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25 Van Life Essentials For Living on the Road

When I started living in a van, I thought I needed more than I really did. As a result, I brought a bunch of things that I didn’t need. Over the past few months, I’ve found that this is a recurring theme among many new van dwellers.

In a traditional house, we get so used to having so many things, because we can. But, we fail to realize that really we don’t need it all. A van is different. It’s smaller, so it forces you to be more considerate of what you bring into your home-on-wheels. So what exactly is useful and what is not?

Here are 25 things that I’ve found particularly helpful while living in a van:


1. Portable Lighting

Lighting can also be an issue when traveling and living on the road. Even though the campervans usually have a great lighting setup inside, one needs a portable lighting system every time they need to go out in the dark.

Portable lights come in handy when eating dinner outside the van or enjoying the comfort of the balmy summer evenings. Some of the best options to consider include battery-operated lamps, torches, and headlamps.


2. Foldable tables, chairs, and picnic set

Being the smallest units of all RVs globally means that campervans also have the smallest storage space. Therefore, any RV owner should invest in foldable furniture and picnic sets to help them travel efficiently and easily around the world. These investments are crucial, not just when eating dinner outside the van, but also for travelers to enjoy plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures.

One of the best features of these sets is that they take very little space, making them suitable for these tiny campers.


3. Leveling ramps

Quality and comfortable sleep are crucial. It doesn’t matter whether one is at home or living on the road. Traveling in the campervan means that one will eventually need to stop and rest. Unfortunately, many popular parking locations tend to be uneven, making one’s sleep annoying and uncomfortable.

This is where the leveling ramps come in.

Stowing these ramps in the campervan allows you to park in these locations without much hassle: just slip the ramps under your vehicle. You’ll get better sleep and your appliances will thank you. On a level surface, your fridge and sink will work more efficiently because they’ll get better drainage and flow.


4. Portable camping stove

Fitting one’s campervan with a portable camping stove can transform the dining experience in the RV significantly. Most campervans have limited or lack cooktop space, making these accessories the perfect way of expanding one’s holiday cuisine beyond the simple regular dishes.

Even though caravan parks and campsites come with communal cooking facilities, having a personal and portable barbecue is more convenient as it allows one to enjoy their cuisine of choice at any time without worrying about traffic from other troops.

The barbecue choice depends on the available storage space and the mode of heating to be used. There are two major barbecue types: either coal or gas, and the choice of the same depends on the campsite rules about stoves.


5. A hammock

This is mainly for van dwellers that frequent national parks and love the great outdoors.

Hammocks allow one to enjoy the warm summer sun on their skin while swaying from side to side like a baby. Van life is not always this perfect, but a hammock sure is relaxing.

I could lay in mine for hours.

In addition to being super compact, hammocks are also easy to stow away and set up on surrounding trees, poles, by the beach, and in woodlands while overlooking beautiful rolling hills or reading a book. If you’re feeling adventurous, hammocks can also be set up inside camper vans.


6. Kitchenware

Food is life for everyone. The kind and number of kitchen items that you have in your campervan determine what you’ll eat on your entire trip. More diverse kitchen essentials will allow you to experiment a bit more with what you make, while fewer may limit you to bowls of cereal and granola bars.

It may be tempting to go into van life with very few kitchen essentials, but trust me, you’ll need them eventually. You might think that you’ll be okay with only one pot and one fork, but it helps to have a little more than this.

I recommend that you should bring at least:

  • 1 stainless steel or cast iron pot
  • 1 cutting board
  • 1 spoon or spatula for mixing
  • 1 good knife, fork, & spoon (or a combination of all 3)
  • 3 plates
  • 3 bowls
  • 3 mugs

I have a bit more in my van, but if you’re looking for a more minimalist setup, this may work for you. You may also be interested in getting a toaster or kettle, but personally, I don’t use these things. Remember, going for compact options is the most reliable way of minimizing the storage and benchtop space required.

Try to go for small, lightweight options that you can easily move around if needed.


7. Pocket WIFI or WIFI Booster

A reliable and robust WIFI signal is a must-have for any modern-day van dweller. While living in a van, many people opt to stay connected, choosing to work online. The last thing that you want to do is miss a day of work because you can’t access a stable internet connection.

