Traveling in a campervan is all about embracing the open road and exploring new places with the comforts of a tiny house on wheels. If you’re building out your campervan, there are some simple campervan hacks you can do during your build that will pay off big when it’s finally time to enjoy it.
These 10 campervan hacks and tips are easy to incorporate into any build and will ensure that your van life journey will be safe, comfortable, and enjoyable!
The campervan build tips that we cover in this post improved our van life experience as we traveled through 15 countries during our Pan-American road trip, and we hope they can help you too. Let’s dive in!
Here are 10 easy campervan hacks to add functionality to your build:
- Create A Secret Pocket
- Install A Swivel Seat
- Get A Pelican Case For The Outside
- Install Dimmable Lights
- Add A Roof Rack
- Use Small 1 lb Propane Tanks For Cooking
- Install A Button For The Rear Camera
- Put A Tint On The Windows
- Add Window Locks To Sliding Windows
- Level The Van Suspension
Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I earn a small commission when you book through these links for which I am very thankful!
10 Easy Campervan Hacks:
1. Create A Secret Pocket
Security is always a concern when traveling in a camper van, especially on long trips where you’re likely to be carrying electronics, money, passports, and other valuables aboard.
While you may get lucky and never have to deal with theft, it’s smart to install some type of secret pocket for your most valuable items. We thankfully never had any break-ins in our campervan during our 15-month-long Pan-American Road Trip but it’s always best to be prepared for the worst.
One of the handiest campervan hacks that you can do to keep your valuables safe is to create a secret pocket in your build.
We added a secret pocket in our kitchen cabinet toe kick that could fit two laptops, passports, backup documents, extra keys, and emergency money. It’s nearly impossible to spot this hiding space unless you know it’s there but for extra security measures, we also installed a hidden lock so it stays closed.
It was easy for us to build in this secret pocket during our DIY Promaster conversion, making it seem like it’s just a regular kitchen cabinet toe kick. In most cases, people build hiding spaces into the bed frame underneath the mattress but this is a well-known “secret” spot so this might be first the place that someone checks during a break-in.
During our conversion, we also built a secret pocket by the wheel well to hide our bigger items like our DJI Mavic Pro drone and camera gear. It’s not as hidden and much more obvious than our laptop tray under the kitchen cabinet, but it’s still better than nothing.
2. Install A Swivel Seat
Installing a swivel seat is a worthwhile addition because it greatly expands the space and adds some dual-duty utility to something that’s already there. Some people install swivel seats on both front seats while others (like us) install the swivel base just on the passenger seat.
Having a swivel seat adds extra seating when hanging out and we used ours all the time.
It’s great for working, eating, and having friends over especially on rainy days when you just want to stay inside the van. You can also add a small table that pulls out in front of the swivel seat and within seconds you can have a working area which is especially convenient in smaller campervans.
If you’re ordering a van from the factory, you can often add the swivel seats to your purchase. If you have a used van, a swivel seat adapter is another option that costs around $300 per chair and is easy to bolt on.
We got our Promaster swivel seat adapter on Craigslist but here are a couple of websites that currently sell them as well:
The one downside of adding a swivel base to our Promaster’s passenger seat was that my feet did not reach the floor because we didn’t add the matching smaller pedestal. During the long-haul drives, I ended up sitting cross-legged which was extremely uncomfortable.
If you want to do this on the cheap and forego buying the smaller pedestal but still be comfortable, then this memory foam footrest can provide more comfort, lessen pressure and improve circulation – perfect for passengers during long drives in a van!
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3. Get A Pelican Case For The Outside
Having a Pelican case on the outside of the campervan is a very handy addition and an easy campervan hack.
A Pelican case can be used for extra storage and to keep things outside that you might not want inside the van like a dirty grill, firewood, wet shoes, and extra propane tanks that could lead to potential gas leaks.
Pelican cases are very strong and rugged so they don’t break down with UV and they’re waterproof if you live in a rainy area.
They have lock holes so that you can easily lock up the inside contents. Pelican cases are also very sturdy and simple to mount on.
In the outside rear of our van, we added the Pelican 1640 case which was pretty easy to install. We cut off all the handles and wheels that came on it and mounted it to the inside of the door with an ¼ Inch aluminum backing plate.
