Packing up a motorhome or campervan? Not sure what you need or where to put it all so things are safe? Don't worry, we're got you covered- here's everything you need to know, as well as a FREE motorhome packing list for you to use.
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Packing a motorhome- the problem
One of the most common questions I get asked (apart from ‘what does motorhome payload mean and how do I check?), is about packing a motorhome, campervan, or RV. As I'm sure you've realised, trying to put ALL THE THINGS into a small space is not always easy! Not only do you have to figure out what to pack in your camper, but you also need to learn HOW to pack it.
It doesn't matter whether you're going touring around Europe for 6 weeks, or heading to the local campsite for a weekend, a poorly packed motorhome is at best noisy/ annoying and at worse dangerous to drive.
(If you're still stuck on the WHAT you need, here's a list of essential motorhome accessories we highly recommend you carry)
Still, once you have everything you think you might need/ want piled in your spare bedroom or garage, it's time to start putting it all away.
The problem with not doing this properly is how many things there are which can rattle and shake around if not stored correctly. Not only is it annoying and distracting to listen to that noise whilst driving, but things could break, shake loose or even cause imbalances to the vehicle. Therefore, it's really important to pack your motorhome properly.
Motorhome packing mistakes
After living and touring in our motorhome for several years, we've learnt some great tips and tricks to pack a motorhome, and we're sharing them all below. When we bought our first camper, we knew nothing. Absolutely nothing. We packed our first van completely wrong! Boy did we know it when we set off on our first trip- there were creaks, bangs and noises EVERYWHERE!
We had to learn how to stop rattles in the motorhome, how to pack heavy things low and how to arrange lockers so we didn't have to empty them just to get something in the back!
How do you load a motorhome? Assess your storage
You will find that you have ‘good lockers' and ‘bad lockers' inside your camper. Good lockers are easy to access, easy to see inside and easy to keep organised. Bad lockers are hard to access/ hard to see inside and large enough for things to get thrown in without any thought whatsoever, which makes them impossible to keep tidy!
Bad lockers can also have heating duct pipes/ wires/ switches etc inside them, which means you need to think about the types of objects you put into them.
Start by identifying your good/ bad lockers, then collect your gear and RV kit together.
Think about when you might need the ‘stuff' you're putting away. For example, you're unlikely to need a whisk or games in an emergency, but you might need some tools, so keep those in a more accessible locker.
What will you need when? If the kids are asleep, is there anything under their bunks which you might need in the evening/ morning? What if one of you gets up early (me!) and the other likes a lie-in (while waiting for his bacon butty…!)
How to pack a motorhome or campervan – where to start
One of the hardest things is knowing where to start.
TOP TIP: Do NOT start with your pretty throw cushions or blankets or bedding… you'll be moving them out of the way constantly whilst you do everything else.
I recommend you start at the bottom and work your way up. By that I mean start with under-seat lockers and start with the largest items, which can't be put anywhere else, like a motorhome generator if you have one or tools/ spares.
- Start with your heavy/ awkward kit (Generators, outdoor furniture, tables, snow chains etc) If you have a garage or outdoor storage box, this might be fairly easy, but for many motorhomes, it requires thinking about your lockers carefully
- Try to keep similar items in the same place, so you can find things easily.
- Next, gather all your kitchenware/ crockery/ utensils/ plates etc together. Try to put them in places which make sense, but keeps things secure.
- Protect your heating ducts. You don't want to store any hot/ perishable food next to these pipes, as they will get very hot. You also don't want heavy items to fall inside a cupboard or locker and squish the duct- that can be an expensive repair.
Watch us packing a motorhome…
A while ago I filmed me packing our motorhome completely from scratch. (If you've got/ are getting a new van, or fancy some spring cleaning, you might find it useful to watch.)
In the video, you'll see me starting with the things I'll need most frequently and putting them somewhere easy to get to.
We hope you found the video useful. If you did, we'd love it if you followed us on Youtube. New videos with tips for motorhoming and campervanning in the UK and Europe are released weekly.
Packing Motorhome Tips- don't panic!
Ok, when you begin putting things away, there's a high chance your camper will be utter chaos. Don't panic- we will get through this in the next hour or two and it will start to feel a lot more under control.
