A First Timer’s Guide to a Campervan Road Trip


I hadn’t washed my hair in five days. I did the math while squatting for a morning pee next to Suerta, the rented camper van I had just driven over 1,600 kilometres. I felt dirty, bloated, exhausted, and utterly fulfilled. On a reunion adventure with my best friend, Erin, I captained a camper van for the first time ever-relying on side mirrors, the slow lane, and small miracles to get us from our destination and back again.

If you love road trips and the great outdoors, I highly suggest jumping on the campervan bandwagon. While I wasn’t quite ready to sell all my belongings and actually live in a van, I was jazzed to spend five days exploring in one. Suerta was a trusty companion, though for a first-timer, her husky size took some getting used to.

Embarking on you very first campervan endeavour can be daunting, but luckily, places and people exist to help you as much as possible. Your local Battery World store has a ton of deep-cycle batteries and accessories that are perfect for camping, just in case anything goes wrong. There’s over 100 stores nationwide, meaning help is never too far away, even though you might be far away from home.

Now, it’s time to pop your seatbelt on — here’s everything I learned during my first-time foray into vanlife.

Booking Your House-On-Wheels

Getting into the camper van spirit was easy. I hopped on the site Camplify: basically the Airbnb for campervans, vans, and camper trailers. Using the handy dandy filter tool, I found a slew of camper vans to choose from, each with its own personality. I was drawn to Cashew the Camper’s spunky interior; she had me at the retro interior styling. She came equipped with a small stovetop burner, plates and cups, storage, and a basic pantry.


Getting the Hang of the Drive

At first, I was deadset on renting a vintage trailer. “Just think of the photos!” I told myself. “But you’ve never towed one!” I argued back.

They look cool on Instagram, but unless you’ve driven a ginormous RV before, or mastered a trailer’s weird turning radius, it’s probably wise to steer clear of those vehicles. A small campervan is not only easier to maneuver, it allows you to get off the beaten path, all while rocking some pretty impressive mileage. You can cram all your stuff in there, and still park comfortably in most spots.

Even still, campervans are top-heavy and can be a challenge to drive for first-timers. I’ll admit that I skirted over no less than seven curbs as I gained my van-legs with Suerta’s need for wide turns. The driver’s seat was perched unbelievably high (which was cool) and the rearview mirror was basically useless (not cool). I was pleasantly surprised that Suerta was able to keep up with traffic on busy highways. 

That is, unless any elevation change was involved. She did not like going up or coming down any sort of hill. Same girl, same.


Don’t Forget Water. And Deoderant. And Something to Eat

I shut the van’s back end doors with a satisfied “we bought everything we needed and now we’ll be on our way” type of slam. Food and adult beverages filled the fridge and cabinets. If we went off-grid, we’d be all set; Suerta was locked and loaded.

“Oh my god. We forgot the water. And we’re IN THE DESERT” I realized aloud to Erin, my best friend of 26 years and fellow van-venturer.

Rule #1: Don’t forget water, especially in the desert.

Water also becomes crucial for “bathing” once you have dirt rings on your legs from days of hiking and sweating in the desert heat. (I also committed a camper van sin when I forgot to pack deodorant. Yikes). Suerta didn’t have a true shower, but she did come with a couple of options: The first was a solar water bag that poured sun-warmed water out of a spout when hung from a tree branch or the van door. The second was a big water jug with a pump and shower head that required a bit more dexterity.

Other packing essentials included a headlamp and camp chairs (or hammocks). Wine with a screw cap is far better than wine with no screw cap and no bottle opener. Also, after eating half my weight in hot dogs and ramen, I highly suggest bringing a variety of meal options.

Rule #2: Don’t eat hotdogs four days in a row…just don’t.


Toilet or No Toilet: the Campervan Dilemma

When choosing our campervan, I knew I didn’t want to deal with emptying waste. I purposely picked a van with no toilet, for both the grossness and size factor (toilets take up a lot of otherwise useful space in the van).

I admit to second-guessing this decision in the pitch black of our first night, who knows what sort of terrifying Aussie beasts lurk in the dark. But, that’s what headlamps, flashlights, and friends are for: scanning for man-eaters while you pee.

Pooping posed a different set of tactics. 

When possible, we utilised a servo or rest areas en route to our next destination. If nature called and we couldn’t put it on hold, we had to channel our inner savage and employ the “50 metres away from the campsite” rule. If you can’t go in the wild, or if you’re planning to travel for an extended period of time, consider choosing a van with a toilet, or book a campsite with facilities.


Enjoying the Ride

Despite the ungraceful dance of sharing a tiny space and never remembering which cushion the pots and pans were stored under, Erin and I eventually got into the swing of things.

We sipped coffee out of deliciously tacky cactus mugs in picturesque locations, gawked at dusk and dawn light in the sky, explored off the beaten path, and toasted to happy hour against the backdrop of stunning cliffs. Washing dishes was even enjoyable in the van sink while overlooking impossibly beautiful landscape.

In our bush land post, we marvelled so hard at the display of stars above us,  I’m pretty sure I drooled. As if it couldn’t get any better, we awoke to hot air balloons floating above us in the early morning light.

Rule #3: Wake up for every sunrise possible.

With over 100 Battery World stores across Australia, there’s bound to be one near you. Check out your local Battery World store today.

This article originally appeared on Thrillist.

Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our email newsletter.