#VanLife: On-the-Road Must Haves!


For so long, van lifers have been openly sharing about all the good and bad experiences they are going through on their journey, making it a little easier for those who are just starting. You see, that is what’s amazing about the van life community, it’s not just a group of individuals living in vans, it’s a beautiful community of people looking out for each other and helping each other out. There isn’t a magic trick or a perfect list of items that would make your van life foolproof but at least there are these things that can make it all a little better. 

Longtime vanlifers swear by a lot of items that truly helped with their daily lives on the road. In this article, you will find a complete list of those things that you need to have in your van to not just simply survive the van life but also, more importantly, have the best van life.

General Essentials

Solar Power

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One of the main things that you need to get set up on your van is your main power source. Some get by using extra batteries but this can be costly in the long run. A good and natural alternative is a solar power system. 

While it used to be intimidating for most vanlifers in the past because of its initial cost and the process of setting it up, using solar power has been becoming a norm and even a need among vanlifers, especially those who live on the road full time. 

Depending on the sun for power is a sustainable and practical way. Depending on the type and size you get, you can use solar charge to power up your lighting, appliances, and gadgets too. 

Some of the best brands RVers recommend are Renogy priced around 150 – 350 USD, the WindyNation priced around 380 USD, and the Go Power Solar Kits priced at 380 – 500 USD.

Fan 

This is one of the items that you realize is important only after you get one. There are a lot of options for fans, but what you need is something that should be small but powerful enough. 

A good fan will help you give extra cooling, especially during hot days and nights as well. Vans don’t exactly have a perfect air conditioning system so a fan is usually helpful during extreme weather conditions. 

Blinds

Regular vans, unlike other motorhome types, do not usually have good insulation capacity that can be difficult during extreme climate conditions. It can either be very hot or very cold, depending on the season. 

So, for sure you have had insulations installed as you were building your van – for your roof, walls, and floors. However, you still need some sort of insulation for the windows. This can be tricky because you would want something that you can put up and remove easily. 

Some prefer using reflectix for this purpose. You can cut them according to the shape of your windows. While this can be good, it can still be a burden to have to remove them every time. The good news is you can now get blinds specifically manufactured for this purpose!

There is this brand called Vanmade Gear produced by a couple who also lives in a van full time. They provide handmade magnetized and foldable insulations that fit perfectly on the van’s windows making it such a breeze to simply roll up when you need that natural light during the day. It costs around 65 – 275 USD per window set.

Portable Buddy Heater

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You can get a portable buddy heater that runs on propane. This is especially useful during the winter and other cold days. It can be quite difficult and expensive to heat your entire van the whole time so having a portable one is relatively more efficient since you can get heat to where heat is particularly needed. Since it runs on propane, you won’t have to worry about the electricity restrictions. 

Mr. Buddy Portable Heater is the kind that many vanlifers and other outdoor enthusiasts swear by. It is affordable but serves its purpose well. Its price ranges from 75 – 130 USD.

Front-Window Shade

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Just like how it is in normal vehicles, it gets really hot inside your van when you leave it parked somewhere with no shade during a sunny day. It can be quite frustrating to enter your van and sit on an unnecessarily heated driving seat. Using the right front-window shade could help prevent this! You can find good ones that are affordable in your go-to hardware and auto supply stores.

Power Inverter

With the help of a power inverter, the DC from your 12-volt or 24-volt van’s batteries will be inverted to 110-volt or 220-volt AC. This is the usual volt requirement of most of your gadgets and appliances. 

You will need an inverter so that you can power your appliances and other gadgets just as how you would in a standard house. Consider the total number. of watts your inverter can produce depending on the total number of watts of the appliances and gadgets you intend to use it for. 

Solar Power Banks

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Whether you’re living on the road full time or not, cell phones are probably the most used gadget. You use your phone for communication, entertainment, and navigation almost all the time. If you also use it for data, then you are most likely to charge your phone twice or thrice per day. 

Having a handy solar power bank is essential to keep your phone charged all the time. I know that you can use your regular socket or car chargers for this, but in case of emergencies, when you are out hiking or traveling somewhere remote, and you end up not having an available power source, a solar-charged power bank is the way to go.

