Van Camping: If You’re a Beginner, Start Here

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If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’re most likely familiar with the on-the-rise trend, van life. Van life is a community and lifestyle that has caught wind in the past few years and has led to an increase in interest in van camping. If you love camping and road trips, jumping into the pond of van camping could be a good bet to take. While it does come with its challenges, the positives typically outweigh them by a landslide.

Learn about the good, bad, and ugly of van camping to make sure it’s the right hobby for you.

What Is Van Camping?

Van camping is simply camping in a van or DIY campervan. While some campervans are built out to function like an RV, you can also get by with something with as simple as a mini van. What’s important when prepping a van for van camping is that the van build supports your adventures. This means if you need a shower and a full kitchen, then convert it as such, but if you only need an air mattress in the back of a mini van, then that’s the way to go.

If van camping is something you’re curious about diving into, read about the challenges and positives that await, all which are worth it.

Challenges of Van Camping

Van life and camping are by no means a walk in the park. You genuinely need to be enthusiastic about the outdoors for it to bring you joy and become something you’re passionate about. If this is something you want to dive into, here are some challenges you can expect to face.

1. It Can Be Hard to Find Free Overnight Parking

A lot of people think camping in a van means you can park anywhere you want. However, that’s not always the case. Although free camping is a great way to protect your wallet from a large dent, finding it can sometimes be a challenge. This means you may need to fork up some extra cash for a campsite at a state or national park, which typically run between $25 and $50, depending on the park.

If you’re on the hunt for free overnight parking, use mobile apps like iOverlander, which lets you find legal places to park your van overnight without paying a dime. This is a handy option for budget vanlifers and those looking for an affordable way to camp in their van.

2. You Are Constantly Rearranging Your Van & Gear

Van camping can, at times, emulate an intense game of Tetris. Because your space is limited, it can sometimes be hard to fit all your gear and food in the van perfectly. Most of the time, you’l need to rearrange your gear and shift things around throughout your camping trip. Although this can become annoying and tiresome on a long trip, you’ll slowly understand how everything best fits in your rig.

3. Charging Your Devices Can Be Challenging

While you may choose to dive into van camping to go off the grid, you’ll still need access to your devices. This means you’ll probably want to have your phone juiced up for directions and a way to charge your camera batteries. However, this can be difficult depending on your DIY campervan conversion.

If you choose the route of converting your van into an RV-like rig, then you’ll most likely have solar power and power outlets installed that make it easier to charge your devices. However, this is a process and not everyone chooses to convert a van in this way. You may have a simple build or choose to throw an air mattress in the back of your car. If this is the route you choose, it’s likely you’ll only have access to power when your car is on, therefore reducing charging capabilites.

4. Dirty Is Your New Black

I’ll be straight up: If you’re a clean freak, van camping is not for you. Sure you can clean your space at the end of your day and rinse off with a portable shower, but it’s nothing like cleaning up at home. When you’re van camping, it’s likely dirty will become your new black. In other words, dirt will be all around you, and you’ll have to become OK with that reality; it’s part of the lifestyle.

But don’t let this scare you away. There are many ways you can keep your rig and yourself as clean as possible. For example, you could buy a RinseKit portable shower and have it handy when you need to wash up at the end of the day. This is something I bring along with me on my van camping adventures.

Positives of Van Camping

For the record, van camping isn’t just full of challenges. There are tons of positives that come with it, which (to me) always outweigh the negatives. If the challenges listed above made you feel like this wasn’t for you, let these van life positives change that perspective.

1. There's an Entire Van Life Community

Not many people know this, but there is an entire community of outdoor enthusiasts that devote most of their time to van life and van camping. So if you’re on the fence about jumping into this new hobby, just know there are other people out there waiting to meet you. When you’re the beginner, it’s always nice to have people you can connect with online or in person that can help guide you.

You can use the van life community in a couple of different ways. First, you can join van meetups or go camping with your friends that have their own DIY campervans. Or, second, you can follow van life accounts on Instagram, Pinterest, or YouTube to get inspiration and tips.

2. You Get to See New Places Often

Camping in your van means traveling to new locations. And this is one of the greatest benefits of van life. You’ll be able to see new places often and experience all the country has to offer. Not many people get to wake up in different state or national parks, so when you do, it sure is a special feeling.

If you have a travel bug or want to get bit by it, van camping is a great place to start. The more you dive into the hobby and the more places you get to see, the more you’ll be motivated to seek out new destinations. Soon enough, you’ll have endless stories to tell and experiences you can cherish for a life time.

3. Weather Conditions Don't Stop You From Camping

If you’re tent camping, you typically have to keep a close eye on the weather, as it can impact your trip. For example, if it rains or snows, you’ll most likely have to postpone your trip or put up with the weather conditions. However, if you’re van camping, you’re in luck—because the weather doesn’t play as big of a role.

With a DIY campervan, you’ll always have a roof over your head. This means if it rains or snows on your trip, you’ll be able to shelter in your van and not have to worry about the weather as much as you would if you were camping in a tent. The weather conditions may still impact your daily activities, like hiking, but at least you have a spot to escape the bad weather if need be.

4. You Can Design Your Dream Van Build

My absolute favorite part of van camping is that you get to design your dream campervan conversion. When you purchase a van for camping, it’s a blank canvas for you to make it exactly what you want it to be. While it takes a lot of work, it’s a rewarding process of creating the exact campervan you want.

There are tons of different videos and resources out there that can teach you everything you need to know from different layout ideas to the actual woodworking. When I was converting my own van, I relied heavily on YouTube because I had no previous woodworking experience. I was able to complete my build in about three months. You can check out my DIY campervan conversion below.

Related: My DIY Campervan Conversion (It Cost Less Than $3,000!)

Bottom Line

Well, did this article convince you to dive into van camping? I understand there are some challenges that come along with the hobby, but I’m telling you right now, they’re worth it. Just remember, these challenges are things you’ll adapt and adjust to; soon enough, they won’t feel like challenges anymore. 

Have questions about van life or van camping? Let me know in the comments below.

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