16 Concern-Crushing Pro Tips for Full Time RV Living (Based on Actual Experiences)

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One of my personal dreams in life is to live and travel in a van!

Now, I’ve actually spent a month or so living in a van before.

I loved every second.

But it wasn’t my van. And, looking back, I wasn’t really ‘on the road’ for most of it.

Most of the time the van was parked up on the vineyard, in France, where I was working. It was more of a conveniently placed bed than a genuine foray into van-life!

Now I’m travelling again (I’m in Australia at the time of writing) and the van life is calling me!

However, I realised I know nothing about what to expect. So, I decided to do some research.

I contacted a bunch of travel bloggers with experience living the van-life all over the world. I asked them to call upon their experience:

What advice would they have for someone thinking about entering life in an RV?

I’ve compiled their responses here! Read on for 13 pro tips for successful full time RV living.

I hope you find them as useful as I did.

(P.S. I threw in a 3 tips of my own at the end!).


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16 Pro Tips for Full Time RV Living

Here we go then: pro tips from people who’ve been there and got the van-life t-shirt.

…Plus a few from me at the end!

1. Campervan Sleep Spots: Use Mobile Apps to Find Where to Sleep

The biggest perk life on four wheels has to be the lack of accommodation costs.

Being able to park up and sleep in the back of your van can save you hundreds of dollars every month. However, new, stricter laws are being introduced across the world. This prevents wild camping in certain locations.

Finding that perfect spot for the night is becoming harder and harder.

This is where online apps, such as Park4Night (Europe) and WikiCamp (Australia), come in.

Using these phone apps, you can search all across the region to find spots where other nomads have camped in the past and found refuge (as we did on the Great Ocean Road).

They are all community based applications. So each wild campsite can be reviewed and rated based on costs (if there are any), as well as facilities, surroundings and any trouble that has been witnessed here.

Using these apps is a real time saver. They mean you’re able to find the perfect spot to bunk down for the night without driving around to find one.

Download the apps for yourself and rest up knowing that you will have a safe and comfortable night in your van.

By Gemma from Highlands2hammocks.

Follow their adventures on Instagram!

2. Campervan Entertainment: Prepare Entertainment for Long Journeys

On a road trip there are so many things to see and do along the way.

But it is a good idea to carry some small portable entertainment options when you need some downtime. These are our top recommendations based on our experience RVing in Europe for 5 months.

A Spotify annual membership is great value for affordable access to music on a road trip. Our top tip is to download new music whenever you have access to WIFI. 

Van life typically involves a fair amount of time on the road.

When you have long distances to cover, audio books and podcasts are perfect for passing the time. Find a gripping series or a topic you want to learn more about and spend those hours entertained or brushing up on a new skill. Subscribe to Audible or ask at your local public library before you leave to see if they have free audio books available to loan.

Small games are fun to carry for those quiet nights in the van too! Cards, Bananagrams and Monopoly Deal are three top favorites.

Finally, carry some small sports equipment. Not only are they fun to play, they are social too! Good options include Finska, frisbee and a football.

By Rachel from Adventure and Sunshine

Follow their adventures on Instagram!

3. Campervan in the Cold: Prepare Properly for Cold Weather

My partner and I moved from the UK to Canada at the end of January 2017 and decided to spend the first 6 months travelling around Canada and the US.

After flying to Toronto we converted our van in the parking lot of a Home Depot (since we didn't have a place to live), surrounded by snow and ice in temperatures around -15°C.

It's fair to say we put ourselves in the deep end of van-life by starting in winter! But we've learnt so much and are quite comfortable in our van overnight, even at -25°C!

Our top winter van tips include: 

  • Insulation: People argue about the best way to go about this, but we have a mixture of fibre glass in the van doors, spray foam and thick foam insulation all over the roof, walls, floor and doors. We also have reflectix in the windows when we sleep. 

  • Heating system: We don't have built in heating but swear by our Mr Buddy heater which we put on for a few minutes before bed and first thing in the morning to take the chill out of the air

  • Bedding: We stay warm with a sleeping bag + duvet + blanket combo!

  • Hot Water Bottles: Use hot water bottles (this one would be perfect!). Heat some water up and use a water bottle or an actual hot water bottle. Keep them in your sleeping bag to keep you cosy.

By Hannah from That Adventurer

Follow their adventures on Instagram!

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4. Campervan in the Cold Tip #2: Install a Wood Burning Stove (But Be Safe!)

