15 Solo Van Life Tips for First Timers

After over three years on the road, here are my top 15 tips for the first-time solo van lifer.

a woman solo van lifer on her laptop

When I decided to start van life, all I knew was that I wanted to explore. I went down many rabbit holes on Instagram and YouTube researching everything, but I’ll admit, I made a few rash decisions. 

I honestly didn’t expect to last this long as a van lifer (I started in September 2020!) and I told myself that the worst that would happen was I would hate it and go back to apartment living. 

If I were to do it all over again, I’d probably spend a bit more time researching certain aspects of solo van life. After over three years on the road, here are my top 15 tips for the first-time solo van lifer: 

1. Choose the Right Van

smiling woman outside her campervan in a solo van life
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @boondockconsulting

Here’s where I failed. I did zero research on the actual van chassis that I chose. All I knew is I wanted something nice inside, and a gas engine. I ended up with a Promaster, which is a great option for some, but it was not the right chassis for me. 

Be sure to consider budget, mechanical reliability, off-road capability, and the size of the campervan in relation to where you want to go with it and how you travel. 

I recently switched to an older van (a Chevy G20!) with rear-wheel drive and an itty-bitty bit more clearance. I love it, and I could have saved myself a LOT of money if I had realized what type of vehicle would suit my needs sooner. 

2. Plan Your Layout Carefully

campervan showing its interior
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @boondockconsulting

The layout of your van can significantly impact your comfort and convenience. Think about how you’ll use your space for sleeping, cooking, and storing your belongings. A well-thought-out design will make your van life more enjoyable.

I had a dinette-to-bed conversion setup, and although I loved it, it was a pain in the ass to deal with. I didn’t really need the extra space as a solo traveler. More times than not, I just left the dinette in “bed mode,” so I didn’t have to convert it. If I had a more traditional platform bed, I would have had way more storage for fun things like a paddle board or extra food storage. 

3. Invest in Quality Insulation

woman on her laptop inside a campervan in a solo van life showing the window covers
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @boondockconsulting

Insulating your van is essential for maintaining a comfortable temperature, whether you’re in a hot or cold climate. Materials like sheep’s wool, foam board, or spray foam can keep your van cozy and energy-efficient.

My van was very well insulated, and I put it to the test multiple times. It helped a lot that I had insulated window covers – those are literally lifesavers in cold (and hot) weather conditions. 

4. Prioritize Safety and Security

woman with her dog in a leash inside a campervan
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @sierrastraverse

Living in a van can be safe if you take the right precautions. If you can afford it, have a security system installed with a remote. I had one, and it gave me great peace of mind to know that if anyone tried to enter my van, an alarm would sound. It was even motion-activated, so a shake of the van would set it off. 

Other crucial safety items include a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, and carbon monoxide detector. 

Here at The Wayward Home, we always recommend travelers have some sort of satellite communicator, like the Garmin InReach.

Garmin inReach Mini

When going off-roading or to remote boondocking locations, a satellite communicator is a must-have. The Garmin inReach Mini satellite communicator allows an overlander to send texts and emergency SOS calls. The tracker allows friends and family to watch a route in real time as well.

We've heard one too many tragedies from people who haven't had a Garmin InReach, including a couple who recently punctured two tires in Death Valley. The two tried to walk to safety, but one perished. A tragedy that could have been avoided with a Garmin or other type of satellite communicator.

5. Embrace Minimalism

beautiful woman smiling on her laptop inside a campervan in a solo van life
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @boondockconsulting

Space is limited in a van, so pack only what you truly need. Focus on multipurpose items and high-quality gear. Regularly assess your belongings and declutter to keep your space manageable.

I rearranged my van probably 5 times in the first year, getting rid of things I thought I needed (but didn’t), and making room for items I used more often. You’re better off paying more for that ONE pair of hiking pants you’ll wear for a week straight than buying 4 pairs of cheap pants that will wear out quickly. You’ll be amazed at how little you actually need on the road! Now my rule of thumb is if I haven’t used it in a year, I get rid of it. 

6. Plan Your Power Needs

white campervan parked near the mountain area
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @boondockconsulting

A reliable power source is vital for charging devices, running appliances, and lighting. Popular options include solar panels, a portable power station, a generator, and a second (house) battery system. Calculate your power usage to choose the best solution for your needs.

You’ll want to understand the power capacity of your electrical setup, how fast you can recharge it, and, most importantly, how much power you will be using. If you want AC and will be cooking with an induction cooktop, you’ll need a very robust power system. If you’re just recharging a laptop and your phone daily, you can get away with a small portable power station. 

7. Stay Organized

dog licking a woman's face inside a campervan
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @boondockconsulting

As few as two things sitting on a van countertop can make your interior feel like a disaster. Keeping your van tidy is key to maximizing your space. Use storage bins, stuff sacks, bags, and hooks to keep everything in its place. Develop a habit of putting things away immediately after use.

I can’t tell you how many times I lost something in a 72-square-foot space because I didn’t organize things efficiently. 

