Someone recently asked me what my number one vanlife hack is. After thinking about it for a while, I came up with lots of little tips and tricks, so I thought I’d do a blog post about it.
As much as I love my ‘tiny house on wheels’, it does come with some constraints like the lack of space and the fact that simple things like power and water are limited. But over the last 14 months, I've come up with lots of little hacks, gadgets, and shortcuts that have helped me overcome most of these shortcomings.
For those who have a mobile home, whether it’s your permanent home or just a holiday home, some of my ‘hacks’ might give you ideas for your tiny house on wheels. So here are my top 10 vanlife Hacks.
1. Keeping Mosquitos Out
When travelling in New Zealand, especially in summer, finding ways to keep pesky mosquitos, sandflies and other annoying flying insects out is absolutely key to having a good time. But it's also hot most days, so you want to be able to open as many doors and windows as possible. Of course, you can just buy custom-fitted nets for your windows, but that is pretty expensive. Instead, I decided to make my own. I bought a $15 mosquito net from the Warehouse (NZ's ‘everything' store) and cut it to size to fit over one of my side windows and the back door. I used tape and glue (lots of it) to fix it in place. The side window is permanently covered, and the one at the back door can be pulled to the side when not needed. If I do want it in place, I use picks to attached it to the curtain on the other half of the door so it stays in place.
That’s it. My simple and cheap mosquito nets.
2. Extra Storage and Drying Area
Storage is definitely an issue in the van sometimes. Another problem is drying clothes and towels. I always try to dry things outside as much as possible, but when it rains 2 days in a row or when I'm driving a lot, that can be difficult.
I found a simple way to help with both of those issues. A friend helped me drill holes into the wood just under the ceiling and then I screwed little hocks in. There are a total of 10 (5 on each side) along the top of my van. At the back over the seats, a rope is crisscrossing which I use as a washing line to dry or air-out clothes or towels. At the front, I use the hocks to hang kitchen towels, a bag for recycling and other things. And on one side, those hocks are also what holds the paddle that goes with my paddle board.
Lots of extra storage and all it needed was 10 little hocks, some rope and a friend with a drill.
3. No More Bruised Avocado or Fruit
I'm not a big fruit eater, but I love avocados. One issue I had was that avocadoes would get bruised easily from moving around the van while driving and hitting the sides of the shelves or the fridge. I saw a hanging fruit net somewhere and thought it was a great idea since it would stop avocados (and fruit) from hitting anything while driving. But the only one I could find was $80, and I wasn't willing to pay that.
One day I was at a second-hand clothing store, and I saw this white net-style top. I didn't like the top, but I thought that fabric would be great for a fruit/avocado net. I bought it for $5 and cut a big round piece out of it. I then used rope (that was left over from the clothing line mentioned above) and weaved it through the holes in the fabric so you could pull it together to close the net and hang it up. Since then, I've had no more issues with bruised avocados.
4. Keeping the Driver’s Cab Tidy
This hack really only works for those who have a spare seat. One thing I love about living in a van is that everything has its place - if it doesn’t, you’ll have to get rid of it because there is no room for stuff lying around. As a result, my van is usually pretty tidy.
But one area that was always a bit messy in my van is my passenger seat. I like having easy access to water, sunnies, tissues, coffee and other bits and pieces while driving. Before, all of that was just lying on the seat and flying around whenever I would take a sharp turns. But then I saw these car seat organizers. They are meant to go on the back of the seat but work just as well on the front. And when I do have a passenger, I can easily take it off and then put it back on. Love it!!
5. Cleaning Greasy Pans
I’m a big believer in the Low Carb Healthy Fat lifestyle. As a result, when I cook, it's usually with lots of olive or coconut oil, and I end up with greasy pans that only hot water can clean. I used to turn on my water heater before doing my dishes, but it always annoyed me that the water heater would heat 15 litres (using lots of gas to do so) when I really only needed 1 or 2.
