How To Transition to Van Life: Planning Tips and Considerations

Van life might seem like a carefree, simple lifestyle, but the transition to living and traveling in a campervan does have its own unique challenges.

This includes

  • Finding places to sleep every night
  • Dealing with reduced hygiene
  • Living in a cramped, tiny space

If you find yourself worried about the same issues as the list above, you are not alone! These are all legitimate challenges we experienced ourselves during our first few months of van life.

But after three years on the road (and counting!), we’ve learned a lot of tips and tricks that have helped us successfully live full time in a camper.

So, in this post, we want to list our top 7 tips to help you transition into living in a camper van.

Woman drinking beer and relaxing inside her campervan
Transitioning to van life is tough!

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1. Take It Slow – Do a Test Run

Living in a van from living in a house is indeed a big change of your lifestyle. You might need a lot of adjusting, and so as for your vehicle. 

Sleep One Night in a Van

Before jumping on the biggest journey of your life right away, it’s always smart to do a test run. You can start by staying for a night very close to your home. Even just spending a night in a van might give you some ideas of things to needed to improve or added to your van. 

Go for a Short Weekend Trip

After you’ve done with your first trial, you can move on to a longer trip, somewhere like a national park or state park, for a few days, where you are often time out of cell reception. You could probably make a list of things you need to purchase or something to fix for your camper van by the time you finish the trip.

Van life with women being on the road
Parked at White Sands National Park

In Our Case: Our goal was to drive to Central & South America, but we started our test run driving around the US & Canada, which we are really glad we did it. Our solar panel stopped working, and plumbing started leaking after a few days so we needed some time to fix them. We would have been in BIG trouble if we experienced those issues in Latin America..

2. Resist the Urge To Travel Fast

When you first move into your van, you will want to travel fast and see as much as possible. After all, there is so much to do and many places to visit!

You’ll be tempted to wake up early, drive long hours on the road, and go out exploring every day. Traveling is a thrilling experience, and a new adventure is always around the corner.

But by moving so fast, you’ll burn yourself out before your camper travels even start. Learn to pace yourself and take days off from traveling. Your mind and body will thank you.

Woman laying down inside a camper van
Laying on my white blanket worry-free from leaks!

Tips To Help You Slow Down

  • Stay An Extra Day – Love your camp spot? Stay longer! We’ve rarely regretted staying another day at a beautiful camping location, but we have definitely regretted leaving early.
  • Prioritize breakfast – Breakfast is a slow ritual for us, and we almost never rush through it. Having a calm breakfast helps set the day’s pace and ensures we don’t start our day stressed and rushed.
  • Clean the van – Cleaning is calming and meditative. Every morning, we sweep our floors, shake out our rugs & pillows, and wipe down our countertops.
  • Create a calm music playlist – Music strongly influences our minds. Playing relaxing music helps you slow down and enjoy your surroundings.

3. Create Daily Routines

One of the things that makes the move to van life so difficult is that you developed previously at home are destroyed.

In most cases, van life can not offer the total luxuries of living in a regular home. You have less space and less water; you own much less in general. You will totally be outside of your comfort zone at first, and every day is a new learning process.

That is why creating your own daily ritual is so important for maintaining both physical and mental health and also keeping your tiny home in good shape.

It could be anything from meditation in the morning to running, a routine habit that you do every single day to keep you refreshed your mind and body.

Van Life Solo Female - Cleaning Campervan
Cleaning the van every morning

In Our Case: We start a day by burning an incense stick and cleaning our van for 15 minutes before breakfast. The process is like our meditation, and it clears our heads to start a new day of our journey.

4. Maintain Good Hygiene

When you first start your travels, it’s easy to let your hygiene slip. Campervan interiors get dirty & dusty, and you can easily go days without a shower.

But not maintaining a high standard of cleanliness for yourself and your van is a surefire way to burn yourself out and quit van life early.

So when you’re starting out, remember to keep yourself clean and healthy, like you would if living in an actual home.

