Top 25 Sustainable Van Life Tips

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White van parked in the desert of southern Utah.

EXPLORE THESE 25 SIMPLE AND EASY SUSTAINABLE VAN LIFE AND ROAD TRIP TIPS AND TRICKS, WHICH INCLUDES EVERYTHING FROM HOW TO PACK, WHAT TO BRING, AND WHERE TO TRAVEL TO.

 


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.







 

TOP 25 SUSTAINABLE VAN LIFE TIPS

 






PACKING



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.





DRIVING



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.




EXPLORE MORE | HOW TO FIND FREE CAMPSITES ACROSS THE USA (PERFECT FOR VAN LIFING AND ROAD TRIPPING)






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.






LIVING


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 all the time. Below are, in our opinion, some of the best reusable items to have with you in your van.



11 | Reusable cookware.


When packing up your van to head out on the road, definitely take the time to stock up on plenty of reusable and sustainable supplies, including cookware like bowls, plates, silverware, cups, and straws. You can usually find some very affordable reusable cookware at places like Target (that is where we got our bowls and plates). Or better yet, head to your local thrift store to find secondhand stuff that is still in good shape.




12 | Have Tupperware handy for storing leftover food.


Some nice compactable Tupperware is super handy to have on hand for when you make a bit too much food while van lifing. To be honest, we actually tend to purposely cook too much dinner in order to have leftovers for lunch the next day (seriously, some food tastes better after a night in the fridge).


Having Tupperware with you in the van is also great if you tend to go out to eat often, for usually restaurants will let you use your own to-go container instead of their plastic or Styrofoam option. In fact, we have also been able to use our own reusable containers in grocery stores when buying stuff like sushi or sandwiches from the counter.



➳ This collapsible container by Stoic is a great option for storing leftovers while van lifing. Find it here.




13 | Eat out less.


Not going out to eat and instead cooking for yourself, is not only more sustainable but definitely more economical. Similarly, while we love trying out new coffee shops while van lifing, try to make your own coffee as much as possible and start to going out to get food or coffee as more of a special treat than a normal thing.








14 | Always have a reusable mug for coffee and a handy water bottle with you.


In the same vein, when you do head out for a coffee at the local coffee shop, ALWAYS bring your reusable mug with you.


We have personally been using an insulated camping mug for years and have only great things to say about it. Its size, shape and durability has led it to be used on countless road trips and van life adventures, as well as in the backcountry and on many a hike in the mountains. Find our recommended reusable mug here.


Similarly, never leave your van without a reusable water bottle. Once you get in the habit of bringing a reusable water bottle with you, you will find that you likely drink more water throughout the day and you are using waaaaaay less plastic.



➳ This reusable water bottle by Grayl is not only easy to carry, but it is also super fast at filtering water (17 oz. in 10 seconds), making it even easier to cut down on the use of plastic bottles no matter where you are adventuring.




15 | Buy eco-friendly cleaning supplies.


Nowadays, it is quite easy to find more eco-friendly cleaning supplies at the store; including, sprays, soaps and detergents from brands such as Meyers, Seventh Generation, and ECOS. Similarly, there has also been a resurgence in smaller, more localized cleaning companies that focus heavily on using organic and natural products and sustainable packaging. Some even offer bulk and refillable services for their products.


Switching to eco-friendly cleaners is an easy way to help the environment and yourself. Green cleaning products are free of harsh chemicals that have been shown to have negative effects on wildlife, the overall natural environment and human health. This includes such chemicals as phthalates, which have been linked to reproductive health issues in animals and humans.


❔ GOOD TO KNOW: if you have the time and are feeling crafty, we recommend making your own at-home, eco-friendly cleaning supplies. This website outlines a few good ones, but definitely do some research to find the right all-natural cleaning solution for you.




16 | Invest in reusable paper towels


We found that the one thing we used a whole lot of in the van was paper towels. It just seemed that when we were van lifing we somehow made more messes (who knows why). But recently we decided to switch from using simple paper towels to reusable ones. And we don't think we'll ever go back.


Why? Reusable paper towels are not only more sustainable, but they are just better at what they do. Regular paper towels tear and break when they get wet, while reusable paper towels - which are often made out of 100% cotton - stay together and can easily pick up bigger messes. Plus, they are super easy to wash and should last up to 3 years (and when you are done with them, just add them to your compost pile since they are made of 100% natural material).


We bought our reusable paper towels from a refill store in Colorado but we know you can also buy them online. This is the company we bought them from and we cannot recommend them enough (plus their prints are super fun).




17 | Use rechargeable batteries when possible.


Just like with paper towels, always try to buy reusable batteries when you can. You will likely find that you need batteries for things like headlamps and lanterns.




Dusk colors on silhouetted cactus in Arizona, USA.




18 | Try to purchase your groceries at bulk stores.


A great new trend in grocery shopping are stores that are totally focused on offering bulk goods without all of the extra packaging (i.e. plastic). At many of these stores you can find various reusable containers (including a lot of glass jars) that can be used to hold things like laundry detergent, castile soap, shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste tablets, and many types of oils. Similarly, many of these stores will also let you come in and refill your bottles and jars once you run out - which of course, once again, reduces the use of plastic packaging and excess waste.


We prefer glass jars for storage and have been known to reuse jars that were once used to store curry and tomato sauces, olive and coconut oil, and salsa. Also, large mason jars with twist lids work great for things like dried goods like rice, oats, flour and sugar as well as for cleaning supplies.


Finally, one other great sustainable van life tip (and one we especially use when out adventuring) is to invest in smaller reusable bags made out of either durable plastic or fabric for things like seeds, nuts and candy. You can usually bring these into bulk and refill stores and then just have them weigh them before filling them up with goods.



💬 INSIDER TIP: luckily, there are many bulk stores popping up all over the country. We suggest doing a bit of research when you get to a new spot to try to find the closest store to you. One great option is to head to Sprouts Farmers Market, which always has a large bulk section full of stuff like rice, oats, granola, spices and seeds (and even candy).




19 | Also, if possible, try to get your produce at farmer's markets (and eat in season!).


Shopping at farmer's markets is a great way to support the local farmers and to also help cut down on emissions produced from transporting food across the country and the world. Plus, shopping at farmer's markets is a fun way to explore more unique types of food and crafts and to meet different people.


Similarly, when possible, try to eat produce that is in season (you can find a chart outlining the different growing seasons here). By doing this, you will likely find the produce you are consuming has better flavor and is more affordable (plus, it's more sustainable!).




20 | Recycle!


This is again one of those things that should be done all of the time - not just when you are out van lifing. In our experience with van lifing, it helps to have a specific spot and container for all of your recyclables (we have a designated reusable grocery bag that lives under the bed). This makes it super easy to eventually recycle all of your glass, aluminum and paper goods once you find a recycling center or bin.



💬 INSIDER TIP: the super handy app iOverlander actually has specific points on their map for recycling centers or places you can recycle while van lifing. You can check out the app here.




Empty red dirt road in southern Utah, USA.





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