Living on the road in a campervan can be a rewarding and exciting experience, but it can also come with its own set of challenges. Some of the most important aspects of a successful road trip is being able to stay comfortable, clean, and connected while on the go. In this guide, we'll explore the essentials for living on the road, including where to stay for the night, where to empty your toilet, and how to meet people.
I'm Shane, I've been teaching people to convert campervans for years; I'm the author of Roaming Home; The Comprehensive Guide for Converting Your Van Into a Campervan,writer of The Van Conversion Newsletter, instructor of The Van Conversion Course over at Udemy. And full-time vanlifer for 4 years!
Now let's jump in learn how to live in a van for extended periods of time!
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Where to park a campervan overnight
Campsites: Many campsites offer facilities like electricity, water hookups, and waste disposal. Some may also have shower and toilet facilities.
Rest areas: Rest areas (aires) along motorways or main roads are designed for travellers to take a break or sleep overnight. However, some may have restrictions on how long you can stay.
Walmart parking lots (US): Some Walmart stores allow overnight parking for RVs and campervans. However, it's always best to check with the store manager first.
National parks: Many national parks have designated camping areas for campervans. However, they may have limited facilities and require a reservation.
BLM land (US): Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land allows free camping in many areas, as long as you follow certain rules and regulations.
Private property: Some landowners may allow campervans to park overnight on their property, but it's always best to ask for permission first.
Airbnb: Some hosts on Airbnb may offer space for campervans on their property, or have a separate driveway or parking area.
Apps: There are several apps that help find places to park overnight, such as iOverlander and Park4Night. I personally use Park4Night all the time! It’s fantastic.
How to fill up with LPG
You can refill with LPG at many petrol stations. Either with an LPG pump for refillable cylinders, or just buying a replaceable one. You can find the locations of all the LPG filling stations with the MyLPG.eu app. It’s great, I use it very frequently (or at least every time I need a refill…).
How to shower in a campervan
Assuming you don’t have a shower in your van…
Campsites: Many campsites have shower facilities for campers, which may be included in the camping fee or require an additional fee.
Gyms: Most gyms offer shower facilities for their members, and may also offer day passes for non-members. Check out the ‘Hussle’ app, which gives you access to hundreds of gyms across the UK through one app.
Public swimming pools: Public swimming pools have shower facilities available for use, either as part of the pool entry fee or for a separate fee.
Petrol stations / truck stops: Many truck stops have shower facilities available for a fee (or even for free), which may include towels and toiletries. I have used these countless times.
Hostels: Some hostels may offer shower facilities for a small fee, even if you're not staying overnight.
Beaches: If you're near a beach, you may be able to use the public beach showers to rinse off.
Baby wipes: If you have no access to a shower, baby wipes can do the trick for a short while (biodegradable ones please).
How to wash clothes in a camper van
Laundromats: Many towns and cities have laundromats that offer self-service washers and dryers for a fee.
Campsites: Some campsites have laundry facilities for campers, which may be included in the camping fee or require an additional fee.
Hostels: Some hostels may offer laundry facilities for a small fee, even if you're not staying overnight.
Hotels: If you're in need of a more thorough clean, some hotels may offer laundry services for a fee.
Hand washing: If you don't have access to any of the above options, you can hand wash your clothes using a bucket or sink and hang them up to dry.
Portable washing machines: Some campervan travellers use portable washing machines that can be hooked up to the van's electrical system or run on batteries. To be honest, they are very small and can only wash a few pairs of boxers and socks. I would probably just opt for hand washing over these.
Friends and family: If you're visiting friends or family while on the road, they may be willing to let you use their washing machine.
How to dry clothes in a campervan
Clothesline: A clothesline can be strung up between two trees or tied to the van to hang wet clothes up to dry.
Drying rack: A portable drying rack can be set up inside or outside the van to hang wet clothes up to dry.
Car windows: Wet clothes can be hung over the open windows of the van to dry, but make sure they are secure and won't fall off while driving. In fact… best not to drive socks hanging out the window!
Dehumidifier: A dehumidifier can be used inside the van to help dry wet clothes faster.
Heating system: If your campervan has a heating system, wet clothes can be hung up near the heating vents to dry.
