Many are curious about it, many want to try it out for themselves. If “van dwelling” is on top of traveler’s lists, it only makes sense to want to know your needs versus your optional items, what life hacks to apply, and most importantly, what you need to pack in your rig for the most comfortable yet minimalist van life possible. Van life essentials include but are not limited to car security and safety needs like a car emergency kit, gadgets like rechargeable items, kitchen essentials like coolers and collapsible containers, and daily items like a mattress and packing cubes.
1. GPS Tracker: Don’t Get Lost Now
Before you travel anywhere at all, your loved ones tell will tell you to be safe and take care of yourselves. Those pieces of advice could not be sounder when you are traveling all alone in a converted van, miles away from everyone you know. A GPS tracker will help you keep tabs on your van through your phone.
They come in three basic types: hardwired, plug-in, and battery-operated. Case in point, the last thing you want to happen is your van being gone while you are in the middle of grocery shopping. Go ahead and get yourself equipped with a sustainable GPS tracker for your long-term use.
2. Car Repair Emergency Kit: In Case of Emergencies
While you may not be an expert at car repairs, you should be able to handle those common car breakdowns and hiccups in case your rig stops in the middle of the road. You want to be equipped with a reliable car repair emergency kit, which includes jumper cables, tow straps, tire repair materials, an air compressor, and a seatbelt cutter. You can add more to this list as you sort through your car tool at home or buy ready-made kits in hardware stores.
3. Fire Extinguisher: Better Safe Than Sorry
You can never be too safe when you are out boondocking all alone. In case of fire situations, you should have your own fire extinguisher stowed away in your van, which is preferably stored in an accessible space but not necessarily highly visible. You could get the compact version to fit it comfortably in your van. They come in different types including water spray, dry foam, CO2, and wet chemicals.
4. Solar Panel: Great for Boondocking
A solar panel is a great investment, any boondocking would agree. It is a little costly upfront but highly beneficial in the long run. It is suitable for any weather condition and is highly reliable whenever you need it to run smoothly. You can use your solar panel for various purposes including heating your water and charging your battery, especially when you’re off-grid.
5. Portable Power Bank: When You Run Out of Juice
A power bank is an everyday essential, whether you are traveling or not. However, this proves to be extremely handy for explorers when they have no direct power source. Charge up your devices wherever you are for your convenience. You can opt for a solar-powered power bank to reduce the battery consumption in your rig and choose a more environmentally-friendly option.
6. Ceiling Touch Light: Let There Be Light!
You attach your touch light on the van ceiling to blast brighter lighting inside your rig. This is most helpful during the night especially when you want to keep your van doors closed for your privacy and security. Touch lights come in adhesive forms if you do not want to bother with installations. You can attach them wherever it is most convenient and where you need the light most. You can also attach blackout curtains to your windows for privacy while your lights are on. Read all about blackout curtains under the Miscellaneous Essentials.
7. Multi-Port Car Charger and Charging Cables: Great for Your Devices
The multi-port car charger allows the convenient charging of USB-Type A enabled devices like mobile phones, speakers, and mobile hotspots. You can easily buy this in your local hardware store or gadgets center. Choose one with multiple ports so you can charge simultaneously.
Like hair ties, cables tend to vanish into thin air when you are not mindful of where you store them. Without any extra cables, your gadgets are doomed. For extra measures, be sure to bring multiple spares, especially if your device requires a specific (non-standard) cable type that can be hard to purchase from local shops.
8. Mobile Dashboard Mount: Stay Safe!
No one wants a reckless driver even when you are the only rig on the road. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Install a mobile mount on your dashboard where you can easily and safely navigate your way to your next destination. Also, when a phone call comes in, you can simply place them in a loudspeaker and continue to focus on your driving.
9. 12V Chargeable Jump Starter
Never underestimate the power of a jump starter. When your rig hits a halt, you will be scrambling to get your jump starter from your stash. With this, there is no more need for another vehicle for another jump (especially when you are in a desolate area). It is also more convenient than jumper cables. You can trust this bad boy even during inclement weather conditions.
10. Mobile Hotspot and Signal Booster: Stay Connected!
A mobile hotspot is especially beneficial for those digital nomads who prefer or need to have their gadgets with them at all times. Whether you are a business owner, a graphic artist, or someone who simply cannot get away without technology, then your hotspot is your best travel bud. It gives you that digital convenience away from home and is way cheaper and simpler to have than installing an entire satellite on your rig.
