Every memorable adventure begins with a leap of faith and with not knowing how it will turn out in the end. This time two years ago, we took a plunge and bought a campervan – small enough to manage country roads and big enough, so we don’t feel on top of each other.
Waking up on our first road trip around County Mayo at 5.30 am, rolling over and looking out of the campervan window through heavy eyelids and seeing morning mist linger over the coast, I knew we made the right decision.
Travelling in a campervan for the past two and half years has allowed us to visit many amazing places, a dream we had been patiently waiting for years, and along the way, we picked up many useful tips for a near-perfect trip.
If you’ve been itching to give van life a try, you know that unimpeachable trend, then this is certainly the year to do it. Ireland is full of hidden treasures, and there’s no better time to explore the backyard while supporting the local economy. If you love the concept of living a simple life and wanna feel at home no matter where you go, then give van life a try!
9 essential tips to make the most of your first campervan trip
Being out in the middle of nowhere in the pitch-black night is an odd feeling and having travelled around Ireland for two and half years, we thought to give you a little insight into what life is like in a campervan.
Travelling in a campervan isn’t always going to be easy, but it’s a great way to see the world as it combines adventure and simplicity. Who wouldn’t want to get an authentic and fulfilling travel experience while saving money and seeing more?
Here are our van life tips so you can be more prepared to hit the road!
#1. Choose the right van
Giving up the comfort of the house – think electricity, never-ending flow of the hot water, internet and ability to roam around freely from room to room – just to spend weeks crammed into a tiny space doesn’t come without challenges. That’s why it’s essential to choose the right van for you.
But picking the right van, whether you are planning to rent it or buy it, is one of the hardest choices. How do you decide between minivan, campervan, motorhome and caravan? Renting or buying? Then you have to make a choice between a new van or a used one. Low top or high top?
What kind of van you need will depend on your family size and budget. The VW camper vans with the elevating roof can accommodate two adults and two kids. If your family is bigger than this, then you have to get creative. You can either bring a tent or get a hammock bed that goes over the front seat. If you’re a couple on a budget, then get yourself a small campervan. If you’re enjoying retired life with your partner, get a big and comfy motorhome.
If you are thinking of buying one, the best thing you can do is to rent a campervan first, because they don’t come cheap and you don’t want to spend your hard-earned money on something that’s not working in the long run. Before buying VW, we rented one in Portugal for two weeks and had a test run.
#2. Be prepared for the life on the road
Let me tell you one thing – travelling in a camper van is unlike any other type of travelling and if you are bringing your kids and partner along you’ll need to adapt to living in a small space without any room for privacy. Finding alone time can be challenging, and sleeping in can be non-existent.
Even if you consider yourself to be a seasoned traveller that often goes off the beaten track, transitioning from a house to a tiny van and being out in the middle of nowhere on a pitch-black night is an odd feeling that doesn’t even come close to spending the night in a cosy hostel dorm.
One of the best ways to prepare for life on the road, whether you are going for weeks or months, is to think about your travel goals. they can provide a plan and a purpose. On top of that – manage your expectations and don’t stress the small stuff.
- If you’re new to driving a camper van, allow for extra time on your trip and remember that rural areas will have smaller roads
- Plan for some downtime specifically if you have youngsters. Plan for breaks and rest stops.
- Invest in a decent GPS Navigation system and bring real maps too
#3. Plan for unexpected
Van life is so much more than Instagram would have you believe. It’s definitely not all about taking naps in the middle of the day, reading a book while laying on the bed covered in colourful Pendleton blankets and enjoying the views through the window. It’s an exercise in flexibility and patience. It’s adjusting to space constraints and learning to unwind. It’s keeping the romance alive while feeling tired
Everyone experiences some sort of van problems while out on the road. Having a mechanical issue or running out of water can be frustrating but it’s part of the adventure.
When your car also doubles as your home, it’s important to have it in tip-top conditions and it’s vital to have a backup plan for when things go wrong.
- Always clean your car before the trip, stock up on essential supplies, and check your van for breaks, fluid levels, tiers and pretty much anything else that could cause unnecessary problems.
- Make sure you have spare money in case you need to unexpectedly repair your van or if you need to stay in a hotel.
- Be sure to download the best offline GPS map apps to discover new amazing places and navigate the roads.
- Let someone know where you are going and have a full tank of gas.
#4. Cherish the small moments
Staying in a hotel, you can easily take a shower, switch on the TV, connect to Wi-Fi and order food. Travelling with a campervan and being constantly on the move while trying to get ahead of bad weather can sometimes take its toll. The showers are far and few apart, you spend every waking and sleeping minute with your travel companion and when you add the stress of parking and driving a large vehicle, it can be a recipe for disaster.