Tip: When using a pelican case don’t overload it with a ton of weight because it might make the door sag or completely rip off the door panel if it’s too heavy.
4. Install Dimmable Lights
Another thing to consider in your build that will help with functionality and stealth camping is installing multiple lights that are dimmable and can selectively be turned on and off for different situations and lighting needs.
For our main lights, we installed six LED Puck Lights that provide plenty of light when we’re not concerned with being stealthy and prefer to have good lighting. We wired them to separate switches for the front and back lights so we can select the kitchen ones while cooking or the bed ones while sitting in the bed.
We also installed dimmable LED string lights all around the ceiling of the van that we can adjust from pretty bright to fairly dim settings with remote control. When we’re trying to stealth camp, we’ll set the string lights to the lowest setting where we’ll still be able to see everything inside but nobody can see any lights from the outside thanks to our tinted windows.
To stay more organized, we also added dimmable under-cabinet lights in all the closet spaces underneath the bed. This helps us find clothing items and toiletries easier at night, especially in dark spaces like cabinets.
5. Add A Roof Rack
Installing a roof rack to our campervan was worth every penny. We installed a DIY roof rack to easily add solar panels and a hangout deck to our van but could have instead used the space to add a cargo box, carry surfboards, or even add a rooftop tent.
Having a roof rack also makes your van look a bit stealthier by hiding the ceiling fan and solar panels from the side view.
We built our roof rack out of wooden slats, 80/20 extruded aluminum, and other generic parts we got from McMaster-Carr.
When we built our roof rack there were very limited options for buying one already made to fit our Promaster. Now there are a lot more companies selling roof racks and components if you want to save yourself the time and hassle of doing it yourself.
The upside of having your own DIY roof rack is that you can modify it easily.
When we needed more solar power during our Central America travels, we sacrificed some of the wooden deck space to add more solar panels since the single solar panel we had installed couldn’t keep the battery topped off. We were able to redo our solar panels in a mall parking lot in Panama with a basic toolbox and a bit of sweat equity.
6. Use Small 1 lb Propane Tanks For Cooking
Having the right setup for our campervan kitchen was one of the most important parts of our build. We love to cook and we wanted to incorporate all the necessities of a basic kitchen set up in our van so we could continue making meals on the road.
Cooking saves you a ton of money when traveling and it’s also a great way to stay healthy and even meet other travelers. There is no better icebreaker for overlanders than sharing a home-cooked meal and a drink!
For our campervan kitchen, we decided to go with a built-in stove to save time on set up and break down for every meal. We had plenty of countertop space so we installed a stationary propane stove top with two burners.
To run this stovetop we use 1 lb green Coleman propane tanks.
We hooked up the stove’s propane line to a Coleman fuel cylinder under the sink and each cylinder lasts us about a week of cooking three meals a day.
Using 1 lb propane tanks for cooking saved us a ton of room inside the kitchen cabinet and made it much safer since traveling with large propane bottles inside a vehicle is never recommended.
We keep an extra 1 lb Coleman tank in our Pelican case in the back of the van along with an 11 lb Flame King propane tank and a propane refill adapter that we use to refill the green Coleman bottles whenever they run out. Together, they hold enough propane to last us for months of full-time traveling and cooking before needing to refill.
7. Install A Button For The Rear Camera
Having a backup camera on a camper van is pretty essential since there are so many blind spots and it’s so hard to see what’s going on in the back.
The easiest and most convenient thing to do is wire it so it comes on automatically when you put it in reverse, but if you want full control of the camera and the convenience to turn it on whenever you like, you will need to install and wire an on/off camera button.
This functionality comes in handy in situations where you need quick access to the rear camera but don’t have it in reverse, like if you hear a suspicious noise behind your van and you don’t want to get out of the car to check it out. We had someone try to steal our pelican case once and having this rear camera button allowed us to see what was going on behind our car and assess the situation without taking a step outside.
Having control of the rear camera can also help you park easier in tight parking lots and level the van in campgrounds. Turning the camera on with a button allows you to keep the camera on the whole time and get into spots with ease.
8. Put A Tint On The Windows
During our build, we spent a lot of time insulating the walls and roof, but all of this effort wouldn’t do our van any good if we didn’t also insulate the giant windows and windshield. Even if you have a factory tint on any of the rear windows, the factory tint doesn’t necessarily reflect heat – it’s just dark.