8. Create a Comfortable Sleeping Area

a dog and a woman showing just her feet on her laptop on the bed inside a campervan
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @boondockconsulting

A good night’s sleep is so important when living van life. Just because you live in a van doesn’t mean that you can’t have a comfortable bed. I’ve seen so many people set up like they were camping, with thin camping mattresses, bulky sleeping bags, and beds they don’t even fit in. 

I initially invested in a mattress topper, then upgraded to a quality campervan mattress soon after. I tell ya, it was one of my best investments I loved my cozy, comfortable bed! Before the upgrade, I woke up sore, with kinks in my neck, and never slept well through an entire night. 

9. Learn Basic Maintenance and Repairs

beautiful woman and her dog fixing the campervan wheel
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @sierrastraverse

Knowing how to perform basic van maintenance and repairs can save you time and money. Learn how to change a tire, check fluid levels, and troubleshoot common issues. Carry a toolkit with essential items. 

Make certain the jack you have is safe to use with your rig. The jacks that come with most vans are a joke and outright dangerous! I had one completely collapse, and thank goodness no one was under the van when it happened! 

10. Find Reliable Water Sources

coffee mug with a face drawing on it showing a campervan from afar
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @sierrastraverse

Finding water is probably the most important part of van life. Sure, you can buy water from grocery stores, but that will get costly very quickly. 

You can use apps like iOverlander to find places with water. You’ll quickly learn how to conserve water—I learned how to last a week on 10 gallons! Remember that if you opt for a larger water tank, you have to fill it with a hose, and it can be hard to find fill-up stations in some areas. Some people just use 5-gallon jugs that can be refilled easily at any water kiosk. 

11. Be Mindful of Your Waste

a campervan showing it's interior from the back
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @sierrastraverse

Managing garbage when living in a van can be challenging. Use biodegradable products, minimize single-use plastics, and use reusable containers if possible. Dispose of trash and recycle responsibly–many garbage bins in cities are not for public use, and you could be fined if caught “dumping.” 

My rule of thumb is to use smaller garbage bags and dump your garbage often. A small 4-gallon bag fits easily in garbage cans at gas station and grocery stores. I also always “prep” my food in the grocery store parking lot and dump any garbage there before leaving. 

Never leave a garbage bag outside when you’re parked in wilderness areas. It attracts all sorts of wildlife, and your garbage will end up scattered all over. It could even attract animals into your van. 

12. Stay Connected

people having a meeting via zoom
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @sierrastraverse

Reliable internet access can be essential, especially if you work remotely. If you need internet consistently, invest in a good mobile hotspot and consider boosting your cellular signal with an antenna or signal booster. Although it’s expensive, Starlink is a game changer for digital nomads and can be worth the cost if you work online full-time. 

You can use apps like Sēkr to see where cell service is available. Always have a backup plan when traveling in case you end up in a spot that doesn’t have strong enough service for your needs. 

My Phone Plan
Visible Wireless Unlimited Data, Talk and Text Visible Wireless Unlimited Data, Talk and Text

I've been using Visible for over a year and love it so far. It's affordable and I get unlimited data. I can also use this plan in Mexico which is where I spend winters on my sailboat. Visible's base plan is just $25 for unlimited data, talk and text in the United States, or you can upgrade to a $45 per month plan to use your phone in Mexico and Canada.

13. Cook Efficiently

woman showing a bowl of pasta to her dog
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @sierrastraverse

Cooking in a van can be challenging but rewarding. Use compact, multipurpose kitchen tools and plan simple, nutritious meals. A portable stove, electric cooker, or small propane grill can be great for van life cooking.

Remember water use when cooking. For example, I rarely cook pasta because it uses so much water. I also don’t cook super greasy food since cleaning grease from dishes takes more water. I often make a large meal that I can eat over a few days or repurpose leftovers into a different meal. 

14. Lean on Your New Community

people with their campervans gathered together at dawn
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @sierrastraverse

The van life community is supportive and full of valuable resources. Join online forums, social media groups, and attend meetups to connect with other van lifers. You’ll gain insights, tips, and a sense of camaraderie, not to mention you’ll make lifelong friends you never expected! “Solo Van Life” doesn’t have to be solo at all, and you’ll soon find your own little traveling community. 

15. Stay Flexible and Plan for the Unexpected

campervans gathered together at sunrise
Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly IG @sierrastraverse

Van life is about flexibility and embracing the unexpected. That’s half the fun: the unknown! Things won’t always go as planned, but that’s part of the journey. Keep an open mind, and you’ll learn that some of the biggest surprises can be some of your best memories while on the road. 

Keep some cash with you for emergencies, and always have a “my van broke down” fund. If you run into mechanical issues, you may need to pay for a hotel for a few nights, or the only mechanic available might be more expensive than you hoped. 

Expect inclement weather, road closures, and traffic jams. If Google says a drive is 5 hours, increase that by 30% to account for bathroom breaks, missed turns, and stopping at viewpoints. 

Are You Ready for Solo Van Life? 

Van life can be an incredible experience, offering a unique blend of adventure, freedom, and simplicity. With careful planning, a positive mindset, and these tips, you’ll be on your way to a successful and fulfilling van life journey. Safe travels!


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