Sometimes, nothing sounds better than leaving it all behind and hitting the road, exploring the country, and living life in a converted van. For an increasing number of people, it’s no dream– it’s their reality. But before you begin your van life journey, you’ll need to assemble some must-have items that will soon become your new favorite things. We’ve broken them down into a few categories for you.
What is Van Life?
Van life is a growing minimalist lifestyle in the RV world, based on a smaller, ultramobile rig that’s often just a large, repurposed van. Compared to traditional motorhomes and trailers, van life will have even less space and fewer amenities. Your kitchen will be more of a kitchenette, and you’ll likely have some spaces that function for multiple uses, like a table that collapses to form the base of a sleeping area. Many van life rigs don’t even have built-in bathrooms!
However, unlike motorhomes, vans have the flexibility of an empty shell that you can customize to your needs. Whether you buy a prebuilt van or convert it yourself, you will have the option to make it your own. Need some tips on DIY installations or looking for some inspiration for your next project? Check out more information on our site and our YouTube channel
Additionally, vans provide unmatched freedom for van lifers. There’s practically nowhere that you can’t take your van, from the busiest cities to the most remote national parks– unlike large RVs that often face length restrictions or difficulties on winding roads. You will have the flexibility to explore more remote locations than motorhomes and with the right equipment and set up there will be even more possibilities. You’ll also get far superior gas mileage on your road trips while still enjoying the comforts of bringing your home with you wherever you go.
Van Life Essentials
Van life can best be thought of as part RVing, part camping. That’s why you’ll need a unique set of tools and equipment to live your best van life. Here’s a look at our ultimate van life essentials list.
French Press or Coffee Maker : Get your caffeine fix on the road with a small drip coffee maker if your rig’s power system is up for it. For those looking to go old school with their morning coffee, a French press or pour-over can make an incredible cup without electricity– just add hot water to your grounds.
Cast Iron Skillet: There’s no more versatile and dependable piece of cookware than a cast iron skillet. Whether over a hot plate or a campfire, it can sauté, fry, sear, and even bake delicious meals. Plus, unlike stainless steel, a well-seasoned skillet is naturally non-stick and easy to clean.
Camping Stove: A camping stove takes your on-the-go cooking and amps it up with some of the power of a traditional kitchen. Powered by compact propane canisters, camping stoves open up countless new cooking options without the need for power or much space.
Cooler or Mini Fridge: Having somewhere to keep your groceries and other perishable items safe is truly an essential. Even those with the budget for eating out every meal will likely need some supplies on hand. These can range from simple plastic coolers to more sophisticated models with DC power and temperature control.
Hot Water Kettle: For tea, coffee, hot drinks, pasta, or other items that need hot water, there’s no need to set up the camping stove and wait. Electric-powered hot water kettles quickly heat water, putting you just minutes away from a caffeine fix or soothing cup of tea. Many can be quite small as well, making them a perfect fit for the limited space of most van cooking areas.
Insulated Thermos: Keep your hot liquids hot and your cold liquids cold, saving you valuable time and energy on the road. A quality insulated thermos like a Hydro Flask will keep you refreshed all day long, whether putting in a bunch of miles on the road or the hiking trail.
Cutting Board: A slim, foldable or bendable cutting board is another of your kitchen essential items you shouldn’t do without. For such a light, space-efficient item, it can make cooking dramatically easier and of higher quality.
Tableware: Unless you plan on eating with your hands out of your pots and pans all the time, it should be no surprise that tableware is a necessary item. Unlike at home, you’ll want to be judicious with the size of your set to ensure your precious kitchen space isn’t overrun with unused bowls and plates. Still, you’ll want a variety of bowls and plates of different sizes for various needs.
Water Filter: The water you encounter on a daily basis during your travels may be of varying quality, depending on the campground or park you’re staying at. In some cases, you may even find yourself relying on water from lakes or streams while boondocking. This is why a water filter of some sort is essential. At a minimum, it will improve the taste, while it could also protect you from harmful pollutants or pathogens.
Lithium Battery: While traditional lead-acid batteries may be cheaper and more common, they can’t compare to the new lithium technology. Lithium batteries are lighter weight, smaller, store more energy, and can operate under more varied conditions. Plus, their long lifespan means the extra cost more than balances out over time. They’ve rightly earned their place as the heart of your van electrical system.
Solar Panels: Among the best ways to keep your batteries charged up on the go are portable solar panels . These panels can be permanently mounted on your van or be set up and taken down at every stop. Solar power is clean, renewable, and free, making it an excellent choice for van life. Modern panels can even produce some electricity on rainy days!
