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Top 25 Sustainable Van Life Tips

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White van parked in the desert of southern Utah.



Exploring the world, sleeping out under the stars, and heading out on adventures to off the beaten path destinations are definitely some of the key perks of van lifing - and often some of the biggest draws of packing up your life and heading out on the open road in the first place.

But van life isn't just great for people with an adventurous spirit, usually it is a great way to live if you are someone looking to be a bit more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Below are 25 of the best sustainable van life tips and tricks that all adventure travelers can follow. This list includes everything from how to pack, what to bring with you and where to even travel to.

If you are looking for inspiration and tips on how to live a more sustainable life - especially in a van - then this sustainable van life guide is for you.





1 | Pack lightly and only bring what you need.

One of the best ways to live a more sustainable life (overall and in a van especially) is to simply cut down on what you need and focus on only bringing the basics. By getting rid of the extra "fluff", you will find your van and life overall just feels a bit lighter.

2 | Bring another form of transportation with you if possible (like bikes) or plan to walk around instead of driving.

Bikes are a great addition to your van life repertoire as they allow you to explore the area around you without the use of a car. We love finding a cool spot to park for a couple of nights and then just riding around on our bikes to get a better lay of the land. By doing this, we have been able to explore old West ghost towns, massive redwood forests, and empty coastal beaches.

If you don't have a bike or you just don't want the hassle of storing a bike in your van, then follow the same idea as above and then just head out on your own two feet instead of two wheels. While this is a bit slower and your range is a bit smaller, walking everywhere is great for exploring and exercise (and of course sustainability overall).

3 | Have a large water storage container with you while van lifing.

One of the best ways to be a more sustainable van lifer is to cut down on how much plastic you use - and one of the best ways to do that is to have a large water storage container in your van. This will not only keep you from purchasing plastic water bottles for drinking, but it will also (likely) help you conserve water overall.

We personally have a large 5 gallon water container that fits perfectly under our van bed. This amount of water is usually enough for two people to live off of for 3 days - and that includes using it for drinking, cooking, dishes and brushing our teeth. Now, if you think about it, using 5 gallons over three days for two people is pretty darn environmentally friendly.

We highly suggest investing in a good, heavy duty water jug for your own van. This one by GSI Outdoors is great in terms of capacity (20 liters or just over 5 gallons) and packability (when empty it collapses to be totally flat).

4 | If you do need to buy extra stuff while van lifing, head to a second-hand store first.

If you find yourself in need of something while out van lifing - be it a specific piece of cookware or an extra jacket - first consider heading to the local thrift store or second-hand shop to find it instead of straight to a big box store. This is not only a more sustainable way of shopping, but it is also more economical. And, for the most part, when you are out camping you aren't going to want to use super fancy things anyway (things tend to get dirty real quick when we are vanlifing at least...).

We personally have found some pretty incredible things while shopping at second-hand shops - including a green Mammut jacket in perfect condition and super warm Sorel snow boots.

5 | Always have reusable bags with you.

We use our reusable bags for tons of things - not just the standard grocery run. In fact, we have used reusable bags when moving stuff from our van to the camp/hang out area, when we organize all of our stuff, and when we want to carry items for picnics or sunset walks.

When packing up to head out on a road trip or to van life, we highly suggest making sure you have a couple of strong, durable reusable bags with you at all times.

💬 INSIDER TIP: we found ourselves often forgetting our reusable bags when out grocery shopping, so we made sure to start storing them right by the door so they would be one of the last things we saw before heading out.

Two people sitting outside playing the guitar while camping.


6 | Tune up your car before heading out.

This is a smart thing to do whenever you head out on a road trip (in a van or not). Before hitting the open road, try to take your car in to a mechanic to make sure everything is running smoothly or if you are handy, do a bit of car maintenance yourself. Some of the most important things to check are the air pressure on your tires, that your oil is still good (you should change your oil about every 5,000 miles), that your fuel cap is screwed on nice and tight, and finally, you want to make sure your radiator is working correctly.

While this doesn't have much to do with car maintenance, another sustainable van life tip is to try to use your A/C less while road tripping. Why? Because using your air conditioner increases the strain on your car's electrical system, which then makes the engine work harder to compensate. And this leads to higher overall fuel consumption (which is bad for the environment and your budget). While we understand in some places A/C is absolutely necessary (hello southern California in the summer), if you can instead just roll down your windows and let some natural air in to cool you off, you will help save the planet and some money.

➳ You can find more tips on how to keep your car running efficiently here.

7 | Use cruise control while driving, especially on highways.

Using cruise control while driving doesn't just make those long highway roads easier to handle, but it is actually more fuel efficient and sustainable overall. In fact, using cruise control can help you save (on average) between 7-14% on gas. This is because you will be going at a continuous speed instead of constantly changing, like accelerating and then decelerating.

8 | Don’t leave your car running while stopped somewhere (including at viewpoints).

This should maybe be a no brainer, but it doesn't hurt to say it: while stopped somewhere, especially for a decent amount of time, turn off your car. This will not only help you save gas, but it also keeps you from putting off extra emissions. And it is obviously a bit safer...

9 | Slow down and spend more time at one spot.

This is by far one of our favorite tips fo being a more sustainable van lifer. By slowing down and spending more time in one place, you can save some money (less driving = less money spent on gas) and also explore one specific destination more deeply (this is one of the core reasons we love slow traveling so much).

If you can, try to find a campsite or a basecamp that is centrally located to a lot of exciting adventures and then plan to park there for a couple of nights. Then during the day head out to explore either on your own two feet, on your bike or if you really need to, drive. By doing this, you will save yourself a lot of money and help break up the long days of driving (which can get exhausting real fast). Plus, you will then be able to dive deeper into some pretty amazing places along your route.

💬 INSIDER TIP: we like to use the apps iOverlander and FreeRoam to find free campsites across the USA (especially in the west) that are close to a lot of adventures, have good service (so we can work remotely) and have great views.


10 | Have snacks and food prepped before driving.

This small act of preparation will seriously help you cut down on the amount of time spent stopping for takeout along your drive and also help keep you not from purchasing often unsatisfying prepackaged snacks (like at gas stations). We always try to have some sort of snack easily accessible when out road tripping. This can be anything from just tortilla chips and salsa to a big bag of mandarin oranges or grapes.

Also, if you know you are going to be on the road for a good amount of time (3+ hours) why not plan ahead and make a more hearty meal like sandwiches or wraps and then store them away until you get hungry.

❔ GOOD TO KNOW: if you can, try to bring a cooler full of easy to eat and pre-prepared snacks for the road. Or, if you are planning to van life it for a decent amount of time, consider investing in a sizeable fridge. This will help you store food longer (and safer) and really help you cut down on stopping at fast food restaurants and eating out overall.


One of the best ways - and truly one of the easiest ways - to be a more sustainable van lifer is to have reusable goods with you a