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Van Life: #LifeHacks on the Road

Life on the road can be tricky- whether you’re trying to figure out how to secure everything so that items don’t scatter around while traveling, or maybe you’re trying to figure out ways to organize all of your stuff efficiently- lots of these tricks are typically on a ‘learn as you go’ basis. I wanted to give you a head start on successful vandwelling, so I’ve provided some #VanLife hacks for efficient living.

Storage & Organization

An overlooked key to Van Life happiness is to be sure that you are organized and make use of all of the empty and awkward spaces available for storage. You may think that small, awkward shaped space is just space wasted, but look closer and be creative. Some ideas:

  • Install hooks, carabiners, and anchor points throughout the van allowing you to hang items or storage organizers.
  • Install magnetic or push pin boards to walls so that you can pin important things or photos.
  • Hang metal clips on shower rings to hold shampoo, conditioner, face wash, etc...
  • Suction cup hooks to hang things on windows (especially good for kitchen window(s) to hang spatulas, etc…). They also work in showers or on mirrors!
  • Hanging shoe storage, not necessarily for shoes- you can hang them on the backs of seats for random storage.
  • Packing cubes, bins & baskets for organizing storage.
     Pro Tip: get clear bins so you can see inside!
  • Seat back storage organizers
  • Install fabric over wall panels so you’re able to safety pin items securely to hang for storage.
  • Install shelving, and other forms of storage on walls.
  • ‘Underneath the bed’ platform for storage
  • Flip top storage bench(es) for efficient storage space.
  • If possible, put a cooler in between the front seats for storage. You can also secure a serving tray (or similar) onto the cooler for a ‘knick knack tray’.
  • Install pop up or swivel surface areas, hidden desks, and stowaway tables for easy access cooking and eating spaces that don’t waste space.
  • Bungee cords are your friends! Use to tie loose ends down.
  • Take advantage of tiny spaces. As you build out your van, you might find there are tight or awkward corners. Don’t let this space go to waste!
  • Rewrap duct tape around a reusable water bottle for easy access and efficient use of space.
  • Roof racks. You can DIY or buy new, but they help allow for outside storage.
  • Roll up clothes to save space. Roll up underwear with each shirt, then roll the shirt into a pair of socks for efficiency!
  • DIY- Make a kitchen countertop out of wood to act as a cutting board.
  • Old coffee container for TP storage (cut a slit in it so you can pull the TP out easily!)
  • Gravity water filtration systems, like the Platypus Filter, will allow you to filter water in remote locations if you pass by rivers or lakes.
  • Utensil holders: DIY out of PVC pipe, or cut out a back pocket from an old pair of jeans, and sew divider lines.

Clean Up & Hygiene

With limited water sources, staying clean can be tough on both you and the van. There’s no doubt you’ll need to test out a few tricks out before finding a ‘normal process’ for you, but hopefully the following will help give you a head start:

  • Eliminate single use disposable items (both for the environment and to save space) to help work toward a waste free van life.
  • 'Scrubba Wash Bag' is a portable washing machine that fits in your pocket! You can even use clean river water with a dollop of homemade detergent if you’re short on water sources.
  • Make your own cleaning supplies (It’s much cheaper and will help you save on water). Google search DIY options for whatever cleaner(s) you want to make!
  • Keep ‘dirty items storage’ contained to a single space.
  • Lysol wipes are your best friend. Buy the packs that aren’t in a big container to save room.
  • Old toothbrushes work great for scrubbing out stains and dirt in hard to reach places! It’s tiny, yet efficient.
  • Get a handheld rechargeable cordless vacuum.
  • Rain is your friend! Use the free water source to take a natural shower, or collect water for dogs/cleaning supplies.
     Pro Tip: can also filter rainwater for drinking water!
  • Go commando! Less laundry if you don’t use underwear- but to each their own.

