If you’re considering your first camping trip, a campervan is probably the perfect introduction to one of America’s favorite pasttimes. With car camping, you’d pack your tent, sleeping bag, camp stove and cooler into the trunk of your car, and then you’d set it all up when you arrive at your campsite. With an RV, you’d drive a long, wide vehicle that contains almost everything you’d have at home, including a bathroom, but doesn’t require any setup when you arrive. Campervans are really the best of both worlds: Much easier setup than car camping, and much easier driving than an RV.

Pack Light

The first thing to consider on your first camping trip is the packing situation. Too much stuff in your van will make it harder to convert the bed and table, harder to collapse the tent, or harder to prep meals in the kitchen. The more time you spend dealing with your stuff is less time to spend hiking, or taking photos, or walking around the shops in that cute little town you almost didn’t stop in. So pack light, and bring soft-sided luggage. There is a storage bin inside the van, and it’s quite large in volume, but it has some odd dimensions, so bring a backpack or a duffel bag instead of your fabulous Tumi suitcase, because hard-sided luggage doesn’t always fit through the bin opening. Take look at a few more packing tips here.

Find the Right Facilities

The second thing to think about on your first camping trip is that there’s no bathroom inside the van, and the farther away you go from the population centers, the more primitive the facilities get. Most developed campgrounds, including the larger and/or more popular National Forest and National Park campgrounds and almost all RV parks and private campgrounds, have bathrooms with running water and are usually well-maintained. Some even have showers. If you’re boondocking or camping in a less-developed area, there won’t be any facilities at all. So if not having a bathroom is an issue, make sure you book your campgrounds accordingly. When you get here, we’ll send you out with a map that includes all of Alaska’s public campgrounds and a list of the facilities they offer.

Stock Up

The third thing to keep in mind is that you’ll need to stock up on supplies before you leave Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city and where our office is located. Part of camping is preparing to be in the backcountry for a while, where you don’t have the option to pop over to the corner store and grab what you forgot. In Alaska, even when you’re on the road system, you’ll feel like you’re in the backcountry much of the time. Between towns, there’s wilderness, and when a town does appear out of the wild, it’s also often wildly expensive. So save a little money, time and sanity, and stock up before you leave town.

Sleep in Comfort

The fourth thing to remember if it’s your first camping trip: You don’t have to sleep on the ground! You’ll have a bed to sleep on: Either inside the van, where the seat cushions rearrange to form a double bed, or in the rooftop tent, which pops up to reveal a double bed with a built-in mattress. And when it comes to preparing meals, which can sometimes be a laborious chore when you’re camping, we’ve made that a little easier, too, with a refrigerator, running water and two-burner camp stove in the kitchenette. True, you’re standing outside while you cook, but you have shelter under the lift gate, and after all, you’re camping! You’re supposed to be outside!

Live the #vanlife

And that brings us to the last point: Being outside. We don’t always realize how much we miss when we’re inside our offices all day and our houses all night. When you decide you’re ready to take this first camping trip of yours, you will learn just why people love to go camping. You’ll wake in the rooftop tent to a day full of possibility in a way it’s not when you’re at home. You’ll glance out the tent window to see the tops of the spruce trees swaying in the breeze. You’ll see the dew dripping off the alder branches in full abundant leaf and you’ll hear the song birds adding their music to the rustling of the wind through the boughs. You’ll taste that first cup of coffee, and marvel that it’s so pungent in the cool, fresh morning air.

And in the evening, when you return to camp after a full day spent exploring, you’ll sit around the campfire and listen to the crackling of the logs. You’ll sip a hot cocoa or a local beer and watch the slowly gathering twilight. You’ll listen as the last of the birds stop chirping and silence descends. And you’ll wonder at the way solitude and quiet and exhilaration can exist at the same time and in the same breath.

This is the reason to go camping for the first time, and the reason to do it again and again and again. This is the reason to live the #vanlife.

Take a look at a few sample itineraries for inspiration and to get your planning started. Or, take a look a why a campervan is the best way to see Alaska.