Van Life

12 Campervan Essentials for your Next Road Trip

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Traveling by campervan has always been a dream of mine. In the fall of 2020 I made that dream a reality when I went on a campervan road trip for 10 days through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. I had an absolute blast traveling in a campervan, and couldn’t recommend it more. However, there are a few campervan essentials that you want to make sure you pack for your first, or next, campervan road trip.

I booked my van through Native Campervans, a rental company with offices in Salt Lake City, UT, Denver, CO, and Las Vegas, NV. The van itself was perfect! Despite being a bit larger than your standard campervan, it was super easy to drive. The extra size also allowed us to have an indoor stove, which was amazing on 30 degree mornings in the park. 

native campervans in grand teton

The only downside to renting from Native Campervans was their poor communication. Due to COVID-19, all onboarding is done virtually. Unfortunately the virtual onboarding video was sent to the wrong email, and after many unanswered calls the day before, I finally got in touch when I was standing in a parking lot with the van in front of me. I would have felt more comfortable if I could have reviewed all of the details of the van before actually arriving, but I understand that everything is a bit harder at the moment. 

schwabacher landing river through camper van doors

As for the van itself, I have no complaints! It was truly the best way to explore Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. If you’re interested in learning more about booking you can check out their website. I also encourage you to shop around and check out other companies/prices and there are tons of rental companies. We booked our trip rather last minute so this was one of the only companies out of Salt Lake City, where we wanted to start our adventure, that had vans available for our days. 

How much does it cost to rent a campervan?

The cost of renting a campervan can vary greatly from company to company. Native Campervans was offering 10% off when I booked, so it was $206 per day, plus extras and tax. Based on my research, this is definitely on the higher side as far as campervan rentals go, but we truly loved our van.

I’ve heard great things about Escape Campervans, which has more van options for those on a budget, and cheaper rates! I am hoping to test them out later this year, and will be sure to report back. They also rent vans from New York City, for anyone looking to explore the East Coast of the United States by campervan.

If you’re looking for a more luxury option (WiFi, shower) then I definitely recommend Cabanas. I will be renting a van from them soon and can’t wait.

girl in the back of a camper van

Where can I park my campervan in the National Parks?

If, like me, you are planning a trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, then you are technically only allowed to park your van in designated camping areas. We definitely saw some vans pulled over on the side of the road, but that’s of course always a risk.

When booking a campsite, make sure that they can accommodate the size of your van. Or van was 18 feet long, so we were often able to reserve the “Large Tent Site” option.

Unlike RVs, campervans don’t need to be hooked up to electricity, which makes it a bit easier to find a decent spot.

exploring by camper van

Grand Teton Campsites

All of the campgrounds in the Tetons are first-come, first-serve, so you’ll want to make sure that you arrive early. Jenny Lake Campground is the most popular, and campers typically start lining up as early as 5am so secure a spot. If you aren’t looking to get up quite so early, I recommend checking out Gros Venture Campground. While Gros Venture Campground is not quite as central as Jenny Lake Campground, it typically doesn’t fill up until a few hours later. You can check out the latest fill times online, but remember that you’ll want to arrive at least an hour before that fill time as there will most likely me a line.

At any of the campgrounds you’ll find dump stations, fresh water, fire pits, and restrooms. The typical rate for any of the sites in the park is $33/night. 

Yellowstone Campsites

Unlike Grand Teton National Park, there are a number of campsites in Yellowstone that you can reserve ahead of time. However, sites book up super early to make sure to reserve a few months in advance. We got lucky with a cancellation and were able to snag a spot at Canyon Campground for our first night in the park. If you are able to get multiple nights here, it can easily be your base for the entire trip to Yellowstone, as it is super central. Here is a first of campgrounds that you can reserve ahead of time: 

  • Bridge Bay
  • Canyon 
  • Grant Village 
  • Madison 

There are also a number of campsites that are first-come, first-serve, but you’ll want to arrive super early. We arrived at Indian Creek Campground by 5am to grab a site for two nights. It felt a bit ridiculous when we were the first to arrive, especially since the campground office doesn’t open until 8am, but by 5:30/6am there was a line of about 30 cars/RVs. Indian Creek is not as central, as it is located about 20 minutes south of Mammoth Hot Springs, however it was a great site and only costs $15/night. Plus, with the road from Canyon Village to Tower-Roosevelt closed for the season, this campground is closer to Lamar Valley, one of the best sunrise spots. Of course, if you want to be the closest to Lamar Valley, you should check out Slough Creek or Pebble Creek Campground

view out the back of a camper van | van life

12 Campervan Essentials for your Road Trip

1. Flip Flops/Slippers

Since your campervan will serve as your car, your bed, your kitchen, and pretty much your entire life during a campervan road trip, you’ll want to avoid wearing your dirty shoes inside the van. I found that a pair of plastic flip flops worked well for this, and are top of my list for campervan essentials. Having flip flops along is also great for showering at campgrounds. If the weather is cold then you may want to consider a pair of slippers, like these moccasins from Minnetonka

schwabacher landing river at sunrise

2. Hand Sanitizer/Wipes 

Hand sanitizer is a given during current times, but you’ll want both hand sanitizer and wipes to make sure you’re staying clean generally throughout your journey. While our van did have a sink, using sanitizer is a great way to conserve your van’s water supply. If you’re lucky your van might have some sort of shower, but most rentals don’t! Many campgrounds will have public showers available, but having antibacterial body wipes is a good way to stay fresh between washes. 

