Our van camping hacks will not only get you on the road but will make every campsite feel just like home. One of the best things about the United States is the highways and byways, roads and interstates, all connecting campgrounds, national parks, and open land. There are few other countries where you can drive from rainforests to deserts and the shore in just days. While we love cute AirBnBs, the best way to see the countryside is a camping road trip. You can explore the wilderness, towns, and cities while experiencing the open road. Car camping isn’t for the faint of heart, it’s an adventure in “roughing it”. RV camping or towing a travel trailer might be more comfortable, but it’s also more expensive. A camper van combines luxury with affordability, and car camping lets you get out and explore with the vehicle you already have. Ready for the open road? We’ve got the super list of the best van, and car camping hacks out there. Just read on!
What is the Best Minivan for Camping?
Sure, you can buy a van and DIY a full conversion by installing a kitchen and bed or just splurge on a travel trailer to tow. But chances are you’ve got soccer, band practice, and carpool to deal with when you’re not on a camping trip. So we’ve hand-selected the best minivans to transform with camping hacks and back again.
Chrysler Pacifica: The rear seats fold flush with the floor, so you don’t have to deal with removing benches to make room for beds. It also comes with storage space built-in for camping gear and luggage.
Toyota Sienna: Great value and reliable for years. It’s easy to remove the seats for a weekend trip, plus the sliding side door is easy to set up with an awning for relaxing evenings in the van. The flat roof is perfect for adding a roof rack for camping gear or setting up portable solar panels.
Kia Sedona: It’s extra-large and perfect for all the DIY and van camping hack projects you can imagine. The roof can hold a rack for camping gear and equipment. Plus, the seats either fold down or pull out, depending on your needs.
Nissan Quest: Fuel efficiency is never more critical than on a road trip, and the Quest has it. Plus, there are three rows of seats so you can ride with more people and still set up the back with an air mattress.
Mazda 5: This petite van is perfect for couples who don’t need a lot of space and prefer good gas mileage to extra elbow room. It also comes with a sunroof, perfect sleeping under the stars, while in a camper van.
How do You Pack a Minivan for Camping?
These van camping hacks will help you get gear, clothing, and equipment loaded for a weekend, week-long trip, or lifestyle change. Keep in mind that with van camping, less really is more. You don’t want to stress about bringing all the comforts of home, but enjoy living the simple life even if it’s just for a few days. That said, if you’re renting a camper van, go through it before heading into the wilderness. It’s hard to have a pleasant time if you get into the woods and discover no one brought utensils. If you’re wondering what to bring, check out our family car camping checklist.
Box your stuff: Don’t just throw everything into duffle bags and backpacks. Use labeled boxes, and totes and sort by camping equipment, kitchen stuff, shower necessities. You’ll just have to grab the right tote to set up camp, make dinner, or head to the bathroom.
Bear-proof canisters: One of the essential camping tips we have to offer is to lock up all food. While some campsites offer bear lockers, it’s your responsibility on a road trip not to lure animals into your campsite with the smell of food. Invest in high-quality canisters.
Bed platform: If you need more storage, build a bed platform for the back of your van. It’ll hold an air mattress (and you) with space for your things beneath.
Shoe organizer: This is one way to make sure you’ll keep track of essential items like sunscreen, flashlights, and bug spray. Hang the shoe organizer on the back of the front seats and illuminate a few shoe slots with battery-powered tea lights at night.
Stuff sacks: Compression bags make bulky clothes and bags more manageable in the van. Shove dirty laundry, sleeping bags, clothes, and towels into a stuff sack, and you’ll free up a ton more space for your van life. Just remember what’s stashed in each bag to avoid chaos setting up camp for the night.
Altoid tin junk drawer: Every camping trip, you’ll find you need more random odds and ends for repairs and adjustments, like zip ties, thumbtacks, and velcro. Keep empty mint tins for storing odds and ends.
Laundry machine: Accidents happen, whether you’re on a road trip or camping, so an emergency washing machine isn’t an awful idea. You can buy one, but a bucket and a plunger will do the job. If you love high tech, try an ultrasonic device that’ll wash clothes with shock wave technology.
How Can I Make my Camping Car More Comfortable?
Twenty percent of camping is getting comfortable. The other eighty percent is having fun in nature, making road trip memories, and discovering new favorite places. But sometimes that twenty percent sticks out the most in your mind. In honor of finding comfort in the wild, here is a camping hacks section with specific tips for getting cozy.
