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Why van camping? It certainly doesn't give you the luxury of
life in an RV, but then you don't have the discomfort of
sleeping in a tent, either. It's cheap compared to an RV, and
you can go places they cannot. That's why we spent more than 25
nights sleeping in our conversion van last year.
Van Camping 101
You need a system of organization to keep your space inside the
van livable. We noticed after our first long trip that we had
brought many things we never used. We learned to be more
efficient after that. We also learned how to keep the space
open, by using plastic storage tubs. Not only do they stack
well, but if you need more room at night, you can put them on
the roof, because they're rainproof with the lids snapped on.
You have to make your van into something that's useable for you,
especially if it's going to be your residence for days or weeks
at a time. This meant, for my wife and I, having space to move
around. Removing the two middle seats gave us enough space for
dressing or cooking. A bench-seat in back folds out into a
comfortable bed, so we were all set for van camping.
Van camping can be cold, as it was for us in the deserts of
Arizona last winter. We ran the van and cranked up the heater
once in a while, but only for brief periods. Carbon monoxide
poisoning is just too possible, so don't leave the car running
while you are sleeping.
Cooking a meal heats up the van, and our propane camp stove
burned very clean. When it was cold, it was time to cook dinner,
breakfast, or coffee. Cooking inside heats up a van, but again,
because of carbon monoxide, don't sleep with a burner going.
Sometimes, though, a quick warm-up is all you need before you
crawl under the blankets for the night.
What's the secret to heating a conversion van when camping?
Giving up was our solution. Just enjoy meal time warm-ups, but
unless you have electric power, I don't know of a safe way to
heat a van all night. Heat yourselves instead. Use warm
clothing, and bring more blankets than you think you'll need.
Fill a thermos bottle full of hot coffee each night, so it will
be waiting in the morning. You warm the van making it, and warm
up yourselves drinking it for breakfast.
Van Camping Advantages
Van camping obviously is cheaper than RV camping. Initial cost
is a lot less if you buy used, as we did. The cost of driving a
van is substantialy less - we averaged 18 miles per gallon on
our last cross-country trip. An average recreational vehicle is
lucky to get half of that, and will be very expensive to
A van is much more comfortable than tent camping. Also, if you
do backpack, you'll likely drive some kind of car to wherever
you go. Use a van, and you can come inside if it starts to rain.
When backpacking a long way from home, you can save on motels on
the drive to and from the trailhead.
One great thing about vans is that you can park anywhere. We've
napped in parking lots, and nobody was the wiser, thanks to the
inconspicuousness of a van. We got the best spot at a free
campground in Florida, on a bank overlooking Lake Talquin,
because our van was small enough to fit there, unlike the RVs.
You can drive anywhere. With our conversion van, camping
wherever we were when it got dark was no problem. We also went
down desert trails that no RV could handle. That flexibility and
freedom is what we liked most about van camping.
About the author:
Steve Gillman hit the road at sixteen, and traveled the U.S. and
Mexico alone at 17. Now 40, he travels with his wife Ana, whom
he met in Ecuador. For travel stories, tips and a free e-book,
Written by: Steve Gillman
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