Real Stories and Real Solutions from Folks Living on the Road
I prepared myself for a lot of things when I moved into a van two years ago. I knew I might get stuck in sand or mud. I knew I might have things fall out of cabinets or fly around while I was driving. I knew it might get so cold that my water lines could freeze. I knew my bathroom habits were going to dramatically change. I knew sharing this tiny space with a dog might present a challenge.
I did not know having a mouse in the van would be such a traumatic event. Why didn’t anyone tell me this was a thing? To this day, my experiences with mice are the only incidents that have made me question living in the van.
You might have dealt with mice in your apartment or house before, but in a van, they are a whole new beast! Everything is amplified. Space is limited, and when there’s a bug, a smell, a noise, or heaven forbid – a mouse, there’s nowhere to escape from it. Mice are dirty. They are loud. And they can be expensively destructive.
I’ve had lots of conversations with nomads that have led me to believe mice and other rodent issues are quite common in the van world, but it seems folks are timid when it comes to talking about it on the internet. I’ve come to change that. Here are five real-life accounts of nomads who have experienced vermin in their vehicles.
#1: Brooke – 2018 Promaster DIY Conversion (She Never Caught the Mice)
Visit Brooke at Instagram @pettyprinethepromaster!
“I’ve had two run-ins with rodents in my 2+ years on the road. I guess once per year isn’t too terrible, but both times I felt like this was going to be the thing to turn me off van-life forever.
“In the forest just outside Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington is where the first little menace entered my van. I had the door open while hanging out and with friends, and I assume it just ran in once it was dark.
“While lying in bed, lights out, I heard scratching, but couldn’t pinpoint the location. I turned on the lights and started looking under the counters. I saw bite marks out of some of my bagged food, like buns and rice. I was mortified. I spent the next several hours putting any open or unsealed food bags and boxes into a giant garbage bag to be disposed of since my brain kept telling me it all had to have been contaminated! I lost so much food that night.
“I also remember that I baked a berry cobbler in my stovetop oven because I had a lot of fruit and dry baking ingredients that I didn’t want to throw out. If I couldn’t sleep, I might as well bake. (Thankfully my friends ate the cobbler in the morning and didn’t second guess whether it had been touched by the mouse.)
“I finally got into bed to try and get at least an hour of sleep. The scratching stopped, I drifted off, and woke up to a mouse on the counter, right next to where my head lay on the pillow. That was it. I was done. I stayed up the rest of the night.
“I went to the closest hardware store in the morning, in between work calls, and bought two different kinds of snap traps, the old school wooden ones, and some newer plastic ones. I loaded them with peanut butter and set them up all around the van, under the counters, in the garage area, under the seats. I figured this should be an easy catch. Days went by, more sleep was lost. I never caught the mouse.
“I eventually got a hotel for a few days in Seattle and removed every single piece of human food and dog food from the van. I found what had been sustaining that little mouse – an avocado that had fallen behind the counter. It clearly had mouse teeth marks in it. Once I removed that, and after three days in a hotel, the mouse was gone. I guess it gave up and left on its own. Still, I felt unsettled. I kept the traps set for a while.
“The second tiny terror infiltrated my van just over a year later in Victor, Idaho, the small town on the opposite side of Teton Pass from Jackson Hole, WY. I had a bunch of junk piled up in front of the swiveled passenger seat – recyclables, shoes, my laundry bag– and I heard a scratching noise coming from the front of the van. My brain processed that I’d heard that sound earlier in the day, too, under the counter. This time I looked towards the front of the van and locked eyes with a mouse. I yelled, “No, no, no!” but knew I had to do something or else I’d never sleep again.
“Despite my previous rodent run-in, I was not prepared. I didn’t have any traps in the van and knew I would never be able to sleep if I didn’t catch the mouse. I searched the internet for DIY solutions and created the most janky, ridiculous “mousetrap” you’ve ever seen.
“I have a bucket with a toilet seat for bathroom emergencies in the van, and I filled it with a few inches of water and then put a long spoon of peanut butter on it. The idea was that a mouse would run out onto the spoon, it would tip into the bucket, and the mouse would be captured in the water and unable to run up and out. I think it probably goes without saying this was unsuccessful.
“The mouse darted around the van all night, from under the dash, to under the passenger seat, and into the slider door well. No matter how much I tried not to, I screamed every single time it ran out. I went to the hardware store and got both humane, no-kill traps and snap traps. I put them under the seats, under the steering column, and under the counters. Once again, I never caught the mouse, but there has been no trace of it.
“Both of my mouse experiences happened in the fall, when the weather was getting cold outside. Mice seek out warmth, and vans or RVs provide that along with food and water.
“Since my second experience, I now keep a couple of no-kill traps set, with peanut butter and dog food, under the seats and under the steering wheel, at all times. Mice seem to come in through the engine bay and these areas are where they typically hang out.