Some of the best solar power banks that have up to 25000mAh or even more are from RAVPower, Panergy, and BearTwo. Prices vary from 20 – 30 USD depending on capacity, weight, and other charging features.

Charging Cords & Extension Cords

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The thing with cords and cables is that they tend to always get misplaced, and living on the road, you don’t really have easy access to stores all the time. What you can do is always keep an extra. 

To be more practical, you can get those multiple-end types of cords that can cater to several types of phones or gadgets. As for extension cords, this is useful for when you only have very limited sockets in your van.

Roof Vent

Again, since ventilation is not best in vans and so having a two-way exhaust fan and/or a roof vent is a need. The heat coming from when you are cooking can easily warm your van and with the help of an exhaust, the heat and smoke are easily sucked out. At the same time when you want some cool breeze from the outside, your exhaust fan can also bring in coolness easily.

The MaxxFan Deluxe 7000k seems to be getting the most recommendation from vanlifers because of its reasonable price and extensive features. It costs around 310-280 USD. It has a 10-speed fan that you can easily control with a remote. It even comes with a removable bug screen and a tinted vent cover which automatically closes when it detects rain. I don’t know about you but that definitely sounds cool and helpful.

Storage Essentials

Roof/Side Racks

Having outside racks installed provides you with additional storage especially when you are fond of an outdoor hobby. Roof and side racks can be where you hang and secure your bikes, surfboards, and other outdoor gears. With this, you won’t have to worry about whether or not to leave your gears somewhere else.

Hanging Mesh Pockets

If it’s something you can hang, then hang it. Storage can be difficult in vans because of the limited space and the possibility of everything just falling all over the place every time you drive. Instead of just putting your stuff over counters and cupboards, you can opt to use hanging mesh pockets. For your small trinkets and stuff like accessories, you won’t have to worry about them falling off because they would just be swaying along as you drive.

You will also most likely need a toiletry bag for all your toiletries and choosing a bag that you can hang is also suggested for better access when going to public bathrooms or even just for your outdoor showers.

Packing Cubes 

In a van, you don’t get to have a huge closet with plenty of dividers for easier access. However, these efficient and neat-looking packing cubes will help organize your clothes. You can sort your clothes according to your need and preference so you won’t have to spend so much time scrounging through your usual clothes box every time. This will also give you generally neater storage.

Reusable Grocery Bags

With all that’s happening in our environment, it is good that even vanlifers are shifting to more sustainable lifestyles. To contribute less plastic waste, having reusable shopping or grocery bags are essential. They are useful for when you go out to stock up on groceries and even carry other items too.

Garbage Bins/Bags

For your wastes that cannot be composted, you can store them in a recyclable bag and hand them over to local recycling centers. Or if not possible, make sure you segregate your waste in separate biodegradable bags and dump them in their respective dump areas. 

You can also learn more about the zero-waste lifestyle and know more tips you can do to significantly decrease your waste production. 

Important Document Storage (Weather-Proof)

Invest in a document storage that can be sealed and has a weather-proof quality. This will contain the most important documents that you will need on the road. Having somewhere you can put them all together will help give you easier and quicker access. These are the important documents that you should always have well-taken care of:

  • Passport
  • Personal docs (IDs, birth certificate, visas, etc)
  • Health and Car Insurances
  • Registration Papers
  • Manuals and Handbooks
  • Ownership Titles

Bathroom Essentials

Portable Water Heater (Immersion-type)

Since this usually comes in a very handy size, it is a more convenient choice for vanlifers. With this, you won’t have to set up your stove or buy a big water heater. You can easily and speedily heat a cup or a pail of water for your coffee or tea or a quick warm shower. 

Some of the most common water heaters are Diximus, KD Heater, and Gesail. Price ranges from 11 – 35 USD.

Compost Toilet

One of the challenges you will experience as a vanlifer is having access to a toilet. Not all places that you will travel to have public toilets that are clean and available. While some learned to live this, having a compost toilet in your van will surely make a huge difference!

Moreover, a compost toilet won’t need much water and also not make your van stink. This is also very friendly for the environment!

