In the limited space of a camper van, it is especially helpful to follow Benjamin Franklin’s advice: “A place for everything, everything in its place”. We want to share with you how we have found a place for everything we need in the Red Tail Lodge van and how we keep everything in its place. Even after living out of the van for over three months and traveling almost 15,000 miles through thirty one states, it is still a work in progress. However, we are happy with how we currently have things organized in the van even though we may make tweaks to it in the future. Where things belong in the van changes slightly depending on which “mode” we are in, such as “driving down the road”, “cooking”, “working on our laptops”, or “sleeping”. We’ll start by explaining where everything goes while we are “driving down the road” and then explain what changes we make for the different modes.
Let’s start at the front of the van. There are some shelves above our heads that are standard in a Ford Transit passenger van. We use these to store things that we need to have handy when traveling. They hold our road atlas (Rand McNally 2020 National Park Atlas & Guide - paid link), sunglasses, reading glasses, small flashlight, a couple of small notepads (to record our mileage) and our Red Tail Lodge Guest Book (The Compass Rose Real Leather Journal Notebook - paid link). In addition, Left Buddy (LB) has a small container up on the shelf that contains some handy medications like ibuprofen, antacid and EmergenC. We added a couple of organizers for the visors (2-Pack Deluxe Auto Car Visor Organizer Item Holder - paid link), but we don’t use them for much yet. They mainly hold LB’s driving glasses, some bandaids, antibiotic ointment, and our truck stop reward cards.
The driver and passenger each have four cup holders. We use one to hold our water bottles, one to hold our travel mugs (for coffee or tea), and a third to hold a purchased drink like a cup, bottle or can of soda or a coffee cup. The fourth one usually gets used for odds and ends, like storing our GoPro Hero5 Session (paid link) (when not in the dash mount) and our Verizon Hotspot device (paid link).
Below the center cup holders is a tray near the floor. We use this to store a zippered pouch that contains our spare cables for our electronic devices. There are a couple of pockets in both front doors. These hold things like an umbrella, rags, ice scraper, sun block, bug spray and hand sanitizer.
The glove compartment contains the vehicle owner’s manual, tissues and a container of coins and small bills for tolls and laundry. In between the two seats is where Right Buddy (RB) keeps her camera and lenses so they are easily accessible if we see something to take a picture of while driving down the road. Just behind the camera, we place the laptop bag of the current passenger so the passenger can easily pull out their laptop and use it while we are traveling. The other laptop bag is stored on the bench seat in the back.
Moving into the main living space in the middle of the van, we have what we need for preparing breakfast, lunch and snacks in addition to easy access to things needed for day excursions. As we mentioned before, the bench seat holds the laptop bag that is not currently being used by the passenger. There is a 30 inch hanging cabinet which holds our Instant Pot (paid link), electric tea kettle (paid link), silverware (four forks, four spoons, four knives and two soup spoons), dishes (three bowls, three small plates and three large plates), and cooking utensils (serrated knife, vegetable peeler, cheese slicer, can opener, whisk, rubber spatula, pancake flipper, ladle, two mixing spoons, a lighter, and tongs). The Instant Pot contains the steamer basket, trivet, and a glass container that can be used to bake with. A bungee cord stretched across the top of the hanging cabinet holds a roll of paper towels.
The sink cabinet holds a lot. Inside the sink is a container that holds oven mitts, electric toothbrush, hand lotion and a hand blender (paid link). The cutting board fits on top of the container in the sink. Laying on the kitchen faucet is the dish cloth.
Hanging from the T-track above the sink are our two shower caddies (paid link) along with wash cloths and head lamps. Hanging next to our toiletry kits is a hand towel.
Inside the sink cabinet is the gray water tank (jerry can - paid link) and our waste basket. In the shelves on the inside of the sink cabinet door are spices, oils, vinegars, salad dressings, peanut butter, vitamins, assorted tea bags, box of 4 qt. trash bags (that fit our waste basket) and dish soap. On the long shelf inside the sink cabinet sits the instant coffee, sugar, dried milk, oatmeal, raisins, lemonade mix and a chef’s knife. On the floor of the sink cabinet we place a case of tomato sauce, a case of diced tomatoes, and a case of black beans. On top of those cases we put a rectangular container holding granola bars and hot chocolate packets. Next to that is a box of granola cereal. On top of all of that sits our pasta strainer, a couple of mixing bowls and a couple of measuring cups, which all nest inside of each other.
On the outside of the sink cabinet, on the right side, hangs a fly swatter, hand broom, dust pan, and fire extinguisher. LB also puts his hat between the sink cabinet and driver’s seat. There are pouches on the backs of the front seat. There is a frisbee in one, which we have yet to use and the other one is currently empty, although we have put a GoPro and small tripod in there on occasion.
Then there is the area around the fridge. The Dometic refrigerator keeps our food cool. It is small so LB is only allowed one can of beer in the fridge at a time. The rest of the beer goes in the drawer units in the cargo area in the back. RB’s luxury item is Dove chocolate which is kept in the fridge to keep from melting. Below the fridge is a small open cabinet that holds the butane stove (paid link), one butane fuel can (paid link), box of Kleenex, cheese grater, box of aluminum foil, and boxes of chicken broth. Behind the fridge are several spare cans of butane, the Lagun table leg and arm, and the table top for the Lagun table.
