As we are the sleep experts, we'd like to start by talking about how you can make sleeping in a van more comfortable. After all, getting proper sleep is essential!
And, depending on the van in question, getting comfortable can be a bit more difficult than you'd think.
So, let's go over all of your options when it comes to sleeping in a van and see which one is best suited for your van life.
Note that the specific make of your van will heavily dictate which of these tips work and which don't. So, keep that in mind and try to work out which of these best suit your van.
And if multiple tips apply, try them out! Maybe some people will have an easier time sleeping on the floor than in bed. We don't judge!
Just make sure to have your overall health as the number one priority.
If your camper van doesn't have any excess room to make a proper sleeping surface, the floor can be your only option. However, if you've ever slept on a floor, you'd know that it's far from the most comfortable bed on earth. And, since you're in a camper van, the floor is also going to be rather cold.
So, make sure to remedy these issues as best as you can! At the very least, get a sleeping mat or camping mattress to lie down on. It can also help having a good sleeping bag, to both stay warm and provide a bit more padding.
This way of doing things should make sleeping in the van a bit more comfortable. However, we're sure that true van dwellers know that this isn't the best tactic long-term. After all, you're unlikely to get a good night's sleep and you might develop some back pain after a few nights of sleeping on the floor. So, it might be worth considering other options as well.
If you want to be a bit more comfortable but you still have limited space in your van, an air mattress could be the ideal option for you! After all, air mattresses can easily be deflated in the morning and tucked away in the corner, giving you more usable space throughout the van.
Plus, while not as comfortable as a proper mattress, air mattresses can be rather supportive. And most importantly, you are less likely to develop back pain after one night of sleeping on an air mattress!
However, if you're going to park overnight near a residential home, we suggest using a hand pump. After all, you don't want to make a lot of noise and alert people around you. But if you're wild camping, this isn't much of an issue.
While not everyone has the space to set up a hammock in their camper van, it can be a good choice for some. After all, a hammock barely takes up any space once you take it down and it can allow you to stretch out during the night. Some people might even set up the hammock outside of the van to get some fresh air.
However, if your van is in a car park or something similar, it's probably better to keep it indoors. It's also not advisable to sleep in a hammock every night, as you might develop some neck and back pain after a while. At least that's the case unless you can somehow keep the hammock completely straight.
Of course, the best way to stay comfortable in a van is to have a proper van bed. Regardless of whether you're sleeping in the wild or are overnight parking in a Walmart parking lot, a good bed will serve you well.
However, actually fitting a bed inside of the van can be difficult sometimes. If you're lucky, the van will already have a designated sleeping space. In these cases, you can get a regular or even a custom van mattress and call it a day. If you're going for a custom van mattress, we specifically recommend looking into Duvalay.
Some vans, like the VW camper van, even have their sleeping space on top of the van, meaning that you still have plenty of room to talk around. But, as we've said, not every can is going to be like this. When it comes to very small vans, some people might even be tempted to sleep in a tent in front of the van. However, we'd only recommend doing so if you know what you're doing as both the wild and an urban environment can be dangerous!
Now that you have your sleeping situation sorted out, let's go over a few tips for getting to sleep quickly. Some might sound like common sense but others might surprise even veteran van dwellers! And if you think we've missed any important tips, be sure to tell us in the comments.
Regardless of whether you're in your bed at home or are cruising along the West Coast, keeping things dark at night is essential.
This is because our circadian rhythm uses light to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. And this is especially important if you stay overnight in the city.
After all, with so many flashing lights, your body will have a harder time knowing when it's time to clock out. This is why black-out curtains are essential for van camping, even if just for a single night!
Plus, having black out curtains also means maintaining a level of privacy, especially in urban areas.
Because if you're parked (legally or otherwise) somewhere where people are passing by, you might just wake up with someone staring at you from the window.
And even other vehicles passing by can do the same. So, we'd definitely recommend getting some good black out curtains.
