Moving from an apartment into a Van, Bus, RV, Airstream, or any other tiny dwelling can seem daunting. Tasks that you once thought nothing of, such as taking a shower, or charging your computer – now require a bit of planning.
But have no fear, you adventurous little bug, because as long as you’re organized from the get-go – you can make sure that you start your vanlife journey with everything you need to have the comforts of a conventional home, yet with the utter freedom of the road.
To save you from wasting time and money — like we did — here’s our cheat sheet of must-have vanlife products to turn your house on wheels into a home on wheels!
*DISCLAIMER* – I’m being cool and trying out Amazon Affiliate links because that’s what the big blogs do! You won’t pay a penny more if you buy via our links, but we get a few pennies from the manufacturers, and I’m not so secretly hoping this will fund our vegan ice cream purchases for the summer… Ben and Jerrys just launched non-dairy flavors people!!!
We only have USB charging points in the bus, so for all of our other charging needs, we bought the Goal Zero Yeti 400 battery back.
This bad boy is flipping heavy and takes five to seven hours plugged into an outlet to charge entirely, but it can hold enough juice to charge a mac up to five times which is vital for those off-grid days when we still need to get our work done.
These are handy no matter where you live, but especially so for vanlifers. When your phone’s about to run out of juice, and you’re using it as your GPS, simply whip out your battery back and the day is saved!
We carry extra batteries for the camera (Sony) because it’s tough always to find somewhere to charge up. We could probably live without, but having the spares means not having to worry about when we can next plugin constantly.
One of our favorite parts about vanlife is being able to live off-grid, and with the Boulder 50 solar panel, we can recharge our Yeti 400 Lithium battery pack in 16 to 32 hours.
That might seem slow, and I guess it is, but as we only work three days per week on our computers – this gives us four days to recharge every week and was far more affordable than the next level up, the Boulder 100.
Having these nifty travel towels makes it way easier to grab a quick shower wherever you are, whether it’s at the gym, a campground, or a friends house.
Other than being lightweight and big enough to wrap up all of my hair, I love the fact that they come in their own bag with a hanging loop.
There are times when finding a shower is tough, or sometimes when we don’t want to pay for a campsite purely to grab a shower – and if the weather’s good – we can just whip out our solar shower.
We haven’t tried this out yet, but now that the weather is picking up and we’re about to head into the countryside, I’m guessing that we’ll be trying it out soon!
Living on the road sometimes you just feel like you need to freshen up, and when you don’t want to get a full-on shower, face wipes or baby wipes are an incredible solution that every vanlifer swears by.
When you’ve got to get up and go, and there’s no time to wash your hair, dry shampoo can be a good solution for the day.
Bonus, it also gives your hair a ton of volume, I’m not going to lie, sometimes I use it just to volumize!
To quote Annie the red-haired orphan “When you gotta go, you gotta go” and when you’re parked up for the night and it’s freezing outside the GoGirl is the best solution ever. I would recommend to all ladies!
To go with your Go Girl for indoor peeing, the uriwell is an extendable bottle that stores all of the “liquid” until you’re able to empty it.
This was handy, but as it’s collapsible, I felt as though that made it very difficult to clean thoroughly, so I ended up throwing this away. Now, we just save water bottles to use for those emergencies!
Our VW T2 comes with a pipe for greywater that spills out directly under the bus, but as we want to be considerate neighbors – we find it best to place a washing up tub underneath the bus and then empty our collected greywater down a drain.
Because we sometimes empty our greywater on grassy areas when there’s no drain to be found, we wanted to make sure that we had an environmentally friendly soap that was entirely safe.
We use antibacterial wipes all the time, for cleaning the kitchen counters, washing the floor, and wiping down windows so that we don’t get mildew.
When you live in a space this small, you’ve got to keep it really clean, and these babies make it way quicker to clean up.
We forgot about buying a laundry bag initially, then immediately realized that we needed to get one. Your laundry bag will likely be out and about a lot of the time so make sure you buy one that looks good enough to have out and about – ours is a map print bag!
