How to Plan the Ultimate Vanlife Roadtrip (with 5 US/Mexico Destinations to Visit Before You Die)

Woman driving a van with a dog in the frontseat

How to Plan the Ultimate Vanlife Roadtrip (with 5 US/Mexico Destinations to Visit Before You Die)

Buy or Sell Campers

Buy or Sell Campers

11 January 2023

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How to Plan the Ultimate Vanlife Roadtrip (with 5 US/Mexico Destinations to Visit Before You Die)

Ready to hit the road and unleash your inner wanderlust? If you’re yearning for a life of freedom on four wheels, then we’ve got everything you need right here. From picking that perfect pitstop to having all the essentials packed in advance – we’ve got all bases covered with travel tips, gear essentials, and so much more. It takes more than just packing a few bags and hitting the gas pedal – with just the right amount of planning you’ll be on a one-way roadtrip to an epic adventure!

Setting off on a roadtrip in your van is one of the most exciting experiences out there – but it can also be a challenge if you’re new to this kind of adventure. That’s why we have canvassed some of our top vanlifers and van building pros to bring you these essential roadtrip tips, so that you can hit the highway with confidence. From the basics such as stocking up on water and fuel, to refining your route to fit both your needs and the road regulations – tune in for the best advice around! Expect tales from life on the road, practical wisdom and an insight into what it takes to plan an epic road trip in one of these awesome vans. Get ready for the open road now, with advice straight from those that know best.

Strap in, let’s get ready to roll out…

How to Plan a Roadtrip Route

Gear List - Essential Things to Pack for your Roadtrip

Troubleshooting - Drama Avoidance

Tracking your Trip

How to Plan a Roadtrip Route

Why Choose a Camper?

Campervan roadtrips offer the most unique way to explore the world we live in. With an adventure in your back-pocket and road beneath your wheels, who wouldn’t enjoy this epic lifestyle? Load up your camper, stock up on essentials for the road, and make memories that last a lifetime – it doesn’t get any better than that. Not only do road-trip enthusiasts love campervans for the serenity and freedom they bring, but many are also drawn to their affordability and convenience. If you’re yearning to join the vanlife movement, check out our current campervans for sale…

Planning your Route

When you’re off roadtripping in your campervan, the best way to make sure your adventure goes without a hitch is to design an itinerary beforehand. That said, vanlifers will agree that the best roadtrips are organization and chaos in equal measures, so don’t be too strict about it. The roadtrip process calls for an open mind and willingness to go with the flow.

Okay, so something has sparked your imagination… You’ve read that ferries from Italy to Sardinia are pretty affordable in spring, seen an epic Insta shot of Arizona’s Lower Antelope Canyon, or heard that Norway is one of the most camper-friendly destinations in the world (true story)… Now what? This is our go-to roadtrip planning and pre-trip fact-finding process; depending on whether you’re roadtripping across continents, states or just staying local, there’s something for all trips!

Tip 1: Consciously research local vanlife rules in the areas you'll be passing through and stopping in

Different countries, states, and types of land will have different regulations. Take Scotland, Scotland has ‘right to roam’, however, England – just next door – does not. In Scotland you can park anywhere as long as public or private landowners do not prohibit it; in England you should have ‘express permission’ from the landowner. Based on legislation, Sweden, Norway and Scotland are the most van-friendly countries in Europe, but there are still rules that apply – Norwegian vanlifers should stay no longer than 48 hours in a place and must stay over 150m from a private residence, for example. This is all stuff you need to know to avoid getting into hot water.

Don’t assume you know the rules because similar terminology is used either! Rules may vary, despite places sounding the same. For example, wildcamping is prohibited in National Parks in England, but in the US, parking in National Forests is positively encouraged, although not in State Forests though, oh no, State Forests, might require a permit… There’s a lot to learn!

Do your research, and make sure you understand the nuances. Look for official guidance but don’t take that solely on face value, also search for recent vanlifer accounts. For example, wildcamping in Sardinia is strictly forbidden (according to official guidance), but don’t let this put you off too much. If you check out actual vanlifer accounts, you’ll find that it’s well-tolerated on the island, except for in a couple of defined areas.

