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Whether you’re a veteran of living the van life or just starting out, we’re all looking for tips to stretch our van life budget.

Not all vans are created equal and sometimes the lack of certain amenities can give rise to a little ingenuity. Add to that a dash of experience and you too can come up with a list of van life hacks similar to this. If your van/vehicle is lacking a “build” follow these guidelines to simplify your already simple life.

1) Free Overnight Parking

What is boondocking?

Boondocking is the general umbrella term for free overnight parking in parking lots, or camping in the wild without hookups. It is also known as dry camping or independent camping. Basically it is camping the way it used to be!

A Walmart parking lot can become a welcome sight at the end of a long day’s drive. Boondocking at Walmart is permitted, however not all Walmarts allow overnight parking. Always check with customer service to ask permission first.

Casinos are another viable option where you can discreetly get some sleep, and also get free coffee in the morning. Other businesses that offer overnight parking are Cracker Barrel restaurants, Sam’s Club stores, Target stores, Cabela’s stores and Costco stores. Again ask permission before just settling in for the night.

A sign for Love's Truck Stop at dusk.
Loves Truck Stop, Nashville, Tennessee. A Great Place to Park Overnight.

Overnight Parking With Wi-Fi

If like us, you rely on free Wi-Fi, careful planning and selection may be required for your nightly sojourn. Not all truck stops provide free Wi-Fi. We try to find “Flying J” or “Pilot” truck stops, as in our experience they typically fulfill our Wi-Fi needs. Don’t assume all truck stops allow overnight parking, always look for posted signs which may state “No overnight parking”.

Dispersed Camping

This term refers to free camping on public lands at non-designated campsites. Therefore there are no facilities or hook ups. Essentially you drive down a dirt road and choose a spot to camp. It too falls under the umbrella term of boondocking. There are general guidelines to abide by so that these areas remain enjoyable for all.

Neighbourhood Watch Area

It is not always possible to camp under the stars in the great outdoors. Sometimes it is necessary to just find a spot to park for the night. It can be possible to park in a residential area but it is not something we would recommend. As covert as you may think you are being there is always the possibility that residents or the police are monitoring the neighbourhood. Also if nature calls in the middle of the night, there aren’t too many options in a residential area. Try to have a sleep strategy – see 2) below.

2) Essential Apps

There are a couple of apps which we use to navigate our nightly repose. The first is This interactive site allows you to search and add to a plethora of places to stay internationally. This comprehensive list covers the gamut from wilderness camping spots to hotels and everything you could want in between, including laundromats, mechanics, tourist attractions etc… Definitely a good site to keep handy.

A quick search of “overnight parking near me” or indeed “free overnight parking near me”, will undoubtedly come back with A similar site in nature to the above, “allstays” is our primary resource for scoping out potential Walmart parking lots. It provides handy reviews from those who have stayed before, citing if overnight parking is allowed or if the individual store’s policy may have changed as of late.

For a list of truck stops and their amenities, we refer to Here you can get the price of petrol, not just at the local truck stops but often at local Walmarts too. If you want to give yourself more options you can also select “vicinity truck stops”, broadening your horizons. It also lists rest areas, their amenities and whether they permit overnight parking. This site also utilises “google earth” maps to hone in on your location.

3) Recharge Your Batteries

This tip can help both you and your electronics recharge. If you buy your morning coffee from McDonalds you get free refills. The caveat is you must remain in McDonalds for the refills. Whilst having your coffee, why not recharge any devices that need recharging. If you really do need to charge your devices you may want to scope out if there are available sockets. Not all McDonalds provide sockets/outlets; perhaps they don’t want folk lingering there all day!

Some McDonalds offer all sizes of coffee for a dollar – from their dollar menu. Before ordering see if coffee is part of their dollar menu, you could go large for just a buck. Want to be really frugal? If there are two of you, share the coffee!

A blue power inverter.

Charge your devices whilst you drive with a power inverter. This compact unit can charge multiple items at once simply by plugging it into your cigarette lighter. Just don’t forget to unplug it if you turn your vehicle off or you may be in need of some jumper cables.

A yellow mug with water in it and a plug-in heating element.

Make your own coffee. If you don’t have a stove, invest in one of these instant immersion heaters. Simply plug it into your power inverter and within a few minutes you’ll have boiling water for a cuppa.

4) Have the Best of Both Worlds

House and pet-sitting have become an integral part of our travels. There are many house-sitting websites to choose from, with some being more localised than others. We signed up with TrustedHousesitters which offers hundreds of international house-sitting jobs. It has given us a chance to embark (pardon the pun) on a whole series of new adventures.

A woman with a husky and a malamute on leashes hiking in the desert.
Hiking in Red Rock Canyon with Kona and Rocky, Las Vegas, Nevada

What is house-sitting?

