10 Ideas for Making a Camper Feel More Like Home

November 30, 2023


Photo credit @sebsantabarbara

How do you make a camper feel like home? How do you choose what to bring with you to turn a panel van into a dream tiny house that is comfortable, come rain or shine? What makes a small space feel big and inviting, and what tips and tricks are there for making this lifestyle feel more familiar?

From small things that bring us a unique sense of joy to gaining a better understanding of what makes our tiny homes tick, there are multiple ways to make a van feel like home. I spent over five years living and travelling in a van that was my full-time abode, experiencing everything that tiny house living has to offer.

Here are my top tips on how to get to grips with living in a tiny space, covering everything from planning your build to discovering how to maintain a comfortable and happy life on the road.

1. Consider the Benefits of a Self-Conversion

If you’ve read any of my previous books, then you’ll already know how much I love the notion of a self-build campervan. It’s the best way to make a camper feel homey; you literally know your home like the back of your hand as you made every inch of it (and have the odd cuts and bruises to prove it!).

Making your layout, choosing where to put your bed, what cooker you’ll use, installing your heat source, fitting your electrics – you get to know every intricate detail about your new home and can fix anything if things go wrong while on the road. Knowing you can switch out a switch charge relay or replace a light switch gives you a real sense of accomplishment too!

The best thing about a self-conversion is that you can imprint your identity on it. In some respects (and this is going to get pretty deep very early on), this new space becomes an extension of you, your personality and your imagination.

Who wouldn’t want to make their own van when you put it like that?

2. Organise Your Space from the Get Go

Living in a tiny space means being organized with your belongings; you simply can’t afford to let things get messy as your van will feel cluttered incredibly quickly. They always say a tidy space leads to a tidy mind, and I guarantee that you’ll be able to sleep better and feel calmer if there’s a place for everything and everything has its place.

No one wants to spend 20 minutes searching through the bulkhead trying to find some bay leaves, nor do they want to have to take all the clothes off the kitchen workbench before they can cook. Plan where everything will go before you move into your van full time or head out on a long journey, and that includes outdoorsy gear too.

The garage space in the rear of the van (underneath your static bed) is a great space for outdoorsy equipment as it doesn’t have to make the interior of your tiny home muddy or cluttered. It’s little things like this that will leave you getting out into the wild quicker and less stressed when arriving at your new park up spot.


Photo credit @sebsantabarbara

3. Decorate with Trinkets

I’ve never enjoyed dusting that much, but having little ornaments or trinkets in your van that remind you of previous events are definitely worth the time it takes to have a whip-round with a duster. I glued a lot of little figurines on the top of my spice rack so I could see them every time I used the stove top, and placed some gig tickets from my favourite events inside the toilet door so that I could be reminded of them every time I used the loo.

Making a van feel like home is all about filling it with your personality. It’s not about making the best space that will get you followers on social media; it’s about making something that feels cosy and that will make you feel safe, secure, and happy while reading a book as you watch the sun go down. Pick things that you are proud of, things that make you happy, and things that remind you of all the great things you’ve done so far, while leaving space for some of the awesome memories you’re about to make!

4. Blankets, Cushions & a Good Duvet

Nothing says cosy like a good-old-fashioned duvet and some nice blankets. There was a time when my mum went through a stage of churning out crochet blankets like an industrial machine, with many people that I met on my journeys asking if they could get her to make some for them too! I took four with me and swapped them every month to mix things up, keeping the others in my bulkhead storage.

Blankets feel homey, but they also provide much needed warmth in the winter, twinned with a cosy duvet that will make you never want to leave your bed to put the espresso maker on the stove. Taking a duvet with some nice duvet covers instantly makes your van feel homier than just whacking out a sleeping bag too – the very act of plumping up your pillows and pulling your duvet over you is such an important part of the sleep process that we’ve come to associate with bedtime out entire lives.

Plus, with the addition of some extra cushions for propping yourself up and watching The Lord of the Rings on those cold winter nights, your bed will quickly become a space that you long to get into after a long day adventuring in the wild.


Photo credit @sebsantabarbara

5. Make Some Good Blackout Curtains / Blinds

And what else goes with pulling back the duvet? Drawing the curtains, of course!

Double up some fabric with some pieces of blackout curtain material, loop them, and thread them over a home-made curtain rod made from a length of broom handle, and you’ve got yourself some small curtains that you can pull over all your windows, keeping the sun out when you’re trying to snooze. They come in handy when you’re napping in the daytime too if you have to do a long nighttime drive.