Perfect parking spot: You may not think of tips like this, but car camping is all about the right parking spot. You want to be on flat land, but if that’s not possible, position the front of the car above the back so you can sleep with your head over your feet.
DIY lanterns: This is one of our favorite camper hacks. All you need is a plastic bottle of water and a headlamp. Attach the light to the side of the container facing in, and you’ll illuminate the whole interior of your car or van. The soft glow isn’t as harsh or invasive inside a vehicle as a flashlight or headlamp.
Install a solar shower: No one wants to crawl into bed covered in dirt and sweat from a day spent outdoors. Here’s one way to stay fresh while camping; attach a solar shower to your car’s roof rack. The water heats throughout the day, and when you return to the campsite, you can take a hot shower.
Mosquito netting: Something we just can’t say enough; bugs are a genuine problem in a lot of places. No-see-ums, mosquitos, even just gnats, can ruin a camping trip. Use mosquito netting to protect open doors from bugs while keeping the fresh air moving.
Foam tiles: If you’re a parent, you already have a million of those puzzle piece shaped foam tiles. Line the floor of your camper van or car with them for added comfort at the campsite. If you’re staying in a tent, it’s an old camping hack for insulation between your sleeping bag and the ground.
Add an awning: Don’t resign yourself to going stir-crazy in the car when there’s nasty weather. You can make a DIY awning for the outside of your van with a tarp, PVC pipe, and paracord and still get fresh air and views of nature while it’s raining.
Toilet paper holders: Hold on to your extra coffee cans, they’re the perfect size to hold a roll of toilet paper. And because it’s one of those things you absolutely can’t lose, paint the outside with glow-in-the-dark paint so you can find it fast even in the dark.
Hand-washing station: A camping hack that’s mundane but necessary, hang an old laundry detergent bottle filled with water from the roof rack or a tree. It’s a straightforward way to keep hands clean or wash your face without having to leave the campsite.
How do you Sleep in Your Car When Camping?
It’s more comfortable than you might think, we promise. With a few of these car camping tips, you might find that you enjoy the cozy security of sleeping in your car rather than a tent or cabin. It’s affordable, and with just a handful of DIY camping trip projects, you’ll be cozy and safe while enjoying nature.
DIY screen windows: Enjoy the fresh air and the sounds of nature while keeping out bugs. Cut mesh screen material to size and attach it to the outside of your car windows with heavy-duty magnets.
Minivan remodel: While there are camper vans available with custom build-outs, you can DIY your home minivan into a comfortable place to sleep while camping. Remove bench seats and pack an inflatable mattress and memory foam topper for home-luxury on the road.
Air mattress: Whether you’re on the road all day, or playing in the wilderness, make sure you’re getting high-quality sleep at night with an inflatable air mattress. Don’t sleep on the bench seats or bare floor of your car.
Curtains: This camping hack is for all of you late-risers who care more about catching ZZZ’s than Instagramming sunrises. Use paracord or bungee strung in front of the windows. Hang real curtains over the cord to create a cozy, just-like-home feel.
PVC pipe bunk bed: Using PVC pipe and canvas, you can make a front seat hammock for small kids. They’ll love the adventurous feel, and it expands the usable sleeping space inside your camper van or car.
Super Van Hacks for the Ultimate Camping Road Trip
Your camping van is a work in process, and the more time you spend living the van life, the more tips and tricks of your own you’ll discover. Here are a few of our favorite camper van hacks that might work on your next road trip.
Cup hooks: You’ll realize fast when car camping that there’s not enough floor space for everything you need to pack. Something to take advantage of as much space as possible is cup hooks with pegboard and eyelets. Hang everything you regularly use to keep your van tidy.
Baking soda: This might become your best friend for your van life. It’s a minor miracle worker that you can use for stain removal, toothpaste, odor absorption, and as a fire extinguisher. Never road trip without it.
Toolbelt nightstand: Waking up in the middle of the night while car camping is disorienting. Make a “nightstand” for yourself with a toolbelt and include anything you might need in the dark. We recommend a flashlight, tissues, glasses, and a water bottle.
Microfiber towels: This is one of those tips you’ll just have to trust us. Towels are essential while camping. But don’t sacrifice space, so load up with compact towels that’ll dry fast and absorb a lot.