Tip 2: Have a vague route in mind, but keep it flexible.

Define a mid-point and an end-point for your roadtrip, plus any must-sees along the way. We like the mindset “if it feels right, stay another night!” When roadtripping your way cross-country, there’s no better feeling than the freedom of taking off without a plan. You can go ‘roadtrip rogue’ and spontaneously head down that random road that catches your eye, or find yourself perched on a scenic overlook you didn’t know existed, taking in the gorgeous views. But it’s always best to have a vague route in mind while roadtripping – this gives you something to aim for – and give yourself the flexibility to make changes along the way. If you’re hitting the US or Mexico, get some inspo with our 5 US/Mexico Destinations to Visit Before You Die.

Tip 3: Download a selection of boondocking apps and save your favorite park-ups.

If you’re planning to travel off-grid without electric hook-ups (EHUs) or shore power, this is known as boondocking, wildcamping, or stealth camping. There are a whole collection of apps to help you find spots to park-up. Most feature user photos and reviews. Our favorites are Park4Night or iOverlander. One of our favorite pastimes, when we fall into the rabbit hole on our phones, is to find the most incredible park-ups in these apps, saving them out for future adventures. When we’re in active roadtrip mode, we’ll typically plan 1 to 2 stops ahead of ourselves.

Tip 4: Aim to arrive in daylight.

Boondocking or off-grid wild camping road trips can be some of the most thrilling adventures, but there are a few things to keep in mind that will make your experience even more enjoyable. One of the most important is to always arrive either at your destination or set up camp in daylight – otherwise, you’re just asking for trouble. It’s essential to see every aspect of the area, including potential safety concerns and what amenities may be nearby. Arriving at night decreases visibility and puts you at an immediate disadvantage; don’t put yourself at risk by not seeing exactly what you’re dealing with! Sure, there is the joy of waking in the morning to discover you’ve got some epic views you didn’t know about…but not when your rear wheels are buried in deep, soft sand.

Tip 5: Research whether there are any charges you need to register for.

This might include tolls etc. Find out how fees are charged, whether you need to pre-register, and what the charges will be so you can factor these into your roadtrip budget. You don’t want to get caught out with a fine and penalties.

Tip 6: Research whether you need an International Driving License (IDP)

As it stands at the moment, you won’t need an IDP if you have a photocard driving license issued in the UK and you’re driving in the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein. You might need an IDP to drive outside of Europe, however (e.g. in some US states, Canada, and other non-EU countries).

If you’re American or Canadian, your passport and driver’s license should be all you need in most European countries. However, some countries also require an IDP. It’s a good idea to get one if you’ll be driving in Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia, or Spain — countries where you’re technically required to carry a permit.

Be sure to check this out before you hit the road and leave your home country. Our advice: if you’re crossing borders, you may as well get one. They cost about $20 (or less in the UK), plus a couple of passport-sized photos. They typically last between 1-3 years. Well worth the investment to avoid drama.

Tip 7: Check whether you need any special markers or kit for your campervan.

EU countries will require vehicles to have a country marker sticker plus some adaptations. These don’t necessarily apply to all visiting vehicles, but if you’re traveling from the UK, for example, you’ll need to adapt your headlights with headlight beam adjusters. There may also be certain safety laws you may need to comply with or paperwork you’ll need to carry. For example, in most EU countries you’ll need a high-vis vest (per passenger), spare bulbs, and a warning triangle. You may also want to nerd-up on speed limits and drink driving limits.

Tip 8: Check any clean air restrictions.

Many European cities have clean air restrictions in place. If you’re planning to journey through the bigger cities of France, for example, you’ll need a Crit’air sticker in certain areas. This will denote the level of emissions your van produces based on its Euro rating – if your campervan is slightly older, it might not be permitted entry at particular times due to quality levels present in those days. Failure to have one could mean a hefty fine or worse yet, being banned from entering specific cities altogether! Do your homework.

