top of page

Ten steps to plan a Van Life road trip. April 2024

Updated: 5 days ago

Van life is becoming increasingly popular for the more adventurous road trippers. It is not quite camping, but more rustic than a hotel room. The allure of being able to stop “anywhere” to catch a sunset or wake up to a magnificent view adds to its popularity. 

Driving a Class B camper van offers more mobility and freedom than a traditional RV and can be driven by nearly anyone. 

Here are a few tips for investing in a camper van and starting your first road trip.

Buying a camper van is a big investment. 

If you are going to buy a vehicle, take your time. Start with a list of what you will need while travelling in your van. 

  1. How many people will live in the van, and for how long?

  2. Will you work in the van?

  3. Do you need a 4 x 4 and all the bells and whistles, which will add to the cost but are unnecessary?

  4. Do you want a bathroom and toilet, or are you OK with a cassette toilet, a compostable campervan toilet, and an outdoor shower?

Sign up for as many local “Camper Vans For Sale” online sites as possible and see as many different vans as possible before deciding. The more options you see, the more questions you ask, and the more informed you will become before you purchase. 

Viewing a variety of for-sale vehicles will give you a good idea of what is available and the general price range. Once you know what you are looking for, you will have a good sense of what to budget and whether you will need financing. 

Only buy a vehicle that will be expensive or hard to repair if you are a handy motor repair person. Many people fall in love with the charm of older models such as Westfalias or Delicos, but unless prepared to spend time on repair and maintenance, this is probably not for you.

Shop local. If you plan to travel around North America, think twice about buying a European or Japanese brand. You may find yourself stuck in a hotel for a week or two while you wait for an expensive part to arrive in some remote and dreary town instead of rolling on the road toward the next distant horizon. 

Rent before you purchase

Buying a camper van is not for everyone, so consider renting. Canada has a wide range of campervans to rent. Shop for the right price and vehicle: roadsurfer, Outdoorsy, Indie Campers, Escape Camper Vans, and Karma Campervans.

Budgeting for a road trip

The six things you need to budget for before embarking on your road trip are:

  1. Gas

  2. Campsites

  3. Food 

  4. Entertainment

  5. Breakdowns and repairs

  6. Wifi and mobile phone

Although camper vans are cheaper at the pump than RVs, as they are lighter and have better fuel economy, gas is a significant cost. When planning your trip, do a rough calculation of where and how far you want to travel and estimate the mileage cost. 

Avoid the beginner's mistake of driving long distances every day. Rule of thumb: as many hours you drive is as many days as you stay in one place. Drive for two hours and stay for two days. Travelling in a camper van is a lifestyle choice. The temptation is to drive. Stay awhile and enjoy each unique place you visit.

You may save on hotel costs, but campgrounds cost per day, and the price goes up with full hookups. Mix up your stays with boondocking, stealth parking, Crown Land in Canada or BLM land in the USA, campsites, and a full hook-up to replenish your spirits, batteries, and water supply and do your laundry.

Crown land allows free camping for up to 21 days per site once a year. BLM has different restrictions at different sites, but most sites allow up to 14 days.

If you are boondocking, be sure to plan well for:

  1. Water usage

  2. Freshwater for drinking and cooking

  3. Gray and black tank capacity

  4. Battery power 

  5. Food

  6. And, leave no trace. Carry out what you carry in.

Medical Insurance

Shop around, but remember to do this before stepping outside Canada. Get competitive quotes. A few reputable companies include, but are not limited to, Manulife, BCAA, and Blue Cross.

Roadside assistance

Are you a BCAA member? As they say—shit happens. Make sure your BCAA coverage includes your camper van. For any road traveller, this is an “essential.” The Automobile Association (AA) is an international association; don’t leave home without it.

Telephone and Wifi

There are many reliable VoIP Apps for making telephone calls. Buying a local SIM card (prepaid or pay-as-you-go) is a simple solution. Using a local account for data gives affordable access to valuable information like directions, banking, travel information, event tickets, Facebook, and other platforms that are now part of everyday life. Furthermore, most telecommunications companies temporarily suspend an account, which can help reduce your mobile phone costs.

There is much online debate about which WiFi provider to use. For the most part, a local telecommunications company can solve this problem without great expense. It will give you enough capacity to work on the road, send emails, download photos, and watch Netflix. 

Packing—Take less

Put aside two days to pack your van. 

Day 1: pack your van

Day 2: repack your van and discard a third of what you have packed. 

Vans are compact, and elaborate meal preparation can be awkward. You won't be throwing dinner parties from your van, so there's no need for extras. Unless you are boondocking or to a remote area, there is no need to stock up on food; rather, replenish as you go. Always carry portable water for drinking and cooking, as the water from van tanks is not palatable.

Pack weather-appropriate clothes for where you plan to go and the activities you plan to do.  One is always available although you don’t want to spend time in a laundry. Choose comfortable, easy-to-wear clothes, slip on shoes and leave space in the tiny pacing space for a few fun purchases on the way. 

Always travel with some cash tucked away for any other unplanned expenses.

Trip Planning

Familiarize yourself with local laws when looking for parking. It should be safe and legal; if you are lucky, it will have a beautiful view. Social media is full of influencers posting the best pictures of amazing posts. You will find those, too, but don’t have unrealistic expectations. You will find beautiful spots when you mix it up between boondocking camping and stealth parking, and each stayover will be unique.

Going on a road trip means letting go of normality and routine. Each road is new. 

Everyone is different; some people plan meticulously, while others prefer flexibility. On your first road trip, having some of your stops planned and booked will give you a certain level of comfort. 

  • Apps  to help smooth your journey 

  • iOverlander is a database of places for overlanders and travellers. It includes camping, hotels, restaurants, mechanics, water, propane filling, and many other categories; it is handy if you search for BLM and Crown Land or free overnight parking spots.

  • Waze is a subsidiary company of Google that provides satellite navigation software on smartphones and other computers.

  • Campendium offers RV Park reviews, free camping, dump station locations, campsite photos and RV travel blogs. 

  • Harvest Hosts is a membership program for self-contained road trippers, such as RVers, camper vans, and trailers. It provides access to a network of 5,000+ wineries, farms, breweries, museums, and other unique attractions that invite self-contained vehicles to visit and stay overnight, and it is well worth the annual subscription.

  • Road Trippers is a website and mobile app that offers a route planner, fuel cost estimates, and the ability to explore places within a set distance of a route. 

Have a purpose

Why do you want to go on a camper van trip? Are you choosing a lifestyle, going on holiday or being a tourist? If you plan to work on the road, you are more likely to choose a lifestyle. Establish a routine, slow the pace down, and Enjoy the luxury of stopping and staying in a beautiful spot before moving on again. If you are a tourist or on holiday, have fun. If you plan to do both, choose your schedule wisely. Plan to visit attractions during the week when fewer families are out and about. But separate the days you are chasing a destination and the days you are “at home” in your van, doing work and regular chores.

Van life is not for everyone. It is living with constantly moving parts, and it can test your adaptability. But if you have a little courage, turn the keys in the ignition and trundle off on an adventure. You will never regret the places you visit, the sites you see, and the people you meet. Life is rich on the road, and you will create a lifetime of memories.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page