The most common brands of compost toilets that you can check out are the following: Sun-Mar (1, 645 USD), Nature’s Head (785 USD), and Thetford Porta Potti (365 USD).

Wet Wipes

Let’s face it, when you live on the road full time, you are most likely not to shower every day. And no, it’s not that you’re willing to stay dirty or stinky but instead, you are probably going to be more resourceful and practical in doing so. 

Having good quality and biodegradable wet wipes are your best friends for this. On days when you can’t shower, your good old pack of wet wipes can get you feeling clean and refreshed instantly! There are those kinds that are way bigger. So you can use just one sheet for your whole body. 

Outdoor Shower

Due to the limited space inside a van, there isn’t usually enough room to fit an indoor shower. What vanlifers opt to have instead is an outdoor shower. 

Various kinds of outdoor showers can be used. One comes with a huge bag that you can fill with water and place under the sun to get heated. They come with shower nozzles for better use too! If you want to avoid the hassle of refilling every time, you can install outdoor showers that can be directly connected to your water tank and can run on propane for hot and warm shower options.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the same as showering in an actual bathroom but you will not always have access to them on the road and so having an outdoor shower option is helpful.

Kitchen Essentials

Stove 

If you wish to save money on food, then you are supposed to do a lot of cooking. This is why you should invest in a stove that has a reasonable price that would work around your needs and preferences. 

Depending on your allotted kitchen space, you also have several options for a stove. You can choose either one that is run on propane or electricity, if you have solar power installed. If you like baking, then you can also get the stove that comes with a full-sized oven. 

For a much cheaper and practical option, especially if you are planning to do very simple and minimal cooking, an outdoor camping stove shall suffice.

Dinnerware

While it can be nice to have cute mugs and different colored-glasses, this is something you will have to put off. You have to have only a few sets that won’t take up too much space. If you will be dining with guests, you should have some available disposables ready but make sure you get the biodegradable type!

Invest in multi-purpose stuff. A good quality drinking cup or mug can be handy and useful for all your drinking – be it water, coffee, or even alcohol.

Coffee or Tea Maker

Another common thing among vanlifers and RVers is the love for coffee or tea and so it’s essential to have either a coffee or tea maker. It’s more of a need than just a luxury. Whether it is coffee or tea or both, you have to invest in this wisely. You would not want to get a cheap one and end up replacing only after a few months. 

In considering the best machine for you, you have to think of the space you’ll need for it, the electricity requirement, and the functionality as well. If you want to save on power but still want a good cup, you can consider getting a french press since you won’t need to plug it before using.

If you have limited space for bulkier items, you can still enjoy a good cup of coffee using a collapsible pour-over coffee maker. You will only need paper coffee filters, your favorite coffee grounds, and boiled water and you’re set to make your caffeine fix. The common collapsible coffee dripper brands are Kuiessential, GSI, and OnticcoPD. They offer good quality types with prices ranging from 9 – 13 USD.

Water Filter

Having potable water is one of, if not the most, important things you should make sure to always have. Sure there are water stations where you can refill your jugs and other containers on the way, however, it won’t always be the case. There could be times where you have to get water refills from places that you’re not sure if the water is clean and safe to drink. 

When you have a good-quality water filter or purifier installed, you can be confident of having potable water at any time. This will also save you extra cost for not having to buy gallons of drinking water now and then.

These purifiers are also very easy to install. They can be connected directly from your tank to your tap. 

Multipurpose Cooker

Any multipurpose item is probably good to have when you live in a tiny space. The most common multipurpose cooker is probably the Instant Pot. A cooker that can function as a rice cooker, pressure cooker, food warmer, etc., all in one? It’s a yes for vanlifers! With only this cooking appliance, you will have fewer dishes to wash after every meal so you save water too. You also won’t have to worry about heat levels and timing because you can easily set them on your Instant Pot too.

Other Collapsible Kitchen Items

Anything collapsible is also a need for when you are trying to work in a very limited area. You can have one or two collapsible bowls and food containers that you can easily store when not in use. You can also look up some collapsible pots that you can use to cook and can serve as containers too. Aside from being collapsible, they are also usually multifunctional making them a good investment! It comes in cute and trendy designs too.

