It’s safe to say that I overprepared for my first van. I was excited, so naturally, I spent hours trying to make the perfect list of everything I needed.
I ended up not even using 80% of the things I brought. And let me tell you — I didn’t bring much, to begin with.
However, there are some things that I absolutely loved in my van that made living in one much more enjoyable. Here are 25 things I don’t regret installing in my van:
1. Alarm system and autostart
Your van is your home, so it’s important to give it the best security system to keep it safe from thieves. I don’t know about you, but I would freak out if mine were stolen.
As a result, I’ve installed an alarm system. It was actually pretty easy to put in my vehicle and I’m quite happy with it. It gives me the peace of mind that if anyone ever tries to break in, I’ll at least have a few things turn them away before they get the chance.
Blaring alarms work particularly well. Cameras help me catch them.
My van also lets me autostart from a remote location, so if I see anyone shady acting around my rig, I can turn my van on to freak them out.
This is enough to deter most thieves.
2. Flip-down table
This is a little table that I have in my van that’s attached to my wall. It took like 2 seconds to install, but I’ve got a world of use from it.
I can fold it down while I’m on my bed. It’s great for eating and also functions as a makeshift desk. When not in use, I fold it and hook it back against the wall. It’s a huge space-saver.
3. Internet hotspot
In a world that’s becoming increasingly technology-based, a reliable and robust WIFI signal is a must-have for anyone living in a camper van. If you’re unsure what a hotspot is, it’s basically like a little box that you can wirelessly connect your phone or laptop to. It provides a fast, reliable Internet connection, while on the road.
If your job is technology-based, like mine, this is a definite must-have.
A plus of using hotspots is that they tend to be much safer than public WiFi, where hackers can steal your information. Just be sure to set up your hotspot with a password, so that no one can get in but you.
4. Dash camera
Car accidents aren’t only for accident-prone people. I’ve never been in a car accident in my life, but having a dash camera gives me the peace of mind that if I ever do get in one, I will have at least caught it on tape.
Having a dash camera is extremely important because if you’re living in a van you’re probably going to have higher miles than people who stay in a fixed location for long periods of time.
As a result, the chances of getting into a car accident will probably be higher than the average person.
5. Carbon monoxide detector
While many modern RVs are equipped with carbon monoxide detectors, most campervans usually do not come with this feature. Therefore, it’s important to install one yourself.
Carbon monoxide is not something you want to mess with. It’s a dangerous fume that comes from burning gasoline. It is commonly released from car exhausts and generators and it can kill you.
But, what makes it so deadly? If you sleep in your car with your engine on, there’s a danger that engine fumes could enter the cabin. Carbon monoxide will make you very sleepy and you’ll die in your sleep. This gas is odorless and colorless, so you won’t realize it before it’s too late.
This is not a risk I’m willing to take.
5. Solar panels
I feel a bit ridiculous to mention solar panels because they seem like they’re so obviously important for anyone living in a van.
These babies can power your food-making machines. They can power all your electronics. Your phone, laptop, refrigerator.
They’re insanely useful and probably one of the things on my van that gets the most use.
Here’s the one I use.
6. Composting toilet
A toilet seems important, but you would be surprised just how many people don’t have one of them in their vans. From experience, it’s pretty inconvenient.
Ever had to pee in the middle of the night? That fine, except when you’re in the middle of a Walmart parking lot and it’s 3 AM.
Some people are okay with doing their business in bottles — I prefer a composting toilet.
It doesn’t smell and it’s easy to hide.
7. Overhead storage
Space is valuable in a van and I wanted to make use of it. But, I didn’t want to keep a bunch of things everywhere, out in the open. What did I do? I installed a few cabinets along the length of my van.
Turns out, it became one of the most used spaces in my van.
I store my food, clothes, and other necessities in there. A huge plus is that it’s all out of sight, out of mind. In a small space, you really can’t have everything out in plain view. It clutters up space real fast.
8. Command hooks
Installing hooks in my space allowed me to use up more vertical space, making my space seem less cluttered and more open. The thing is — I wanted something that wouldn’t damage the paneling in my vehicle. Something that was easy to remove and adaptable.
I settled on Command hooks. They have a little adhesive that you can use to stick them onto the wall. The marvelous thing is — they don’t leave any residue when you remove them. You just pull a little tab and the adhesive comes right off the wall.
An added plus that I wasn’t expecting? They come with a lot of extra adhesive tabs, so you can just them over and over. This is great for van dwellers because it makes it easy for them to adapt their space as they go.
Don’t like that hook there? Just move it.
9. LED lighting
In a space where you have to work and live, cruddy lighting just isn’t going to cut it. You want something that is as bright and energy-efficient as possible. Preferably, that isn’t expensive. That’s why I use LEDs.
There’s a whole lot of LED lights to choose from, from overhead bulbs to strip lights and more. But personally, I’ve used a mix of options. I have a tiny, LED reading light that I can use when I am reading. I’ve also got some LEDs in my walls that turn on with the click of a switch.
Not only are they super useful for normal day-to-day activities, but did you know that it can also deter pests? Mice, which are known for entering the bottom of your vehicle and chewing up your wiring, will usually stay away from brightly lit locations.
10. Bug screens
Ever tried to sleep with bugs hitting your face every 2 seconds? It’s not pleasant and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
Therefore, if you’re going to any sort of park or outdoorsy place, I recommend a bug screen. Especially in the summer.
They’re great for keeping out bugs, which can be annoying. But, also I love them because it lets me get better ventilation in my van. I can open my windows, let in the breeze, and not have to worry about pesky mosquitos sucking my blood.