Of course, you can use blackout blinds too, but in my opinion, there’s something about having curtains that makes a van feel more homey and more like the perfect tiny house.

Explore Sirius Blinds

6. Really Get to Know Your Electrical System

I touched on this above, but it was so important that I thought it deserved its own section.

Spend time looking at all the aspects of your electrical system before you set off on any trip. Yes, it might sound boring at first, but I wrote two massive chapters on electrics in my book Van Life For Dummies, so I know how to make this stuff sound exciting!

Nothing makes you feel more at home when out in the heart of nature than confidence. If you know what to do when your batteries die and can position yourself to make the most electricity from your solar panels and avoid sitting in the front of the van with your engine turned on while eating your evening meal so you can keep your fridge going in the middle of winter, then you’re already winning.


Photo credit @sebsantabarbara

The same goes for what’s happening under the bonnet / hood of your van too. Ok, I’m not suggesting that you go out and do a 10-month mechanic course as standard, but if you have some mechanical knowledge and the manual to your van to hand, then you should be able to solve most minor problems while out on the road.

Oh, and make sure you have great breakdown cover – that’s the most important bit!

7. Allow Yourself the Comfort of Having a Toilet on Board

A lot of people poo-poo having a toilet on board (pun intended), but there’s nothing like having a toilet in the middle of the night when it’s raining outside and you really need to go.

I built a toilet cupboard inside my van that doubled up as storage for my laundry bag. Yes, it takes a little bit of getting used to at first when you’re emptying it, but it quickly becomes part of your new routine. And while going to gas stations to ‘do your business’ is all well and good, you wouldn’t do that while living in an ordinary house, would you?

Allow yourself the comfort of having access to a toilet in your van, whether chemical or compost. It’s much less spooky than heading out into the woods in the dark with a trowel too!


Photo credit @sebsantabarbara

8. Nothing Says Cosy Like Low Lighting

Low, calming lighting like LED fairy lights or a soft reading lamp really help you to relax down on an evening. It also creates a different feel from your main lighting in your living space, helping you to separate the different spaces in your van and get ready for your nighttime routine.

I used some simple battery-powered copper-wire LED lights in my van that I superglued to the metal around the inside of the rear doors. They were bright enough to read from and could be dimmed via remote if I just wanted a low glow while watching a film.


Photo credit @sebsantabarbara

9. Make Sure Your Space Is Well Heated

Heat is one of the most important factors you need to consider when making a van feel cosy. You won’t be able to relax or feel at home if it’s freezing inside your van, so plan your heating system well and don’t cheap out on it either. There are plenty of ‘cheap diesel heaters’ on eBay, but you wouldn’t install an unreliable boiler in your house, so don’t compromise in your van either.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you could opt for a log burner like I did. I’ll tell you now, having a wood-burning stove crackling away in the corner of your van or the orange glow of coals definitely makes you feel like you’re at home. And don’t worry, people are too busy in their own worlds to notice smoke coming from your chimney.


Photo credit @sebsantabarbara

10. Set Some Time for Personal Space if Travelling with a Partner / Friend

My last piece of advice on making a van feel homey is all about creating a place for you to have some personal time when travelling with another person.

If you lived in a house with multiple rooms, you could easily take yourself off to go and do some reading or play some computer games to wind down, but in a van, there’s only one physical room.

So how do you go about creating personal space?

Well, with the great outdoors on your doorstep, the obvious answer would be to go for separate walks or do separate activities, both relaying different information to each other about your separate adventures when you return. But things are a little trickier inside the van.


Photo credit @sebsantabarbara

This is where your van layout comes into play. One person could sit on the bed with headphones on while playing a Nintendo Switch, and the other could put up the table at the front of the van to do some drawing while listening to a podcast, for example.

We all need time to recharge our social batteries, and this alone time is instrumental for both winding down and looking after yourself. Your friendship or relationship needs this, so make sure to implement it as often as you can.

About the Author

10 Ideas for Making a Camper Feel More Like Home

Lippert guest blogger, Sebastian Antonio Santabarbara, is a thirty-two-year-old writer from Yorkshire, UK. His first breakthrough role came as the Head of Written Content for Van Clan, an online media brand documenting the van life movement with a weekly reach of over 5 million readers. This role has led to Sebastian being head-hunted to write several inspirational non-fiction books on alternative living (to be published by Frances Lincoln 2022/23) and Van Life for Dummies (published by John Wiley & Sons Sept 2022). He is also the Editor in Chief for Retro Dodo, a media/news company with a monthly reach of 1 million people. Follow his travels on Instagram!

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