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When roommates move into your space, you typically have some notice. Ideally, you set boundaries about sharing food, chores, and communal spaces. Well, I’m here to share some stories about roommates that moved into my campervan, completely uninvited, and against my will. They took over my home and drove me mad, and it resulted in their deaths, well, some of their deaths anyway.
Mice are the ultimate squatters and the bane of my existence in van life. Although almost every vehicle dweller has a story to share about their own experiences with rodents in their rigs around a campfire, no one seems to want to talk about it publicly. But I’m here to change that!
Table of Contents
My First Campervan Critter
Picture a warm, late summer evening in a beautiful old-growth forest just outside Mt. Rainier National Park. This is where I had my first, but certainly not last, mouse encounter.
I’d just gone to bed after watching a movie projected on a friend’s van in the woods. I climbed into bed and my old man dog was curled up on the passenger seat. It was a quintessential van life night. And then it wasn’t.
I heard scratching but I couldn’t quite pinpoint the sound. Maybe there was a branch scratching the outside of the van? Maybe my dog was running in his dreams and scratching the door? I clicked on my fairy lights to check it out. The noise was coming from my drawer. I yanked it open and that’s when I saw the poop. Tiny little mouse poops, all over my kitchen drawer. Ew, this could not be happening.
My Middle of the Night Solutions
I didn’t have a single mouse trap in the van, and nothing would be open in the middle of the night, not to mention it wasn’t safe to drive out a dark forest road in the pitch black. I tried to pretend this wasn’t real and fell asleep for about 15 minutes.
Then, I awoke to a rodent on the counter, staring me in the face. I screamed and it ran out of sight. Exhausted, but unable to rest, I bagged up any open containers in the pantry and cooked whatever I could so as not to waste it. (You’re welcome to the friends I camped with who awoke to berry cobbler and baked goods.)
I Moved Out
I was so freaked out, grossed out, and ready to move out of my camper van. My immediate solution was to cry, and then to spend a ton of credit card points and book a posh Seattle hotel for several nights where I could decompress and get some rest.
While at the hotel I cleared every piece of food out of the van. Picture me carrying tote bags, grocery bags, anything I could find, to haul my entire pantry and refrigerator contents out of the van, down a city street, and into my hotel room.
During the cleanout I found what had been sustaining the intruder: half an avocado tucked between the wood of my counter and the van wall. I could clearly make out the tiny mouse teeth marks in it. I still don’t know how or where the little demon found it.
With no food left to sustain it, the mouse left my van on its own, but I kept mouse traps set for weeks after that. I eventually got comfortable again and let my guard down. I would have a mouse here or there, but none that stayed in the van. I was always able to chase them out.
But, that all changed in the summer of 2023.
An Absolute Invasion
It’s hard to say when the invasion started. Perhaps it was in Squamish, British Columbia, at a pristine river recreation site where the Google reviews mentioned, “Oh the mice, man, they come out at night.” Yes, yes they did.
Maybe it was at a campground near the beach in Tofino on Vancouver Island full of kids dropping food on the ground in between densely packed wooded campsites.
Or maybe it was somewhere between a van gathering in Bend, Oregon and my time in Glacier and Grand Teton National Parks.
I heard the familiar scratches, set a fancy electronic trap, and caught it the next day. I kept the trap set and checked it each morning. Sometimes it was empty. Sometimes it was not. This went on for a while, and then, after about 4 mice, I stopped catching them and figured they were gone.
Ha, that would have been nice.
It seems the mice had been nesting around the wheel well of my campervan, a place that was out of reach due to the way my van is built. I drove really awful and bumpy roads trying to scare them out. I swept and vacuumed and cleared out the pantry. I searched for signs of mice and found no poop, no crumbs, nothing!
But I heard them. Every single night. And sometimes during the day. I could hear them running behind my counter and inside my headliner (the carpeted area above the driver and passenger seats).
They seemed to get bolder as time went on. One night at a campsite in the Tetons (that I’d tried for years to get) multiple mice decided to run laps around the van, right in front of me.
I left the campsite in the morning and restocked my “mouse arsenal.” I had live traps, snap traps, glue traps, wooden traps, plastic traps, every trap you could find.
Over the course of the next six weeks, I went on to catch 14 mice. 14! A fellow van friend joked, “Oh you don’t have mice, you have roommates!”
And after the death of those 14 roommates, I decided I will never sleep another night in the van without traps set. It’s a non-negotiable for me!
Why Did No One Prepare Me for This?
In three years of full-time van travel through the US, Canada, and Mexico, mice are the only thing that have made me question my decision to live in a vehicle.
I was prepared for vehicle breakdowns. I had supplies for getting unstuck. I kept emergency water on board. I even filled my kettle each night so I had some to boil in case my pipes froze.
But I had absolutely no preparation for mice. At all.
Those van life tutorials and how-to guides should mention the possibility of mice so that unlike me, you can be prepared to deal with them.
What Can Mice Do to a Vehicle?
While I don’t feel fortunate, I guess I am lucky that the mice chose only to torture me and not ruin my campervan. They are known to eat electrical wiring and can cause expensive and extensive damage to your vehicle.
Whether you live in your vehicle or not, you should be proactive to protect it from mice, chipmunks, rats, and other rodents.
How to Keep Mice Out of Your Campervan
So how can you deter rodents from your car or van?
Well, there are some products designed specifically for keeping mice out of vehicles, and there are also some steps you can take. These are all tips I’ve researched during my ongoing mouse sagas or that others have shared with me.
- Keep your van or car clean. Mice have an incredible sense of smell, so vacuum up food crumbs on the floor, and don’t leave unfinished drinks or snacks.
- Put rodent-repellant packs under the hood in your engine compartment, near the steering column, and in hard-to-reach spaces. The strong scent of peppermint or cinnamon discourages mice from entering. You can also use peppermint oil on cotton balls or dryer sheets. Mothballs work if you don’t have pets or kids that might get to them.
- Identify access points and gaps. Seal them or fill them with steel wool to block entry.
- Regularly search the interior and exterior of your van for signs of mice and their nests.
- Set traps. Electronic traps and snap traps worked best for me. There are also no-kill traps that have worked for friends of mine. (I promise I tried them, but my invasion was too much!)
- Get a cat! Cats (and possibly other pets) are great at hunting and catching mice and sometimes their scent can deter mice from even coming in.
What I Learned from My Rodent Roommates
Well, besides learning that something so tiny can turn your world upside down, I learned that it’s common for mice to enter vehicles in search of warmth and/or food. I learned that a cluttered van makes it more difficult to spot and catch mice. But mostly, I learned that I can deal with hard things on my own.
And you’ll never catch me without mousetraps again for the rest of my life.