Fruit Hammock

This is also one of those things that you never thought you need until you get one. With a fruit or vegetable hammock, you won’t have to worry about where to store your fresh produce without getting bruised as you drive. Also since it will be hanging, it won’t take up counter space. Keep in mind to not hang it where it hit on something repeatedly it sways while you drive. 

Home Essentials

Diffuser

Inevitably, your van can stink once in a while due to food or occasional moisture. A good home diffuser with your favorite scent or type of essential oil will be useful to create a better living ambiance in your van. It will also help you sleep and rest better. 

Insulated Water Tumbler/Flasks

Having a personal water tumbler will help you keep hydrated, especially when you keep it close to you every time and drinking enough water is important especially when you are always on the road and the weather can change so quickly. 

An insulated water tumbler can be pricey but it’s worth it. Even after an entire day, you can still expect your water to be cold! 

Hydroflask, Corkcicle, and Klean Kanteen are the most common brands of insulated water tumbler among vanlifers with prices ranging from 35 – 45 USD.

Hand Sanitizers

Always, always have your sanitizer with you. Have one in your daypack, in your driving area, and also in your living area. You just can’t be sure of how safe or clean are the things your hands get in contact with every day, and since you can’t wash your hands every time due to water constraints, using sanitizers will do the job! 

Sleeping Essentials

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Earplugs

Most vans aren’t built soundproof so at night or any time that you’re trying to sleep and you’re in a public place, it can be noisy. And since the place is public, you pretty much have no control over this no matter how frustrated you are. Have your earplugs ready for when this happens!  

Driving Essentials

Multi-port Car Charger

Having a multi-port car charger will give you more charging options, especially when you are driving and you are running out of phone battery. You can indeed use your power bank for this, but being able to charge directly from your car using the car charger will be so much easier! Also, you can save your power bank’s charge for emergencies!

Phone Car Mount

Being on the road almost the whole time, you will need your phone for navigation. Just using your hand to hold your phone up can be tiring and absolutely dangerous so make sure you get a phone car mount that is stable and secure enough to hold your phone. 

Remember to strategically place it near your car charger and somewhere you can comfortably take glances for safe driving!

Outdoor Essentials

Camping Chairs

Maybe one of the reasons why you chose the van life is because you love to travel and you enjoy scenic views. And so when you get the chance to visit beautiful places, make sure you have a camping chair you can comfortably sit on and enjoy the view. 

Outdoor camping chairs are also necessary when you have “night outs” with friends, meaning nights literally outside your van around a campfire, just chilling and relaxing.  

Flash Lights and Head Torch

A flashlight and a head torch are handy during the night when you are going outside to buy something and there’s not enough light. You can also use the head torch when doing engine, electricity, and plumbing repairs and you need both your hands to work. 

Bug Spray

Whether you’re hiking or camping or just staying out late at night, a bug spray will help you get rid of bugs and insects that may give you allergies or bites.

Umbrella and/or Poncho

When you travel often, you know how the weather can be so unpredictable despite the current season. You’ll never really know for sure when you will need an umbrella or a poncho and so it’s better to always have one in your van. 

Daypack

Have a reliable and average-sized daypack for when you travel around town on foot or when you need to go somewhere during the day and you’re leaving your van parked somewhere else. Get one that can fit all your essentials, your water tumbler, and also a folding umbrella.

Bungee Cords and Ropes

Having a couple of bungee cords and a few sets of ropes are important when living on the road and doing outdoor activities. They have tons of uses – from being used as a clothesline to holding things up or even temporarily tying and securing stuff. Wherever you go, you are most likely going to need a bungee cord or a rope at one point or another. 

Cleaning and Maintenance Essentials

Household Cleaning Kit

Vacuum Cleaner

Invest in a small or handheld but high-quality vacuum cleaner. You can sure clean the insides of your van with a normal broom but you’ll be surprised by how much cleaner it can get using a vacuum cleaner. Also, you can be certain that even the smallest corners will be properly cleaned.

