Good gear can make or break an experience.
Van life contains the unexpected. You have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. And while we all want to believe we’re tough enough to rough it 365 days a year, the truth is that sometimes, life on the road can be chaotic and challenging. This is where assistance, resources, and good gear can help. There are a few things that you can carry with you to make full-time travel a bit easier, more comfortable, and simply more enjoyable. Maybe they serve a functional purpose to your vehicle or provide you with a bit of joy and entertainment. These are my van life essentials.
A WAY TO STAY CLEAN
Many long wheelbase vans have a shower inside. Some vans have a road shower mounted externally. Odds are that if you’re living in a van, you’re likely outside frequently, hiking, exploring, and just generally camping. You’ll likely be dirtier than if you lived in a normal house, which is totally okay! But we all need a good clean up occasionally. I often stick to gym showers, optimizing my Planet Fitness membership when I’m on the road. But I also am about to invest in a new shower that is portable, minimalistic, and runs on 12v so it’s van/electrical system/solar-friendly.
My recommendation: DEDC portable camping shower
A GOOD SECURITY SYSTEM
Safety is extremely important on the road. It’s important to know how to stay safe, trust your gut, and take precautions. Part of this will be just learning what feels okay and normal on the road, meaning it may take a few days or weeks to settle into sleeping in a new place every night, finding campsites, etc. It also means having a way to keep an eye on your car while it’s parked at the trailhead and you enjoy a beautiful hike. Installing some sort of dashcam or security camera will help ease your mind of many stressors that can come from living in your vehicle.
My recommendation: Vosker V200 security camera
A WAY TO STAY CONNECTED
I receive many questions about internet, working remotely, and being a digital nomad. Having a way to stay connected is important for many reasons. Keeping up relationships while traveling full-time requires phone calls and facetime. Work requires zoom calls or conference meetings. Plus, being an entrepreneur means answering emails. Part of the beauty of van life is disconnecting from society occasionally and having personal time and space. But the reality of the situation is that I still need to make an income somehow to sustain life on the road. This is not possible without internet or wifi. My favorite free version of this is using public library wifi (plus toilets, and air conditioning/heating depending on the season). If you want to be more mobile and less tied to cities, I’d suggest investing in some sort of device that allows you to have internet or service on the road.
My recommendation: weBoost Drive Reach
A WAY TO DOCUMENT YOUR ADVENTURES
Having quality equipment for documentation is not important to some people, but as a digital nomad who works in the van world, documenting my travels is literally part of my job. This requires some photography gear! One of the best investments I made was buying a decent camera body and a lens I felt comfortable shooting with. I started with a kit lens and eventually upgraded to something more substantial and universal. My gear kit also consists of a basic tripod, memory card, camera strap, and lens cleaners, all of which can be purchased fairly inexpensively.
My recommendation: Sony Alpha mirrorless camera
A COMFORTABLE LOUNGING CHAIR
It is hard to put into words how much I use my camping chair. It is the place I enjoy my coffee in the morning, the way I enjoy a campfire with friends, the place I work on my laptop most days, and more. I’ve had various camping chairs over the years but landed on the recommended chair below in 2020. This chair has changed the way I lounge when the van is parked! I’m so much more inclined to get outside and enjoy the fresh air instead of sitting in bed (which is where I worked for most of 2019). Finding a chair that I love was so important for the road since living in a van means foregoing a couch and other luxuries living in a larger space provides.
My recommendation: ENO Lounging Chair
A HIGH-QUALITY WINTER JACKET
Believe it or not, I never had a high-quality winter jacket until I was in my late 20’s. I always wore knock-off, used winter jackets because I didn’t want to spend the money on something expensive. However, since I’ve invested in a few nicer, warm jackets, it has been a season game-changer for the road. Personally, I would suggest adding two coats to your winter closet: 1 that is capable of getting wet and allows for activities like hiking (such as a North Face jacket), and something that is more durable for camping, getting dirty and working on the van, such as a Carhartt jacket. Having two staple seasonal items has really simplified my need for extra layers, removed the need for blankets when hanging outside, and increased comfortability for living without regulated heat.
My recommendation: Carhartt Active Jacket
A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE
Having limited water has definitely been an adjustment to living full-time in a van. Many people’s initial instinct is to purchase single-use plastic water bottles to ensure sufficient water for hydration. A more eco and budget-friendly alternative is to invest in an additional water container that you’re able to fill at most stores. Adding an additional water canister to my van has allowed me to use my freshwater in my built-in tank to focus on dishes and brushing my teeth, which absolutely makes it part of my van life essentials. It has also allowed me to stretch the amount of time necessary between water filling, which has really increased my ability to go off-grid for longer. Additionally, having a reusable water bottle ensures that I’m staying hydrated, no matter where I go. It’s also been a great place to show off my sticker collection!
My recommendation: Takeya 40 ounce water bottle
A GOOD WAY TO MAKE COFFEE
One of my favorite small joys of life is coffee. It is a routine that I look forward to starting my day with, and also something that stays consistent throughout the chaos and ongoing changes in travel. It is the first thing I do in the morning and provides a therapeutic routine to make sure I start my day on the right foot. Personally, as a (somewhat) coffee snob, I prefer to buy quality whole beans and hand grind them each morning. There is something very satisfying about feeling like I’m earning each cup of joe! My preferred way to make coffee is the pour-over method, which also requires some patience. Below is what I call the “triple threat of making my morning coffee”.
Enjoyed learning about my van life essentials? Check out related content, such as Preparing for Road Entertainment, 9 Must-Haves for your Summer Adventures, and Vanlife Lifestyle Gear: the Ultimate List.