This is NOT the time to start shoving stuff into lockers and hiding it all away- that will only cause confusion and frustration later on and you'll find vanlife so much more difficult. This is when you send the kids, dogs (and possibly husband!) out for ice cream or a looooooooooooong walk.
Then put some music or a podcast on, take your time and imagine living in the campervan for a week/ month/ full time. (These are our favourite road trip songs to sing along to!)
Think about weight distribution
Different to payload, it's important to consider balance whilst packing.
If you have a generator or something really heavy, don't store it in the same locker or even on the same side as all your tins.
Talking of tins, don't store lots of loose things like that in a locker with something you need to take out frequently, like outdoor chairs or a BBQ. You'll find having to remove 50 tins to get things out a pain in the backside!
What should you pack in a motorhome kitchen?
Thankfully, most of the things we use in the kitchen in the motorhome are exactly the same things you'd use at home. As a very brief guide, you need:
Plates, bowls, mugs, glasses, cutlery, condiments, utensils, TIN OPENER, BOTTLE OPENER, tea towels, washing up stuff, bin bags (doesn't have to be the big black ones- we find the smaller pedal bin size are often better), kitchen roll, frying pan, saucepan, kettle, teaspoons. Other Road trip essentials
Those are what I would consider basics (though obviously, your list may well differ.) We also find the following useful onboard:
- Poachpods (have I mentioned I'm addicted to poached eggs? These things are a brilliant invention and I use them pretty much daily)
- Plastic boxes in the fridge to hold things in place
- Bottle bag (one of the wine carrying ones from a supermarket- these hold bottles and stop them clinking)
- Oven mitt
- Dishdrying matt (we don't use a rack- takes up too much space)
- Tea, coffee, sugar, hot chocolate etc
- Vitamins or any tablets you require
- Spray oil for frying- personal preference but it's easier to dispose of a little excess oil than a whole lot!
- Chopping boards
- Sharp knives, including steak knives if you're partial to red meat
- Soup spoons (if you eat (drink?) soup!)
RV Packing Tips for beginners- the kitchen/ food
Once the annoying and heavy stuff is stowed away safely, and the kitchen pans and utensils have mostly got homes, I start looking at food. We don't do a lot of detailed cooking in our motorhome, but we like to keep the basics like flour/ sugar etc in airtight sealed boxes like these. We find it makes them last longer and stops any little insects getting in.
Try and keep 1-2 rolls of paper towels easily accessible, but store the rest in lockers under the seats. You don't want to take up all the good lockers with things like paper towels or toilet rolls, which you only need access to every few days.
Make sure sharp knives and other kitchen tools are safely stowed. We used to store ours in a drawer, wrapped in soft cloths so they can't accidentally cut anyone, but now we have a magnetic strip on the wall which works MUCH better than I thought it would!
Not really food related (although it kind of is- sorry!), but don't forget toilet chemicals. We use a product called Solbio organic toilet fluid, which is natural and doesn't contain harmful chemicals. It's also safe to be disposed of in septic tanks or fosse, meaning we have more options to dispose of our toilet responsibly.
Keep things safe while travelling
There are some things in a van which are designed to be rugged and sturdy.
And others which aren't.
If you have a motorhome tv, they are designed to withstand more vibration than a ‘normal' TV, but they are still susceptible to damage if banged and knocked around. Make sure that things which are ‘fragile' are stored securely and can't break whilst travelling. Either wrap them properly or pack them in between other things.
How to pack a motorhome- clothes
By now, most of the lockers will be filling up, especially the ones under the motorhome seats. It's time to think about clothes. Try to split your clothes into things you'll want daily (underwear, socks, t-shirts etc) and things you might not use every week (snow gear, hiking boots, bikini etc) Obviously, this will depend entirely on where you are road tripping and what you enjoy doing there!
We tend to store shoes and boots for outdoor and water activities in a separate locker or in the wardrobe, and clothes in the wardrobe and we have one small cupboard each.
It is REALLY easy to overpack your clothes, especially for girls, but this is one place where you need to be pretty ruthless. If you are only travelling in your camper for a week, then pack according to the weather (although ALWAYS bring a jacket/ warm jumper, even if the forecast is perfect. You'd be amazed how many times we've been caught out!