Structured bags: When you’re leading a van life, you’re driving, sleeping, and playing all in your vehicle. To give you day’s and night’s structure, pack two separate duffle bags. Pack one with the things you need while on the road, and use the other for things you need while camping.
Download offline maps: If you’re doing car camping right, you will be out of cell phone service every once in a while. Before you get into the thick of it, use the Google Maps app to download an offline map of where you’re headed. Or go analog and buy a paper map of the area.
Pantyhose soap bar: Drop a bar of soap into the leg of a pair of (clean) pantyhose for this camping hack. Tie the other end over the camper van sink, or next to your hand-washing station at the campsite. It keeps the soap where it’s supposed to be, out of the dirt and off the van floor.
Duct tape: It really does everything, so be sure you’ve packed a few rolls in your toolbox for the road. While an entire roll is too heavy to take on the trail, wrap your camping gear with tape for emergencies.
TicTac spice rack: You can’t bring the entire pantry with you in the camping van, but you also shouldn’t be eating bland food. Here’s one of our favorites tips; fill old TicTac containers with your favorite spices. You can dash and sprinkle just like with spice jars, plus they’re small and light. Check out some of our favorite car camping food ideas for what spices to pack.
De-shell your eggs: Is there a better way to start the day car camping than with a scrambled egg breakfast? But don’t waste valuable cooler space with eggs in the carton. Instead, crack them and store the whole dozen in an empty water bottle.
Lint firestarters: Starting a fire is one of those things that everyone thinks they can do until, you know, the match hits the log. Save your dryer lint, wrap it in a coffee filter, and tie the bundle with string. Instant firestarter that’ll never fail you.
Reusable trash bags: They’re good for the planet, and they serve a million purposes around the campsite. They’ll help you make sure you bring out your garbage, and you don’t have to pack a bunch of plastic bags in your limited space.
Tea tree oil: We keep bringing up bugs because they’re out there, and they can ruin a car camping trip. Use tea tree oil as a tick deterrent, mix with coconut oil for bug repellent, use as an antiseptic on cuts, and as a hand sanitizer.
Disposable wipes: Load up on both disinfectant wipes and baby wipes. The baby wipes are one of those camper hacks for when you can’t make a shower happen, just towel down the dirtiest bits of yourself. Use disinfectant wipes for keeping the camper van clean, which will help keep it smelling good and looking tidy.
Great Gizmos: Camping Hacks You Can Buy
We’re all about money-saving DIY van camping hacks. But some camping gear will elevate your road trips from just okay to out of this world. Here are our picks for the greatest gizmos to live your best van life. Then check out some of our favorite camping gear reviews.
Portable solar panels: You don’t want to drain your car battery to charge your phone or tablet. Instead, use one of these solar panels on the roof or dashboard of your car. Plus, they’re handy to have in case of emergency.
Use a camping cooler: Did you know a high-quality camping cooler can keep your food cold for almost a week? While you have to balance size, cost, and efficiency, fresh food, and a cold drink will transform your camping experience.
Damprid: These moisture-absorbing crystals are one of our favorite things. They absorb humidity and moisture inside your car and release a subtle fresh-linen scent. They’re perfect for waking up in a crisp, clean-smelling vehicle in the morning.
Solar-powered string lights: Charge these lights all day and string them through the interior of your car or van. Not only will it feel as cozy as home, but it also gets dark, really dark while camping. Lighting hacks help you find your way back to the car after bathroom trips and mitigate any fear of the dark.
Cook table: Cooking is half the fun when camping, but you can’t just eat hotdogs roasted on a stick the whole time. Make sure you bring bowls and utensils, even if you’re planning on cooking over an open fire. A prep and storage table is one of our favorite van camping hacks for clearing out space inside the van once you’re at the campsite.
Get Your Camper Van Ready for the Open Road
There’s just something about the call of the horizon. You don’t know what experiences await you on the other side of these camping hacks. A summer filled with perfect sunrises, peaceful sunsets, days spent on lakes and rivers, or hiking through national parks. It’s more comfortable and more affordable than you might expect. Van camping is not only a hashtag on Instagram but also a way for families to get out and spend time together, even if your family is just you and your dog. Leave us a comment below to tell us any tips or tricks about car camping we’ve missed!