Inverters: The primary function of an inverter is to produce 120V AC power from a 12V DC battery bank in a solar power system. With an empty shell van, you will be able to add exactly what you need in order to run any loads you have. Inverters will allow you to run large appliances like air conditioners from a low current show power source. Additionally, the smallest inverter we offer can be used to power a standard kitchen appliance. For instance, you can plug a power strip right into a small phoenix inverter.
DC Distribution: DC power systems can be utilized to charge batteries that supply a large amount of power to electronic systems. We offer many DC output components, including complete DC distribution kits, battery protects, fuses and fuse boxes, outlets, and switches and breakers. They can be combined with inverters to power many different types of loads according to your unique needs.
Camping Lantern: These lanterns are among the best ways to light up your van and campsite once the sun goes down. They often run on rechargeable batteries or butane fuel. Some even charge themselves with built-in solar panels.
Headlamp: For more focused light, a headlamp generally does the trick. The small devices strap right onto your forehead, allowing you to simply look wherever you want your light. These are perfect for food prep after dark or finding things at night inside your van.
Hammock: Your van may be nice, but you’ll still likely want to relax outside it when you can for some extra space. Hammocks are a lightweight, compact, and comfortable option. Plus, there’s nothing like taking a nap under some shady trees in the great outdoors.
Camping Chairs: Camp chairs are designed to go anywhere, folding slimly for storage when not in use. They’re not only great for relaxing around the campsite, but also on your adventures, whether you’re heading to the beach or an outdoor concert. Look for quality chairs with cupholders, storage, and other features.
Sleeping Bag: Some may opt for a dedicated bed like the ones you’d find in other types of RVs. But others may opt for the simplicity and comfort of a sleeping bag, which is light, easily storable, and great for most temperatures. They can also be taken outdoors during good weather for a night sleeping under the stars.
Solar Portable Shower: With many rigs built without a full bathroom, you’ll need a backup option if showers aren’t available at your chosen campsite. Solar portable showers use the sun’s rays to heat the water in a collapsible container. This container is typically hung above you, allowing gravity to power the shower. You’ll appreciate this ingenious piece of technology while getting clean in the great outdoors without needing plumbing.
Car Emergency Kit: When you’re living the full-time van life, you need to ensure it can get you where you need to go. Car emergency kits are vital for this. In the best kits, you’ll have everything you need to change tires, jump your battery, and take care of other smaller repairs no matter where you are.
Carbon Monoxide Alarm: Sadly, hundreds of people die every year from carbon monoxide poisoning. This invisible, odorless gas can come from a variety of sources and often isn’t noticed until it’s too late. Vehicles like your van pump out significant amounts of carbon monoxide, so having a portable alarm can alert you if you need to get to fresh air and avoid tragedy.
First Aid Kit: Things happen when you’re out on the road, whether it’s a small cut, a bump on the head, or something more serious. First aid kits can provide valuable treatment for minor injuries and crucial initial help for more significant ones. They’re small, relatively inexpensive, and can even save your life.
Fire Extinguisher: Another item you hope never to need but will be happy to have if you ever do. Fires can happen from cooking, electrical issues, or even mechanical problems with your van itself. Even in the small space of your van, stash a fire extinguisher somewhere it can be easily accessed in an emergency.
Space Heater: It can get a bit chilly on the road, especially when you’re not running your van’s heating system. To avoid having to idle your rig all the time, a portable, efficient space heater is an excellent choice for staying warm. Reliable brands like Mr. Heater will keep you nice and toasty when cold temperatures strike and work well with your van’s electrical system as well.
Portable Toilet: We’ve all got to go, so it’s essential to be prepared. Some vans may have dedicated bathrooms, but others may not. A portable toilet can be a lifesaver when other facilities aren’t available. The designs may vary, from sophisticated flushing models to a composting toilet to simple modified buckets.
Ventilation System: Ventilation is crucial to keeping your van comfortable, odor-free, and safe from potential condensation damage. This is especially true during the summer months or other periods of warm weather. Depending on your budget and preferences, these can vary from simple vents to electrically powered fans or other devices that run when your engine is off.
Portable Laundry System: Rather than spending time at the laundromat, these systems clean your clothes right in your van! They range from bags to manual agitators to simple, small electric models, all designed to work for those with little space to spare and often no reliable power or water.
Portable Air Compressor: Having one of these handy devices around means you’ll never find yourself stranded with a deflated tire. Plus, properly inflated tires help your van get better gas mileage, saving you money.
Toolbox: Even the non-handy among us should bring a small, complete set of tools. You never know when you’ll need to make a minor fix or tinker with an item to improve use.
Remember These Van Life Essentials to Live Your Best Life On the Road
Van life isn’t always easy. But it can be one of the most fun and rewarding ways to travel across the country or the world, whether you’re full-time or just taking an extended vacation. With this well-assembled set of everyday essential items, along with your solar energy installation from AM Solar, you’ll be able to conquer whatever the road throws at you in comfort and style.
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