Vanlife Tips

I have a running list of vanlife tips to pass on, having started it while living in a campervan in Spain. I will keep adding to this list as and when I think of new nuggets of advice.

A lot of these tips involve ergonomics of some sort, as do my tips on van conversion design.



VANLIFE TIP - 1
PORTABLE HOB

Don't have a fixed cooker or hob because it will restrict you to cooking inside only and eliminate the greatest joy of vanlife, which is cooking outside. The best solution I came up with was a portable gas stove with lid on a three meter flexible gas hose, attached to a gas tank on the floor, hidden away. This will provide you with the best thing about fixed cookers or stoves, which is the large gas supply, but also allow you toput the stove outside of your side door.

Read more about this idea and the extreme danger of portable gas stoves that house butane gas canisters....HERE.



VANLIFE TIP - 2
CHEAP, SMALL & 
LIGHTWEIGHT CUTLERY

It's obviously important to keep your equipment weight down when kitting out your campervan, but there's another very good reason why you need to use cheap, small and lightweight cutlery during vanlife. Assuming you've kept all your other kitchenware smaller and more lightweight than you'd normally use in a house, the cutlery needs to match. If you out a large and heavy spoon into a small and lightweight bowl, the bowl will fall over. Likewise, if you use large kitchen utensils when you've only got small pans, the utensils will fall out of the pans. Also, if you're eating with your food on your lap, which will happen most of the time, you're going to be picking your knife and fork up a lot if they're heavy.

The best cutlery I discovered, having tried a few options, is cheap China shop wooden handled cutlery with lightweight stainless steel. They work a lot better than camping cutlery but are a fraction of the weight of household cutlery. Best of all, the wooden handles weigh less than the bowls/tines/blades and, therefore, the balance is weighted into the bowl/plate/cup, etc. It sounds silly but, trust me, every little helps to make vanlife more enjoyable and less stressful.

Click the photo below to buy a set of this lightweight wooden, handled cutlery.

CAMPERVAN CUTLERY SET


VANLIFE TIP - 3
SMALL, LIGHTWEIGHT 
PANS AND UTENSILS

Following on from the cutlery advice, buy small and lightweight pans and kitchen utensils. You're probably going to have a tiny amount of space to prepare meals, your stove is likely to be small and your sink is probably going to be small and very shallow. So buy pans to fit these parameters, and then buy kitchen utensils to fit the pans. You could make a comedy out of a person struggling to cook a meal in a campervan....massive pan on a tiny hob and, later, unable to fit said pan under the tap let alone into the sink. I imagine a lot of vanlife people have chosen to throw away a dirty pan having struggled to wash it in their Wendy house sized kitchen.

Make sure, however, that you buy wide pans that are less likely to fall off your gas stove. I had several accidents with pans slipping off the hob because the base was too small. I wouldn't recommend camping pans because they're awkward to hold and easy to drop. Double handled pans are also less likely to get knocked off the hob than pans with one long handle sticking out.

Also......buy pans with lids. One of the worst things about vanlife is managing to direct cooking steam out of the van. A pan lid will obviously condense most of the steam but it can also be angled to direct steam to the outside. Also, if you have any leftovers, you can just keep them in the pan if you have a lid, rather than transferring them into a storage box.



VANLIFE TIP - 4
PAN COOLER

I spent eighteen months in a VW campervan in the south of Spain and didn't have a fridge. This wasn't much of a problem because I didn't keep a lot of food in the van anyway, I ate meat on the day I bought it and I discovered a clever vanlife hack.....a pan cooler. I kept all my meat and dairy food in a lidded stainless steel casserole pan. Amazingly, cheese and even pate lasted for several days in this pan, even in the Spanish summer heat. The pan was always really cold to the touch in the winter and, therefore, worked even better as a cordless fridge. 

If you're going to be in the UK or anywhere else that is normally cool, you won't need a fridge. Save yourself the money, the gas/electricity and the space and just use a lidded pan or a metal box. If you can weld a metal box to a nearby area of the underside of your campervan then it would work even better.....as a freezer in the winter!



VANLIFE TIP - 5
LIDDED PANS

This is just a quick one....buy pans with lids. One of the worst things about vanlife is managing to direct cooking steam out of the van. A pan lid will obviously condense most of the steam but it can also be angled to direct steam to the outside. Also, if you have any leftovers, you can just keep them in the pan if you have a lid, rather than transferring them into a storage box.



VANLIFE TIP - 6
BEWARE OF MIRROR FIRE RISK


When I designed the interior of my campervan, I thought a lot about where the sun would enter the van to make sure it could never hit a mirror. I have two vanity mirrors in my van: one on a hook and the other on a removable wall that goes over the bulkhead when I'm camping. The sun cannot hit either of these mirrors, so my van is safe. 

If the sun hits a mirror, the light that will be reflected off it will be lazer-like in intensity and extremely hot. Remember using a mirror to reflect the sun and burn a dried leaf as a child? A thin strobe of light will be reflected that will burn your bedding, curtains, etc.



VANLIFE TIP - 7
ALL NATURAL MATERIALS

When I first kitted out my campervan for vanlife, I had two very large soft blankets. After a few months of getting static shocks, I gave them away. They were very cold anyway and the fire risk of synthetic materials is too great: they can go up in flames very easily!