Kitchen, Food, & Water

Efficiency in the ‘kitchen’ is important. When it comes to living and eating in a van, there’s no room from excess. You need food and water, but don’t have much storage space or cooking appliances, so what do you do? If you get creative, you’d be surprised at how much you can actually store and cook in a van kitchen! Plus, I’m sure you’d get sick of just eating noodles in a cup & PB& J’s 24/7. The low down:

  • Only keep the amount of cups, plates, mugs, utensils, etc… that you need (which is usually 1-2 sets depending on how many people are dwelling in your van).
  • Try to invest in ‘dual purpose’ items or compact cooking sets.
     Pro Tip: Most camping cookware is made this way, so items should be easy to find.
  • When making your trip plan, be sure to include water & food refill stops.
  • Use the app ‘Tap’ to find the closest water refill station to you! Now that grocery stores and gas stations have refill stations outside, it makes clean water much more accessible to vandwellers.
  • If you plan to make fires, you can cook meals over it! It helps to buy a ‘compact over-the-fire grill’ for cooking, but you can always go old school and just hang whatever you’re cooking on a stick over the fire!
     Pro Tip: You can also cook with a paper bag. Throw some eggs & bacon in there, then hang the bag on a stick over the fire. The bag doesn’t burn, and cooks everything inside!
  • Leftovers are your friend! If you opt to eat out or get takeout, order something large for dinner so you can have the leftovers for breakfast. Same with coffee! Grab that 50 cent starbucks refill before the day ends so you can wake up to fresh coffee.
  • Get a small camp stove or Jet Boil for cooking with propane.
  • Coffee lovers- purchase a french press or a ‘pour over’ single serving coffee dripper since they’re compact and don’t require electricity.
  • For cooking spices, purchase a multi- seasoning dispenser so that you can refill it with your favorite spices. You can also use tic tac containers or pill organizers to minimize space and not have to spend money on a multi spice dispenser.
  • Use a large cooking pot as an oven! You can put it on low heat and cover (no water needed)
  • An easy food option allowing variety in your meals would be to make BOWLS. You can switch it up between quinoa, brown rice, and beans, then add veggies and/or meat (or meat alternatives) and season as you wish! Easy to make large quantities at once and save leftovers for the next day.
  • Overnight oatmeal- no heat needed! There are tons of different recipes on the interweb.
  • Meals in a bag- just add hot water! Lots of healthy dehydrated meals out there, or you can make your own!

Gas Saving

Vandwellers typically spend more on gas than the average person, so taking advantage of ways to save is important! Some tips to save money on gas guzzlers:

  • Use an app like Gas Buddy to help you find the lowest gas prices near you, or in a specific city, state, or zip code.
  • Whenever possible, avoid getting your gas on the weekends – the prices are higher!
  • Set your GPS for the shortest route, not necessarily the quickest.
  • Remember that cruise control is your friend.
  • Keep your tires properly inflated to ensure the best gas mileage.
  • If it’s hot and you’re thinking about rolling the windows down to stay cool and save money by not using the AC, you may actually be losing money. While going high speeds, it creates a drag which will slow you down and cost you more money on gas than it would to run your AC.
     Pro Tip: if you’re driving speeds over 50mph, keep the windows up.
  • When you’re making your trip plan, research gas prices per state so you can try to plan gas stops accordingly.
  • Sign up for rewards programs at all your favorite gas stations.

Mail Options

Without a permanent address, how do you receive mail? Do you have to stop using Amazon Prime?!?! DEAL BREAKER.  Lol, but not really. Although you should minimize buying random stuff due to lack of storage, there are still ways to receive mail while living on the road:

  • The good thing is, most bills and statements come via email (if you opt for paperless). Ask a friend or family member to use their address for anything else.
  • Get a PO Box somewhere centralized or where you will pass through often during your travels.
  • Amazon lockers (for Amazon packages only)
  • USPS delivery
  • UPS Mailboxes
  • Mail Boxes Etc.
  • Walmart/Home Depot/etc... ship-to-store

Pet Friendly

But what about the puppers?! We all want to keep the ‘road pets’ comfortable, happy, and safe, so here are some best practices:

