It’s been about a year since we brought our campervan home to join the family. I remember feeling like a new parent when we heard that the campervan was ready, excited and overjoyed, but extremely nervous about being responsible for it. Everything was new to us including driving a 19-foot van which carried our entire living space. With wood cabinets, appliances, and furniture it does creak a little, especially when starting and stopping. However, we got used to the sounds pretty quickly and it’s strangely comforting at times. It’s been a fun year of learning and getting immersed in all things campervanning. The most important thing the campervan did for our family was to allow us to have time together and get outside and explore pretty much year round. It came in handy during my daughter’s 5 month volleyball club season when we had a “home” to travel in during the long tournament weekends.
Until the last couple of months when our focus switched to our house move, we used the campervan most weekends and on a number of week long trips. Although we haven’t had the time for outings and trips in our campervan recently, the campervan was very useful as a cargo van during the move. The size and good gas mileage made it an easy vehicle to use for pretty much anything. The campervan continues to average about 25 mpg on the freeway.
The space inside the campervan feels pretty good for our family of three, and I am one who gets claustrophobic easily. With the penthouse top, large windows, and an alley to move about in, we can carve out our own spaces (and keep our sanity!). I’ve already shared about our design/layout, so this post is more about what we learned this past year, much of it from our point of view (forgive me if some of this sounds obvious, it really wasn’t to us).
Driving the van
One of our light bulb moments came after watching a video about how to set your RV mirrors (like this YouTube video). Once the mirrors were set appropriately, we didn’t panic each time we needed to change lanes or back up. Seriously, before watching this video, I jumped out of the van a lot and directed my hubby on where to back up (jumping in and out of the van= good leg workout!). It’s important to know how to set your mirrors and get used to using them since you can’t see much out the side and rear windows. Don’t forget to make wide turns or else you may or may not scrape a giant rock that you didn’t see in the parking lot of Casa de Fruta (on Hwy 156). I’m just speaking hypothetically, of course. We’re just driving a class B campervan, I don’t know how those RV drivers who can maneuver their mansions on wheels through a crowded parking lot do it. I need those super powers!
Maintenance of the van (for the first year):
General cleaning was the main maintenance focus for this first year, like keeping the plumbing/water tank clean by flushing water through them periodically or waxing the roof of the campervan. Both the interior and exterior needed attention. Since we park the van outside in front of our house we had to be diligent about keeping the van clean and keeping the top of the van waxed. It’s important to do this because the penthouse top is made of fiberglass that needs to be protected from UV rays. We waxed the top 2 times this year using Meguiar’s M5016 Marine/RV One Step Cleaner Wax. I love how shiny it looks after it gets waxed.
The first time we did this, I got on top of the van and waxed, which wasn’t that hard to do, but when you add a sloping driveway (new house) to the equation, being on top of the van wasn’t as appealing. We invested in a good ladder that handles slopes and we were back in business. We recently bought a cover for the van to put on during the week and hope that this helps to protect the top as well. It’s kind of difficult to put on, so we’ll see how often we put it on.
There are some things about weekend campervanning that we’ve learned the hard way. For those of us that only weekend campervan, we have to maintain our campervans differently than those who live in it full-time. We are short term users, so we have to be able to push the pause button during the week and still keep the campervan in good shape and be ready for use at the drop of a hat. One appliance that requires attention for this kind of use is the refrigerator.
When we plan to use the fridge on the weekend, we have to remember to turn it on ahead of time to get it to temp. It’s a small unit (Norcold 3.6 cu ft. built-in refrigerator and freezer), but if we plan well we can usually fit everything we need.
It’s what you do to the fridge after you get back from a trip that is very important. After emptying out the fridge, you need to turn it off and let things dry. Basically, you need to keep the fridge door open at least for a few days. We put a towel or sponge inside to soak up the water that defrosts from the freezer. Also keeping a fridge deodorizer in the fridge doesn’t hurt. OTHERWISE if you don’t let the inside dry you will open your fridge (assuming you turned your fridge off) a few days later and see icky black mold growing everywhere. It’s a pain to clean and it’s gross! Now that we know, it’s just part of the unpacking process and we leave the fridge door open. No more mold, thank goodness.
If we left the fridge on all the time (during the week), we would have to remember to charge the batteries. This doesn’t work when we don’t drive the van during the week on a regular basis. At some point, we may add solar power just for the fridge, but right now turning off the fridge and letting things air out seems to be working for us. Besides, I like to restock the fridge for each trip to make sure we have what we need and don’t pack any extra items. It brings me great satisfaction when we come back from a trip having eaten or used everything we packed. Like they say, “It’s the simple things…” or maybe it’s more like “simple minds…”
The refrigerator does make some noise like any other fridge, and when you are in a tight space sleeping right next to it, it can get bothersome. So on cold nights we’ve been known to turn off the fridge, use it like a cooler, then turn it back on when we first get up. The food stays cold and we get some sleep. On warmer nights we’ve been experimenting with the Yeti cooler as a second fridge. We put food that spoils more easily into that cooler and store it in there for the duration of the trip. I like the fact that the food stays cold for multiple days, but it is a heavy, bulky unit (and expensive). The cooler fits between the driver and passenger front seat and we use it as a coffee table. The fridge when turned off during the night (on warm nights) is still cold in the morning, but not as cold as it was previously, so I’m hesitant to trust things like seafood and milk stored in it. The easiest solution would be to just get used to the fridge noise!
Storage inside the van:
Fitting everything into the van (without overpacking) is an ongoing challenge. We have some items that we stock in the van, other items that we store in the house that need to be brought back inside (sleeping bags), and items like clothes, food, water and gear that need to be repacked for each trip.