3. Garbage Bags

I rarely ever accept plastic bags when I’m shopping, but if you still have some stored away then this is the perfect use for them! I prefer to have the small bags rather full size garbage bags while traveling by campervan, as it allows you to throw away your garbage at least once a day to avoid any build up of smells. Trust me, that leftover curry isn’t going to smell great in the van after two or three days.

4. Extra Lights  

From flashlights to fairy lights, extra light sources are key for your van life packing list. Flashlights or headlamps will make things easier, and safer, if you’re navigating outside of you van at night to find a restroom. Luckily, you’ll also be traveling with another person, so a small light source will help you conserve the van’s battery and not disturb your travel partner.

Our rental van luckily came with great lighting, but battery-operated fairy lights are a great way to conserve your van’s battery power, while adding a fun touch! Trust me, it will definitely help you to snag that perfect van life Instagram shot.

5. Plastic Gloves

The biggest learning curve for us on our van life journey was the first time that we had to dump our gray water. For anyone who is wondering what gray water is, this is essentially any dirty dishwater that we’ve used while in the van. There was no toilet in the van so there luckily wasn’t any waste in the water. Most campsites have a designated dump station where you can dump your water and get fresh water. However, you’re definitely going to want to make sure that you’ve got a pair of gloves on for this (not so fun) task.

6. Portable Toilet 

Speaking of not having a toilet in our van rental, this little “toilet” is going to come in handy. There were some very cold nights where we could hear coyotes outside of our van. Safe to say there was no chance I was going to walk outside alone in the dark to find a toilet at the campsite, even with my handy flashlight. This option is under $20 and the perfect solution for late nights and road trips. Just make sure you don’t forget toilet paper!

van life dinner

7. Food Storage

More than likely you’re going to be cooking the majority of your meals in your van. In fact, van cooking is one of my favorite parts and a highlight of campervan essentials. Our van came equipped with the basics — cutlery, pots, pans, cups, etc — but options for food storage are super important. This will allow you to cook less often, and store food for upcoming meals, similar to meal prepping at home if that’s your thing.

I recommend bringing a couple of Stasher bags. These are my favorite reusable baggies that I use every single day, both at home and on the go. You’ll also want to bring along a few tupperware for leftover food. It is best if they are stackable to conserve space!

As I mentioned above, even though most rented vans come with dishware, I never travel without my collapsible Stojo cup. I got my first one just before this trip and have used it almost every single day since. Safe to say I’m obsessed and it’s a must on this campervan essentials packing list.

cooking van life

8. Hammock

Hammocks are seriously a godsend. They are super fun to bring along on scenic hikes, or even to hook up to the back of your van when pulled over. I brought one along with me when I did the Delta Lake hike in Grand Tetons and it was the perfect spot to relax and swing. Make sure to get one that is travel friendly, to avoid taking up to much space in your bag/in the van.

resting in a hammock at delta lake tetons hike

9. Entertainment

It is not uncommon for campgrounds to not have any wifi or cell reception, so remember to bring along some items for entertain. If that’s something that you’re looking for, consider booking with Cabana Campervans, as they off both 5G wifi and a tv in the van for a more luxurious trip. I always travel with my Kindle so I have access to my books. Playing cards are a fun, travel-friendly game as well! I’ve recently become obsessed with Monopoly Deal, the card game version of Monopoly! Definitely add it to your campervan packing list.

10. Sleeping Bags

I definitely recommend adding a sleeping bag to your list of campervan gear. Most van rentals come with some sort of bedding, but definitely on where and what season you are camping it could get very cold! Look for an option that is warm but also super compact, which makes them great to travel with.

11. First Aid Kit

Whether you are planning a campervan road trip or a normal road trip, having a first aid kit on hand is so important. Fingers crossed for a safe journey, but accidents happen, especially when camping and hiking are involved.

12. Packing Cubes

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I only just discovered the magic of packing cubes. If you’re a frequent reader of my blog or follow me on Instagram, you know that I’ve traveled to over 65 countries around the world. And yet, I only started using packing cubes last year!

view out the back of a camper van

Top Packing Picks for Campervan Essentials

Like what you read about the must-pack campervan essentials? Make sure to Pin for later!

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