Tip 9: Plan your fuel budget.

Setting off on a road trip is such an exciting but sometimes expensive endeavor. It’s important to keep in mind how far you plan on going and the mpg cost of your campervan. Fuel costs can rapidly rack up if you’re wandering around for months in a gas-guzzling beast. To stay within budget, make sure you’re knowledgeable about how many miles you’re getting per gallon (mpg) with your campervan so that you don’t need to choose between food and fuel on your roadtrip!

And don’t just believe what you read online or what the sales guy told you about mpg! Your van is loaded and there are a lot of factors that can affect your campervan’s mpg. Things like the weight of your campervan, wind resistance, and terrain all play a part. So how can you find out the actual mpg of your campervan?

The best way to do this is to keep a log. Every time you fill up your tank, note the amount of gas you put in and how many miles you’ve driven since the last fill-up. Doing this over time will give you a good idea of your campervan’s mpg.

Of course, your results will never be 100% accurate. But it’s still the best way to get a sense of how much gas your campervan is using.

Gear List - Essential Things to Pack for your Roadtrip

Before embarking on a road trip, thinking ahead about what gear you need is a must. After all, no one wants one of those uncomfortable “Oh yeah, I totally forgot that” moments on the edge of the highway. If you forget something small or relatively insignificant, Amazon pickup points along the way are your best pal – as long as you’re not too remote! In the end, planning out the gear you need before you set off will save a lot of time and headaches, making your trip more enjoyable overall. We’re not going to cover a full gear list in this post, but let’s cover some of the vanlife essentials you may not have thought of.

Levelling Blocks

For the ultimate vanlife roadtrip experience, levelling blocks should be on your checklist. While they may not seem like an indispensable item, imagine finding the perfect park-up, and not being able to catch those all important zzzzzs because your bed isn’t level. Decent levelling blocks can save you a lot of time and potential fuss. To use them, just place the leveling blocks under any area of the tire(s) that need to be raised or lowered. For what they cost and the space/weight, levelling blocks pay for themselves in terms of comfort.

Satnav (go beyond Google Maps!)

Exploring the great outdoors in your campervan is one of the best experiences ever. But, it can also be daunting navigating through all those world landmarks with just Google Maps – sometimes it just doesn’t cut it! This is why you should consider an advanced sat nav that explicitly caters to campervans. Specifically, one that allows you to input the height, length, and width of your van so it will only take you on routes that your vehicle can navigate. There are some awesome options for campervan sat navs, such as Garmin Camper which is a standalone system with a premium display, but this comes at a cost. A great app-based sat nav is CoPilot; it has full offline capability and supports both Apple Car Play and Android Auto.

Basic toolkit plus replacement fuses and bulbs

A campervan roadtrip can be an unforgettable experience, for the right and wrong reasons! Having the fuse blow on your water pump can either take a second to fix or cause a massive detour if you don’t have the right kit on board. For those moments when something unexpected breaks out of nowhere – having some basic tools in your van can help remedy a situation. We’re also big fans of a head torch for hands-free light when drama occurs! Don’t forget: these are low-cost, lightweight items that can make all the difference when you’re on a self-drive adventure.

EHU Cable and Extension Lead

Planning an epic campervan roadtrip? Don’t forget to include an EHU cable and extension lead in your packing list. Even if you think you won’t need it, as you plan on wild camping and assume your solar power will have your back when it comes to powering your home comforts – it’s always best to have a backup! If you chance upon a camp with EHU, having this kit handy makes life much easier and smoother – and who knows, you might even find yourself opting for EHU over solar or gas if the weather is grim and you like the comfort of knowing your van has a consistent power supply. So make sure to never forget that little bit of extra kit: it just might come in handy and save the day.

Foodsafe Hose

It’s the classic dilemma of the campervan roadtrip: do you keep the weight down and go with just enough water, or play it safe? Well, if you want to ensure that wherever you go, rugged coastlines or otherwise, your adventure is as smooth and successful as possible. A foodsafe hose can provide that extra bit of certainty – think of it like a security blanket for your taps. You don’t know where you’ll be filling up, or with what. Go prepared. When the time comes for snacks and caffeine hits at the end of a long day’s driving – you want to have enough water on-board for the ultimate off-the-beaten-path experience.