Microfiber Towel

Microfiber towels are generally more absorbent and quick to dry. It also has a light and gentle texture that would be gentle on your van’s surfaces. 

Multipurpose Cleaner

Do away with having multiple cleaners for supposedly different purposes and make use of all-in-one multipurpose cleaners. You can even make one yourself. Just combine equal parts water and vinegar, add a good amount of lemon peels, let it sit for a few days and it’s ready for cleaning!

Household and Auto Repair Kits

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Unlike when living in a certain neighborhood, it can be very easy to just call over helpers to do household repairs and plumbing fixes. This is not the case with van life. There will be repair shops on the way for sure, but you’ll never know when you’ll end up needing the repair. That’s why it is important if you equip yourselves with the fundamentals of household maintenance. 

Keep a compact, but useful household repair kit that you can easily locate and use. Familiarize yourself as well with your van’s components and all interior appliances.

The same goes for sudden car malfunctions. You might have car insurance, but help doesn’t always come as fast so it would be wiser to also know basic car repairs and have the basic tools for simple tire replacement or jump-starting your engine. 

Miscellaneous Essentials

Signal and Wifi Booster

If you will travel often, you will sometimes end up going and exploring far-flung and remote places with very low and poor internet and cellular reception. A good and reliable internet connection and cellular reception can be so important, especially if you work remotely. Having a signal booster will aid you with this because it can provide you with a better connection despite your location.

Games and Other Entertainment Essentials

For sure not all days on the road will be spent on wild and exciting adventures. There will be days when you will prefer staying in and resting the whole day. You may also find yourself getting bored or lonely somehow. On these days, having some playing cards or other non-technology dependent games will help lift your mood and practice your mind too!

Safety and Emergency Essentials

Backup Camera

Vans can be difficult to maneuver sometimes, especially when you are trying to park. A backup camera will help you have a better rear view and perspective and avoid unwanted damages. 

LeeKoLuu (43 USD), eRapta (26 USD), and DoHonest (35 USD) are some of the affordable but with good quality brands you can check out.

Alarm System

When starting with the van life, you still might have trouble sleeping at night with the fear that someone might rob or hurt you in your sleep. Have an alarm system installed that detects and alerts you of any attempts of opening your van from the outside when it’s locked. This will help you feel more secure especially at night.

GPS Tracker 

Whether it’s installed in your car or your phone, let anyone from your family or a trusted friend know your location via GPS tracker for security and emergency purposes. 

Fire Extinguisher

In case of small fires from cooking, or accidentally toppling a candle, a fire extinguisher is useful to prevent completely burning down your van. This won’t likely happen but it’s always good to be prepared. 

First-Aid Kit With Medicine Box

Nobody can tell when or how accidents or injuries will happen that’s why it’s better to be prepared. While on the road, you won’t have quick access to hospitals or other health professionals. Having a complete first-aid kit in your van is a requirement! 

Also take the time to learn the basic first-aid procedures in case of sprains, wounds, and other minor accidents. At the same time, you should also know the basic medicines and treatments for common diseases like flu, allergies, and fever. 

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarm

If you use propane regularly, with cooking or heating water, then this is essential. Carbon Monoxide is an odorless gas that can be emitted from using propane. When an enclosed space like a van gets saturated with CO then this can be hazardous. When a person gets to inhale too much CO, it may lead to CO poisoning which can then result in death. 

A CO detector will alarm you immediately if it senses even the slightest bit CO presence in the atmosphere. After installation, don’t forget to check if it is functional by pressing the alarm buttons. Remember to always check it regularly as well. 

Conclusion

Living in a van full time for some, if not most, people seems impossible, or if it is, then it should be extremely difficult. Well, here’s the truth, living on the road in general isn’t easy. It isn’t for everyone and whether you live in a camper van, a bigger trailer, or even a Class A will not make it any better if it’s not for you. However, there are people who have been in it long enough to know what will or what will not work. They have survived and also thrived and are still continuously doing so to let people know that van life is a wonderful life. Hence, all of the things in this article that can help you, in one way or another, experience a better and more fun #VanLife! 

Ash

Hi! this is a filling profile to remind me to make a better one AND figure out how to get my pic on gravatar ;)

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