Camping in a Van: A Beginner’s Guide to Camping on Wheels


Van camping, also known as van life, is a growing trend among travelers seeking to explore the great outdoors and experience a more fulfilling travel lifestyle. One of the primary reasons people love van camping is the freedom it provides. By having a home on wheels, you can travel wherever you want, stopping at any destination that catches your fancy. You can stay at campsites, public lands, or even park on the street in cities for a more urban getaway.

Camping in a van also offers a great way to connect with nature by providing a home base for outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, and mountain biking. It’s an excellent way to disconnect from the stresses of everyday life and enjoy a simpler, more natural way of living.

Van camping is also budget-friendly, saving you money on accommodation costs and allowing you to spend less on travel. It’s a minimalist lifestyle that’s focused on experiences rather than material possessions, which can lead to personal growth and new discoveries.

In this beginner’s guide to van camping, we’ll cover everything you need to know to start your van camping adventure. This guide will provide essential tips to help you choose the right van, provide information on essential gear, offer advice on how to budget for your trip, and introduce helpful resources to ensure you have a successful, memorable van camping experience.

How to Choose the Right Van for Camping

Camping in a van requires a suitable vehicle that meets your needs and desires. In this section, we’ll cover the main factors to consider when selecting a van for camping, such as van size and type, interior layout and features, price range and budget considerations, and options for finding the right van or DIY building.

Van Sizes, Types and Costs

When deciding on the right van for camping, it’s essential to consider both van size and type. The size of the van is determined by the number of people on your trip, the duration of your adventure, and the gear you need to carry. Larger vans offer more space but consume more fuel and could be harder to park.

In addition to size, there are various van types to choose from, each with its benefits and price range:

  • Full-size vans: These offer the most space for standing and storage, making them a popular choice for extended trips or full-time van life. They often come with factory-built amenities like generators, kitchens, and bathrooms. Prices range from 20,000 to 70,000.
  • Cargo vans: Cargo vans are a popular choice for DIY builds due to their customizability and versatility. They offer a blank canvas for van builders to create their perfect van layout and features, from a well-insulated sleeping area to a full kitchen with running water. Cargo vans often have a lower overall cost and better gas mileage than larger vans. Prices range from 5,000 to 30,000.
  • Minivans: Minivans provide a more compact and affordable option for smaller groups or solo travelers. They often offer better gas mileage and are easier to park than larger vans. Prices range from 2,000 to 20,000.
  • Camper vans: Camper vans are pre-built vans that come equipped with both living amenities and travel capabilities. They’re a popular choice for people who want a turnkey van life experience. They can be expensive, but they’re already equipped with all the interior amenities needed for comfortable and convenient camping. Prices range from 50,000 to 200,000.
  • School buses: School buses are often converted into tiny homes or mobile homes. They offer plenty of space and customizability, along with unique features like rooftop patios, skylights, and solar panels. Prices range from 10,000 to 50,000.

Consider what features and amenities are essential to you when choosing the van type and budget accordingly. Keep in mind that additional costs like insulation, electrical systems, and appliances may apply when customizing or building out a van.

Tips for Finding and Purchasing the Right Van

To find the right van for your camping adventures, you can check online listings, dealerships, and local classifieds. It’s essential to inspect a van before purchasing, checking for any potential damage, leaks, or repairs needed. You can also consider purchasing from an experienced van builder who can customize a van to your requirements.

If you cannot find the perfect van, you could also consider a DIY build. DIY builds require time and effort, but they offer a more customized and lower-cost alternative to purchasing a pre-built van.

How to DIY Van Build

If you’re interested in building a van for camping, a DIY build can be a cost-effective option. DIY builds offer a more personalized and customizable living space, along with the satisfaction of creating something you can call your own.

Here are some of the steps involved in building a DIY van:

  • Planning and Design: The first thing to do is come up with a plan and design for your van build. This can include measuring the van’s interior, sketching out a floor plan, deciding on features and appliances, and estimating costs.
  • Insulation and Framing: Proper insulation is essential for comfortable van living. This can include adding insulation to the walls, ceiling, and floor. After insulating, framing the interior of the van by adding wooden beams or metal supports is the next step.
  • Electrical and Plumbing: You’ll need to add electrical systems to power appliances like lights, a fridge, and outlets. A knowledgeable electrician can help with necessary electrical work. If you want water for sinks or a shower, you’ll need to install a plumbing system too.
  • Interior Build: This involves adding the functional components of the van’s interior, such as a bed, storage cabinets, a kitchen countertop, and a seating area. Customizing interior design is essential to determine your preferences and needs.
  • Finishing Touches: Once the functional components are in place, you can focus on the details by adding flooring, curtains, and decorative elements.

It’s important to remember that DIY van builds will vary depending on individual preference and the type of van used. While building a van yourself can save you costs, it does require time, effort, and the necessary technical skills. You can find DIY van build tutorials and courses online, along with a community of supportive van builders to help you along the way.