Dryer sheets: Placing a dryer sheet in a container with wet clothes can help absorb moisture and make them smell fresher.
Spin dryer: A portable spin dryer can be used to quickly remove excess water from clothes before hanging them up to dry.
Towels: Wet clothes can be rolled up in a towel and squeezed to remove excess water before hanging them up to dry.
How to fill up water in a campervan
Campgrounds: Most campgrounds offer water stations where you can fill up your campervan's water tanks.
Petrol Stations: Some petrol stations may offer potable water for free (or for a fee), although it's not always guaranteed.
Public Water Sources: You can also fill up your water tanks at public water sources such as rest areas or parks. ‘WeTap’ and ‘Water-Map’ are two apps for finding public water fountains / taps.
Water Filling Stations: Some cities and towns have dedicated water filling stations for campervans.
Private Water Sources: Befriend a local, they might just let you fill up!
National Parks: Many national parks offer potable water for visitors. You can find the locations of water stations on the park's website or by asking a park ranger.
Water purification tablets or a Sawyer filter: If you have no other option, you could always grab some dirty water and drink it through a sawyer filter / use a water purification tablet.
Where to empty a campervan toilet
Campgrounds: Most campgrounds have dumping stations where you can empty your toilet waste. Some may charge a fee or require you to be a guest to use their facilities.
Sanitation Stations: Some cities and towns have dedicated sanitation stations where you can empty your toilet waste. These are usually located near campsites or rest areas.
Truck Stops: Some truck stops have dumping stations that are accessible to campervans.
Waste Treatment Plants: In some areas, there may be waste treatment plants that offer dumping stations for campervans.
Some gas stations may have dumping stations available as well.
It's essential to always use a designated dumping station and follow proper disposal procedures to avoid contaminating the environment and spreading disease. Make sure to wear gloves, use proper cleaning supplies, and dispose of waste in a sanitary and responsible manner.
How to meet people while travelling with a van
I have met so many people through Facebook on my travels. It has been one of the very best ways of meeting people. I’m particularly interested in the mountains: climbing, ski touring, etc. With a quick post, I can usually find a partner very quickly.
Plan where you are going, and post in a Facebook group ahead of time.
Coworks / Co-livings:
I have worked or stayed at numerous coworks and co-livings over the years. One co-living particularly stood out: The Arctic Coworking Lodge, way up North on the Lofoten Archipelago - one of the darkest parts of Norway. I stayed for a few weeks, living in my van out front, and working with others during the day. It was a really great way to meet people.
During my years in Chamonix, I worked in The Ski Locker coworking during the day. It was a fantastic way to meet mountain partners, and quite frankly some of the most interesting and lovely people I’ve ever met. Friends for life.
Attend local events: Check out local events and festivals happening in the areas you're travelling through. Attending these events can be a great way to meet locals and other travellers. Meetup.com is a website I have used countless times, both for attending and hosting events.
Talk to Other Campers: Strike up a conversation with other campers at the campground you're staying at. You never know who you might meet or what stories you'll hear. I have had countless entertaining evenings hanging out with newfound friends at the campsite.
Couchsurfing: There are several apps designed to help connect travellers. The most famous of which is Couchsurfing, which lets you connect with locals who are willing to host travellers.
Volunteer: Consider volunteering at a local community centre, park, or conservation area. This can be a great way to meet locals and give back to the places you visit.
Note: For specifics on campervan internet, I recommend checking out the Mobile Internet Resource Center by Chris and Cherie from Technomadia, who we interviewed in a case study. They will be your best resource for off-grid internet.
Mobile hotspot is the most common, simple, and affordable way of getting internet on the road. Though, for its many upsides, it can have slower speeds with multiple device connections, drains phone battery, works only where phone signal is available, and speed may be throttled after certain usage limits.
Reception quality may vary with location, depending on your carrier. To assess signal strength in your desired locations, I recommend downloading the OpenSignal app, which provides an interactive map showing your carrier's signal coverage and its strength.
I have personally always used mobile hotspot for remote working the entire time I have lived in my van.