If you got wifi, then you would most likely need a booster, too. Do not wait until you are out in the wilderness before you realize that you should have packed your signal booster! Just to be sure, get one for your mobile hotspot, as well as your wifi. This could range from $20 to $200, depending on the brand and the signal coverage. Oh, and just try to stay away from areas with dead coverage if you can help it.
11. Rechargeable Head Torch and Flashlight: In Case the Lights Goes Out
With a rechargeable head torch, you can freely roam the area with both hands free. This is a convenient must-have for any night trekker, plus it does not break the bank, either, and is also handy when you are doing repairs on your rig and you need both hands to work.
Believe it or not, lots of travelers often miss bringing a flashlight with them. You need this for everyday use, for emergency purposes, and for night trekking, if that is your jam. Go for something heavy-duty and sturdy that can take a hit or two when you accidentally drop it on the ground.
12. Utility Knife: Good for Indoor and Outdoor Use
A utility knife is one of those things that you think you do not need, but will eventually. This is a highly durable object that is suitable for indoor and outdoor use. It has both general and utility purposes. It’s built like a chef knife (you can use it for slicing ingredients!) but with the flexibility of a craft knife (use it for simple woodwork).
13. Propane Camping Stove: Good for Cooking Your Meals
When you are out in the boondocks, or even in town, you will be cooking more than grabbing food to go. So you want to have your own stove, but not just any stove. You want it to be durable, straightforward to use, and great for everyday cooking and boiling – just like how a propane camping stove performs. Make sure your rig is ventilated enough so you can have a safe working stove inside. If you like to bask in the beauty of nature while cooking, you can also have a go at it!
14. Compact Water Boiler and Insulated Thermos/Flask/Mug
A boiler is better if you can find an insulated version to sustain hot liquid. This works as a kettle too, so you do not need a separate container to store your freshly boiled water. Whether you are a coffee junkie or a tea lover, you can make your cup wherever you please inside the comfort of your own rig.
You can keep your beverages either hot or cold between 12 and 24 hours long with handy insulated thermos. You can also go for an insulated mug if you like consuming your coffee sparingly throughout the day. An insulated mug will definitely keep your coffee hot for long hours. Ah, finally! Say no more to that tepid taste in your mouth.
15. Portable Cooler Box: To Keep Food Fresh
Keep your frozen goods, beverages, and fruits chilled and preserved in your portable cooler. Depending on your storage needs, portable coolers come in various sizes. It is also good to know that ice cubes chill food faster, but last for a shorter period, between one to two days.
Meanwhile, blocks of ice take longer to chill goods but can last five to seven days in a sturdy, properly insulated cooler box. Either way, you can “refrigerate” on the road without consuming electricity at all.
16. Cast Iron Pan: For Delicious Meals
Much like your stove, you want your pan to be flexible for your cooking needs. When you are out in the boondocks, you cook whatever you have, so your pan should work with you on that. Cast iron pans are preferred by travelers for their high durability, longevity, and ability to withstand rough use. They are great for indoor and outdoor use.
Food stays hot for a long time, so it is sort of like having a food warmer with you. Do not make the mistake of purchasing measly cookware that sticks food on it and takes forever to wash. Go get yourself a cast iron pan.
17. Tableware Set, Folding Table, and Chairs: When It’s Time to Eat Your Meals
If you are committed to traveling alone, a maximum of two tableware sets is enough, just so you have a spare plate for your side dishes. There are lots of plate materials you can choose from, but for the sake of traveling convenience, these two materials are the best so far: collapsible and stainless steel.
Collapsible plates and cups are great for space-saving storage but can be difficult to wash when you are always eating greasy food. Stainless steels are hardcore and can be used for a long time. They do not crack or break easily, they are easy to wash, and don’t stick food on the surfaces.
Some travelers are okay with eating on their bed while watching the view outside. Others prefer to have a proper table, even just a small one. For your eating convenience or in case you have a temporary travel buddy with you, a foldable table set would do. This will also make you feel like you have a proper dining area away from home. Avoid eating on the bed to prevent food debris and grease on your sheets.
18. Portable Trash Bin: Stay Clean As Much As Possible
You can curate your van to perfection, but you will make a mess sooner or later like all humans. You want your trash bin to be easily accessible for your convenience. Stock up on garbage bags, too. Choose a bag size that goes perfectly with your bin to lessen visual noise inside your rig and make it as homey and neat as possible.
19. Mattress: When It’s Time to Rest
Your bed setup will take significant space in your camper, so you would want to pick the best size where you are both comfortable to sleep while also designing enough space for walking around, plus storage. Mattresses come in various sizes. Vans can take on the entirety of a full-size mattress (53” to 75”). But for lone travelers, a twin (38” x 75”) or twin XL bed (38” to 80”) would suffice.