Essential Gear for Camping in a Van

When camping in a van, it’s crucial to have the necessary gear to make your trip comfortable and enjoyable. Below are some essential items to bring along:


A comfortable and warm sleeping arrangement is crucial for restful nights on the road. For winter camping, bring along a sleeping bag rated for cold temperatures or add a 

thermal liner to your current sleeping bag. Additionally, consider using insulating pads or an air mattress with high R-value to isolate yourself from the cold ground. Covering windows with insulating curtains can also help retain heat inside the van.

Cooking Gear and Food Storage 

Having the right cooking gear and food supplies is essential for camping in a van. Cooking with a portable stove or grill is a popular choice among van campers. It’s important to determine the type of camping stove that suits your needs or location, and to bring along cookware such as pots, pans, and utensils for preparing your meals. Moreover, it’s crucial to have a reliable power source for cooking. The EcoFlow DELTA 2 Portable Power Station, with its impressive 1800W output, can be that reliable source. This high-capacity battery pack allows you to power appliances like a rice cooker, coffee maker, or even a small refrigerator for more than an hour, giving you the flexibility to prepare a variety of meals without worrying about running out of power​. Furthermore, it boasts fast charging capabilities, able to recharge from 0-80% in just 50 minutes, so you can spend more time enjoying your camping trip and less time worrying about power​. 

Food storage is a crucial aspect of outdoor cooking. While some vans may come with built-in refrigeration, not all do, and retrofitting a van with a fridge can be a complex and expensive task. In such cases, a portable fridge like the GLACIER, combines a portable fridge, freezer, and ice maker into a single unit. This gives you flexibility in how you store your food and drinks. One of its standout features is the ability to independently control the temperatures of separate sections, with a range from 50°F (10°C) to as low as -13°F (-25°C) could be a beneficial addition to your van life setup.

Bathroom Facilities

Bathroom facilities for van camping can range from simple to sophisticated. Some van campers opt for portable toilets and solar showers, while others install built-in showers and toilets in their vans. Solar showers are bags filled with water and heated by the sun, whereas built-in showers use water from a tank and require a greywater system. Portable toilets are compact and can be emptied at designated facilities, while installed toilets are more comfortable but require more space and maintenance. Another option is to use campsite amenities or public facilities. Regardless of the option chosen, it’s crucial to be mindful of leaving no trace and disposing waste responsibly.

Outdoor Gear

Essential outdoor gear is a must-have for camping in a van, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable experience amidst nature. When embarking on a van camping adventure, there are several key items to consider for a well-equipped and hassle-free trip.

  • Camping Chairs and Table: It’s always a good idea to have portable chairs and a table for sitting, dining, or just relaxing outside your van. These items can be easily folded and stored when not in use.
  • Outdoor Lighting: Good outdoor lighting is essential for van camping. LED lanterns or string lights are popular choices as they’re energy efficient, provide good light, and can create a cozy atmosphere around your campsite.
  • Awning or Tarp: An awning or tarp provides shade and shelter from the elements. Some van campers choose to install an awning directly onto their van, while others prefer a freestanding tarp that can be set up as needed.
  • Outdoor Rugs or Mats: An outdoor rug or mat is useful for creating a clean and comfortable outdoor living space. It can help keep the inside of your van cleaner by providing a place to wipe off dirt or sand before entering.
  • Hammock: If there are trees around your campsite, a hammock can be a fun and relaxing addition to your outdoor gear.
  • Outdoor Games: Depending on your interests, you might want to bring along some outdoor games, like frisbee, cornhole, or a football, to entertain yourself and others at the campsite.

Tips for Planning a Successful Van Camping Trip

  1. Choosing the Right Time and Location: Research and select the best time and location for your van camping adventure. Consider factors such as weather, crowd levels, and nearby attractions or activities. Choose a time that aligns with your preferences and a location that offers the experience you desire.
  2. Packing Efficiently for a Limited Space: Space is limited in a van, so pack wisely. Create a checklist of essentials and prioritize multi-purpose items. Opt for compact and lightweight gear to maximize space. Utilize storage compartments and packing cubes to stay organized and make the most of the available space.
  3. Safety Considerations: Prioritize safety during your van camping trip. Inspect your van before departure, ensuring that it is in good mechanical condition. Pack essential safety equipment such as a first aid kit and fire extinguisher. Familiarize yourself with emergency procedures and be aware of any potential hazards at your chosen destination.
  4. Embrace Leave No Trace Principles: Practice responsible camping by embracing Leave No Trace principles. Respect wildlife and their habitats, dispose of waste properly, and leave the environment as you found it. Follow designated trails and campsites, and minimize your impact on the natural surroundings.
  5. Stay Flexible: While planning is important, also be prepared to adapt and adjust your plans as needed. Weather conditions or unexpected circumstances may require flexibility. Embrace the spirit of adventure and be open to new experiences along the way.

By following these tips, you can plan a successful van camping trip that is enjoyable, safe, and memorable. Careful preparation, efficient packing, and a flexible mindset will help ensure a rewarding experience in the great outdoors.

How Much Does Van Camping Cost in Total?