Weather Gear

If you’re planning a winter campervan adventure, it’s important to make sure you have the right kind of gear. This list isn’t exhaustive, but for driving in snow, you’ll definitely need tires with good treads, heavy chains for better traction, and some form of antifreeze. Also, a snow shovel, just in case you end up getting stuck. Even if snow isn’t forecast where you’re headed, check laws for the area you’re hitting – you may need to carry this stuff to avoid penalties.

Thinking ahead can prevent unnecessary stress on the road and also avoid fines – you don’t want to be caught without snow chains in an area where they are legally required at the time of year for example.

Portable Lithium-ion Battery Jump Starter Pack

Setting off on a relaxing roadtrip in your campervan is an awesome way to get away from all your troubles and see the world, but it doesn’t hurt to take all the necessary precautions ready for any mishaps that may arise. A portable Lithium-ion battery jump starter pack, such as the Noco BOOST, is a must-have addition when explorin’ the great outdoors. Not only can it jumpstart your van if its battery ever dies on you, but it can also power-up your phone. Don’t be caught short when out and about – these gadgets offer peace of mind that you’ll always have an extra bit of juice when you are miles away from nowhere!

Troubleshooting - Roadtrip Drama Avoidance

No one wants to think that anything might go wrong on your dream roadtrip, and if you’ve followed all our Roadtrip Planning and Gear List tips, you’ll have avoided a lot. But there are some things – such as mechanical failures or health issues that you can’t anticipate or avoid. You can, however, take steps to minimize drama should these occur. We recommend:


  • Having backup money in your account for mechanical issues or at least access to easy credit.
  • Check your breakdown cover has your back where you’re going.
  • Check your insurance has your back where you’re going.
  • Get health insurance for your destination.


It’s also best to check essential supplies before you take off – especially if you have canister gas on board. Some countries may not offer gas canisters with the same fittings you are used to.

Tracking your Trip

Tracking a roadtrip is a great way to let your folks and loved ones know where you’re at – taking them along for the ride! Capturing your memories will mean that each stop along the route will become a part of your story, something that can be shared and remembered for a lifetime. Taking pictures of these stops or writing about them in a journal provides an amazing sense of accomplishment when looking back at all the experiences you’ve had.

Journey, Bonjournal, and Diaru are all cool ways to track your travel, capturing journal entries, photos and locations. Tripcast is also cool for vanlife trips with your crew as it’s super simple to create group albums to share memories. Our favourite tracking app is Polarsteps. It’s intuitive, tracks automatically while you are logged in, is visually 👌 and you can invite your crew to follow and comment on your travels.

If you’re planning to just rely on the ‘gram, stay safe! Remember to post only once you leave a destination. Tag @buyorsellcampers in your posts and reels – we can share your travels!

5 US/Mexico Destinations to Visit Before You Die

If you’re looking for the must-see places to add to your bucket list, look no further! We’ve consulted with several of America’s most trusted campervan building pros to get their top five US/Mexico destinations. Don’t miss out on these incredible outdoor experiences – make sure you check off each one in a comfortable and stylish campervan before life passes you by!

Yosemite National Park, California

Recommended by: Big Bear Vans

Yosemite National Park in California holds some of the world’s most spectacular sights. From unique geological features like El Capitan and Half Dome to breathtaking meadows, expansive forests and 800-plus miles of hiking trails, Yosemite is an awesome vanlife destination. There are countless opportunities for adventure with waterfalls, lakes, caves and more waiting to be explored. Plus, Yosemite offers amazing starry nights lit up by incredible views of the Milky Way thanks to little light pollution, perfect for campfires under the stars. With snow activities like skiing and snowshoeing in winter and lush beauty all year long at 8,000 feet of elevation – often tinged with a hint of wildness – Yosemite National Park should definitely be on everyone’s vanlife bucket list!

