NOMAD LIFESTYLE • TRAVELING & LIVING IN A VAN
Updated: May 14, 2020
Our absolute favorite way to travel is with a car, but not only one to drive around, one to live in around. Pedro and I bought our first van a month after we started dating in New Zealand and we lived countless adventures with our dear Kaha, which means strong in Maori.
We kept it for 6 months, exploring New Zealand's gems.
Today, our goal is to share with you our best tips to travel and live in a van, with some extra tips if you do it in New Zealand.
This country is idyllic for camper lovers, it's full of good facilities and campgrounds in the most gorgeous places. On top of that, New Zealand is really safe and the roads are in good conditions.
Related article : Road Trip Northland - New Zealand.
Picking your van
Beyond the usual general checking of the van (shape, age, km situation...), buying a van includes few other requirements that you might consider to pick the best option for you.
↠ High top or low top ?
Having a high top is nice for standing up, which can make your life easier, especially when it's cooking time. However, a higher van is more likely to hit trees and not fit into parking structures. Besides, you will realise after a while living in a van that you don't spend that much time standing up. So if you plan to travel around a lot, a low top van might be better.
↠ Old van or new van ?
This really depends on your budget and project with your van.
We personally recommend not to get an old one, unless you don’t plan to drive that much or if you prepare a big customization/renovation to make it your own and stick with it for a long period of time. Old vans can come with tons of issues and there is nothing more frustrating than getting stuck in a foreign place with no replacement parts.
↠ With or without windows ?
One ultimate advice here, buy a van with windows. Windows will make you feel less claustrophobic, especially if you have a low top van. Besides, your van looks less creepy than a windowless van.
If you are reluctant to get one with windows for intimacy purpose or not to be disturbed by the light, do not worry. A lot of vans are coming with cute curtains, more or less sophisticated, but efficient. Plus, it's nice when you wake up and can open the windows for some air, enjoying a beautiful view.
↠ Bed or couch ?
When it comes to the "van's bedroom", one of the biggest choices is whether it should be a foldout couch or a permanent bed. In our case, we went for a stationary bed because we didn’t want to deal with making a foldout bed every morning and night. But on the other hand, a couch gives you some nice extra space.
So it's really personal, one is a gain of time, this other is a gain of space. It's up to you to decide what you value the most for your comfort.
Life while traveling in a van
Keep it simple
When the time comes to start packing your van, only bring the minimal basics with you.
Traveling light applies when you are on the road with a van as well. The more stuff you will bring, the harder it will be for you to live nicely and to have everything handy.
Related article : Slow travel.
Bring the right weather clothing
Before leaving on a journey, make some research about the weather in the country you are traveling to and bring basic clothes.
For example, even if you are going to a hot and humid country, always bring a jacket or sweatshirt with you. It's that kind of clothing that can always be useful and save your day (or your night). And if you miss anything, you can still buy it on the road.
Have a basic kitchen set up
Having/Building a kitchen in your campervan will help you keep better habits by cooking healthier meals. And for that, get yourself a basic kitchen set up :
- Jars, to store dry food like your seeds, herbs, tea, coffee, sugar, flour, rice, pasta...
- One good cutting knife and cutting board,
- Few multiple purpose kitchen tools, such as a knife that can be a can and bottle opener at the same time,
- A couple of different size pans & pots,
- A water container...
Get clear storage bins
Storage bins are your best allies to keep things organized in a van. You can even fit some of them under your bed, like this they don't even take any of your living space.
Use a variety of bin sizes, from extra-large for your winter clothes, to smaller ones for toiletries and electronics.
It's a nice way to keep this little space of yours tided up, clear and to keep things separated. As a bit of extra advice, try to find transparent storage brings that will let you see through and where is the item you are looking for, without taking everything out.
Use the door organizers
In addition to storage bins, you can use a few door organizers for smaller things.
They don't take any extra place either and you can attach them on the inside of your main storage doors, hidden of your sight.
Divide & conquer
If you are traveling with a partner or friend, split up your daily tasks to be more efficient and get them done faster. Like cooking, making the bed or cleaning inside... Soon or later, you will realise that there is no room for 2 people doing the same thing.
One can stay focused on an indoor task, while the other can focus on an outdoor one, like cleaning the outside, checking the levels of oils... Like this, you don't bump into each other in this limited space that is your van.
Bring along basic tools
Unfortunately, life on the road ain't easy and peaceful every day. During your journey, you might face some casualties and difficulties. From a broken tire to a battery failure, the dream can turn easily into a nightmare. Therefore, find a toolbox that comes with the essentials, as you might need to repair little things on the road.
Along with this toolbox make sure to bring along a headlamp, duct tape, spare electrical connectors, wire strippers and fuses as well. Those are some essentials that can save you in many situations.
Keep a set of wet wipes
Wet wipes are a live saver when there is no shower option in your camping spot. It's not the sexiest, but in case of emergencies, it makes a big difference.
While doing a road trip in New Zealand or Australia, we highly advise you to get the Camper Mate app.
It's THE ultimate exploring app you need to get. It indicates any free or paid campsites, accommodations, awesome things to do and see around you, ATMs, Wifi spots, publics showers... It's an incredible tool, that makes your life on the road so much easier and makes you discover places you would have not known about.
Working while on the road ?
The solution is really easy : Coffee shops. They are great for getting work done on the road.
The coffee shop culture is deeply present in Australia & New Zealand.
Every single town, even the smallest one, has a coffee place. You can find at every corner a cosy café, selling plenty of yummy beverages and snacks.
Ask for the WiFi password, most of the time it's written on the menu or a wall, check the walls for plugins to charge your laptop and enjoy your coffee or/and food.
While in some countries coffee shops can prevent people from sticking around, it's very common in NZ and no one will bother you to use a spot in a coffee place to work on your laptop.
Renting your van
If you don't feel like buying a van, whether it's because of a short timing or a short budget that's all good. There are tones of good van rental companies in New Zealand. But here's 2 that we highly recommend :
Juicy : Not used them personally but we have heaps of friends fully satisfied with them. Good services, great and recent vans, with modern equipment... A little more expensive than the average, but they have services of high quality.
Wicked Campers : We both went on a road trip using this renting company. First Pedro with a friend of his before we met and later me, with a friend of mine. We both approved their vans. They are more "basic", but also way less pricy and totally reliable. Plus, with their colorful and funny design, you won't get unnoticed driving one of them.
Stay entertained when the weather is bad
Download audiobooks & music playlists
As your space is limited and sometimes you can't access a decent WiFi hotspot, having a library of downloaded audiobooks and music is a great alternative.
I personally recommend you 3 amazing apps for that : Blinklist or Audible for the audio books.
As for creating your personalized playlists, you can use Amazon Music.
Once again, for the big readers, as you can't allow yourself to collect many books that will take over some precious space, you'll need another support.
One of the most practicable of them is a Kindle.
It takes almost no space and with the Overdrive app you can borrow and read books from your local library for free, isn't great ?
It can be a total entertainment game-changer on the road.
Download Netflix movies, shows & documentaries
If you have a Netflix account, you’ll be happy to know that you don’t have to cancel your membership while you travel in your van. With Netflix, you can download movies and shows onto your phone, tablet or laptop through the Netflix app while using WiFi and watch them later, when you don't have wifi access.
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Alright, that what is for this article, we tried to cover up everything. If you have some questions or tips, feel free to share them with us.
Hoping we will be able to be on the road, enjoying the most scenic routes in our vans soon.