Understanding all the associated expenses can help prospective van campers make informed decisions. Here is a detailed breakdown of the costs involved in van camping:

Initial Costs

  1. Purchasing the Van: The cost of the van itself can vary widely depending on the make, model, year, and condition. A new van can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 or more. Used vans, on the other hand, can be found for much less, often between $5,000 and $20,000.
  2. DIY Build-Out: Converting a van into a livable space is another significant cost. A DIY build can run anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the materials used and the complexity of the design. This includes costs for insulation, flooring, cabinetry, a bed frame, and other necessary installations like a kitchenette.
  3. Essential Gear: The necessary gear for van life could include a portable stove, cooler, camping chairs, bedding, kitchen utensils, water storage containers, and more. The cost for these items could range from $500 to $2,000, depending on the quality and quantity of items.

Recurring Expenses:

  1. Fuel: The cost of fuel will depend on the fuel efficiency of your van and the distance you travel. On average, you might expect to spend between $100-$400 per month on gas.
  2. Food: Food expenses can be similar to what you would spend living in a traditional home, especially if you cook most of your meals in the van. This could range from $200-$400 per month per person.
  3. Campsites: While free camping spots can be found, you may also want to stay at paid campsites for access to amenities like showers and WiFi. Campsite fees can range from $10 to $50 per night.

Money Saving Tips:

  1. Buy Used: Consider buying a used van and gear to save on upfront costs. Just make sure everything is in good condition to avoid expensive repairs.
  2. DIY Conversion: Doing the van conversion yourself can save a significant amount compared to hiring a professional.
  3. Free Camping: Utilize free camping sites whenever possible to save on accommodation costs.
  4. Cook Your Meals: Eating out can add up quickly, so cook your own meals as much as possible.
  5. Travel Slowly: Traveling slowly not only allows you to better enjoy each destination, but it also saves on fuel costs.
  6. Maintenance: Regular maintenance can help prevent costly repairs and improve fuel efficiency.

Remember, the costs provided here are just estimates and the actual costs can vary based on numerous factors. It’s always a good idea to do your own detailed research and budgeting before embarking on a van camping adventure. 

Is Full-Time Van Living Possible?

Full-time van living is indeed possible and has become a popular lifestyle choice for many individuals and families. It involves making a van your primary residence and embracing a minimalist and nomadic lifestyle. While it may not be suitable for everyone, there are numerous advantages and considerations to keep in mind.

Advantages of Full-Time Van Living:

  1. Freedom and Flexibility: Living in a van provides the freedom to travel and explore new places at your own pace. You have the flexibility to change locations as desired and follow your sense of adventure.
  2. Cost Savings: Van living can significantly reduce living expenses compared to traditional housing. By eliminating mortgage or rent payments and minimizing utility bills, you can save money and allocate resources to other aspects of your life.
  3. Minimalism and Simplicity: Living in a van encourages a minimalist lifestyle, allowing you to focus on experiences rather than material possessions. It promotes simplicity, decluttering, and prioritizing what truly matters to you.
  4. Connection with Nature: Full-time van living allows you to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy the beauty of different landscapes. Wake up to breathtaking views, explore national parks, and embrace a more sustainable and eco-friendly way of living.

Considerations for Full-Time Van Living:

  1. Space Constraints: Living in a van means limited living space, requiring careful organization and efficient use of every inch. Downsizing and prioritizing essential belongings are essential to optimize the available space.
  2. Practicality and Comfort: While van living can be liberating, it requires adjusting to a smaller living area. Consider your comfort needs, such as sleeping arrangements, cooking facilities, and access to amenities like showers and toilets.
  3. Legal and Practical Considerations: Research local laws and regulations regarding van dwelling and parking restrictions in the areas you plan to visit. Additionally, consider practical aspects such as insurance, vehicle maintenance, and access to essential services while on the road.Social and Community Aspects: Full-time van living can impact your social connections and sense of community. While it offers opportunities to meet new people and form connections with fellow van dwellers, it may require finding alternative ways to stay connected with family and friends.

It’s important to thoroughly evaluate your personal preferences, lifestyle goals, and financial situation before committing to full-time van living. Consider starting with shorter trips or extended vacations to test the waters and determine if van living aligns with your aspirations. With careful planning, resourcefulness, and adaptability, full-time van living can be a rewarding and fulfilling lifestyle choice.


In conclusion, van camping is a unique and adventurous way to connect with nature while maintaining some comforts of home. It involves careful planning, from choosing the right van and gear to managing your budget wisely. Regardless of the challenges, the freedom and flexibility it offers make it a worthwhile experience. Whether you’re a seasoned camper or just starting out, these insights should help you embark on a memorable van camping journey. Enjoy the open road!

Jennifer White
Jennifer White
Jennifer is a passionate blog writer who loves science, economics, and green energy. She is dedicated to educating and inspiring others through her informative and engaging content, reflecting her depth of knowledge and avid learning. Outside of writing, Jennifer enjoys hiking, traveling, and promoting eco-friendliness through her sustainable lifestyle.

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