To determine the appropriate data plan and discover ways to reduce data usage, you can utilise an app called My Data Manager, which tracks your daily data consumption.
A mobile router is like a home router, except it takes a sim card. They can deliver faster speeds than mobile hotspot, allow for multiple carriers, support connections to multiple devices, and won't drain your phone’s battery.
It is recommended to purchase a mobile router from a different carrier than your phone plan. This allows you to toggle between carriers to find the one with better internet coverage in different areas.
Elon Musk’s Starlink is a game-changer for nomads seeking reliable remote work options. Through their dedicated satellites, Starlink provides fast internet connectivity even in areas with zero phone signal. It has become increasingly popular in the vanlife community in recent months and years.
Starlink even has an ‘RV’ plan which boasts (and people attest to it) speeds exceeding 100mbps.
It's worth noting that Starlink requires an AC power source and draws a sizable amount of power, averaging between 60-70 watts. Additionally, Starlink relies on a clear view of the sky without significant obstructions. This may pose challenges if you frequently camp deep in wooded locations.
A starlink installation will cost around €500, with an ongoing monthly cost of €85.
Signal boosters enhance an existing mobile signal. However they can’t create a signal out of thin air; if you're in an area with no signal at all, a booster won't be of much help. It works best when there is already some signal present. A Signal boosters may require the drilling of a hole in your roof for installation. They typically cost around €500.
There are many places to get Wifi outside your van. You can make good use of cafes, coworks, libraries, Starbucks, or McDonalds for your internet needs. Note that these networks may not be secure and could be quite slow.
What to do on rainy days?
Living on the road full-time in a rainy place can be a mental battle at times. Indeed travelling full-time, can frequently feel full-on. It's essential that you take care of yourself. One day cooped up in the van is okay, but several days in a row could send you into a negative spiral.
I had one very rainy week in Bodø, Norway that I found particularly challenging. I worked a lot, didn’t see anyone, and generally wasn’t in great spirits. I didn’t want a week like that again, so I took some notes on what to do on a rainy day. Here are those notes…
Go to a climbing gym
Go to the gym
Go to a swimming pool / sauna
Go to a cafe
Go to a library
Go to the cinema
Check out a local Facebook / Meetup group
Play board games
Call / Zoom a friend
Visit a museum / gallery
Cook long, intricate meals
Listen to a podcast / radio for company
Write in your journal
Take a scenic drive in the rain
Play a musical instrument if you have one
Draw, paint or practise another art
Play some video games
If I could recommend one single book for dealing with life’s ups and downs, it would be the Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.
Written around 600BC, the Tao Te Ching is a tiny book that could be read in a single sitting or a lifetime. It forms the basis of Taoist philosophy, which in turn went on to form a back bone of Zen Buddhism.
Taoism is wonderfully summed up in this passage:
“The way of the Tao is simple – stop striving, defeat desire. In the absence of striving, there is peace; in the absence of desire, there is satisfaction.”
Stop putting pressure on yourself. You don’t need to do anything. In fact you should just stop doing altogether.
“Wuwei” is a key concept in Taoism. It is directly translated as “non-doing”.
You are a human being, not a human doing.
So just stop. Inject as much emptiness into your life as possible.
Every time you catch yourself striving or desiring, notice it and let it pass. And go back to nothingness, floating downstream.
While you can’t stop the waves, you can learn to surf.
Do not resist whatever life throws at you. Indeed, you must fully embrace it. Those who fight do not win, and those who win do not fight.
The wise are not focused on outcomes or achievements, therefore they always succeed. Those who are content with what they have, are not in danger of loss.
And all this leads us to a deeply happy and peaceful life, anchored to the present.
“The Tao does nothing, and yet nothing remains undone.”
I hope you found this guide on how to live in a van useful! You are well on your way to full-time van life!
Don't forget to subscribe to The Van Conversion Newsletter for everything you need to get started with your own van conversion (I'll send you a free wiring diagram when you join).
If you're looking for some guidance with your van conversion, you might be interested in Roaming Home; The Comprehensive Guide for Converting Your Van Into a Campervan. In the 380-page book (or ebook), you'll learn directly from me how to convert a van into your dream home - no prior experience needed!
Until next time,