Are you campervanning in cooler climates?

We went exploring Cornwall (UK) in campervan in October and chose a van with a tiny wood burning stove. 

As you can imagine, it got really chilly at night.  We had lots of snug covers, but the real saviour was our little stove.

It sounds strange and a bit quaint, but it worked beautifully. It heated the van in no time and was fun to have! 

We fed the fire for free with sticks and branches collected around campsites in the evenings and lit it with waste paper. Being so small inside, it fired up quickly. One load of wood was enough to keep us cosy all night. 

Don’t forget about safety though.

There was a CO detector in the van, and the stove and flue both get very hot, so make sure to keep your hands away. And please don’t copy my silly idea about warming towels.  I gained a little experience, a red face and a towel with a hole in it for my efforts.

Overall though, the benefits far exceeded the risks.

By Ania from The Travelling Twins

Follow their adventure on Instagram!

5. Campervan Practicalities: Keep Your Electronics Charged

One of the great things about living in a van for 5 months in New Zealand was staying nights in out of the way places, no electric, and no noise…just a few other people- if any!

It allowed us to do some fabulous hiking and see some amazing sunrises and sunsets.

But a constant challenge with that is power! We learned pretty quickly to always be charging!

Campgrounds have electricity sockets, of course. But leaving my laptop, or phone, or camera in a general pile and walking away wasn’t ever going to happen.

So, we bought a power inverter (like this one) that was capable of charging all our electronics from the van while we were driving.

This is a great way to be a little bit more self-sufficient, and a lot less frustrated when all the sockets at the campsite are taken!

By Sarah from A Social Nomad

Follow their adventures on Instagram!

6. Campervan Packing: Remember the Essentials

If travelling in a campervan is not your normal means of travel, or it’s your first time undergoing a long-ish road-trip, consider packing these basics.

Do so and you’ll be guaranteed to win at #vanlife!

Be sure to bring along a:

  • Headlamp: When nature calls in the middle of the night, you’re going to want to be able to see where you’re going! A headlamp (this one would be perfect!) is compact and being able to have your hands free proves super useful!

  • Car Charger Adaptor: Chances are your rented van only has a couple of USB ports for charging your smartphones. That’s bad news if you’re embarking on a longer road trip and your stops between campsites and cafes are few and far between. I highly recommend getting a car charger adaptor (like this awesome one)! It can be plugged straight into a cigarette port to charge your camera batteries.

  • Raincoat or Poncho: No matter the season, prepare for the heavens to open up unexpectedly. The worst thing is to get soaked during a hike or when you’re packing up after a meal, so pick up a lightweight raincoat or poncho (here’s one that would do the trick!) to add to your arsenal.

By Jasmine from The Travel Quandary

Follow their adventures on Instagram!

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7. Campervan Organization: Keep Everything Organized (Use Packing Cubes!)

After building our own campervan and calling it home for 3 months, my husband and I can say that #vanlife is our favorite way to travel.

So, when we were planning a month-long trip to New Zealand, we knew the best way to explore the country would be by campervan. Both experiences have taught me the importance of keeping your things organized!

With such a small space, it’s easy for your belongings to get spread all over the place and create a chaotic mess.

In both our own campervan build and our campervan rental in New Zealand, packing cubes (like these awesome ones) were absolute game changers!

These handy cubes are great for keeping your clothing organized and compressed in backpacks and suitcases. But they’re also absolutely essential for keeping belongings in one spot and easy to access in the campervan.

Trust me when I say keeping your van organized and clean will be the difference between a stressful travel experience and one that is absolutely epic!

By Katie from Two Wandering Soles

Follow their adventures on Instagram!

8. Campervan Space-Saving: Don’t Take Too Much Stuff (Live Minimally)

After road tripping in an RV with three children for several months, my tip for a successful van life is to live with the minimal amount of clothes and belongings possible.

Unpack a few essential clothes, shoes and toiletries from your main bags. Be ruthless with gadgets, books and other equipment.

If it is a single-use item and not multifunctional, could you live without it in an RV? Choose your items carefully and then store your big bags away. The bags will not take up valuable living space and often, the effort required to access stored bags will deter you from retrieving the item anyway!

Living with minimal gear in an RV leads to less mess and clutter. It’s surprising how few personal items you actually need! 

By Sinead from Map Made Memories

Follow their adventures on Facebook!

9. Campervan Cooking: Adapt to the Challenges

Due to the limited space, equipment and time cooking in a campervan is no easy task.