This basic list is going to vary wildly from person to person and also because of the area you are visiting. But to get you started, here is a checklist for clothes to carry in your camper.
Not sure what you need in your motorhome or RV?
They're FREE to download and print!!
What should you pack in a motorhome- the ‘bits'
Once you've organised everything else, it's time for the ‘bits'. We all have these- the things that go in that special drawer in your kitchen in a house. It's rare you'll be able to find a drawer for this purpose (lucky you if you do!) We have a ‘bits box', which sits inside one of our cupboards and holds batteries, tape, string, cards, pens, notepad and a million more things.
Again, try and keep things you think you'll need frequently easily accessible, and put other things towards the bottom/ back. Some ‘bits' to remember are:
- Games/ cards or whatever you choose to do to relax
- Chargers for phones/ laptops/ ipads/ wifi/ bike headsets/ portable radios… you get the idea! We use a mixture of 12v chargers (for use while we're driving) and other chargers which we use on an inverter if necessary, but we try to avoid this. Annoyingly, I've just upgraded to a Macbook Pro, which is amazing but my 12v charger for my old laptop doesn't fit! I'll have to wait for them to release one for mine.
- Placemats/ table cloth if you wish. We don't use these indoors, but we do use a table cloth if we're setting up a table outside.
- Motorhome Cleaning gear- we keep cloths, duster, wet wipes and vanish spray all easily accessible. We also carry an iron and an ironing board as Mr WB is terrified that he might be called into an urgent meeting and need to get on a plane straight away… it's not happened yet but I just know if I take it off the van we'll need it! So it's staying (for now).
Whilst I think about it, don't forget van bedding! Pillows, duvet, bedsheets etc. We have proper bedsheets- we're not a fan of sleeping bags. We are lucky enough to have a drop-down bed to store the bedding on, but you might need to sacrifice a locker to store yours in.
Other things we try not to forget when packing our camper:
- Big camera and lenses
- SD cards
- Mini tripod & microphone for vlogging (watch our travel videos here)
- Laptop/ iPads/ phones
- Wifi dongle
- Medical box- basic necessities like plasters, nurofen, diarrhoea tablets, water purification tablets etc. (Don't drink tap water in Europe- buy bottled.)
- Laundry stuff. If you wash your laundry while travelling, most laundrettes across Europe require you to provide your own detergent etc. We bring a small amount of ours so it's ready if we need it.
- COINS in the local currency. For parking, tips, tolls- you'll always need them!
- Gas bottles- we carry two 6kg ones. Beware the issues with getting gas in Europe.
- Hose pipe for filling fresh water.
Motorhome packing- more tips and tricks
Here are some more of our best tips and tricks to help you pack your RV or motorhome.
- Put heavy items as low as possible
- Try to place things you don't use very regularly (like snowchains) in the places which are annoying to get to (in the back of lockers, under bed, in middle of garage etc.
- Try and put heavy items over the axles as much as possible, and try not to put ALL the heavy items towards the back/ front. You want the motorhome weight spread over each axle as evenly as possible
- Store tins/ heavy things which could roll as low as possible, and put them in bags or boxes to stop them rolling
- Try not to carry many extras for plates/ mugs/ glasses, and put the extras in secure boxes so they can't rattle around.
Stop the noise! How to stop rattles in your motorhome
My husband HATES rattles, bangs and noise in the van. We have been known to stop 5 minutes into a journey and repack when we've got things wrong.
It's so bad, I've written an entire post on HOW to stop rattles in your motorhome, campervan or RV, full of tips to help you have a more peaceful, calmer journey.
Don't forget- rattles come last. There's no point wasting a lot of time stopping rattles in your motorhome, when an hour later you decide to move everything around anyway!
So, those are our best tips and tricks for how to pack a motorhome. We hope you've found them useful. Most of all, don't panic. As long as you have the right paperwork, your keys and a credit/ debit card, pretty much everything else can be bought en route if you need to.
Unless you're going somewhere really off-grid. In which case, maybe panic – and please send me photos so I can enjoy your road trip adventures!!!