How to Make a Small RV Functional for Long Trips (10 Things to Consider)

Owning a small RV has it’s benefits; they’re easy to drive, cheaper to run and can park anywhere but they are, well, small. Making a tiny space work isn’t too difficult for a weekend get-away, after all, you have a home to return to. However, things get a little trickier when you want to go on a long term road trip in a small RV. 

When you’re going on a long road trip, and I’m talking a few months or more, you need to be as self-sufficient as possible. Your expenditures are going to stack up quickly if you need to eat out every day or rely on campsites for bathrooms. By having a camper that meets most of your basic needs, you can keep costs down and make sure the adventure goes on for as long as possible. 

However, it can be challenging to squeeze everything you need into a small space. So, today we’re going to look at ten ways to make a small RV as functional as possible. 

Featured Image Credit: @pinepins

1. Multi-Function Is Your Best Friend 

Small RV - woman sat at multi-functional bed/seat/table inside van

When you live in a small RV, everything should have more than one function. For example; your bed can become your living room, your sink can turn into extra work surface, and a seat can hide your toilet. 

If you’re converting your own camper then thinking about what needs to be multi-function begins at the planning stage. Make a list of everything you can’t live without and then think of ways to combine two or more items. If you’ve bought a ready-made RV, then you will probably find that many things already have duel usage. 

2. Add An Awning To Your Camper

People sat outside van under an awning

A great way to extend the space of a small RV is to install an awning to the side. By adding an awning to your camper, you are doubling the available space and giving yourself room to spread out. An awning provides you with shelter and allows you to spend time outside, even if the weather isn’t so good. 

Being able to sit outside, or have the side door open, even if it’s raining makes a small RV feel much more spacious. Keeping the door open makes you feel less confined by allowing light and fresh air into your camper. 

The outdoors is your best friend when you’re travelling in a van; it’s where you’ll spend most of your time and stretch out. Having an awning allows you to get out at all times. 

3. Consider An Outdoor Kitchen 

Small RV - man using outdoor kitchen

If you have a really small RV, then an outdoor kitchen is a great way to save space outside. Cooking outside also means that you won’t fill your camper with cooking smells or steam. Steam can be very harmful to a small space, creating condensation and eventually damp, so keeping cooking outside could be a good idea. 

An outdoor kitchen doesn’t have to be a primitive camp set up, with a smart design, you can have a full kitchen that slides out from the side or back of your van. This sort of solution means you can get cooking quickly, without spending lots of time setting up. 

Of course, cooking outside is weather dependent but, paired with an awning you’re good to go come rain or shine! 

4. Make Use Of Your Van’s Roof 

Making use of a camper’s roof with a hammock on it

One of the biggest downfalls when it comes to travelling in a small RV is a lack of storage space. While you can just about squeeze in everything you need for day to day life, you might struggle with storing extra outdoor gear. 

An excellent way to combat this problem is to add some extra storage space to the roof of your campervan. Roof storage can either be a roof box that you can seal against the weather or a roof rack. A roof box is suitable for small items such as climbing harnesses and helmets as you would struggle to strap these down to a rack. 

If you want to store larger items such as a bike or canoe, a roof rack would be a more practical choice. Roof storage allows you to take all the outdoor gear you need to make your road trip an adventure. 

5. Install Water Tanks Underneath Your RV

Small RV - woman using tap inside camper

Water is essential to life, but it does take up a lot of space. You also need quite a lot to be able to head into the wilderness for long periods at a time. The best way to store large amounts of water is to install an underslung water container. 

By installing your water container below your camper, you can carry more water, compared to using portable containers. It also means that you save space inside your RV for other items that you need on your road trip.  

6. Add A Pop-Top Roof To Your Camper

Pop top camper with roof up infront of lake and mountains

If you’re looking to add more space inside your small RV, you could install a pop-top roof. A pop-top roof is the only way to add more internal space to your camper and is a great solution for a growing family. If there is now three of you on board, you can add a bed into your pop-top roof, creating a bed for everyone. 

Being able to stand up in you RV makes travelling in a van a much more pleasurable experience. Stooping all the time is uncomfortable and would be difficult for a long term road trip. Adding a pop-top roof eliminates this problem and would allow you to stand up and move around your camper with ease. 

7. Install An Outdoor Shower 

Woman using outdoor shower at the back of her van

Many campervans do not have bathrooms as they take up so much space. When not in use, an internal shower is wasted space, which is why so many people choose not to have one. However, it is still nice to be able to get clean in your camper. 

An outdoor shower is a good way to include somewhere to wash, without wasting space. There are a couple of ways to include an outdoor shower in your small RV. The first solution is to add a shower and water heater to the inside of your backdoor. This way, when you open the door, you can shower outdoor. 

Alternatively, you could add an external shower to your roof rack. These usually come in the form of long tubes that you fill with water and leave to heat in the sun. A shower head attaches to the end so you can shower outside. If you’re looking for a budget option, then opt for a solar shower bag. 

8. Use Folding Furniture 

Small RV - woman and baby sat at pull out table

Folding furniture is a great way to bring along more seating and dining options in your small RV. Of course, you will still need somewhere to store these items, but if you don’t have room for a permanent seat in your camper, then folding chairs are an excellent alternative. 

However, you can also build folding furniture into your campervan’s layout. For example, you could add a flip-down table that folds flush against the wall when not in use, or an extendable kitchen workbench. Pull-out furniture is another good solution, a pull-out table from under the bed or even a pull-out bench seat, that could also double as storage space. 

9. Install Overhead Cupboards

Overhead cabinetry in camper

Overhead cupboards make good use of the space available in a small RV. The ceiling would otherwise be wasted space, but with overhead cabinets, you can create so much additional storage. They can be used for items such as food, cooking utensils and clothes, just make sure they can lock so things don’t fall out when driving!

One thing to consider before adding overhead cupboards to your RV is that they might make your living space feel too crowded. In a low-roofed van where you’re already struggling for headroom, you don’t want to be continually knocking into the cupboards. If this is the case, then cupboards on just one side could still work. However, overhead cabinets will work best in a high roof van. 

10. Add External Gear Carriers To Your RV 

Camper carrying plenty of gear on its exterior

External gear carriers are an excellent alternative option to roof storage. If you have solar panels on your roof then utilising this space for gear might not be practical, which is where rear or side racks come in. 

There are lots of different bike racks that you can mount on the back doors of your RV. Likewise, there are options to store surfboards and paddleboards along the side of your van, assuming it is long enough! If you’re looking to store loose gear, then you can mount a box to the back door of your camper, and then lock it to keep everything secure. 

Final Thoughts… 

If you’re working to a tight budget, then a small RV might be your only option for your dream road-trip. Hopefully, this article has shown you how doable this is. I’ve known people that have travelled for years in tiny vans and even cars. It’s important to remember that you don’t need the best of everything to hit the road, it’s the places that your RV will take you that are important! 

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