When we first started traveling in our camper van it seemed like we always juggled to keep our electronic devices charged. It was easier if we were plugged into shore power at night, but we would end up with a tangle of power cords and connectors all over the place, always in the way. We would keep moving stuff around. And then we couldn't find the right cord or connector. There had to be a better solution! We learned early in Roadtreking that everything needs to have an “away” place. Avoid clutter at all costs. Your rig will feel cramped if you are always moving stuff to make room. And a bigger rig may not fix the problem! Change your clutter habits and you can live happily in less space.
We did have a small inverter up front that ran off the engine battery, but that was only useful when moving. Often we would arrive at our destination and realize we had forgotten to charge whatever it was that needed charged. At home charging your electronics is easy; we just plug things in at night – the iPods every night (used for email), the phones and Kindle as needed.
The first thing that made our traveling charging easier was a folio-size zippered case. It contained both 120 VAC and 12 VDC connectors and a variety of plugs to fit Apple, mini-USB, micro-USB and several propriety phone connectors. It nicely tucked away in a cupboard. After bedtime preparations we would pull it out, open it, and place it on the stove cover and plug things in. If we had shore power we used the 120 VAC plug which was handy. If we were boondocking we used the 12 VDC plug, but the cord had to be stretched over the the TV outlet which tended to accidentally get pulled out. The folio had to be disconnected and put away first thing in the morning because it was sitting where the Keurig coffee machine was placed to brew morning coffee. It was a klutz solution.
We considered adding 12 VDC outlets to more useful spots for charging purposes — we had added some but they were for computer use. There were also “cigarette lighter” style outlets available with a USB connector built in. We had purchased a nice 120 VAC multiport USB charger for home so we started looking for a 12 VDC version. We found one that had 5 ports, 3 spec'd for Apple devices and 2 for others. It also had lighted on/off buttons for each port. And it could charge tablets as well as smaller devices. We ordered one from Amazon. That's it at the right.
We didn't want another cord draped over stuff to reach a 12 VDC outlet, so we removed the 12 volt plug and wired the hub into the 12 VDC system on the Roadtrek, with a fuse in the line. We mounted it to the back wall of the clothes cupboard across from the pantry cupboard, where we already had mounted some shelves. Now it doesn't matter if we have shore power or not, we still plug our devices into this charging station. The photo shows a Kindle, iPod Touch 5, iPod Touch 4, and a phone — the dumb kind — plugged into the charger hub. It works great. You can buy shorter color coded USB cords to keep down the clutter.
Our MiFi sits on top of the closet behind the driver's seat with its own 12 VDC outlet to power it, so it stays charged. Charging these small devices is not much of a draw on the battery so we don't worry about a nighttime load.
Laptop computers are a different story. They can use a lot of juice. They are even bigger power hogs if you use an inverter. Converting 12 VDC to 120 VAC and then to 20 VDC wastes a lot of energy and generates a lot of heat. We only do that when driving and there is power to spare. So instead we bought 12 VDC to 20 VDC adapters, shown at the right. Find one that fits your model of computer. They can be found on eBay and on Amazon for reasonable prices. Generally our laptop computer batteries will go about 5 hours. We try to plug in the computers for charging when the sun is out and the solar puts out extra, or when we are driving and during any generator runs.
We have most of our charging needs under control now with a minimum of clutter. We suggest you take a look at your devices and charging needs, then figure out how to keep your small appliances operating more efficiently.