Recipes need to be adapted, storage is limited and many campervans do not offer kitchen essentials such as fridges or microwaves. However, this does not mean you should be limited to sandwiches and pasta, cooking in your van is all part of the adventure!

One of the best tips is to focus on “one pot” recipes. Meals such as risotto, chilli, gnocchi and Dahl are awesome and only require one pot.

This means you have less washing up (ideal as water is limited in the van) and less gas is used. These dishes also require less space as you only need one ring!

And, finally, they save so much time. You just chuck it in one pan and you're good to go - ready to get back on the road!

By Darren and Lauren from Faramagan

Follow their adventure on Instagram!

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10. Campervan Cleanliness/Practicalities: Empty the Fridge When Going Away

There’s quite a learning process to living in an RV, and you pick up many tips and tricks along the way as you adapt to being on the road.

However, nothing had quite prepared me for our experience. 

We moved into an RV in Florida, shortly before our summertime wedding on-board a cruise ship that was followed by a weeklong cruise honeymoon.

It was amazingly relaxing, but we were ready to jump right into full-time RV life! Until we returned home, that is...and stepped into a majorly stinky RV! 

While we were away sailing the Caribbean, the RV’s breaker had tripped. We came back to a fridge filled with rotten food! Not quite the post-honeymoon bliss we’d envisioned.

It took hours to scrub out the fridge, and even longer for the smell to dissipate. 

Moral of the story is to empty the fridge before leaving town, or at least have someone stop by to keep an eye on things while you’re away! 

By Natasha from Om Shanti Adventure

Follow their adventure on Facebook!

11. Campervan as a Couple: Pick Your Battles & Communicate Effectively

My husband and I lived in a converted a Sprinter van for almost a year while we travelled all over North America to climb and explore the outdoors. 

Even after 11 years of marriage, we had some of our biggest fights during this trip.

It doesn’t matter how compatible you think you are as a couple, living with your significant other 24/7, in a small space, WILL test your relationship. 

One of the biggest relationship lessons I learned from our time there was to pick my battles.

I could choose to pick a fight over the smallest things that irk me (and when you live in close space, the smallest infraction is magnified) or enjoy the quiet peace of companionship.

Afterwards I realised that whatever it was that first irked me were small things that are not really worth the argument to begin with.

I learned to read my partner’s body language so I know the best time to bring up difficult topics (like, let’s put dirty socks where they belong).

In short, spending a lot (A LOT) of time in small confined space with your significant other is like going through an intensive communication class. Verbal AND non-verbal.

There’s no place to run. You’re inside a car after all, parked on a dirt lot in some remote national forest. We both had to learn how to avoid pushing each other’s buttons and to live with each other’s imperfections.

We came out of the experience stronger as a couple. The van trip was one of the highlights of our 11 years of marriage. We’re already planning another one!

By Jill from Jack and Jill Travel The World

Follow their adventure on Twitter!

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12. Campervan with Dogs: 3 Tips for Van Life with Dogs!

Van life with dogs is an absolutely incredible experience. They always keep you adventuring outdoors! However, a pup in a 60sq foot space can be tough so I hope these tips keep you and your dog happy in your van!

  1. Walk Them Regularly:

    The BEST thing you can do when you have a dog living with you in your van is to get them outside the van!

    Chances are you hopped into your van and hit the road so you could spend more time enjoying nature. Bringing Fido along ensures that you will get outdoors and enjoy your surroundings! Keeping this thought process in mind you want to make sure they get plenty of exercise. A tired pup doesn't chew things up, whine, or act out. A tired pup is a happy pup.

    We try to take our two dogs on a walk every single morning. This way they are starting their day with a long walk outside the van and are usually happy to take a mid-morning nap while we get some computer work done.

  2. Buy Van Friendly Dog Items:

    When you are living in such small quarters it can be a terrible mess if the dogs spill their water or food. A great idea is to buy the spill proof bowls for their food and water.

  3. Keep Them Entertained:

    If you have a younger pup then make sure they have toys! 

    Our pups favorite toys are antler bones (which you can buy on Amazon much cheaper than you can in store) and a West Paw chew bone. These keep him entertained at night whenever we are trying to get work done or settle down for the evening

By Brie from Chasing the Wild Goose

Follow their adventure on Instagram!