If free rent in exchange for house-sitting sounds like an enticing concept, we can personally attest to what a brilliant idea it actually is! It is completely up to you to find and select the perfect house/pet-sit that fits your agenda.

House-sitting is the perfect opportunity to put down for a bit, cook a meal, bathe regularly and have the absolute pleasure of some furry/feathered/scaly company. If you have a travel blog or work remotely you will most likely also have unlimited, stable Wi-Fi whilst house-sitting.

Depending on where you may find yourself located, living in a van in the Winter may not be the the most alluring prospect, especially if your van is not equipped for cold temperatures. Finding a long term house-sit to tide you through the Winter is the perfect solution to this dilemma, if moving somewhere warmer is not quite feasible. Trading van life for house life offers a welcome respite from living in a van.

The current rate to sign up with TrustedHousesitters is $119 for a year of membership. This includes the ability to peruse and apply for hundreds of house/pet-sits all over the world. This annual fee has translated into a savings of thousands of dollars for us.

Interested in signing up with TrustedHousesitters? Sign up now to save 25% on your first year of membership.

5) Ice, Ice Baby

If your van is not equipped with a fridge, there are a couple of options. You can purchase a mini fridge at just about any truck stop/camping shop. They run off of a 12V connection/cigarette lighter and start at around $50 and can run well up into the hundreds of dollars!

A man kneeling next to a red cooler while draining water from it into a clear plastic container.

Our personal mode of keeping things cold is just a chest cooler and ice. In our experience we have found block ice lasts much longer than a bag of ice. Depending on the weather, we can get up to 3 days out of a block of ice. Typically with a bag of ice we would have to purchase a fresh bag daily. The only problem with block ice is that it is difficult to find.

Keep an empty gallon container with a lid handy, for when your ice melts. Recycle the melted ice and use it for washing dishes. Just make sure you mark the bottle appropriately. Naturally if the ice was used for keeping meat chilled I would not recycle this water, just in case of contamination.

6) Privacy

Keep your van cool during the day with a sun shade if you are parked somewhere . At night you may be glad to use this same sun deflector to block the glare of an overhead floodlight. Often used by facilities as a security feature, floodlights can hinder your shut-eye. A sun shade is a must for van life!

Two window shades in the windscreen of maroon van with orange kayak on the roof.

7) Bumming About

Two words – baby wipes. You will never regret having a pack of these in your van. Sometimes days, many, many days go by of not bathing. Without needing to point out the obvious, you can attain that temporary, faux, fresh feeling. They’re also handy for wiping your hands. Carry them, you’ll thank us.

A yellow and white package of moist baby wipes.

8) On a Cleaner Note

As stated above, showers can be few and far between, let’s face it you are living in your van/vehicle. There are a few solutions to this much sought after steep.

If you happen to have a gym membership and you can find a local branch of your particular gym; you should be able to shower and get some exercise. The exercise is a nice bonus here, especially when you spend much of your day sitting in your van, getting from point A to point B.

We have also been informed that it is possible to shower at recreation centres. We have never availed of this ourselves, but we have been told it can be as cheap as a couple of dollars for a shower. Without first hand experience it is difficult for us to provide any input on this, suffice to say there’s no harm in asking if you find yourself in the vicinity of a rec. centre and you are in need of a shower.

Alternatively do as we do and treat yourself to a shower at a truck stop. We have tried various showers and our “go to” is Loves Truck Stops. After going without a shower for about 10 days this will become the highlight of your day and something to look forward to.

The interior of a private shower stall at Love's Truck Stop.
Private Shower Stall, Loves Truck Stop. Plenty of Room for 2 in Need of a Clean.

Loves charges $12 plus tax for a shower. We always ask to share the shower, which cuts down on costs. This utilitarian soak is not as romantic/sexy as it sounds. Our main reason for choosing Loves is that typically the shower stall is quite big; plenty of space for 2 people to clean up and rid themselves of that greasy, stationary helmet parked on their head.

9) On a Roll

Aside from carrying a basic tool-set, there are a few other essentials to know and to have. Take it from some folk who have first hand experience; check the condition of your spare tyre. Upon wakening up to a flat tyre one morning, we quickly learned our spare was badly cracked and in worse condition than the flat.

It is not necessary to splurge on brand new tyres. You can save some money by buying second-hand tyres, just inspect them beforehand. We have gone with this money saving method both in the States and in Mexico, where llanteras (shops specialising in second-hand tyres) are everywhere.

In order to keep your vehicle rolling, invest in a small portable tyre inflator. At a cost of about $25 on the low end, we have used it many times ourselves and have helped other folk in need, too. A final recommendation would be a set of jumper cables.