  • Most vandwellers avoid leaving their pets in the van as much as possible, but for those times you have to, try to avoid doing it during the summer months, keep the time limited, vent your windows, and make sure it’s not during peak sun hours.
     Pro Tip: It’s good to make sure you install an air vent in the vehicle.
  • Be sure to research State laws for animals left in parked vehicles, as it is illegal in some places!
  • Reflective sun shades put in your windows help to prevent heat from getting in and insulate the cool from getting out slower.
  • Pets aren’t allowed in National Parks- but this does not mean you have to avoid them! Right outside of National Parks are BLM & National Forest lands which generally don’t have pet restrictions.
  • Rover.com has background checked and verified pet sitters that offer a variety of affordable options from dog walking, day care, and overnight stays!
  • Wag app offers dog walking services.
  • Local doggy daycares for similar services to Rover.
  • For when your dogs are allowed to roam free, LED collars help keep an eye on them at night!
  • Pet hair pickup mitt to help keep hair of fabric.
  • If you’re parked somewhere without trees or an “anchor point”, and need to keep your pup leashed up, tethering the leash to your tires will make for a sturdy anchor point.

The Other Stuff

I have more tricks up my sleeve to make your van life easier:

  • Keep track of expenses and make a budget. Use apps like Mint to see how much you’re spending.
  • Buy an ‘America the Beautiful Pass’. It costs $80 per year, and gets you into more than 2,000 federal recreation sites including national parks. You can get a discounted pass if you are a senior (62 or older).
  • DIY projects > buying new. Even if you think you can’t DIY, you probably can. Pinterest and YouTube are good resources for learning how to DIY.
  • A gym membership is worth the money, and is a spot for SHOWERING! Opt for a nationwide gym (Planet Fitness is typically $10-20/mo) so there is likely to be a location along your travels.
  • For birthdays, christmas/hanukkah, or other holidays, ask for money or gas cards since you don’t need to take up more space in your van with more stuff.
  • Add solar panels to your roof! This may cost a bit up front, but will provide efficient forms of electricity.
  • Wrap a headlamp around a gallon water jug to turn it into a bright lamp.
  • Who needs a can opener? If you vigorously rub a can over rock, it will pop right open! #mindblown
  • Ice packs are preferred, but if you drink water bottles, reuse that plastic bottle by freezing water in it to act as an ice pack.
  • Some essential oils have bug repellent properties! Research which oils work best for repelling the pesky bugs that bother you- whether it be ticks, ants, fleas, mosquitos, etc.- there’s a DIY repellent that’s safe on your body, yet still effective!
  • Burning sage also works as a natural deterrent to keep those pesky bugs away- and it smells nice, too!
  • Spraying counters w/ vinegar & sprinkle with cayenne pepper to deter ants.
  • Deodorant can act as a bug bite topical to reduce itchiness.
  • Gardeners! #VanLife doesn’t mean you have to give up your passion. Opt for a hanging herb garden! Herbs are lightweight and hanging the garden keeps your counters free. You can get plenty of sunlight if you hang them over a window.
  • Ear plugs! For when you sleep in noisy places, like highly populated cities.
  • Waterproof your shoes using a beeswax compound!
  • Keep a tool box on hand with the essentials.
  • Install insulation dividers (use pic 5-insulate) between front cab and the back of the van to keep main areas a comfortable temperature.
  • If you don’t have a van bathroom, use a ‘pee bottle’ to avoid having to go outside during poor weather or night time. Sounds like this is only an option for men, but I don’t discriminate! Women can get a 'GoGirl' or a ‘She-wee’ to make it easy!
  • Keep a public storage unit- unless you have the nicest family or friends that will offer some space up in their garage/attic/basement for you to store items. This helps so that you can keep seasonal items in storage and exchange it out as needed.
     Pro Tip: Need help loading or unloading items into the storage unit? Use MovingLabor.com to find, compare and book local move help!
  • Out of kindling to make a fire? Did you know that crunched up Doritos act as a good alternative? Not saying you always have those on hand, but if you did, NOW YOU KNOW.

The More You Know

So now that you have some tips & tricks of the #VanLife game, are you ready to put it all to action? I’m sure you’ll learn your own #vanlifehacks along the way, so feel free to let us know any that we missed. Just visit our Facebook page and give us a shout!

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