My article last month covered basic things you can do to a vehicle to make it comfortable for living in. These things focused on privacy, which is important if you plan on urban, or stealth, camping. In this month’s article I’ll go through some things to make your vehicle more comfortable to live in. There’s a whole range of things you can do, it all depends on how much time and effort you want to put in.

Food

For some people, a camp stove and a cooler is enough, but if you don’t feel like messing around with propane canisters or worrying about stocking up on ice or dry ice then check out some of the appliances you can plug into the cigarette lighter – truck stops are a good place to find them.

Many vandwellers swear by their SmartMug, a mug that plugs into the cigarette lighter. I found it to be good for tea, but slow and not hot enough to do any real cooking. I’ve been very happy with my RoadPro water heater. It’s not as fast as a camp stove, but I can cook ramen noodles or canned soup and don’t need to find a place outside to set up the stove or buy new propane canisters. RoadPro makes a lot of 12-volt appliances, I’m considering their frying pan.

Electricity

Speaking of things you can plug into your cigarette lighter, an inverter creates a regular plug to charge your electronics as you drive. If you’re especially heavy on the electronics (for example, if you have a TV or use your computer for hours every day) then consider adding a “house battery”. This is a second car battery that recharges while you drive, but is hooked up to the cab of your car. This way you don’t need to worry about draining the battery that starts the engine.

If you plan on staying put for long periods of time and don’t want to run your engine to recharge your batteries think about installing solar panels. There are plenty of kits and information for RVers and if your vehicle has a decent-sized roof you can make something work for you.

Showering/bathing

Portable solar showers, spray bottles, baby wipes, and of course, rivers and lakes are all ways of keeping clean on the road.

Do some searching on the internet and you’ll find that there’s just as many opinions on showering as there are vandwellers. Many, like me, are happy to pay for a gym membership for regular bathing, and figure out other solutions as necessary. However, browse any camping (or vandwelling) website and you’ll find many other ideas. Portable solar showers, spray bottles, baby wipes, and of course, rivers and lakes are all ways of keeping clean on the road. It’s up to you to determine what works best for you. I’ve written a post on my website about where I find showers while traveling.

Heating and cooling

Having curtains in the back is surprisingly helpful for both heating and cooling. I found that while I was freezing while sleeping at 24°F, a few months later (after I’d installed curtains on the back windows) I felt warmer in 10°F weather — it was still chilly, but not too bad.

Having no schedule, I find it easiest to travel like a snowbird, heading north for the summer and south for the winter. If you don’t want to be ruled by the seasons you can put in vents and fans for the summer and a heating system for the winter. Again, there are as many different ideas as there are inventive vandwellers and a lot of what’s possible will depend on what type of vehicle you have.

One final note

I recommend living in your vehicle for at least a week or two before investing much time or money beyond the basics covered in last month’s article. This gives you a chance to see what is important to you, and what will be worth the time and money you have to invest in upgrading your vehicle.

Also, think about where you prefer to travel, and how long you’ll stay in one place. This will help you determine whether a purchase is really necessary. For instance, I kept a cooler for a few months before I decided I didn’t really need to bother. My desire for food that needs to be kept cold isn’t strong enough to justify the space it takes up in my Prius, and I’m usually close enough to a store that I can buy what I want, when I want it.

If you’ve lived in a vehicle and have ideas I’ve left out, or are thinking about trying it and have a question, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you’re thinking about.

Your thoughts on "Home Sweet Home, the next steps for vandwelling"

  • I had no idea that inverters exist to make the cigarette lighter into an electric plug - that is useful even if you aren't living in your car! Thanks, Jessica, and happy holidays!

    on December 24, 2008 at 10:59 pm Reply
  • Yup. I got my many years ago for a road trip. I never really understood the point of getting a special plug to charge your cell phone in the car. Just get an inverter! It's about the same price and works for everything.

    on December 25, 2008 at 2:53 pm Reply
  • Careful about the second battery! If it's not going to be hooked up under the hood, but instead inside the vehicle, you need a special type (gel battery) or else you run the risk of toxic fumes in the vehicle. Also, inverters come in different power ratings so make sure you get the right one for what you will be using. I've owned and sold a couple campervans for traveling Europe, and now in the process of converting one in Australia for a big trip. I can't believe you do this in a Prius!

    on February 18, 2009 at 5:23 pm Reply
  • @Carlo, Thanks for the advice. I've never set up a second battery myself, so I don't know how to do it safely. When I switched from the van to the Prius I had to switch my thinking from "living in a very small apartment" to living in a very "solid and mobile tent." Once I started looking at it more like camping it was very easy to adjust to the differences. It's definitely an adventure!

    on February 21, 2009 at 12:29 am Reply

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