Although most people will be more concerned with keeping their van or car warm, lower temperatures can help you fall asleep a lot more quickly! This is because, aside from light, a drop in temperature is one of the main ways in which our body knows it's time to fall asleep.
So, if you're in a position where you can leave your window or roof open slightly, you could be sleeping like a log before long! However, always prioritise your safety. So, if there are wild animals around or you fear someone might climb into the van through the window, try to cool the place down some other way.
When you're out on the open road, going from camp to camp, it can be difficult to maintain a schedule.
However, it's incredibly important that you try to do so! Just like in the previous two tips, this will help your body get accustomed to this way of living and will help you fall asleep more easily.
Of course, not all the people living the van life will have this option.
This is especially true if you're alone and can't control how long it will take you to get to the next safe camping ground. But, try as much as you can to form some kind of routine if you want to get better sleep.
Even if it's something as vague as “do yoga when it starts getting dark, have some tea, go to bed”. This is still a routine!
But ideally you'd want to form a more precise schedule/routine where you go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day.
While making sure that you're sleeping on a comfortable surface is priority number one, the rest of your bedding should also be up to par. This especially goes for your pillow! Sure, you can always make an improvised pillow out of an old sweatshirt or jacket. However, if you're sleeping in a van for longer periods of time, you'll likely develop neck pain at some point.
So, if there's room, get a proper, good pillow. However, if you have limited storage space there are other options. You can look for a sleeping bag that has a pillow attached. Or you can even get a blow-up pillow to save space. But likely the best option would be to look at travel pillows. This is because they're typically very compact while still providing enough support to keep your head and neck healthy.
Another important item is your duvet. If you're going to be sleeping in a van year-round, we'd suggest looking into all-season duvets. But your van doesn't have any heating options, so you might also need a proper winter duvet as well.
Now that you're all comfortable and know how to get some proper sleep, let's move on to the final segment of this guide – staying safe.
When it comes to the van life, there are two main categories in this regard, following the rules and keeping unwanted guests outside.
We're going to start with the former, as it's a lot more complicated.
And do note that this is not an extensive list and plenty of rules can vary or change depending on exactly where you are.
Rather these are just a few general tips that we think you should keep in mind. And if you're really serious about the van life, it could also help to join one of the many van life online groups.
If there's anyone who can properly warn you of the dangers of the van life, it's other van lifers!
When it comes to where you can park and/or camp, there's no one correct answer. It varies from country to country, state to state, and maybe even city to city. For example, in the US, you can look up the Bureau of Land Management Areas and camp there. However, there's sometimes a fee associated with camping on BLM land.
But when you look at the UK, there are some notable differences. For one, even public land, like national forests, can fall under the wild camping law and therefore be illegal. However, if a landowner allows you to camp on their grounds, you're good to go. And when it comes to camping out in a parking lot of your local MacDonalds or other business, it could vary from business to business.
So, it's one huge grey area when it comes to the law. At least from what we could find, it seems that way. So, before you all get in your vans or cars, try to do some research and see which regulations are in place wherever you live.
Even if you're safe from the law, you might be in danger in some other way. And this goes for wild camping and urban areas alike. But how can you know whether a certain area is a safe campsite or not? Well, once again, there is no one correct answer.
However, there are some tips you should keep in mind. For one, do a bit of research on the local wildlife before parking your vehicle in the middle of the forest. Specifically, look into whether the smell of food might attract any unwanted guests. Also, some van dwellers advise against setting up camp in wide open fields, as you could leave yourself vulnerable.
When it comes to urban areas, try to avoid parts of town that are known for wild parties. Most people get a bit crazy when they're drunk and you don't want someone damaging your vehicle or banging on your door in the middle of the night.
Overall, sleeping in a van can be rather difficult. A lot goes into making yourself feel comfortable and keeping both yourself and your vehicle safe. So, do your research and plan ahead! We also suggest joining one of the many van life communities in the UK if you're serious about van camping.
After all, they can give you much more accurate information about what sleeping in a van looks like and what you should look out for! And if you have any added tips of your own, make sure to share them down in the comments.