Baja, Mexico

Recommended by: Sandy Vans LLC


Baja in Mexico is an awesome destination for a vanlife roadtrip. It’s got everything you need for an epic adventure, from stunning beaches to world-class surfbreaks. And it’s all just a short drive from the US border. The increasingly popular vanlife and overlanding culture has brought with it a newfound appreciation for Mexico as the ideal destination to live nomadically. What’s even better is that Mexico provides an incredible range of resources, making this lifestyle easily attainable. #VanLife in Mexico truly does have something for everyone!

Here are some facts about Baja that make it the perfect place for your next vanlife roadtrip:

  • Baja is home to some of the best surf spots in the world.
  • Baja has amazing weather year-round, with average temperatures in the mid-70s.
  • The food in Baja is incredible, and you can find everything from street tacos to fine dining.
  • There are plenty of activities to keep you busy, from hiking and biking to ATVing and scuba diving.
  • And of course, there are beautiful beaches. Whether you want to relax on the sand or catch some waves, Baja has a beach for you.

Lake Tahoe, Sierra Nevada Mountains

Recommended by: Appalachian Vans

If you’re looking for the ultimate vanlife roadtrip destination, look no further than Lake Tahoe. Located high in the Sierra Nevada mountains bordered by California and Nevada, it’s one of the largest and deepest alpine lakes in North America. Overnight parking is allowed. Daily permits are $5.00 and a season pass is $25.00.

With over 300 miles of shoreline, Lake Tahoe offers plenty of opportunities to explore with spectacular views of rugged mountains and clear blue waters. No matter if you’re into hiking, fishing, kayaking, skiing or just taking it easy while you soak up the scenery, there’s something here for everyone. Plus who doesn’t love a good lakeside sunset before bedding down in your roving home? It’s an experience that makes it easy to forget everything else going on in life and just soak up the beauty this little slice of utopia has to offer.


Recommended by: Camp N Car

Yeah, we know, Alaska is a big place – so large that Camp N Car’s founder – Steve – spent 6 months living out of his Honda Element in Alaska! And this is why it makes the cut: the wild expanse of Alaska promises an epic vanlife roadtrip. Ready to hear the best part? You can take your campervan right up there! With a valid driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance, you can drive up along the Alcan and take in the wonder of traveling with a view.

Once in Alaska, you might find some delightful surprises: there are no permits necessary for overnight parking or camping – the perfect setup to explore this breathtaking state without any hassle. Take in amazing sights like glaciers and glacial lakes, valleys filled with wildflowers and snow-covered mountains abound in this awe-inspiring landscape that is waiting to be explored from the comfort of your campervan. From its stunning views to its endless potential for exploration, there is no doubt that Alaska is an unforgettable place for a vanlife roadtrip – so what are you waiting for?

Buena Vista, Colorado

Recommended by: AW Vanworks

Colorado is an incredible place to visit, and one of the best ways to experience it is through a vanlife roadtrip! Recommended by the crew at AW Vanworks for being an “awesome Colorado mountain town”, Buena Vista is the perfect place to start your journey. It’s got breathtaking mountain landscapes, charming small town vibes, and hot springs nearby. Spend days exploring the nearby forests and rivers, or head up to some of Colorado’s world-famous ski resorts for outdoor adventure. There are also plenty of free campsites in Colorado that make vanlife even more awesome! As long as you are camping on public land (with permission from the local authorities if necessary) and abiding by the 14-day rule (you can only stay in one location for a maximum of 14 days), you’re all set to go! So don’t wait – come take a vanlife journey through Colorado’s beauty and explore it unlike anyone else. Check out Boondocker’s Bible for dispersed camping near Buena Vista, CO.

And there you have it!

We hope you enjoyed reading this post and that it inspired you to start planning your vanlife roadtrip. If you want to make sure you don’t miss out on any of our future posts about vanlife inspo and expert travel hacks, be sure to join our mailing list. We never spam you, we’ll only send you the good stuff. So what are you waiting for? Sign up now!

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