Few people can afford the luxury RV’s that are on the market in 2019, and even fewer are willing to try! So what do you do when you’re tired of sleeping on the ground in a tent, but are too on-budget to splurge on an RV?
There are a lot of campgrounds that do allow van conversions, but there are also some serious laws and rules to consider before and after you make your conversions!
There are a lot of rules and regulations when it comes to camping in vans or van conversions, so read our list of information and tips to make sure your van camping is smooth sailing!
Do RV Parks Allow Regular Vans (not Class B)?
This question can be tricky.
While many places consider it to be illegal to park and sleep in your vehicle, renting a space to sleep in for the night has a little bit of grey area.
Think of it this way: if you pay for a site listed under “tent camping” and never pitch your tent, there’s a chance that no one will care or investigate the situation.
However, there are many RV specific campgrounds and sites that want to keep their areas fun and family-friendly. Some camp owners may be apprehensive about people sleeping out of their cars in their campground for days at a time and could have rules against it.
Not only that, but they also might want to maintain exclusivity as an “RV” only site. You pulling up in your converted van might be a red flag for them.
Unless your van is a Class B RV (a mid-sized option that looks like a recreational vehicle more than your van does) you might be getting weird looks or even a knock on your window at night from the local forest ranger or campground employee.
Just make sure to call and ask ahead wherever you go. Nothing is worse than getting kicked out of your sleeping space at three in the morning.
Related Article: Do All RV Parks Allow Tent Camping? Here are the Rules
How Much Does it Cost to Park a Van on Campgrounds?
Parking a van on a campground can have a varying level of price related to it and usually falls in the middle-ground of pricing.
For example, tent camping will always be the cheapest option, and RV camping will be the most expensive (especially with many hookups, amenities, and energy use).
However, middle-ground van camping doesn’t usually come with a bunch of fancy hookups and therefore can save you some money.
There are also things to consider such as van length and whether or not you have slideouts on your van. For example, we ran the rates of a standard weekend with van camping, full hookups, 50amps, and no slideouts.
With this model, you can usually find yourself spending an average of $45-$60 a night on average.
This is not as cheap as $10-$35 tent camping, but also much cheaper than $75-$80 RV camping (depending on the campground or company you camp with).
Therefore, van camping is a pretty nice middle-ground for both pricing and comfort!
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When is a Van Considered an RV?
The differences between a personal vehicle and a recreational vehicle are pretty simple.
One is simply for transportation and is generally not meant to be lived in (unless you’re snoozing in the passenger seat while someone else drives). A recreational vehicle, however, usually has many amenities and is considered by most auto insurance companies as a “motorhome” or “RV”.
These amenities can include running water, a bed, kitchen, storage, and bathroom complete with running fresh water. Without these amenities, you might be toeing a thin line between “van” and “RV”.
Why is this important?
Well, in a lot of places, as mentioned above, it is still illegal to sleep in what can be considered a personal vehicle or van. This means that you could find yourself forcibly removed from an area or even arrested if your van doesn’t meet qualifications.
Related Article: Do RV Parks Have Laundry Facilities?
What about Van Conversions?
When you invest in conversions for your van, you are essentially converting it into a liveable space. By adding amenities such as freshwater, toilet, mini-fridge, storage space, and sometimes even flooring, you are making your converted van into a “motorhome” or RV (recreational vehicle).
Conversion vans may have a bed or even a converted kitchen, and running water or a bathroom are a must in regards to making it classify as a motorhome or RV. However, once you convert your van into a recreational vehicle (as described by the United States laws and regulations) you can register your RV at the DMV or Secretary of State office to officially classify it.
This paperwork may be required for some areas of camping, or if a police officer asks.
Basically, if your insurance agent wouldn’t insure it, then it is probably not considered a recreational vehicle.
Speaking of insurance…
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Do I Need Special Insurance when Using a Regular Van as an RV?
Campervan insurance can be hard to come by if you don’t know what you’re looking for. A lot of people have many questions about what is covered, how much it can cost and what kind of van or RV qualifies for this kind of insurance.
Luckily, there are a lot of great resources out there to help you better understand campervan insurance, and how to navigate it!
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How to Register Your Campervan:
For example, most people don’t know that to insure your campervan, you should be registering it as a “motorhome” rather than an automobile.
When items or personal property are stolen from an automobile, they are covered instead under homeowners or renters insurance to replace that property.
To register your vehicle as a motorhome, make sure to consult your local DMV or Secretary of State.
Related Article: Do RV Parks Allow Older RVs? (Read This Before You Go)
Qualifications of a “Motorhome” or Campervan:
Another thing to watch out for is the requirements or qualifications for getting your campervan considered a “motorhome”. When getting your campervan insured, you should definitely talk to an insurance agent before you get started.
Make sure you have everything in place before you try to apply to insure your campervan, that way you can save yourself time.
Converting your campervan into a “motorhome” requires a lot of things, such as running water and a toilet or waste system.
Including or converting these things in your campervan can take time and money, so make sure you’re getting someone to do it right the first time!
If that someone is you, be sure to check all the boxes on your list with your insurance agent AND the DMV or Secretary of State. Also, make sure you’re keeping detailed records of the conversion, as that could come into question if a claim were ever to be filed.
What Does NOT Qualify?
- Vehicles and trailers are not eligible for coverage if used as a full-time residence. This means that you can’t just live out of your Jeep or SUV and call it a “motorhome”.
- Motorhomes and recreational vehicles cannot be used for business purposes, as that would be considered a “work” vehicle, and would violate the insurance agreement.
- Traditional manufactured homes must be built to standard as regulated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Do KOA Campgrounds Allow Vans and Truck Campers?
KOA campgrounds do allow vans and truck campers. The KOA camping site even offers tips and tricks for RV camping, as well as hookup, Van, and Truck camping, too!
However, because KOA is one of the most popular and sought-after camping companies in the country, they also have expensive rates.
Waking up next to a beautiful piece of American landscape might be worth it, but make sure you’re willing to pay between $75 – $200 for a night or weekend depending on the hookups you need (such as sewage or electrical).
You can usually find everything you’re looking for with their site, including pricing and information, and their restrictions are pretty minimal. Just be prepared to pay!
While Van camping might be the answer for a lot of people, there are huge things to consider when you decide to dedicate yourself to camping out of a converted or regular van.
Make Sure it is Legal
You don’t want to get caught on the wrong side of the police or park rangers wherever you go. Stay safe, and make sure you know the laws of each city and state you visit.
If you are converting your van yourself, make sure you are following the proper steps and getting help whenever possible. Installing a toilet system on a moving vehicle – and getting it wrong? – can spell disaster for anyone who is a beginner.
Ask A Lot of Questions
The legality of converting your van and living in it full-time, or even camping in it for a week, requires a lot of red tape in a lot of places. Ask many questions, tell your insurance agent the whole truth, and make sure you don’t forget or miss anything!
All in All?
We think campervans and living on the open road are fun, exciting and different. Making it the greatest experience possible is all that matters, as long as you’re having fun and staying safe!
Get out there!
Shelby Sullivan is our specialist when it comes to pontoon boats and recreational watercraft. She is often found sailing the freshwater lakes of Michigan. She is also a light-traveler who enjoys camping and traveling the world. Read more about Shelby here.