t start your car, it will be disconnected from the system completely, preventing it from discharging and being damaged.
And your vehicle battery isn’t the only one that can benefit from a low voltage disconnect. My first battery bank went bad because the batteries discharged all the way one time. They were never the same again.
Lithium iron batteries can be discharged completely without being damaged, but they’re the only ones.
For all other batteries on your van, it’s a wise precaution to hook up some low voltage disconnects and ensure you’ll never have to deal with a dead battery leaving you stranded or preventing you from using your electronics at a key time.
Still coming in at less than $100, it’s one of the best investments you can make on your van, and if it saves you just once, you’ll think it was worth every penny. Best of all, you can use the same model device on your vehicle battery and house battery.
You can check out my favorite 12-volt low voltage disconnect on Amazon by clicking here.
3. Five-Gallon Jugs and a Water Dispenser
One of the biggest challenges for new van lifers is water. Conserving water is difficult, as is finding ways to fill water.
When I first started van life, I was always struggling to make my water last since it seemed like since a major pain to fill up.
But then I realized an easier solution. I started using a five-gallon water jug, like the kind that you put in a dispenser.
These can be filled all over the place, and five gallons generally costs under $2.
I got a USB rechargeable dispenser that fits on top of the jug, sealing the water in and providing all the filtered drinking water I need at the press of a button.
Five-gallon water jugs are available at many retailers. Just make sure that the jug and dispenser you get are compatible with each other.
4. Charge the House Batteries While You Drive
When I built my first van for van life, I started with three sealed lead acid batteries powering the house. Unfortunately, something went wrong, and they ended up getting discharged almost completely.
They were never the same again.
Soon, I was down to a single 100-amp-hour battery to run my fan, computer, charge my electronics, and a lot more.
Needless to say, this was a less-than-ideal situation.
But the one saving grace was that my lone house battery was setup to be charged by the alternator while I drove. This meant that if I was using the electricity and the battery was low, a short drive around while searching for the night’s parking space was usually sufficient to recharge the battery so it could power my ever-important fan for the night.
In that van, as well as my current one, I used a Renogy DCCS50, a charge controller with a connection for running a cable from the alternator to charge the house battery while you drive. This charge controller has the additional feature of trickle charging the vehicle battery with the solar panels once the house batteries are full.
That’s an excellent charge controller, and definitely a piece I recommend, but it’s not the only way you can use your van’s alternator to charge your house batteries.
Rather than change your whole system by swapping out your charge controller, you can use an isolator to enable charging from your alternator to your house batteries.
Once you make this little upgrade to your van, you’ll never have to worry about cloudy skies killing your electronics again!
5. Parking at Hotels and Truck Stops
When you’re out in a rural setting, it’s generally pretty easy to find somewhere to park your van for some off grid camping. But when you’re in an urban environment, it can be a bit more difficult to find a safe and suitable parking place.
So, here’s a little hack for you whenever you’re in town and in need of parking for the night.
Truck stops make excellent places to park for a night or even just a few hours. They generally have large parking lots meant for truckers to park in and rest, and you can usually find an inconspicuous spot to park for the night. Likewise, hotels have many cars in the parking lot, allowing you to easily blend in for a safe night. Just don’t make it obvious that you’re there and you shouldn’t have any problems.
6. Hit the Library When You Need More Workspace
The van life is an incredibly freeing experience, but it’s not a very spacious one. Especially when I was in a low-top van, space was always at a minimum, and it often felt a little crowded while I was working.
Thankfully, almost every town and city across the US has public libraries you can utilize. Most provide free wi-fi, making it easy to connect and get your work done. Plus, they’re climate controlled, and you can usually get a private workspace all to yourself.
I would load up my backpack with all my essentials, such as my computer and charger, a bottle of water, phone charger, and whatever else I needed. Libraries often provide charging ports and outlets, so you can usually plug in and get to work without any hassle.
7. Empty Your Waste at Truck Stops and Rest Stops
There are a few problems that will continually plague a van lifer, and one of those is the need to empty your toilet waste.
Now, this process is different depending on whether you’re using a cassette toilet or you have a black tank to empty.
Either way, truck stops are your best friend.
Look around the next time you’re at a truck stop. You’re looking for a sign that says RV Station or something similar. Many truck stops have these RV stations, which feature dump sites you can use to empty a black tank or even a cassette toilet.
This is one of the easiest and most convenient places you’ll ever find for dumping your waste, so don’t waste the opportunity!