A man kneeling next to the front tire of a van while adding air.
Tyre Inflator Hooked Up

10) The Burning Question

So, you’ve found the perfect campsite that’s not a parking lot to a large corporation and you want to build a campfire. If you are on government owned and operated land check with the visitor’s centre before attempting to gather any firewood on the property.

Regarding this final tip I am predominantly referring to our time on the Baja, Mexico, which is a lot more lenient on the matter of gathering downed wood. Rather than buying firewood it was simply a matter of parking on the side of the road and gathering whatever you could, however you could.

A pile of firewood on the floor of a burgundy Volkswagen Eurovan.

Whilst we were beach camping on Bahía Concepción, Baja, Mexico, we paddled out to one of the nearby uninhabited islands each morning, gathered firewood, strapped it down on the kayak and paddled back – van life with a bit of Robinson Crusoe thrown in.

An orange kayak on the beach by a campfire with purple sunset in the background.
Beach Camping, Playa Coyote, Baja Sur, Mexico

Van Life: Have it Your Way

Although the crux of this piece is focused on the frugal, van life is your personal space and what you do with it. No matter how basic or extravagant your rig/build/van/vehicle, we would love to hear from you with any tips you may have to share and enlighten others in this mobile community.

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maroon colour van beside cactus.



  1. What a wonderful article!!! I thoroughly enjoyed learning all the tips!!

  2. Kerry Abbott

    It’s always good to hear from you, and find out what you and Jerry are up to. A lot of your suggestions are great knowledge for people not even living life on the road, in a van.

    I hope both of you are doing well. Spring is starting, except for maybe NW Pennsylvania. We still keep getting snow.

    Where do you head next? I hope someday to run into you again.
    All our best,
    Kerry and Sean

    • Kerry and Sean,

      You both know the thrill of the road as well as we do. Where will your next road-trip take you and Sean?
      We are currently housesitting 2 dogs and 3 cats in New Mexico. As you know, we love it here in this state and will look for any excuse to linger here as long as we can. After New Mexico we head back to the Baja in old Mexico!
      Keep warm and let us know when and where your next journey is. We just may bump into each other again!
      By the way, thanks for keeping in touch. It means so much to us.
      Your Drifters,
      Fiona and Jerry

  3. Awesome tips Fiona! Thanks for sharing – baby wipes CHECK!

    • Lizzy,

      The baby wipes are CRUCIAL! Buy those suckers in bulk!
      We have been following along as yous get ready for your own road-trip! Good luck with your build; the anticipation as you plan and get ready is crazy.
      Good luck when you finally hit the road, where we will be following along on your journey. Stay baby-fresh as well!
      Your Drifters,
      Fiona and Jerry

  4. Johanna Conlan

    You guys are so road savvy! If we ever get the opportunity to drive cross country I will be hitting you up for tips.

    • Johanna,

      We are still learning as we continue to drift around in our van. I do not think we quite planned to be in the van as long as we have, but it has been amazing! You can always hit us up for more tips anytime you want! Thanks so much for following along with us on this journey! It is always good to hear from you!
      Your Drifters,
      Fiona and Jerry

  5. Hi Fiona- I can’t believe I found your blog. It’s Helen, the Saturday morning grocery shopper from Portland, ME. I live in Boston now and Jay and I are amicably divorced.
    So glad to see you are on the road and not doing the grind in Portland, ME.
    Have a great time!

    • Hi Helen,
      It is so lovely to hear from you. We are on the road now just over 7 months and loving it. It feels so good to have gotten that zest for life back and to really feel alive again, which is how travel makes us feel. We are planning on this being an epic trip of 5+ years hopefully. We will always miss Portland and we definitely left little bits of our hearts there. We met a lot of good people there. I hope you’re enjoying Boston, it’s a great city with a lot to offer. Please keep following our travels and adventures. I’m so happy you found our website, it was such a lovely surprise to hear from you. Take care and keep in touch,
      Your Drifters,
      Fiona and Jerry

  6. Looks good ?. Jeff and I are headed to AZ to hike and see the grand canyon. We aren’t as adventurous as you!!! We are staying at a condo haha ? and will only be gone one week.

    God bless your travels!!

    • Ronda,
      You and Jeff will have a great time at the Grand Canyon. We hope you make it to the north rim as well as the south rim. The crowds should not be a problem this time of year. Let us know how it went.
      We have just started our cross-country drive on the 11th of September. Jeff will be proud to know my dad and I changed the sway bar links on the van, but sadly the noise I am getting from the front end persists and we are going to have it looked at here in West Virginia.
      Believe it or not we passed by the spot in Ohio where you both picked us up in 2013! We will always remember that day, and we are so glad that we are still in contact with each other!
      Take care, and have a wonderful time in Arizona!
      Your Drifters,
      Fiona and Jerry

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