Ceramic tint is good at reflecting heat and it can help keep the interior of the van cool. We couldn’t have survived traveling through Mexico and some of the Central American countries without adding a ceramic tint (or film) to all our windows and windshield.
But make sure to get the right kind of tint. Unlike a cheap metallic tint, the more expensive ceramic tint doesn’t interfere with radio signals so you can continue having good reception on the radio and your cell phone while on the road.
Ceramic tints come in various shades which provide different levels of privacy and heat reflection. The darker tints are good for rear windows where you want maximum privacy, while the lightest “tints” are great for front windows because they are pretty much invisible but still block out most of the heat. Every state has different laws on window and windshield tints so make sure to check them before installing.
9. Add Window Locks To Sliding Windows
Adding window locks to our van’s sliding side windows is another easy hack that we built into our campervan to prevent break-ins and theft. There are instances where you might need to keep the windows cracked open while you go sightseeing or run errands, especially if you have a pet in your car.
Adding window locks will prevent someone from sliding the windows fully open and trying to get in through them.
To secure the windows, we drilled holes in a couple of spots along the frame allowing us to lock them in a few different places, depending on how hot the weather is outside. That way can turn on the ceiling fan, crack the windows and lock them with a small lock for air circulation while we’re gone.
10. Level The Van Suspension
Since vans are mostly made to carry heavy loads for commercial purposes, they have really stiff and high suspensions in the back which make it hard to sleep or cook without feeling like you’re going to tip over. They also ride very stiffly which makes it uncomfortable to travel down dirt or even paved roads.
If your campervan build is on the heavier side, then this doesn’t really apply since your van probably already sits level. But our campervan build is extremely light so the back of our van stuck way up in the air.
To fix this, we simply took out the smallest leaf spring from the rear suspension which made the van level and softened up the suspension, a free fix that only took a couple of hours.
If you leave the additional leaf spring in, the back will always stick up in the air, the rear will feel stiff on bumpy roads and the rear tires will lift up when getting in and out of driveways.
Not all vans will be as easy to level, or you may want to do the opposite and lift the front a couple of inches instead. But the leaf spring fix is the cheapest and easiest way to do it.
Looking for more van life inspiration? Here are a few other helpful resources and blog posts that you may like:
- 85 Van Life Essentials That You Should Be Packing
- 40 Amazing Gift Ideas For Van Life Travelers
- How To Make Money While Living In A Van
- 10 Things You Should Know Before Living In A Van
- 13 Best Ford Econoline Conversions For Van Life
- 12 Helpful Tips For Traveling With A Cat
Interested in stepping up your photography game? Here is the camera gear that I carry everywhere I go to create amazing travel photos:
- Main camera: Sony a7c Camera. The Sony a7c is tiny, light, full-frame, and durable – in other words, amazing!
- Polarizer Filter: Hoya 40.5 mm Filter. Polarizing filters reduce glare in water, protect the lens from getting scratched and bring out the best colors when it’s bright outside. Having a polarizing filter is a must-have if you plan to photograph lakes, oceans, rivers, and waterfalls.
- Wide Lens: Sony 16-35 mm F4. Great for capturing wide panoramas, nature landscapes, and cramped city streets. Mounts to any Sony mirrorless camera and features autofocus, image stabilization, and incredibly sharp images.
- Lightweight Travel Tripod: Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Tripod. A good tripod is essential for capturing images in low light conditions, such as during sunset and sunrise, or creating smooth water effects when shooting waterfalls. The Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod is very sturdy, light, and folds small so you can take it on all of your adventures!
- Memory Cards: SanDisk Extreme 256 GB. It’s always good to bring a few extra memory cards on trips. SanDisk Extreme is ultra-fast for capturing high-quality images, bursts, long exposure night shots, and 4k videos. This memory card is also durable and reliable yet very affordable.
- Camera Batteries: Wasabi Power Battery Set. I’ve made the mistake of getting to a location to realize my camera is out of battery. Always keep your batteries charged with this camera charger set.
- Camera Bag: Lowepro adventure shoulder bag. A camera bag is something you should definitely invest in! Without having a proper place to store it I would get my camera scratched, sandy, or even occasionally drop it.