Our mantra for stocked campervan items has become “Less is More.” When we first packed the van, we loaded it with so much stuff just because we thought we might need it someday. Never know when a corn on the cob holder will be needed. NOT! After a number of trips we did a major overhaul and pared down the number of items to keep stocked. Now it’s much easier to find things and keep the drawers clean.
There are 3 drawers which we keep stocked with kitchen items such as spatula, tongs, knives, cutting board, bowls, plates, cups, utensils, pot, pan, napkins, condiments, coffee/tea, seasonings, and other odds and ends (like wine bottle opener!). One drawer we keep for toiletries, first aid, flashlights, bug repellent, and basically non-kitchen items. The induction stove stays in the van as well. The area under the sink is for paper towels, cleaning supplies, games, trash bags, binder of van info and a small trash bin. That leaves one last area for putting our non-refrigerated food items (in a bag that can be carried). Keeping these items in the van has cut down on our camping packing time tremendously. But like everything, things need to be maintained and accounted for.
Storage bins for easy packing –
There are 2 cabinets that we repack for each trip. It seems like it should be easy to pack 2 cabinets, but it was a real pain to bring clothes and other items back and forth from the house to the van, then the van to the house for every trip. Everything looked neat and organized in the cabinets until one of us needed a jacket and the whole tower of clothes came crashing down. I did a lot of refolding and reorganizing when we first got the van, until we found these bins at The Container Store.
For weekend trips, the cabinet space was just right. We also add another bin with a lid which we put all of our outdoor cooking supplies (foil, roasting sticks, fire starter, tongs, table cover, etc…), and non-perishable food so we can grab it and bring it out to the picnic table when we get to the campsite. We also bring another smaller bin with a lid for our hiking shoes or other outdoor activity shoes which get very dirty. These two bins stack and we anchor them with a strap to the towel holder during transport. Again, we found these water-tight bins at The Container Store.
Now we just keep the bins in the house and fill them up when we have time or when we remember an item that we must absolutely not forget (like deodorant when you’re living in a tight space with 3 people!). When it comes to loading up the van, we just slot the bins into the cabinets and secure the larger bins to the towel rack and we’re done. Some of us, who shall not be named, like to keep their bins messy, but the bins keep the mess from contaminating other spaces. The packing of food takes us the longest since we have to really plan well to be able to fit everything in all the nooks and crannies of the van.
When we were first designing the van, we had counted on one of the cabinets to fit our sleeping bags or bedding, but that didn’t leave us with too much space for other things like clothes. So, we added hooks (Command 3M) to the back area above the toilet and we hang our sleeping bags on them when we travel. We also added another hook for day packs or a dirty laundry bag. There is also storage for things like extra toilet paper in the back doors. The storage compartment is closed by two drop down ledges (see photo below).
When we designed the van, we wanted an area that we could get to from outside the van. The open area on the bottom right (see photo above) stores our camp chairs, outdoor and indoor table, ground tarp, levelers and other miscellaneous items such as marshmallow roasting sticks. This way we can open up the back and just pull the stuff out at the campsite. I love this compartment because it prevents us from having to walk in and out of the van to get our stuff.
The storage compartment above the window is where we roll up our hand towels and store them along with other random things like kleenex. The soap dispenser has got to be one of my favorite items. It’s just a plain foam soap dispenser (comes in many different colors) that has a suction bottom. Wasn’t sure how long it was going to last considering the price, but it has lasted all year through all the jiggling around in the van and it adds a pop of color to the counter.
There is some space above where the ladder is stored, so we put our pillows and throw blankets there during transport. The open compartments above the sunshade stores our snap on curtains (and hats).
We put some hooks behind the passenger seat and they are real handy for putting jackets, backpacks, anything you want to have close to you. They have been known to catch a pant pocket so beware.
Before we leave for a trip, we check the water level in the tank which is stored under the seat. Twenty gallons is about right for a weekend trip if we are careful with water usage.
We’ve had to rethink how we use water in the campervan. On our first overnight camping trip, we ended up using 10 gallons of water just in one night, using water the way we normally do, washing our hands, prepping food, cooking, washing the dishes (this one took up the most water), and getting ready for bed. We learned a lot from that trip and we are much more careful now with the flow of water when we turn it on and really try to use it sparingly. Now on trips where we need to conserve water, we bring disposable (compostable) dishes. We wipe our pans and utensils carefully with paper towels first to get off all of the excess food particles before a quick wash and rinse. Some parks have water fill stations and we’ve refilled our tanks at these stations when we go on longer trips.
Some things we learned about refilling our tank (this one will be obvious for other campervanners and RVers):
Pull up to the water fill station and check out the hose at the station that will attach to your vehicle. If there is a metal screw-in piece at the end of the hose, you can just attach that to your water inlet. We attach a water pressure adapter to the water inlet, which also makes it easier to connect to the metal screw on the hose (without turning the hose).
Open the valves to your tank (inside the campervan). Finally, we turn on the water at the fill station and monitor the water level in the tank.
If the hose at the water filling station does not have a screw-in piece on the end, then you can use another adapter which basically allows you to put a hose in a rubber opening and hold it manually. You have to stand there and hold it the entire time you are filling your tank, but it at least allows you to use the fill station.
As for the trips we took in the campervan this past year, we will treasure the memories. There were many awe-inspiring places we were able to visit, and we will never forget them, but it is our family time around the campfire, cuddling on the sofa, or our nights playing games in the warmth of the campervan that I will keep close to my heart.