Learn to let go of your expectations and start to feel grateful for the little things that we often take for granted. Don’t try to do too much or expect too much from your first trip; make sure you enjoy the ride. Don’t let your emotions control you; standing on the edge of the unknown without any previous experience or reference point makes our understanding go deeper. Travelling with a campervan is all about being in the present moment which can be a pretty vulnerable place.
Cherish the small moments; we are conditioned to think of success as something big, but in reality, joy is found in the small stuff that we do consistently over time. A cup of tea prepared just right. A warm meal. A hug. The family time. An evening stroll. A good laugh.
#5. Plan a rough itinerary
Travelling by car is often one of the most favourite things among the modes of transport – being in control of where to go and where to stay, having the flexibility to change your itinerary – what’s not to love about a road trip?
Having everything you need in one place and going where you please is one of the most appealing aspects of travelling in a campervan. Waking up and deciding where you are going to go next while having breakfast is one of the van life allures. Not having a set itinerary is great but it doesn’t hurt to do some planning, especially about where you going to park for the night.
In Ireland, we don’t have an option to go off the grid and get lost. But if you choose to explore North America, a place with vast open spaces that don’t see any humans for days, you have to know where you are going., because you wouldn’t want to break down in the middle of nowhere.
#6. Take only what you need
Don’t get carried away with bringing half of the house with you just because you can. Pack only the essentials, and you’ll learn that living small is the ultimate freedom. In the camper, every square inch counts and the less stuff you bring, the more space you’ll have to roam around.
- Toiletries | Solid shampoo bar, a bar of soap, wet wipes, insect repellent, sunscreen
- Clothes | Pack for all weather conditions
- Food | Stock up on plenty of dry and canned foods and avoid buying anything at gas stations. For your daily dose of veggies- keep an eye out for farmers’ markets.
- Water | Always take enough water with you as there isn’t always a supermarket at the end of the road
- Headlamp | Packing a headlamp is never going to disappoint. Out in the wilderness, it gets dark very fast and instead of firing up the engine, go for a frontal headlight that will keep your hands free.
- Kitchen essentials – one small and one medium pot, cutting board, a pan, plates, soup bowls, cutlery
- Fun stuff | Books, cards, sketchbook, guitar
#7. Plan your meals and learn to cook
In an ideal world, we would take off on the open road and look for adventures without worrying about a thing. In reality, if you are miles away from the grocery store or arrive past closing time with nothing else around, you can go hungry. Eating out at restaurants can be expensive, not always healthy, and that’s why it’s more satisfying to make your meals.
The fridge in a campervan is nowhere as big as you have it at home so most likely you will end up food shopping every 2-3 days. You don’t want to do week-long shopping because things can happen. What if you lose power or run out of gas? Wasting food due to maintenance malfunction or due to irrational tendencies is a bad habit. By planning ahead you’ll save yourself lots of head-scratching.
Having an option to cook every meal is also a great way to have control over your budget, but with limited space, it’s best to make simple recipes that don’t require fancy equipment. We have a stove inside the van but you can opt for a smaller portable stove to cook outside.
- Don’t let the notion of not having a full-size kitchen prevent you from experiencing life on the road
- Cook before you are hungry
#8. Keep your van clean and organised
Your campervan is a sleeping area, kitchen and living space all in one place and to keep it fully functioning you have to get organised. It’s important to know where the things are when you need them. The best thing to do is to get a little more creative in keeping your van clutter-free because even a small mess in a tiny space can be a huge annoyance.
When it comes to campervan organisation, space constraints may make it that much harder to keep it tidy especially if you are sharing it with someone else. Even if you don’t have all that much stuff it’s important to be organised. If you don’t have drawers and cabinets in your camper you can opt for plastic containers with lids. They are waterproof, it’s easy to see what’s inside, you can stock them on top of each other and the lids will keep the bugs out.
Make sure you have separate containers for dry foods, clothing, bedding, swimming and hiking gear. You can even label each containers group accordingly and sort them in a way that is easy to access.
If you travel with small children and struggle with car seats, strollers and beach toys then a small pop up tent can be a fantastic solution where to store large bulky items overnight.
#9. Don’t leave valuables out in the open
To ensure your safety as you would at home, use common sense at all times. Make sure everything is always put away in cupboards each day, so there’s rarely anything on offer to tempt anyone. Keeping your possessions safe should be your main priority while travelling around in a campervan.
- Keep a record of the description and serial numbers of your valuable items e.g digital camera, camcorder and phone
- Carry important documents with you – credit cards, passports and traveller’s checks.
- Always lock your campervan and keep windows secure
- Don’t leave visitors’ brochures, maps and luggage visible in your van
- Pull up the internal shutters
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Now, over to you!
Have you ever been on a campervan trip? Let us know in the comments!
Let us know if you are plotting a road trip and have travel-related questions!