Even though the camping grounds may offer WIFI, picking up the WIFI signal tends to be so challenging depending on one’s site location in the grounds and their distance from the router. While the WIFI booster helps increase the camper van’s signal, the pocket WIFI – otherwise known as a hotspot – is a great alternative in campsites where WIFI is unavailable.

An added benefit to a hotspot is that it’s safer than public WiFi. Public WiFi is prone to get hacked by thieves ready to steal your information, such as your credit card information. Avoid this with an extra layer of security – a WiFi hotspot that only you can access.


8. Thermal blind

Even though most campervans include insulation, they rarely compare to that of a regular home. This becomes a significant challenge considering that the internal climate keeps varying from sweltering hot in the summer to freezing in the winter.

Thermal blinds are the most incredible ways of combating this issue and achieving a regulated and comfortable climate inside the van. They work in several ways to help achieve the desired internal temperature, minimizing heat loss via the front window in the winter to keep the van warm and reflecting sunlight via the same in the summer to keep the RV cool.

These blinds also help reduce condensation in the truck, limiting the occurrence of molds and dampness.


9. Satellite navigation system

A satellite navigation system or GPS is an accessory that can be installed in your campervan. Even though some people may opt to use the old school maps, this device makes navigation in unfamiliar territory easier and minimizes the chances of getting lost. With the multiple map-related apps available in the market, one should be keen to find one that is friendly to the device battery.


10. Water tanks

While some campsites offer serviced pitches to allow easier drainage, most of them require campers to empty their grey water tanks and chemical toilets themselves. They also require many van dwellers to collect water from taps.

In such cases, I recommend that anyone living in a campervan should carry a couple of labeled water tanks. The labels are to avoid mixing them up. Other handy things that should be included with water tanks include pipe cleaning chemicals, waste tanks, several lengths of hoses, and tubing to hook up things and minimize spillages.


11. Scooter rack

If you’re at an RV park, unplugging your electrical and water lines from the main system takes quite a bit of time. In addition, you’ll also need to pack everything you’ve left outside, as well as turn off the gas before you can ever leave.

Instead of going through all the frustration and struggles of unplugging your setup or walking to the store, carry an extra, convenient mode of transport. For instance, a moped,  lightweight scooter, or bike.

I know that a van can be small, but who says that you have to fit it inside your already-small vehicle? Get a scooter rack and attach it to the back of your van for easy transport.


12. Carbon monoxide and smoke alarms

Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas that is emitted from your vehicle when it’s turned on. It’s odor and colorless, so you’ll have no idea if a leak ever does arise. A lot of people sleeping in their vehicles have died from this, so protect yourself and never leave your vehicle on while you’re sleeping in it.

Invest in carbon monoxide and smoke alarms, it will save your life!

While most modern campervans are equipped with both smoke and carbon monoxide detecting alarms, there are old models that do not have the feature and therefore need to be installed. Just like one keeps their conventional homes safe from smoke and carbon monoxide leakages, so should they do the same for their campervans while on the road.


13. Sufficient bedding

Sleeping in a camper can be unpredictable, as it depends on the weather and climate in the region. It can easily and quickly change from blazing hot to cold, which requires one to come prepared with the right beddings that include blankets, duvets, sheets, and anything else to keep themselves warm.

To minimize their storage space, it is advisable to invest in a vacuum bag for the bedding anytime they are not in use. The vacuum should also be compact to help the traveler put it away at the end of the trip.


14. Dash camera

A dash camera is an essential accessory for camper drivers and anyone else covering lots of miles with higher chances of getting involved in an accident. In addition to recording accidents, these devices are also useful for people that love creating memories by capturing any interesting events along the way.


15. Tire inflators

Low tire pressures are a widespread occurrence anytime one leaves their camper standing or in storage, making a tire inflator a necessity. These appliances come in different types, and one should be keen to find one that suits their needs. Finding the right inflator, for instance, allows one to inflate other things on the campsite, such as bike tires or soccer balls.


16. Solar charger

If I am heading somewhere to enjoy the sun, why not use it to power my smartphone and any other electronic essentials such as my phone? This makes a solar charger, especially a foldable one, crucial in any campervan. The great thing about most solar chargers is that they’re attachable to backups and can charge up several devices at the same time.