Solo Female Campervan - Solar Shower
Using a solar shower when there are no other options

Tips To Maintain Good Hygiene

  • Shower regularly – We don’t think it’s a badge of honor to say you only shower once a week. Shower at gyms, truck stops, campsites, or bring a solar shower to help keep you clean.
  • Eat healthy – As tempted as you might be to heat up a can of beans for dinner, invest in fruits and vegetables to keep your body and mind healthy.
  • Clean & de-dust van – Camper vans get dirty and dusty very fast. Take time out daily to clean your camper, improving internal air quality.
  • Crush that ‘time of the month’ – For the women, look into picking up a Menstrual Cup and/or Period Underwear to help you ease through period time.

Surprisingly, a toilet isn’t necessary to maintain good hygiene in a campervan. For more info, read why a toilet isn’t necessary for van life.

5. Learn To Be Okay in a Cramped Space

It’s no secret that the interior space of a campervan is considerably smaller than in a normal house.

There’s less space to walk and move around, things are always in your way, and your significant other is always around you!

(Hint: Your partner probably thinks the same about you.)

There will be times when you suffer from bouts of claustrophobia. But learning to deal with times like this effectively will help you transition to van life.

Related Article: Van Life With A Partner: 12 Tips To Survive & Thrive In A Camper Van

Enduring claustrophobia when starting van life
Talk about an invasion of personal space!

Tips To Living In A Small Campervan

  • Build an open layout – If converting a camper, prioritize maximizing airspace inside your van. Doing so will help make your campervan interior feel bigger.
  • Open the doors – Getting fresh air and sunlight into the van helps quell feelings of claustrophobia. At campsites, our sliding and back doors are constantly open for air circulation.
  • Go outside – Grab a camping chair and find a nice spot to sit. (Not having the van in your peripheral vision helps a lot here!)
  • Take a nap – If we’re unable to go outside, we sometimes just stop whatever we’re doing, lay down, and close our eyes. This really helps to reset the mind and calm emotions.

6. Plan Ahead for Great Overnight Spots

One of the biggest stresses during van life is figuring out where to park for the night safely. Avoid overnight spots that are:

  • Unsafe
  • Illegal to park overnight
  • Loud all night long
  • Dirty, polluted, and/or foul-smelling

Parking in places like these make your transition to campervan life needlessly challenging.

Boondocking on national forest land
Parked on National Forest grounds, just outside Mt. Ranier NP

Other than paying to sleep at a campsite (which can be expensive), you can locate safe and free overnight spots using the following apps and websites.

  • iOverlander
  • myRewards App

Learn more: How To Camp For Free During Van Life

7. Be Ready for Inconsistent Internet Access

At home, you most likely have access to unlimited, fast Internet 24/7. But during van life, this is hardly the case.

Sometimes, when boondocking, you won’t even have a single bar of cell reception. And that can be frustrating, especially during your first few weeks of van life.

Working In Our Camper Van

Where To Get Internet

If you know where to look, you can always get Internet access although speeds may vary.

Options include:

  • Find the closest cafe, Walmart, or McDonald’s.
  • Investing in Starlink
  • Purchasing a cell booster

Learn more: Where To Find Internet During Van Life

Learn To Live Without Internet Access

It took a while, but we’ve learned to slow down and step back from the online world. Life feels slower. We spend more time outdoors, talk with each more, and find ourselves just living in the moment more often.

We don’t need to be connected 100% of the time and we think you won’t need to be, either.

Final Thoughts: Making the Move to Van Life Is a Lesson in Adaptability

No matter the challenges you might face when transitioning to live in your camper van, we’re confident that you’ll be able to adapt in the face of change.

Take it from us. Before van life, we were just a couple of city kids accustomed to the conveniences of urban life. But we made it. And after 3 years on the road, we’re still at it!

And in some ways, that’s one of the most important aspects of van life. Every day you’re putting yourself in new and different situations.

Sometimes those situations are uncomfortable at first, but humans have a strong knack for acclimating to new environments. So no matter what concerns you might initially have about traveling in your van, we hope you’ll realize that you, too, can learn and adapt in the face of change.

If you have any specific questions on what you can do to help you transition to van life, please let us know in the comments section below.

Happy traveling!

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