For a while, I started to simply heat a litre or two in a pot on the stove which worked well and used less gas. But then I discovered an even better way: Cleaning greasy pans right away while they are still hot! All the grease comes off so much easier, and I'm not wasting extra gas heating water.
6. Dry Bathroom Floor
Another constraint of vanlife is that my bathroom is tiny. You wouldn't be able to fit more than one person in there. Think of my bathroom as a tiny shower with a toilet in it. When I take a shower, everything gets wet, and it takes a while before all the water has drained fully and everything is dry. A lot of the time, there is a little bit of water somewhere on the floor. That isn’t really a big issue, it’s just water. But when you’re wearing socks while using the toilet, it's kind of annoying. I'm usually barefoot in summer, but as soon as it gets a bit colder, I like to put on socks, especially in the evenings. It's not uncommon to find me in shorts and a t-shirt but wearing super comfy wool socks.
I don't know how many times I went to use the toilet only to end up with wet socks. It's just water! But it's still annoying. Luckily, I found this awesome bamboo wooden bathmat at Kmart for only $17. It fits perfectly and makes sure I have something dry to step on while whatever water is on the floor stays below.
7. Saving Power with Fairy Lights
Power is limited when you are living in a van. I have solar panels, and my house battery also charges when I'm driving, but on cloudy days when I'm not driving a lot, I need to watch my power consumption. Battery powered fairy lights are a great way to save power, and they also make for an awesome atmosphere. I prefer using them over the bright van lights, especially in the evenings. And it means I save power for the essential things, like keeping my fridge running and my laptop charged, so I can work and write blog posts.
8. Easy to Clean Seat Covers
Since my van is my home, I spend a lot of time in it. As a result, things do get dirty. One of the great advantages of living in a tiny home is that cleaning is quick and easy. But one thing that is hard to clean are seat covers. My seats in the back are my lounge, office and dining area and they turn into my bedroom at night, so I spend a lot of time on them. But taking the covers off the foam squabs for cleaning is a mission! My solution: colourful sheets to cover the seats (though thanks to all the sunlight, they are not that colourful anymore L). They look cool and are easy to take off, wash, dry and put back on.
9. Keeping my Laptop Charged
Back to the power issue. Keeping my laptop charged is really important to me because I need it to work. No laptop means no income (and no blog posts). When I first got the van I had to be super careful with using my laptop because I didn’t have a way to charge it off the house battery. I could only charge it off the car battery while driving.
I went looking for a solution and ended up getting a 12v outlet attached to the house battery. With the inverter I already had, this means I can charge my laptop even when I’m parked up. Now it’s just on cloudy days when the solar panels are not generating much power that I have to be careful about laptop usage.
10. Everything you need Camping Apps
This ‘hack’ is one that most people are probably already aware of, but I use it so much that I felt this post would be incomplete without mentioning it. Camping Apps! In New Zealand CamperMate or the NZMCA one (for members only) are the main ones. The mobile apps not only show you all the campgrounds and dumpstations, they also show petrol stations, supermarkets, where to get gas and water, public showers, things to do, laundromats, hospitals, where to drop off rubbish, ATMs and much more. So you can always find what you need, no matter where you are.
I have both CamperMate and the NZMCA app, and I use them daily. I actually think any traveller, whether you're camping or not, would find these apps incredibly useful.
11. Save on Petrol with Gaspy
Another app I love is Gaspy. The app shows you fuel prices at the different petrol stations around you enabling you to compare and find the cheapest one. If you're driving a lot, the money you save through using this app can make a huge difference.
I don't know if there are similar apps in other countries. If you know something, leave a comment below.
My absolute favourite and most valuable vanlife hack is actually my surfboard rack on the side of the van. I don't know what I wouldn't have done if I hadn't been able to figure that out as travelling without my boards wasn't really an option. But since this is a very ‘me' thing and I also already wrote a full blog post just about them, I decided to leave it off this list.