13. Campervan Practicalities: Keep Things Organised & Stay Warm!

When I traveled with a campervan in Iceland for 2 weeks, I learned a lot of making the most out of limited space. For those going on their first camper trip, I suggest to organize your stuff before your going, or at least organize everything right from the start when you get your van/campervan.

By doing so, you save time and more easily find everything when you need it.

Space will be limited even if you choose a larger van, so it’s best to stay as organized as possible.

It was pretty cold when we traveled around Iceland in March, so to keep warm at night, we made sure to sleep in layers, and to start the heater once we knew where to stay, and that we didn't needed to go outside until the morning.

By doing this, most of the warmth stayed inside the campervan, and thanks to our layers of clothes and a nice and warm blanket, we didn't freeze a single time during the night.

By Alex from Swedish Nomad

Follow their adventure on Instagram!

14. Campervan Sleep Support: Park Up on Flat Ground at Night

I decided to throw in a couple of tips of my own for good measure!

This one’s based on my own brief experience with van life. It’s fairly basic and one that you’re sure to discover by yourself pretty quickly!

But, anyway, it may come in handy for at least the first night of full time RV living…

Essentially, you want to park your RV on flat ground.

You’ll be surprised how much of a difference even the slightest of slants can make. More than once I effectively rolled down the bed at night thanks to the un-level ground under the wheels.

Oftentimes this is easier said than done. You have to make do with the ground you’ve got. However, if at all possible, stay as level as possible.

Downhill is worst- the blood rushes to your head. Uphill is a bit better, but still feels a bit weird.

Flat is unarguably best!

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15. Campervan Practicalities: Make Sure There’s Enough Space

Here’s a second van tip based on my personal experience:

Optimize your storage space.

All of the best campervans or RVs- whatever you want to call them- are decked out with sufficient storage capacity. Storage has come up a couple of times already in the tips above, but this one’s more about the actual storage space in the van.

Make sure there’s enough of it. And try to set yourself up with easy access to everything you need.

From clever pull out draws, to shelves and stowaway sections, there are a lot of options.

There’s nothing more satisfying than a well-organized space!

But the main benefit is practical. It’s about knowing where everything is and having it close to hand. It’s about stopping things moving around too much when you drive. And it’s about minimizing mess.

Think about the space you have and how to maximize it to your advantage.

16. Campervan Security: Spare keys, Tinted Windows/Curtains & Locks

A final tip I’ll add is on security!

As we’ve seen, RV living is epic for all sorts of reasons.

However, there are also a reasonable share of downsides. Lack of space, the potential for arguments with travel companions, and so on. I want to add another to the pile: security!

Hopefully, this will never be a problem for you on the road. But it’s definitely something worth thinking about. After all, your entire life is in this van! It’s obviously important to keep it as secure as possible.

Here are a few notes on how to do it:

  • Have a spare set of keys: There’s nothing worse than losing a key and locking yourself out/being unable to start the van! Be sure to have a spare set.

  • Hide your valuables: Don’t leave your precious smartphones and computers out on the bed during the day! Firstly, it can get hot. You don’t want them over heating. You also don’t want prying eyes looking through the windows and seeing readily available things to steal.

  • Cover the windows: It’s always good to have a means of stopping people looking into the van in the first place. That might mean using tinted windows. But an easier method is to use curtains/blinds on the inside. This will stop those prying eyes looking in! That’s good for your valuables, and even better for those nights where you’ve parked up to sleep somewhere you aren’t meant to!

  • Have locks or a safe: Don’t make things easy for anyone who does break in. If you have to leave your van unattended, it can pay to lock them somewhere. A padlock for your suitcase/backpack/storage space would work. But consider purchasing a small safe (and fixing it in place!).


Time to Wrap Up

There you have it then: 16 top tips for successful full time RV living.

I’ve always wanted to live and travel in a van.

There’s just something inherently appealing about the whole thing. I think it’s the simplicity and the freedom (and the cost-saving capacity too) that make it seem an awesome experience.

And, if you’ve found yourself on this piece, then I imagine you share my enthusiasm for it.

Hopefully, you’ll find the advice in this piece helpful in making your RV dream a reality!

What do you most look forward to about RV life? Drop a comment to let me know.

And please subscribe to the blog too! I’d love you to join this community and follow along on my journey.

I’m travelling, writing and generally trying to figure out what I’m doing with my life. Subscribe to the blog and I’ll keep you updated with my progress! I’ll send through the thoughts, advice and inspiration I come across as I go that I think you’ll find useful in one way or another.

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