Top 12 Campervan Tips from a Past Renter
By Dawn S.
Some campervan tips, lessons learned, and words of wisdom from our van life adventures in our own van, Big Blue, and the Escape campervans that we have traveled in.
- Be friendly, approachable, and talk to people. Allow time to take side trips, and explore places you hear about, or that you discover along the way. I like to ask park rangers and locals, “I only have (fill in the blank) one day/half day/2 hours, what should I not miss while I’m in the area?
- Keep a notebook and pen with you at all times to play games, keep lists of the things you see, the people you meet, the funny things you say, and to write down good directions to that abandoned mining town 15 miles off the highway. On our first Escape Campervan trip out West, we played the license plate game, and spotted all 50 states! On a 4,000-mile road trip through the Northeast, we wrote a van song called “Mamma’s Don’t Let Your Babies Travel Around In a Van” (I’m trying hard to have this hilarious parody recorded for a future blog post). We’ve met interesting people and travelers from all over the world. Some were on cross-country motorcycle trips, international bus tours, and global Unimog treks. These details are so easily forgotten, but it’s fun to remember them when I look back through my trip notes.
- Animals are most active at dawn and dusk. Travel the wildlife scenic drives slowly at first and last light, to reap the best rewards. Really watch the roadside and scan further afield, if you are not driving. Pull into a turn out near the meadow and wait patiently to see what may show itself. Use your binoculars or zoom lens to scan the tree line. Listen for birds, then try to find where the sound is coming from. When visiting Yellowstone National Park, take the early morning photo safari tour that leaves from the Lake Hotel, even if you don’t have a fancy camera, for a great chance to view wildlife in Hayden Valley. We’ve seen tons of wildlife while traveling by campervan, including hundreds of deer, herds of elk, pronghorn, bison, moose, mountain goats, wolf, coyote, fox, marmot, prairie dogs, pheasants, turkey, swans, geese, hawks, osprey, herons, eagles, muskrats, river otters, seals, sea lions, black bears, and three grizzly bears!
- Grab a few empty boxes from a supermarket or liquor store, cut in half, and use as STORAGE bins in the van. They fit perfectly under and between the seats, and in the kitchen area.
- Pack light! You don’t need a ton of gear or clothes, just some lightweight, quick dry layers that work well together. No need to spend a ton of money at REI, you probably already have or can borrow all that you need: just think hunting, fishing, skiing, and workout attire. Avoid cotton when it’s cold and rainy. Don’t forget a swimsuit, rain jacket, long underwear, warm sweater or fleece pullover, beanie, gloves, and wool socks. Expect cool mornings and evenings even in summertime.
- When packing for a trip, I lay everything out on my bed that I think I want to take, then only take about half of it. Starting with 2 or 3 pants, I find 3 or 4 tops that will go with any bottoms. I then add my acrylic travel sweater and outer layer. Wear your bulkiest clothes if traveling by plane, so you don’t waste space in your carry-on bag. We flew to Vancouver to pick up our Escape Campervan for ten days, and all I took was a small backpack and a medium-sized purse. All John took was a large backpack and his camera bag. I wore my hiking boots on the plane and packed a pair of flip flops as shower shoes. My personal rule is no more than two shoes, wear one, pack one.
- Some extra gear I like to bring along in the Escape campervan includes: reusable shopping bag, eye mask, earplugs, headlamp, refillable water bottle, insulated coffee travel mug, Ove Glove, a few gallon and quart-sized slide top freezer bags, Nite Ize gear line, rubber GearTies for making clothes hooks, a small camp towel for drying hands and face, and an XL McKnett OutGO microfiber bath towel – it’s huge, soft, dries quickly, and also makes a great blanket.
- Attach a carabineer to your water bottle, so you can easily hang it on the airline seatback pocket.
- Bring a scarf. Wrap it around your neck when it’s cold out and use it to dress up a casual outfit when you are in town. It can also be used as a shawl, hair wrap, airline blanket, eye mask, or sarong/swimsuit cover-up.
- Showering: to simplify things in the van, I keep all of my toiletries, towels, shower shoes, quarters, makeup, hair dryer, baby wipes, a few pairs of socks and undies, PJs, and a change of clothes in my bright yellow “bathroom tote” (a reusable shopping bag). It’s easy to grab and go, and I know I will have anything I need with me. Instead of a washcloth, a small, kitchen-sized sponge works great and dries out quickly.