11. Swivel chair
It’s ridiculous how such a small change has made such a big difference in my van. Before my godsend of a swivel chair was installed, the space in the front of my vehicle was severely underutilized.
But, thankfully this all changed with one simple fix. Now that I’ve got a swivel chair, I can turn my passenger seat a full 180 degrees backward and it really opens up my space.
When I have people over, they can sit there without having to be awkwardly cramped in such a small space.
I can also eat there without having to move anything around — or without getting any crumbs on my bed.
12. Motion sensor vehicle security lights
Naturally, nobody is going to feel safe when there’s a stranger walking around your house at 4 AM. It’s the same in your van.
Therefore, motion-activated lights are a pretty good thing to install in your vehicle. Most thieves and criminals prefer to act in the dark, unseen. Shine a giant light on them and they’ll think that someone is in the car, watching them.
Pair your lights with a motion sensor camera for added security. Catch them in the act, so they’ll be easier to pinpoint if they do damage or steal from your vehicle.
13. Hidden vehicle GPS tracker
Now, my van has never been stolen, but I have heard a lot of horror stories of van dwellers who have had people break in and take theirs.
If you’re traveling to genuinely unsafe locations, a hidden GPS tracker may be just the thing you need.
Sure, if your van gets stolen, you’re not going to know until it’s too late. But, with a tracker, you’ll at least know where to find it. Just a word of advice, never — and I mean never — attempt to retrieve your vehicle yourself.
Call the police. In most places, they will try to help you find it.
14. Dometic refrigerator
Many van dwellers skip out on getting a refrigerator because they think that it will consume too much power. And to that I have a solution: get a Dometic fridge.
The refrigerators are smaller, more compact, and (usually) more energy-efficient than traditional mini-fridges. Many of them turn off at various intervals to converse energy, while at the same time regulating temperature.
These fridges also designed in ways that allow less cold air to escape every time you open them, making them the perfect option for any van dweller.
Now, I’m a sucker for cheese, ice cream, and cold water, so I had to get myself one of these.
15. Outdoor shower
A lot of van dwellers get a membership to a gym, such as Planet Fitness, that allows them to shower as often as they want, as long as they have a gym near them. Of course, this is great and I 100% advocate for taking advantage of gym showers, but sometimes this just isn’t possible.
Many people who live in vans like to go to national parks or travel to remote locations that are often far away from any gyms.
This is why I recommend installing an outdoor shower in your van.
It doesn’t even have to be fancy, but sometimes “hobo showers” just don’t cut it. This is when you use wet wipes to clean your body.
Some companies sell outdoor showers that are specifically designed for people that live in vans. All you have to do is fill a bag with water, let the sun heat it for a bit, hang a curtain or sheet, and you’ll be ready to go.
Some outdoor showers even come with solar technology that will heat the water up even more. Just because you’re showering outside doesn’t mean that it has to be unpleasant.
16. Modular furniture
The single most common way that van dwellers save space is by using modular furniture. Modular furniture can be moved and changed around to offer a person a more versatile living space.
They can allow a person to transform a bed into a working area to a place to store all their things.
Most van dwellers design this furniture themselves, others get inspired by other van builds. Some stores sell furniture that is specifically designed for small spaces, so you don’t even have to think about it — Ikea is a great one.
17. Small windows
Big windows may afford you a great view and a lot of natural lighting, but they come at a cost. When you have big windows, it’s very easy for people to look inside and see everything that you own.
At that point, privacy becomes a bigger concern and many van dwellers decide to cover up their windows.
This doesn’t even touch on the aspect of security: big windows can be dangerous. Breaking in when you have a big window is much easier because they are people-sized. They can fit their bodies through or break it just enough to get their arm through to open the door.
Small windows, like porthole windows, are the solution. They let in light, but reduce the chances of someone getting in your van. At the end of the day, you’ll feel safer and have more privacy.
On the plus side, since they’re smaller, they’re also easier to cover.
18. Portable battery
In a van, a portable battery is a must. You absolutely do not want to be charging your electronics from your car battery. That is the quickest way to deplete it and get stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Ever tried to start a car with a battery that’s run out? Those false starts will give you a lot of hope, but ultimately, you’ll be stuck.
Therefore, choose a good reliable battery that fulfills all of your electronic needs. You’ll never have to worry about going without power while living in a van.
In my van, I hook up my portable battery to my solar panels. It provides all the electricity that I need and it’s probably the best thing I’ve gotten the most use of.
Even if you’re gonna be traveling for the most part in milder climates, it’s still a good idea to have a heater. Even in tropical climates, it can still get pretty chilly in the winter.
Here are some popular types of heaters that people usually install in their vans:
- wood stove
- electric heater
- propane heater
- butane heater
- diesel heater
It’s a good idea to have a heater because you won’t feel confined to one specific location in the winter. Plus, it can save your life if you ever find yourself out in the cold for too long.
20. Deadbolt lock
Many van break-ins happen from the back doors. You’ll be surprised just how easy they are to open. And there’s a lot of other hacks that thieves use to get into other doors as well. I saw this video and let me just tell you — it freaked me out a bit.
So, I recommend getting a deadbolt lock where possible. They’re more difficult to bypass and offer an extra layer of protection in your van’s security.
At the very least, it’ll give you the extra peace of mind that you’ll be safe.
There you have it, all the van life essentials that have saved my life again and again. If you’re building a van, these are things that you should seriously consider installing. Some of these are great for protection, others will elevate your comfort to the next level.
If you found this article useful in any way, feel free to check out my other articles. I write a ton about how to stay safe while living on the road. I also write about the products that make my life easier while living on the road.