If you have a cassette toilet, you’ll also be able to use those rest stops that pop up on long stretches of highway to empty your waste. These are especially useful when you’re spending long stretches without going into any cities. Another great time to empty your waste is when you…
8. Spend a Night at a Campground to Empty and Refill
Eventually, your water tank will run low, and you’ll need to refill. If your van has a black tank for the toilet, then you’ll also need to dump that on occasion.
The easiest way to take care of both issues while you’re on the road is to simply spend a night at a campground with hookups. This will give you a chance to empty out your waste and fill up your water. Plus, you won’t have to think about where to park for a night.
You’ll get all this for a pretty reasonable price, especially if you go to a state or national park.
I’d recommend staying during the week, so you avoid the weekend rush.
Remember, cassette toilets are just as easy to empty in those sewer drains, so anytime you’re at a campground with hookups, empty all your waste and fill your water tanks before you leave!
9. Pee In a Bottle and Use Bathrooms When Available
I like to camp off grid as much as possible, even when I’m in the city. As such, I do whatever it takes to stretch the time between campground stays to empty my waste tank and refill my water.
Regardless of whether you’re using a cassette toilet or a black tank, one of the best ways to help reduce the number of times you need to dump your waste is to pee in a bottle.
Naturally, this is really only applicable to men, though I’ve heard there are some products out for women that might allow them to do the same.
Peeing in a bottle could reduce your waste output by a gallon or more each day, so it’s definitely going to lengthen the time you can go before the toilet needs to be emptied again.
On a similar note, whenever you’re in a position to use a bathroom with standard plumbing, you should take it. This will help you fill your waste tanks slower, giving you more time between empties.
10. Use GasBuddy to Save Money on Fuel
One of the best things about van life is how affordable it is. You’ve given up rent payments and energy bills, freeing up more funds for traveling and experiencing life. But especially today in 2022 with gas prices so high, fuel tends to be the biggest expense for most van lifers.
Now, there are many ways to reduce your fuel usage, such as staying in one place for a few days at a time, not making short trips for errands, and driving conservatively. But at the end of the day, you’re still required to fill the gas tank if you want to reach your next destination.
Luckily, the GasBuddy app is here to save you some money by helping you find the lowest-priced gas near you or along your route.
When I’m in a town or city, I’ll check GasBuddy to see what the lowest price is nearby. Often, you can find gas that’s as much as 10-15 cents cheaper per gallon if you’re willing to drive a few miles to get it.
Additionally, I’ll use GasBuddy anytime I’m taking a longer journey. Before leaving, I’ll check the entire route in the GasBuddy map view, searching for the most affordable gas along the way, and planning my trip around that stop.
If you get into the habit of always filling up with the cheapest gas, you could save yourself quite a bit of each month on one of your largest expenses!
11. AAA Can Be a Lifesaver
The unfortunate reality of van life is that you’re going to encounter unexpected problems while you’re on the road. Vehicles have mechanical issues all the time, and your vehicle is more than just a car, it’s your home as well.
So, what do you do when something goes wrong out on the road?
If you follow one of my favorite camper van hacks, you can call AAA and you won’t have much to worry about.
With a AAA membership, you’ll pay one low fee each year for all the benefits they provide, which include multiple tows, getting you into your vehicle if you’re locked out, jumping dead batteries (which you shouldn’t need if you followed the second hack on this list!), and more.
These types of obstacles are basically inevitable. When they occur, you’ll pay hundreds out of pocket instead of the small fee you pay for a AAA membership. Plus, AAA makes it easy to make a claim when you’re in a situation, and they’ll have someone out to you very quickly.
You can think of AAA as sort of like home renters’ insurance for van lifers. Hopefully you don’t need it, but if you do, you’ll be extremely glad you have it.
12. Carry an Extensive Tool Kit
AAA is a great option, but anytime you have to get your van towed, it’s going to be a massive inconvenience. That’s your home, not just your vehicle. Now you have to figure out where you can stay, how to get your stuff, how you’re going to get around without your van, and more.
Most of the time, the sort of problems that sideline your adventures are pretty small in stature. With a bit of DIY know-how and a few tools, you should be able to fix most of these issues and get back on the road with only a little downtime.
Of course, without tools, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle, which is why I recommend that all van lifers carry an extensive tool kit with them on the road.
This tool kit ought to include all of the basics such as wrenches, sockets, pliers, screwdrivers, and Allen keys.
You can purchase pre-assembled kits that include everything you need, which have the added benefit of including a handy case to keep it all organized.