- When days of hiking in the rain, and the toilet paper in public restrooms have rubbed you the wrong way, Balmex is the bomb! A travel sized Gold Bond Powder can prevent chafing before it becomes an issue and helps to keep feet dry.
- When nature calls and it’s 2 a.m., freezing cold and raining, and you are in brown bear country, a large empty Gatorade bottle works great if you’re a guy. If you’re a lady, you will need a little help, and there are some great options out there, but practice at home before your trip.
- Pause to view each sunrise and sunset
- Take time to peer into the night sky
- Keep your camera with you, and your binocs handy
- Find a scenic place to eat your meals
- Take a hike and pack a picnic lunch
- Take time to linger in the places that you fall in love with
- Book your national park campground ahead of time if visiting during the summer months.
- National Forests are my favorite places to park the van for the night. They are less crowded, often border the National Parks, and offer free dispersed camping or inexpensive campgrounds with some facilities. State parks are another great place to camp, hike and picnic.
- Pilot/Flying J truck stop showers are worth the money (or get a rewards card and earn credits towards a shower when you fuel up)
JOHN’S WORDS OF WISDOM:
- “Never, EVER, pass up a chance to use a flush toilet.”
- “If there is a tornado watch, get a hotel room.”
- “Travel size Febreze, it’s priceless” (spray your clothes when you take them off, hang over the seat back to dry.)
- “When you drive on Route 66, you really feel the American nostalgia; it takes you off the beaten path.” Oklahoma has more miles of the historic Route 66 than any other state, and a museum dedicated to its glory days.
- “When you meet a local who wants to talk, LISTEN! (and take notes) it might just make your whole trip” A rancher in Oklahoma told us about the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, which we would have missed. We fell in love with the wildlife, kayaking on the lake, hiking at little Mt Baldy, the mountains, the prairie, and ended up staying for three days.
- “When you’re at a campsite with great drinking water, fill up everything!” We try to keep two one gallon jugs, two 1 liter refillable bottles and a large thermos of water on hand
- “Get up early and see the wildlife, it’s so worth it!”
- “12 hours of driving in one day is too much!”
- “Custer State Park (in South Dakota) is amazing! Come in the off season, even if most things are closed, it’s less crowded with tons of wildlife” We spotted a big horn sheep, herds of bison and elk, watched the antics at a huge prairie dog town, and listened to coyotes baying and howling from the woods at dusk.
- “When in doubt, gas up the van” Don’t wait, top of the tank before you head off into the remote areas. It’s no good when you are in North Dakota and low on fuel and Google Maps says the nearest gas station is 215 miles away! Thankfully the Gas Buddy app saved the day by leading us to the Hoover Ranch, in the middle of nowhere, where there was an old 1970’s era gas pump at the end of the front porch!
- “We don’t need to buy ice if there is snow all around us” In our personal van, Big Blue, the cooler IS our fridge, but we didn’t need to use an extra cooler with the Escape Campervan, even with four people, it’s fridge drawer with solar panel worked great, so great, you shouldn’t crank it up to high, or it might freeze your spinach.
- “Just because the huge lake is frozen, doesn’t mean you can walk onto it – the edges melt first!” Being from Florida, I had never seen a frozen lake before, and I so very much wanted to walk out onto it. Thank you for answering our inquiry before we tested it out, Mr. local man at Lake Superior in Wisconsin, with the huge dogs.
- “Take a few minutes and explore around your campsite, you never know what you may see!” We saw a fox, and then 4 kits playing in an old rail yard outside of St Louis, MO.
- “Seize the day! We had less than a minute to decide if we wanted to go urban kayaking, and use the shuttle – we were rushed, but oh so glad we did it!” Huge thanks to Annie at River Queen Voyages in Nashville, Tennessee.
- “Take a break and make a nice dinner, then go for a walk in the woods.”
- “Uh, these Georgia troopers ain’t playin’, so don’t be speedin’, in the Big Blue Van with the Florida tag!”
So there you have it! Wishing you lots of wildlife, colorful sunsets, and starry nights on your campervan road trip. May all your water be potable, and all of your handwritten directions be legible!