Check your van interiors before you commit to a mattress. In any case, your mattress will have a huge impact on your van conversion design, so take that into consideration before anything else. As for the material, seasoned van dwellers love memory foam because of the utmost comfort it provides. For someone living in the van long-term, you at least want to still have that slice of luxury amidst the rigidity of van dwelling.
20. Portable Toilet: When Nature Calls
Whether you are out in the boonies or in the comfort of your home, you go to the loo more than you take showers. Come wintertime, you would be doing the latter less. So a portable toilet is useful for when you need to go anytime. For your options, there is a dry flush toilet, foldable toilet, bucket toilet, and potty toilet. Each one differs in size, weight, compatibility, and capacity. Choose one that will last you a long time while on the road.
21. Propane Heater: Once the Cold Hits
Van campers heavily rely on propane heaters once winter settles. As a safety precaution, just make sure your exhaust pipes are not blocked and venting properly to avoid carbon monoxide production inside your rig. On a good note, propane heaters are easily accessible, compact, and preferred as the number one choice by most winter dwellers.
22. Handheld Vacuum Cleaner: Keeping Your Van Clean
You may be wondering what a vacuum cleaner is doing on this list. Do not worry – we got you! So imagine having food crumbs, soil debris, and other sorts of dirt all over your van and having separate cleaners for different areas. Not the most convenient option if you have limited space. A handheld vacuum cleaner can easily suck in all the dirt you do not want in your rig. It is portable, compact, and easy to store away!
If you do not have it in your stash yet and your last resort is to purchase it, then you might be glad to know that a handheld vacuum cleaner conveniently costs $10 to $30. This would hardly make a dent in your wallet, with lifetime easy cleaning to boot!
23. Wet Wipes: Comes in Handy
Some van dwellers prefer to not have a sink inside their rigs. Some days, you just do not have available running water. In any case, you want to have wet wipes ready at your disposal. It is handy for everyday use, like when you just want to wipe that sticky substance off your hand without committing to full-on 20-second handwashing.
24. Packing Cubes: Great for Organizing Your Belongings
Packing cubes are like luggage without wheels, plus they are space-saving when closed, yet can store plenty of clothes. You do not have to worry about having those chunky bags that you do not know where to put. Packing cubes can also be used for other (flat) items and come in various sizes for your organizing preference.
25. Tool Kit and First Aid Kit: Better Safe than Sorry
Your stash should include a tape measure, screwdrivers, hammer, wire cutters, and utility blades to start with. Figure out all the basics that you will need and have your own handy tool kit in your rig at all times. Feel free to add more essentials to your tool kit, whichever you think is the most necessary for your long-term off-grid living.
Before you venture out, make sure you know how to apply first aid to you or anyone should any accident happen. Along with this, make sure you pack a first aid kit in your van. This should include a small towel, bandages, scissors, antiseptic solution, and a medicine kit with all your essential medicines and vitamins. Build your kit as you go along your travel list.
26. Camping Shower: Taking of Your Hygiene
This provides a very portable system for quick outdoor showers. There are solar shower bags available, too, so you can take hot showers without the need for a heater. Fill the bag with water, hang the bag on a branch or a hook under a sunny spot for some heating magic, and use the nozzle to shower. Voila! Go squeaky clean and smell fresh with your portable shower.
If you need to know more about alternatives to your shower needs, here is an article that I have written for you.
27. Outdoor Slippers: Keep Your Indoors Clean
These are useful mainly for stepping out of your rig but it is not essential to wear shoes. For example, you just want to sit out on your foldable chair and enjoy the beauty of nature. Or it is shower time and you do not want to get soil in between your toes. For showers, prefer rubber slippers for easy drying. You could also have an insulated pair for wintertime, so you can step out in your fuzzy socks and slippers with no problem.
28. Blackout Curtains
Increase your privacy inside your rig by installing blackout curtains all over your windows. This is especially useful for solo travelers who appreciate some (or lots of) privacy. Whether you have expensive items in your rig or otherwise, you would want that extra security at all times. These will also help improve your sleep quality, in case you prefer complete darkness as you snooze.
Organize your items according to the main categories to determine your priorities from your nonessentials, as listed in the table above. If you are having a hard time determining your essentials from the get-go, you can do it by working backward. To do this, note down everything that you think you will need for your trip and gradually cross out optional items (convenient but you can do without). The few items remaining are your must-haves and non-negotiables. Focus on packing these things before you prepare your nonessentials. Happy van living!