Continuing in the counter-clockwise direction leads us to the foot of the bed. Hanging from the T-track at the foot of the bed are two USB fans (paid link) (one on each side of the bed), our small day packs, our rain jackets, our bug zapper (paid link), a hand-held scale (paid link) (for weighing our backpacks), and the bug net for the sliding door opening.
Underneath the bench seat is a bin (paid link) that we store our extra shoes (couple pair of Teva’s and a couple of flip flops). The shoe bin easily slides under the seat out of the way.
Inside the electrical cabinet we store the remote for the TV, a couple of external hard drives (paid link), the knife sharpener, a couple of grocery bags, a box with several portable chargers (plugged in) along with the GoPro battery charger (paid link), and a couple boxes of stickers and business cards.
While we are driving, we use the bed as a storage area, with a cargo net stretched across the foot of the bed for safety. Our suitcases and extra jackets along with the windshield shade sit on top of the bed. The rest of the window shades are stored underneath the mattress. A small stuff sack hangs from the T track at the head of the bed to hold RB’s cell phone when we need an alarm and to hold some Kleenex to use during the night. A small tent lantern hangs from the T track near the center at the head of the bed as a night light.
The rest of our gear easily fits in the “garage” under the bed. The trick is organizing it so we can find easily find what we are looking for and easily get to the items that we use the most. We originally had the rest of our food and kitchen gear in a large tote, but that quickly became unorganized and became hard to find things. We purchased some stackable drawers from the Container Store and LB attached them to the gear slide. The drawers hold items like bread, tortillas, tortilla chips, vegetables (onions, fresh garlic, peppers, and potatoes), pasta, rice, quinoa, cans of chicken, spare food containers for leftovers, extra ziplock bags, more camera gear (tripod - paid link, gimbal - paid link), first aid kit, spare batteries and a citronella candle (paid link). Next to the drawer units, are the spare fresh water and gray water jerry cans along with a luggage cart (to haul a jerry can when water or dump station are not close at hand).
Just behind the drawer units is an open tote containing items like the leveling blocks (paid link), electrical extension cord (paid link), a water hose (in case the fresh water can won’t fit under a water supply to fill it), and our bike helmets. Under the tote is another tote containing the rest of our bike gear, like two saddle bags, two bike seats, and two bike rack bags. The drawer units are short enough that we can easily reach over them to retrieve the blocks or electrical cord out of the tote behind it. We access the bike gear all at once, so having it in a tote is not an issue.
Behind the totes, just behind the electrical box is a tall laundry hamper. It’s location makes it accessible from the main living space with an easy reach over the electrical cabinet. The only other thing we have on the gear slide is the camping toilet (paid link).
The fixed shelves on the sides are a little harder to access, so we put things in there that we don’t access as often. On the driver’s side, the shelves hold our fresh water tank and our hot water heater. Wedged in between the fresh water tank and the hose nozzle is a box of rubber gloves for wearing when dumping the gray water tank in a yucky dump station. In the bottom shelf behind those, we store our hiking boots and trekking poles. On the middle shelf, we store a tool bag with miscellaneous tools that we might need along with a spare, 5 gallon collapsible water container. The base of our Lagun table, a camping table and a yoga mat easily fit on the very top of the shelves and are easily accessible.
The fixed shelves on the passenger side are a little narrower than the ones on the driver’s side. Next to the drawer unit and under the switch panel are awning stakes, a bottle jack, a hatchet, a tarp, a small level, a roadside emergency visibility kit, and the bug net for the rear door opening.
We store the head rests for the bench seat on the bottom shelf closer to the front. On the middle shelf is toilet paper, the supplies for the camping toilet (paid link), a bicycle pump and spare bungee cords. Our two camping chairs easily slide on top of the passenger side shelves. We stretched a bungee cord under the bed, just above the passenger side shelves to hang our bath towels to dry.
We hang our backpacks from the T-track underneath the bed, centered from left to right so they do not block our view out the back door windows while we are driving. To access our backpacks, we pull out the gear slide and climb underneath the bed to hook and unhook the carabiners holding the packs to the T-track.
Last but not least, we store our bikes on a Yakima bike rack that is attached to the swing away Rakattach. The swing away allows us to access the back by swinging the bikes out of the way without needing to remove them from the rack.
Now for the changes for the different modes. When we go from driving to cooking mode, we do the following: rotate the passenger seat to face backwards, move RB's camera bag to the floor in front of the driver’s seat, move the cutting board and the container in the sink to the driver’s seat, move both laptop backpacks to in between the driver and passenger seats, and setup the Lagun table. Working on our laptops is pretty much the same setup as cooking, except we may put the Lagun table away or at least lower the Lagun table to a workstation height.
To switch to sleeping mode, we put the Lagun table away, unhook the cargo net, pull our suitcases and spare jackets down to the bench seat and electrical cabinet, and put all the shades into the windows.
The only other thing to remaining organized is to put things back where they belong after you are done using them. Having a small space encourages you to not be lazy about putting things away because if you don’t put things away, they get in the way. Keep in mind that this is what works for us and how we use the van. You will need to figure out what works for you, but hopefully we gave you some good ideas or at least helped you to imagine how you could live in the space.
If you want more visuals about how we organized our van, check out our corresponding YouTube video: A Place for Everything: Van Organization 2019.