If you love road trips, the great outdoors, adventure and camping, but you still want to maintain a sense of home and creature comforts, a converted camper van may be for you. With as many options as you can dream of — from a weekend getaway to the full #vanlife experience — decking out a van and riding into the sunset can be the journey of a lifetime. Part of the reward is in the customization and preparation, and the most important step is planning what will be included in your van. Make sure you’ve got your priorities clear and know your budget, intended usage, and exact layout and materials before you get started.
Plan for Day and Night
The bed is often the central feature of a camper van layout, and it will either fold up during the day or be permanently situated. In addition to that option, do you want extra space to gather or work, or are a couple of camping chairs for outside just fine? You need to know how many people will be using the van and whether you’re willing to convert the sleeping area every day — it all depends on how you want to use the space.
Sparking Joy with Smart Storage
Less is more when you’ve got your life packed into a van, but you still want to maximize the space you have. Getting creative with storage is a staple of van life. Here are a few hot tips: Challenge yourself to make everything multifunctional, use your vertical space, and check out local thrift stores for items that can be easily repurposed. There are plenty of pre-made kits on the market specifically tailored to different van models that offer customized storage solutions, often in conjunction with sleeping arrangements.
Always carry extra water. Multi-gallon jugs are easy to refill, and if you’re building out a bigger project, you can install a sink and even a shower, complete with plumbing and a pump or gravity-fed options. Just make sure that if you’re installing a bigger system you account for matters like gray water disposal and making space for bigger tanks.
In the Kitchen
Portable camping stoves can leave the van, but a permanently integrated one has more of that real-kitchen feel. Do your research before deciding which fuel type is right for you, as there are plenty of electric and gas options. As far as food storage, coolers are cheaper upfront, but ice is an ongoing chore to manage. Mini-fridges or camping fridges are a better bet if you plan on extended adventures, as long as they can be run on 12V.
In the Loo
Bathrooms take up space, are easily available elsewhere and can be a real hassle to deal with onboard, so many in the van life community go without. But if you need one, there are portable toilets, chemical toilets and composting toilets available.
Lighting and Charging
You’ll need electricity to power and charge your appliances and handiest accessories, and you can’t leave the key on or the battery will die. Your best bet here is solar with an inverter system. There are pre-made kits available, or you can take the custom route. Just make sure to work safely and be honest if you don’t know what you’re doing. There are plenty of helpful products and tutorials available, so don’t cut planning short or cheap out on your power equipment. Setting up the right system will keep your 12V appliances running, and you could also throw in a Wi-Fi extender if you’re planning to use the space as an office.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything you should prepare for a stay in your van, but it’s a good place to start if you have a project in mind. There’s a ton of resources out there to read and watch, so get excited for life on the road!
Check out all the parts and accessories available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on a converted camper van, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.