Why van camping? It certainly doesn’t give you the luxury of life in an RV, but then you don’t have the discomfort of sleeping in a tent, either. It’s cheap compared to an RV, and you can go places they cannot. That’s why we spent more than 25 nights sleeping in our conversion van last year.
Van Camping 101
You need a system of organization to keep your space inside the van livable. We noticed after our first long trip that we had brought many things we never used. We learned to be more efficient after that. We also learned how to keep the space open, by using plastic storage tubs. Not only do they stack well, but if you need more room at night, you can put them on the roof, because they’re rainproof with the lids snapped on.
You have to make your van into something that’s useable for you, especially if it’s going to be your residence for days or weeks at a time. This meant, for my wife and I, having space to move around. Removing the two middle seats gave us enough space for dressing or cooking. A bench-seat in back folds out into a comfortable bed, so we were all set for van camping.
Van camping can be cold, as it was for us in the deserts of Arizona last winter. We ran the van and cranked up the heater once in a while, but only for brief periods. Carbon monoxide poisoning is just too possible, so don’t leave the car running while you are sleeping.
Cooking a meal heats up the van, and our propane camp stove burned very clean. When it was cold, it was time to cook dinner, breakfast, or coffee. Cooking inside heats up a van, but again, because of carbon monoxide, don’t sleep with a burner going. Sometimes, though, a quick warm-up is all you need before you crawl under the blankets for the night.
What’s the secret to heating a conversion van when camping? Giving up was our solution. Just enjoy meal time warm-ups, but unless you have electric power, I don’t know of a safe way to heat a van all night. Heat yourselves instead. Use warm clothing, and bring more blankets than you think you’ll need. Fill a thermos bottle full of hot coffee each night, so it will be waiting in the morning. You warm the van making it, and warm up yourselves drinking it for breakfast.
Van Camping Advantages
Van camping obviously is cheaper than RV camping. Initial cost is a lot less if you buy used, as we did. The cost of driving a van is substantialy less – we averaged 18 miles per gallon on our last cross-country trip. An average recreational vehicle is lucky to get half of that, and will be very expensive to maintain.
A van is much more comfortable than tent camping. Also, if you do backpack, you’ll likely drive some kind of car to wherever you go. Use a van, and you can come inside if it starts to rain. When backpacking a long way from home, you can save on motels on the drive to and from the trailhead.
One great thing about vans is that you can park anywhere. We’ve napped in parking lots, and nobody was the wiser, thanks to the inconspicuousness of a van. We got the best spot at a free campground in Florida, on a bank overlooking Lake Talquin, because our van was small enough to fit there, unlike the RVs.
You can drive anywhere. With our conversion van, camping wherever we were when it got dark was no problem. We also went down desert trails that no RV could handle. That flexibility and freedom is what we liked most about van camping.