“I regularly check the headliner area of my van as this has been a frequent place to find droppings. How mice get to the places they do is beyond me. They are little magicians! I also make sure to fully clean out the slider door well (it’s especially deep on the Promaster) as dog food or other crumbs can pile up there.
“Supposedly mice do not like the smell of peppermint, so I also drop peppermint oil around the van, under the counters, and under the seats. You have to be careful with it, though, as dogs should not consume peppermint oil. On the positive side, your van will smell like a candy cane factory!”
#2: Jenny – 2006 Dodge Sprinter DIY Conversion (Recommends Traps Under the Hood)
- Visit Jenny @adventuresfromthevan!
As a four-year van-life veteran, Jenny has had her fair share of issues on the road. She has become an expert amateur Sprinter mechanic and a bit of a mouse specialist, too.
Jenny’s first experience with a mouse came when one entered her van while she was out on a backpacking trip in Colorado. When she returned, she spotted mouse poop, found a shredded paper towel on the counter, and noticed something had eaten through her snacks. Lucky for Jenny this mouse left on its own and did not cause any more issues.
In the summer of 2021, Jenny was traveling with her then-partner through Colorado. At night, they could hear scurrying in the walls and they knew they had at least one, if not more, mice. Then, during breakfast one morning, an incredibly audacious mouse walked right out onto the counter in front of them. Jenny’s partner acted fast and grabbed it off the counter, told her to open the screen door, and threw it. But, it came back. They bought traps and peppermint scent bags and were able to remove the mice.
However, Jenny had yet another mouse situation this summer in Idaho. She saw and heard the mouse, put out her live traps, and sprayed peppermint oil and was successful again in capturing and releasing the mouse.
Jenny checks her engine bay often as she frequently finds mice or packrats (oh my!) trying to warm up and build nests. She finds setting the traps under her steering column or under the hood to be most effective. If you look closely, you can see a little bugger in her trap!
#3: Chris – 1987 Lance Truck Camper (Anywhere Light Can Pass Though, So Can a Mouse)
- Visit Chris on Instagram @musclesonthemove!
Chris lives in an old school, over-the-cab truck camper. Like others, he heard mice scattering around his rig and found droppings while he was camping in Utah. The mice especially loved the area under Chris’s kitchen sink. This space was exposed to the outside and this is where the mice likely entered so they could enjoy his boot softener fluid under the sink and chomp down on fruit on his counter.
Chris consulted an exterminator who told him that anywhere light can pass through a mouse can crawl through. I cringed thinking about how many places that could be in a DIY build or older rig with a bit of rust!
To eradicate the mice, Chris used a different strategy than I’d heard of before. He put out multiple kinds of traps next to each other. He found that some mice were too small to trigger the snap traps and they would just grab the bait and run. (See, magicians I tell ya!) This led Chris to decide that glue traps were more effective.
Glue traps or sticky traps are pieces of cardboard or cardstock with incredibly strong adhesive that rodents or bugs run across and become stuck. The downside to these is that the mouse is still alive and will likely screech very loudly trying to get unstuck. Then you’ll have to decide how to dispose of the mouse or use something to get it off the glue trap and release it. While not the most humane method, they are often used by exterminators due to their effectiveness.
Chris also used scent packets, such as Fresh Cab or Mouse Magic, to repel mice and says they worked for a while, but then became less effective. He recommends keeping your food sealed in airtight containers (no more apples on the counter!) and rotating your prevention methods over time. He also added that he’s only encountered mice in the desert and in the mountains; the beach has been mouse-free so far!
#4 Barrie – 2010 Ford Econoline (Swears By Sealed Food Containers)
- Visit Barrie on Instagram @barriecohen!
Barrie has had three different encounters of the rodent kind since moving into her van. She recalls that all of these instances occurred in more populated areas where there were other campers and people around.
The first mouse came into the van in Ojai, California when Barrie was still new to vanlife. She heard crunching sounds at night and found holes in some of her food bags along with mouse droppings. She got a hotel, loaded the van up with traps, and figured it would be an easy catch. But she never caught the mouse. Similar to my two experiences, the mouse seemingly left of its own accord.
Based on her own internet research, Barrie did a few more things to be sure the mouse was gone. She honked the horn a ton, drove down extremely bumpy roads, parked in a really hot area, and sprayed the van and wheels down with anti-mouse spray.
Her other two confrontations happened at campsites in Moab, Utah and the Alabama Hills of California. The Moab mouse paid Barrie a visit as she was cleaning up a meal. Mice just seem to love trash and food scraps and can be bold enough to come in without invitation to see what is (or was) for dinner. Luckily, Barrie saw the mouse jump out as quickly as it came in.
In the Alabama Hills, Barrie was in bed when she was startled by a mouse on the counter munching away at her basil plant. How rude! She put the plant outside and the mouse followed without causing any more damage or trying to reenter.
To prevent additional mouse incidents, Barrie keeps all packaged food in sealed containers. She also sprays anti-rodent spray around her van and wheel wells regularly.
