Have you ever dreamed of hitting the open road in a van and embarking on an epic cross-country road trip? As idyllic as the van life sounds, it requires thorough preparation and packing the right gear to make your travels safe, comfortable, and fun.
After extensive research and real-world experience, I’ve compiled this definitive list of the 15 must-have van life essentials. Whether you’re converting a cargo van into a camper or outfitting your SUV into a makeshift RV, these items are absolute necessities for living and traveling in a vehicle full-time.
Why Proper Planning is Crucial for the Van Life?
Before diving in, it’s important to understand that the nomadic van lifestyle isn’t just about following your wanderlust. Contrary to what those perfectly curated #vanlife photos on Instagram might suggest, this way of living comes with very real challenges.
You’ll be living in an extremely compact space with limited electricity and water. You won’t have the comforts and conveniences of a stationary home. The first rule of van life is proper planning and preparation. Outfitting your van properly from the get-go will make your on-the-road experiences infinitely more enjoyable.
Cooking Equipment to Whip up Meals on the Go
One upside of #vanlife is that you can cook delicious, healthy meals from anywhere. With the right cooking gear, you can whip up campfire meals under the stars or cook up a storm on rainy days in your van.
Portable Gas Camping Stove
This compact propane-fueled stove is perfect for car camping and van life. The adjustable flame gives you precise temperature control for simmering soups or frying eggs. Small, portable, and easy to use.
Durable Cast Iron Skillet
This kitchen staple doubles up as a griddle and pot. You can sauté veggies, sear steaks, bake bread, or simmer chili. It retains heat beautifully, lasts forever, and adds iron to your food.
Electric Powered Portable Fridge
This game-changing appliance lets you carry perishable foods like meats, cheeses, and veggies on your travels. Powered by your car battery when driving or 12V solar when stationary. A must-have for van lifers.
Portable Espresso Maker
For the solo traveler, this might seem like an extravagance. But ask any van life, and they’ll tell you this little machine is worth its weight in gold for making barista-style coffees on the go. The first sip each morning makes all the difference.
Security & Safety Products for Peace of Mind
Your van is your home on wheels. Investing in some key security and safety gear will go a long way in keeping you and your valuables protected.
Bolt this discreet box to your van’s floor to stow away cash, gadgets, and important documents securely. Hide it under a rug or bedding. Keep the key on your person.
Roadside Emergency Kit
This all-in-one kit contains jumper cables, a tire inflator, ponchos, a flashlight, first aid supplies, and more. It lets you handle common roadside issues quickly. Safety first!
Accidents can happen anytime. Overheated engines or stoves, loose wiring, and flammable materials make fire a real hazard. Keeping an extinguisher on hand could save your van (or life!).
First Aid Kit
A full med kit tailored for van lifers, packed with essentials like bandages, gauze, medicines, ointments, gloves, trauma shears, blanket, splint, cold pack, and emergency guide.
Handy Gadgets for Van Life
These compact, portable gadgets make living in a van much more convenient.
DC to AC Power Inverter
This nifty device lets you power AC appliances like laptops, cameras, and speakers using your van’s DC power source. Choose one with at least 300 watts capacity.
Portable Power Bank
Extra battery when you need it! Charge via your van’s outlet or solar panel. Then use it to juice up phones, tablets, lights, headphones, and such. Can be a lifesaver in a pinch.
Rechargeable LED Touch Lamp
This dimmable and adjustable LED lamp comes with a magnetic base and hook for hands-free lighting. Recharges via USB. Use it as a reading light, tent light, or portable flashlight.
Additional Accessories & Van Life Essentials
Some final necessities that make van living more comfortable and convenient.
Smartphone Car Mount
Mount your phone to your dashboard as a GPS for safe navigation. Get one that pivots and has a quick-release button for easy on and off.
Because keeping your living space clean is tough without a vacuum. This rechargeable, bagless vacuum is compact yet powerful for quick cleanups.
Portable Camp Shower
This 5-gallon portable water heater and shower lets you enjoy hot showers on the go. Hang it outside or get a shower tent. Don’t forget biodegradable soap!
Portable Composting Toilet
For a comfortable, eco-friendly toilet solution, this humanure toilet uses no water or chemicals. Just seal and empty the bin at RV dump stations.
Ultimately, with thoughtful preparation, creativity, and the right gear, you can turn your van into a comfortable and self-sufficient home on four wheels. This list of absolute must-haves covers all the bases – power, cooking, safety, hygiene, and convenience.
While a fully-equipped Sprinter camper van is great, you don’t need to spend a fortune. With some DIY conversions and second-hand scores, you can outfit your van to be just as road-ready on a modest budget.