A great choice would be something like this one on Amazon, but any quality tool kit should suffice, so long as it has the essentials.
|DEKOPRO 158 Piece Tool Set-General Hhttps://amzn.to/3S6Rrl4ousehold Hand Tool Kit,Auto Repair Tool Set, with Plastic Toolbox Storage Case|
In my experience, it’s also been a lifesaver to carry an electric impact driver as well. This is the perfect tool for removing bolts on everything from your tires to your transmission pan. Trust me, when you have to remove and replace 20+ bolts by hand while laying on your back in the dirt on the side of the road, you’ll be thankful for every bit of help you can find!
And one more little piece of advice. Even if you don’t have the skills to fix a particular issue with your van, you can probably find the answer and a video guide to follow on YouTube University, as I like to call it.
13. Floodlights Find Campsites
Not everyone takes their van onto the dirt roads of the backcountry seeking more private and rugged accommodations. But if you’re the type of van lifer who isn’t afraid to do some backroad exploring, then you’ve probably had the experience of searching for a suitable campsite at night.
Things look very different at night, especially in wooded areas where shadows can play crazy tricks with your headlights.
It’s hard to tell where is safe to drive, making it more difficult than ever to locate the right parking place.
You can easily remedy this with by adding a couple of floodlights or spotlights to the front of your van.
These lights are relatively easy to install, so you should be able to handle the install yourself without much issue. They’re not expensive, and if you find yourself searching for parking in the woods at night often, then they’re an invaluable investment.
14. Aerosol Deodorant Doesn’t Melt!
The first summer I spent in my van full time was an adjustment period for me. I had only been in the van for a few months when it started getting hot, and I quickly realized that deodorant was going to be an issue.
Obviously, foregoing deodorant altogether was not an option. So, I switched to aerosol deodorant, which doesn’t melt!
Stick deodorant is very likely to leave you a nasty mess if you spend summers anywhere warm. Even with the ceiling fan running all day, it can get pretty warm in a van with the sun beating down on the roof all day! And it doesn’t have to be that hot for deodorant to melt. So, avoid the headache and switch to an aerosol deodorant for less mess.
15. Carry an Inflator and a Can of Fix-A-Flat with You
We’ve already discussed the importance of carrying tools when living the van life to get back on the road quickly in the inevitable event of mechanical problems during your adventures. But just as common as mechanical issues are tire issues, which is why every vehicle carries a spare!
You don’t always need to switch to a spare though, and sometimes, you’re not in a position where it’s even a possibility.
In such cases, it pays to have a can of Fix-A-Flat on hand. You simply fill the tire with it, and the hole will seal, unless it’s a gigantic puncture. At the least, this should get you to a more suitable area for repairs, like a tire shop!
But Fix-A-Flat isn’t always enough to inflate the tire. And other times, there’s no major puncture, just low or uneven tire pressure to deal with. Uneven tire pressure can cause shakes and vibrations while you drive, and low tire pressure can reduce your gas mileage.
For these times, you’ll want an inflator, which will enable you to fill all your tires without the need for a compressor. No more stopping at the tire shop just to check your tire pressure! You can simply top off your tires whenever you need.
These devices are small and portable, and if you have bicycles, you can use the inflator to fill the bike tires as well.
The one I use is a 12-volt model that plugs into a standard 12-volt plug or lighter outlet, like this one on Amazon.
You can also opt for one that’s cordless with a battery, but you’ll have to make sure the battery is charged, or it won’t be much help when you need it! If you’re looking for a cordless model, this one is a great choice.
16. Hitch-Mounted Storage
As any van lifer will tell you, storage is always at a premium. There’s simply never quite enough storage space in a van; especially when you consider than van lifers tend to be outdoor people, and outdoor gear is usually rather large!
But there is a solution! If your van has a tow hitch on the back, then you can use a hitch-mounted storage tray.
With a weight capacity of over 500 pounds, hitch mounted storage devices like this one are the perfect way to increase the amount of stuff you can carry with your van. You can even get a weatherproof cover for it to ensure all your stuff stays dry.
When you’re not actively using it, you can simply fold it up; no need to remove it from your van!
The Final Word
If you keep these camper van hacks in mind, it should help to make van living and camping much more comfortable, affordable, and enjoyable. But to really unlock the power of your camper van, you’ll need to start thinking about taking it off grid.
For those new to the idea of off grid camping in a camper van, check out our complete guide to off grid camping for beginners. If you’ve already been taking your camper van off grid and you’re thinking about staying off grid, then you might check out our comprehensive guide to off grid RV living so you can be fully prepared to start transitioning towards full time off grid life.