The best thing I bought for my van was a double sized thick Scottish wool blanket from a charity shop. It changed our winter! We had been freezing cold at night with the synthetic blankets but the wool blanket was amazing! Very snug and no drafts. Plus, wool is impossible to burn so there's no fire risk with a wool blanket. Also, having a wool blanket on board is a very wise move because it can be used as a fire blanket if, say, your stove bursts into flames. Wool will suffocate a fire.



VANLIFE TIP - 8
NO GLASS OR POTTERY

Avoid glass and pottery plates, glasses, mugs, bowls, etc. They're heavy, they break easily, they're too damaging to lightweight campervan sinks and breakages can be a real hassle with all the shards. 

Stick to metal, wood, plastic and bamboo.



VANLIFE TIP - 9
WIDE-BOTTOMED CROCKERY

It sounds so insignificant but, trust me, things get knocked over very easily in a small campervan so anything that reduces this likelihood is a blessing. Buy plastic beakers, mugs with big flat bottoms, etc. If you find some crockery that's weighted at the base then that will also help.


VANLIFE TIP - 10
WIPE BEFORE WASHING UP

Saving fresh water and reducing the amount of waste water was a constant concern during my fulltime vanlife. One way to save a lot of water consumption is to wipe your washing up with tissue paper before you wash up. This will not only save your fresh water and reduce your waste water but also prevent the smelliest and lumpiest food residue from going into your waste water tank. Wiping before washing also makes the washing up a lot quicker and easier.



VANLIFE TIP - 11
SEAL SALT

If you use a salt grinder, the salt will get wet and the grinder will go rusty. Dampness in your campervan will be drawn to the salt, which is a hermetical, and make it wet. The best solution is to keep salt in an airtight pot and sprinkle it on your cooking.

To save kitchen worktop space, employ hanging baskets to hold your fruit and vegetables. Campervan designs tend to focus almost entirely on making use of the lower space and ignore the higher up space. My van was designed half and half. One thing I did was hang things, including baskets for fruit and vegetables. This frees up worktop space and also reduces the risk of food going moldy in a drawer.



VANLIFE TIP - 12
DRINKING WATER DISPENSER

One of the best decisions I made was to take the time to make a drinking water dispenser housing unit to sit onto my kitchen worktop. I bought a 2ltr glass water tank with a tap and built, out of plywood, a housing unit that also incorporated storage areas for cosmetics. The water tank has a large screw on lid, making topping up easy. It can easily be lifted out and cleaned, if necessary. The tap is operated by pushing it up, so I can push it up and hold a cup at the same time. All these little things make vanlife far more enjoyable and less nightmarish.

I will write about my water dispenser soon and show you photos.



VANLIFE TIP - 13
BUY FOOD IN ITS OWN PACKAGING

Try to buy food that comes in its own packaging to reduce waste, not just for the benefit of the world but also so you don't have so much rubbish hanging around. Apples cores, orange peel and banana skis can be thrown into the countryside....the best place for them. 



VANLIFE TIP - 14
EAT RAW FOOD

Eating raw food while living the fulltime vanlife makes a lot of sense. I only cooked about once every five days. Instead, I made wraps, salads and cold plates using tuna, cooked chicken, nuts, seeds, avocado, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, celery, feta cheese, etc....all drenched in olive oil. It was always delicious and probably much healthier than cooked food. It was also quicker, used no gas, produced no steam or spitting oil, and created less washing up. I started making raw dinners after our portable gas stove exploded. Even after I braved it and bought another gas stove, albeit a safer one, I stuck with raw dinners as we'd grown to really enjoy them.



VANLIFE TIP - 15
EGGS

If, like me, you don't have a fridge and therefore can't keep fresh meat in your van, turn to eggs. They'll provide you with lots of protein and, best of all, they don't need to be stored in a fridge. Even in Spain, I found eggs lasted for two weeks or more. Also, the shells can be thrown into the countryside, reducing your rubbish.



VANLIFE TIP - 16
HEAVY BREAD

After eighteen months living the vanlife full-time, I now think I know what is the best van-bread. It might sound silly but it's really annoying to discover your bread has gone moldy, especially if you're actually chewing on it! Probably because of the dampness in campervans, bread goes moldy quickly. I found dense wholemeal bread lasts a lot longer than lightweight airy bread. Given campervans can get very hot in the daytime, bread tends to dry out quickly too. If it's all you've got, soak it in egg and fry it up...or make olive oil toast in the pan.



VANLIFE TIP - 17
PARK IN SUNNY, WINDY SPOT

If you park in a sunny and windy spot, you will find your solar panel charges up quickly, your van warms up when the sun comes up, your windows dry out earlier and your van generally stays drier.

I started out thinking I needed to park in a spot protected from the elements, but I soon realised it's better to be exposed to the elements as two of them....sun and wind.....are your best friends.

Unless you've got a heater or really powerful windscreen demisters, you're going to need a good breeze to dry off your windows before you can drive. We would sponge down the insides of the windows, open the curtains and open the sliding door and front windows to dry out the van every morning, even if we weren't going anywhere. This took a lot longer if we were parked in the shade or in a closed off space.



More vanlife tips to come!


Click HERE for van conversion design tips.

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