Essential Items for Living in a Van
So you've got a van and need to know what to fill it with! All those little van life essentials, gadgets, space savers and outdoor equipment that you need for life on the road.
Here is the equipment we use on a daily basis. Every vanlifer is different and will want/need different things from luxury campervans to basic conversions like ours. But these are the van life essentials for cooking, eating, washing and relaxing!
Cooking and Eating in a Van
We use a small fold away gas stove for cooking. It's compact and effective for basic meals. We also have a small gas bottle with a fold out stand in case we need a second element. The gas canisters are easy to buy in most countries and really cheap but just in case we stocked up before we left as you can order in bulk from Amazon.
We bought an electric cool box but to be honest we don't use this function very often. If anything it makes a good space for storing food out of the sun and is great for things such as vegetables. When we are at a campground we can plug it in to keep the beers cold!
This came with the van when we bought it and is incredibly useful and great for saving space. Three different sized pots and a kettle all fit inside each other and have a detachable handle. These and a small pan are all we need for the meals we eat on the road.
Max likes to have a good knife for cooking and we use this foldaway one as it is compact and very effective. We use it for chopping, spreading and even the occasional handy work around the van.
Table and chairs
Our table was really cheap on Amazon and is perfect for us. It has 2 height settings either for sitting on the ground or on our fold-out chairs. The legs have adjustable feet for uneven ground and the table is just the right size to cook on or for two people to eat at. It has a handle on the side if we need to carry it anywhere and slides under our mattress while we're driving. We also have a couple of these fold-out chairs for all our sitting needs.
Check out our awesome table here
Especially if you're planning on free camping. It's always important to have enough water with you for washing, cooking and drinking. We carry two 20L plastic canisters but we've never needed the second one as there is an abundance of accessible water around the Balkans. You can also get fold away ones which might be useful as a spare.
Being covered in mosquito bites is not fun for anyone. We hate the smell of deet spray so here are some other options for combating mosquito invasions in the summer months.
Natural Mosquito Repellent - better than a chemical spray and stops bites but the mosquitoes are still around.
Citronella Candle - Great for sitting outside and cooking in the evening plus it smells really good.
Screens - you can get custom made ones or make your own to cover doors and windows at night. Fresh breeze plus protection, perfect!
Mosquito Racket - Lots of fun, especially if you have kids. An electric tennis racket that essentially fries the mosquitoes when you hit them. Not really effective when you're sleeping though.
Washing in a Van
This is essentially a black bag that heats up in the sun. It only takes a couple of hours to be a comfortable temperature for washing and then we tie/hang it in a tree and attach the shower head. If we're in the middle of nowhere, like wild camping in Albania, we can shower naked but even in more public places we can have a wash in our swim wear!
You can check out different sizes and prices here
Eco-friendly Shower products
We make sure that the products we use are eco-friendly as we are mostly using them outdoors. We have recently discovered Ethique products which are perfect for camping, work well and smell great. Check them out here.
We made sure to have plenty of this on hand in case it wasn't practical to wash our hands in water or just to use in general before cooking etc. Make sure you get a pump bottle and one that smells good! Try this one.
Living Comfortably in a Van
Good storage is essential in any van. Chances are your bed will take up the majority of space in your van so you need to think about where to fit everything else! Our van came with apple crates which we lined with fabric. They are perfect for storing clothes, pots and pans and we have a 'general stuff' box. They all fit perfectly under the bed and can easily slide out. We also purchased a whole range of containers from IKEA which fit our shelves perfectly. We laid some non-slip mats onto the shelves to keep everything in place while we're driving.
Behind the seat organisers
Another way of storing general stuff. These are made for kids to keep toys etc in for long journeys but they work perfectly for items we use daily such as shopping bags, tissues, chargers and snacks.
My wonderful colleagues bought us these solar-powered lamps in the shape of little suns. They are perfect for chilling and reading after dark. They even have a dimming feature! We also have some LED lights which are magnetically attached to the ceiling but the light from these is too harsh and we prefer the softer light of our little suns! They also raise money for a great social project you can read more about here.
Max and I both have terrible singing voices so we like to have another way of listening to music. We use our phones to play music through a bluetooth speaker. We also have a small solar-powered/wind-up radio for when we don't have access to electricity or feel like listening to some local tunes. This also charges our phones but not with any efficiency so it's more of an emergency option.
Necessary for all kinds of outdoor relaxing situations. We have a picnic blanket with a plastic backside which is great. Folds away nice and small as well!
Touches of Home
In my eyes, no home is complete without a bookshelf! So we made sure to dedicate a part of our shelving to holding books for the journey. When we move out of the van I will switch to my Kindle. Checkout my book recommendations.
We bought some basic wooden photo frames and attached magnetic strips to the back so they hang on the inside of the van doors (or our 'walls'). They make the inside look homely and it's always nice to have the memories of friends and family while we're on the road.
We have two 'pet' plants. Basil and Mint live in hanging pots and often on our dashboard when we aren't driving.
Long Term Van Living
We lived in our van for four months through summer and managed fine with just these basic items. If we weren't already planning to sell our van our had a bit more money to invest in vanlife we would have upgraded our van with some of these items.
We needed to drive or find a place to charge our things every day. If we were traveling longer we would definitely have invested in some solar panels for our roof to allow us to charge things, have decent lighting and potentially have some kind of working fridge.
Check out some solar panel options here.
So there you have it, all the essentials for vanlife. We travelled for four months in our van are pretty happy with everything we bought. As the weather cooled down we needed some extra layers and got a woolen blanket but if we were spending winter in the van we would make sure it was insulated and get a warm sleeping bag!