17. Multitools

It’s common for things to break down and campervans are no exception. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you have all the necessary tools in the event that something goes wrong. But having a toolkit doesn’t mean that you need to carry around a bulky box filled with things that you don’t even you.

Instead, opt for a multitool, such as this one or this one. They’ll save you the space of a heavy toolbox and you’ll have almost every tool you’ll ever need. All in the palm of your hand.


18. Earplugs

Even though campsites are meant to be quiet places, there are some exceptions. And if you’re parking in the city without proper ear protection, you’re bound to be woken up a few times every night. Whether it’s a barking dog or a noisy family, earplugs will ensure better sleep.

They’re also good for when you’re trying to work in loud locations. They’ll reduce noise to more bearable amounts so that you’ll be able to concentrate.


19. Seatback organizer

As a campervan owner, I’ve experienced several instances where a bit of extra storage goes a long way. Seatback organizers are a great way to maximize the small space in a van.

I often use it to contain the multiple odds and ends that I need, mostly things that I use very often. Depending on the one that you get, they are so useful in the storage of items such as drinks and sandwiches, as well as maps and phones.


20. Sufficient toiletries

Personal hygiene remains crucial not just at home, but also on the road. I always ensure that I pack all the toiletries that I need, while still keeping it minimal. Some things that I take with me include baby wipes, soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and deodorant.

I personally don’t use it, but many van dwellers swear by dry shampoo as well.


21. Backpacking & safety gear

Of course, not everyone loves to hike, but they are a lot of van dwellers who do. And if you’re going to be out in nature for extended periods of time, it’s important to be prepared. I recommend:

  • hiking boots
  • camping stove
  • hiking backpack
  • water filter

This is just for day-long hikes. If you’re going on a longer one, I suggest a sleeping bag, pot, fire-starter, knife, and tent, as well.


22. First aid kit

Your first aid kit doesn’t have to be something super complicated, but it should at least contain the basics. Things like bandages, gauze, bandaids, and antibiotic creams. Most pharmacies sell compact first aid kits with everything you need, so there’s really no excuse not to have one.

Accidents happen. Big or small. Just be prepared when they do.


23. Electronics organizer

Nowadays, electronics are a significant part of human life. But how can you travel with all the electronics you need without tangled cords or worrying about their safety? Tech organizers are helpful because they keep everything in a small, compact pouch about the size of a lunchbox.

Now, I don’t own many electronics in the first place, but I can recognize their appeal. If you have more cords than I do, it might be a great idea to purchase one.


24. Composting toilet

Ever had to pee with nowhere to go? That’s kind of what living in a van is like when you’ve got no toilet. Unless you’d like to do your business in bottles, I suggest a composting toilet. Let’s face it, we’re human. When we’ve got to go, we’ve got to go.

Save yourself the inconvenience of walking into a Walmart at 3 am to use the restroom. Or peeing in a bush. Get a toilet. You won’t regret it.


25. Portable outdoor shower

With living on the road comes freedom and flexibility. However, it also comes with a variety of creative obstacles that one must overcome. Many campervans don’t come with showers, so how do you get clean? Well, some may suggest a gym membership. Those are useful, but what if there’s no gym around? Others may suggest baby wipes, but after a while, those have limited efficiency.

This is where portable showers come in.

Portable showers are usually pretty easy to “install” in your van. Usually, you just have to fill a bag up with water and hang it up on something high, like on the roof of your van. If you don’t like cold showers, you can opt for a solar-powered or 12V outdoor shower that will heat up the water for you.

These showers are also ideal for people planning to spend lots of time at the beach as they make rinsing off the sand easier.


Final thoughts

When traveling in a campervan, especially if you’re just starting out, you should be careful not to bring more than you need. Your build will change over time and, if you’re like most first-time van dwellers, you’ll never use a lot of things you started out with.

Of course, there are a few things that you should have, whether for pleasure, safety, or comfort. That’s why I made this list – to highlight some of the things that I love and use often in my van.

If you found this post helpful, please check out my other articles. I write a ton about my experiences with van life, as well as about other small living spaces such as RVs or tiny homes.