Whether you’re a road trip virgin with big dreams for your beat up mini van, or you’re a bona fide enthusiast with a garage full of classic VWs to prove it, follow my guide and you’ll avoid the common pitfalls of living that van life: Towing, theft and and terrible sleep, just to name a few!
1. Toilet paper
A van is like a house in many ways. A house with nowhere to poop. And no matter how hard you try to fight it, there will come a time when you will have to plant a good old fashioned bush squat. And when you do, you will not want to be wiping your ass with leaves. Finding the right size and texture is a nightmare. Don’t underestimate the smooth sensation toilet paper will bring to your behind. In fact, don’t underestimate toilet paper at all. Whether you need something nice and flammable to get the camp fire going, or you have an epiphany that the world needs to read (but you are likely to forget unless you jot it down right now), or you simply want to do a drive by using the cheapest projectile you can find (just add water!), toilet paper is your friend.
2. Lock. The. Van.
No matter where you are, or how long you intend to leave the car, if there’s nobody manning the fort, lock that baby up. Even in the most peaceful, blissed out and hippied up festival, where the scent of incense drifts lovingly through the air, and girls sit in circles braiding daisies into each other’s hair, there can always be a snake in the grass.
It’s a sad fact of life that some people prey on environments which are naturally conducive to trust, and the last thing you need is to come back to your spot to find a van devoid of all valuables, or worse yet, find no van at all!
3. Sneaky Spot
A dread lock is a great place to keep the spare key.
Invest in a dustpan and brush, a plastic storage container, a small spray bottle of disinfectant and some bin bags. There are many reasons for keeping your van clean. Perhaps you have heard the expression “don’t shit where you eat”.
A great variant of this is, “don’t throw a pile of crap where you sleep”. Under ordinary circumstances, the back of your car is a great place to toss maccas wrappers, textbooks, sports gear and entire wardrobes.
However, when you actually have to sleep back there, you don’t want to be resting your head upon a soggy lettuce and socks covered copy of Masterton’s Guide to Chemistry. Save yourself the hassle of having to clean out the van every single freaking night, and put your rubbish straight in the bin, and your junk in a container. Plus, as an added bonus, when your van doesn’t look like a dump on wheels, you have a lot less chance of park rangers, police, and busy bodies mistaking you for a hobo and telling you to move your smelly ass on.
5. Crack a window
This one seems almost too obvious. It will take only one morning of waking up drenched in sweat, stiff, half suffocated, and wondering if you have been translocated to Mars by vengeful hippie-hating aliens, to realise that the Australian sun (even in Winter) will slowly turn your van into a convection oven from the hours of 5am to 5pm.
6. Make yourself some shade
If you are one of the few lucky people to have bought a van that comes with curtains, you can stop reading now and take a moment to ponder what all the previous owners of said van have done together in the lovely privacy of what is now your bed. If you are not so fortunate, or aren’t quite sure how to go about installing curtains (there are drills and sewing and trips to Bunnings involved, and it’s all a bit too confusing man!) then an easy way to prevent your van from becoming the wrong kind of hot box is to simply take some material (an old sarong, a cut up sheet, a large dress) and, using a credit card, wedge it in to the crevaces between the glass of your windows, or where your doors close.
If you are planning on staying in your van for quite a while, it is worth buying some black felt (the best material for zero visibility), cutting out sections for each window, and attaching strong magnets to hold the felt in place, all of which you can store under your seat until sleepy time. When all the windows are uniformly blacked out, a van looks a lot less suspect, and you’ll find you are able to sleep in peace.
7. Park on even ground
It seems like a no-brainer, but the last thing you want to do, once you have got your lovely sleeping nest sorted, your blackouts in place, and your head laid down for the night, is to have to get up and move the van because you can feel all the blood in your body ever so slowly rushing to your head. Or your feet. Both are equally uncomfortable.
If you aren’t travelling along the coast, and don’t have the option of showering at the beach, consider investing in the cheapest gym membership you can find. For around twenty bucks a month, a gym membership will give you the opportunity to shower in most major cities.
Public pools are another good option when it comes to sourcing a cheap shower and are often easier to find than gyms in rural towns. Or, buy a cheap camping shower, for when you really are out in woop woop. Either one of these options is an investment you will not regret.
9. Change the Oil
Change your oil every 5000 k’s. If you run out of oil, your car will become terminally ill, and it will die. It may die suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, forcing you to bust out that marathon you’ve always dreamed of running in the 40 degree heat of the desert. It may die slowly, when you realise that the gears are kicking back a bit, and you have to warm the engine up in the morning, lest the steering lock and the engine cut out when you stop at a light.
Either way, no oil = dead car. If you are planning on a long trip, bring spare oil, fuel, coolant, and tools. Oh, and make sure the van has a jack and a spare tire. You will need it.
10. Spare food is good
Spare perishables are bad. Tinned all the way and MiGoreng of course. Don’t underestimate just how quickly food will go off in a hot van. Always, ALWAYS have a few litres of water handy.
11. Buy a decent inflatable mattress
The luxury of having a proper mattress in the back of your van will soon give way to the impracticality of attempting to keep your bed clean, and not being able to fit anything else in your pad. You can pick up a decent inflatable from a camping store for around a hundred bucks. If your van is big enough, construct an elevated bed with storage underneath. This allows you to stow away your junk and makes your van look a lot more respectable and you a lot less hoboish.
12. Places to Park
Good places to park up for the night: parks, camp grounds, beaches and marinas, in front of vacant houses, generally wherever there are already a lot of other vans parked, and if you must, in the parking lots of 24 hour stores.
Bad places to park up for the night: in front of people’s houses and businesses (they will call the police), on the side of highways (if they see you, the police will stop), and in general, wealthy areas.
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