#5: Sarah – 2016 Promaster DIY Conversion (How to Wage All-Out War on Mice)
- Visit Sarah on Instagram @thedarlingdirtbag!
In the fall of 2020, Sarah had settled into the rhythm of living in her self-built camper van full-time and was spending the last few weeks of fall in Colorado before migrating south for the winter. One evening, she heard scratching from what seemed like the engine bay.
It was an unfamiliar sound, but she immediately knew what it was: a mouse.
Sarah turned on the van, hoping to scare the little critter away (not realizing that she had probably just made the space warmer and cozier). After a few minutes, she went back to bed, but heard the scratching again and decided to deal with it in the morning.
The following day, Sarah was lying in bed when she heard a squirrel running on top of her van. The scampering sound was unnerving, so she pounded on the ceiling to scare it away. Unfortunately, it kept up, so she crawled up to the roof to investigate. That’s when it hit her; the mouse had crawled behind the walls and was running on top of the wooden ceiling.
Sarah was unprepared for a mouse in the van. She didn’t realize this was a possibility and didn’t have any traps on hand. She high-tailed it to a hardware store and picked up a trap to put in the garage area. At the same time, she waited for an Amazon order of four live traps, rodent spray, and a little device that emits light flashes and a high-pitched frequency that she would put under the hood.
She thought she would catch the mouse quickly, but like many of us, she was wrong. During the days, there was no sight of it. But at night, it sounded like the mouse was having a party behind the walls—running, scratching, scampering, clawing. Sarah wants people to know that the saying ‘quiet as a mouse’ is wrong. Mice are loud. This mouse kept her up and kept her thinking about it chewing through the electrical wiring she had so carefully placed during her build.
On the third day, Sarah went for a long walk with her dog and returned to find that she had caught the mouse. She was thrilled and so relieved.
She decided to keep the traps out, just in case. This proved to be necessary—because it was at this point that she learned mice would follow each other’s scent trails to find warmth and food.
What followed was a parade of mice into Sarah’s van. TWENTY over the course of a month, to be exact. It was always the same process: She’d hear scratching in the engine, then a few minutes later, the live trap would snap shut, followed by the sound of the mouse loudly scratching to get out of the trap. Each time, she would get out of bed and take the trap outside to deal with the following day.
Most nights, it was only one. But a few times, Sarah caught three over the course of the night. She had officially gone to war with the mice.
Sarah cleaned out her cabinets and ensured there was no food lying around. She crawled under the van and tried to locate where the entry point might be. She cleaned her engine and sprayed rodent spray all over the front and inside of the van. She even stuffed dryer sheets in nooks and crannies and put a bright light underneath her van at night. But nothing seemed to deter them.
Sarah left Colorado and made her way through Utah. By that time, it was cold. It seemed that moving locations and the dropping temperatures made their break-ins abruptly stop. But without knowing the entry point, she knew this was likely temporary. She cleaned everything once more and enjoyed a few months of mouse-free bliss.
Since then, Sarah has caught a random mouse here and there. It was very infrequent, but still frustrating because she always had to remember to set the traps, every single night.
Fast forward to this fall, once again in Colorado. In just one night, Sarah caught FIVE mice in the span of a few hours.
She expected the parade to pick up again, but thankfully that didn’t happen. She was near her dad’s house and wanted to tackle a few projects in the van. While she was working, she found something. When she had built the van, she removed the plastic covers on the seat belt columns so that she could lay down the flooring. She never reinstalled these covers because she was exhausted at the end of the build and wanted to get on the road. Plus, she had to trim them down, which seemed like an unnecessary project to tack on to six months of grueling work.
Over time, dust, dog hair, and random objects had collected in one of the openings. While cleaning, Sarah pulled out what had clearly been a mouse nest at one time. She was grossed out and happy at the same time; she had likely just found their way in. She trimmed the covers, shoved as much copper wool as possible behind them, and re-affixed them.
And she hasn’t seen or heard any signs of mice since… but she still sets her traps, every single night.
Of everyone I know, Sarah has had the most misfortune when it comes to mice! As a result of her experiences, she has become a wealth of knowledge on dealing with mice in vans. She is always my go-to for questions and she can truly empathize with the awful feeling of dread you get when you realize you have a mouse. Since she always uses humane, no-kill traps, Sarah taught me that you have to move the mice at least two miles from where they entered your van because their scent is so strong they will just return over and over again!
There you have it. Real people dealing with real rodents on the road. I hope this makes you feel less alone if you have had a similar experience and more knowledgeable about prevention if you are lucky enough to have never dealt with mice in your van. Cheers to navigating and overcoming the challenges vanlife throws at you, sharing your experiences, and normalizing the not-so-glamorous stuff!
Brooke is a full-time van dweller living in a 2018 Promaster with her 16-year-old scruffy sidekick, Tressel. She loves the arts, local coffee shops, craft breweries, live music, and farmer’s markets and prefers to take the scenic route over the highway. You can usually find her in the mountains, but once it gets cold, she’s anywhere there is sunshine, warmth, and good vibes.