Everyone is always teasing me about how often I clean the floor in our VW, but by golly does your floor get dirty really quick in a bus, and that dirt is so easily transferred onto your bed, eugh.
I hate the look of plastic dustpan and brushes, but we managed to stumble upon this cool wooden one that’s also tiny, but it does the trick!
You can’t really get away from the fact that sometimes you will wake up to condensation, yes you can leave a window cracked to help with it, but if you’re in damp weather – it’ll happen anyway.
Tea towels or any other towel for that matter do not work for this, it has to be a microfiber, or you’ll just end up smooshing liquid around the window.
What’s life nowadays without internet? We need it to watch our favorite shows on Netflix, and most of all – to read incredibly handy blog posts (I’m talking about this one!).
With this nifty little box — that’s actually small enough to fit in your pocket — we’ve had coverage around 99% of the time we’ve been on the road!
Most days we use the MIFI connection to get our work done, and a lot of the time even if we have access to Wifi, we’ll switch back to our MIFI as it’s much faster.
We bought a sim card specifically for our MIFI while we were still in the UK, and went for the option with the most data available.
Our sim card provides us with 30GB of data for £30 per month, and when we go over — which we always do because Netflix — it’s an additional cost of £15 for each 10GB we use.
The package we went for covers the whole of the EU, and we get incredible coverage. In fact, we’ve only found two places in the middle of nowhere that we didn’t get any internet, but generally speaking, it’s very fast; even for streaming!
What’s life without music to dance to? Boring, that’s what! When David first mentioned buying a Bluetooth speaker I was skeptical, to say the least – because they’re not cheap.
Now that we have one, I absolutely love it, not only does it mean that we can listen to music while we’re driving, but when we’re lying in bed watching a movie, it sounds as though we’re at the movie theater!
I get cold VERY easily, and also have Raynaud’s syndrome which means that if my hands get really cold, it basically hurts like a mother fudger, so a heater was a must have.
The buddy heater is awesome, it heats up the van pretty quickly but one thing I don’t like is the fact that we’re always a little worried it’s going to set something on fire. It hasn’t, but it looks like it easily could if we aren’t careful.
This is something that we bought after our first idea of shoe covers didn’t go so well — we kept forgetting about them — so we bought a shoe tub to throw our shoes in and keep the dirt locked in one place. This is one of the best things you can do to save yourself time cleaning!
We didn’t buy a shoe specific tub, but instead, measured the empty space between our front seats and found this ridiculously patriotic box to fit.
Those little luxuries that turn a house into a home are not all worth sacrificing, and for me – one of the purchases that made vanlife feel cozy and homely was the purchase of a big fluffy blanket.
It takes up hardly any space, is ideal for bringing on picnics, and obviously works as a great photo prop!
Our first month of vanlife was cold, we were in the UK, and Northern France during the winter – no fun. But instead of spending a bunch of money on heating the bus, I would boil water and fill up the Scandinavian themed hot water bottle that my BF’s Dad gave me as the most practical birthday present of all time.
After filling, the hot water bottle provides around six hours of constant warmth, and It goes without saying that it’s far more cost-effective to boil one pan of water than run a propane heater for six hours!
Another purchase that helped make our house a home was the addition of fairy lights to the back of the bus interior, giving off a nice warm glow for chilled out evenings.
Now, we rarely switch on the interior bus lights because they give off plenty of light to cook, and even read!
Remember when you were a kid and the lights would go out? Your Mum would always know where the flashlight was and it made things a lot less scary. Well, it’s time to channel your Mum and do the grownup thing of buying a flashlight.
Not only will this come in handy for dark nights when you have to walk to find the nearest bathroom in a tiny town, but it will also be a lifesaver for when you need to do any repairs on your engine!
Um, hello, everyone needs their morning cup of coffee, so a coffee press was a no-brainer. David is mega into his fancy hipster coffees, and I hate the taste of instant coffee beyond anything in this world – so a jar of coffee granules was never an option for us.
We bought the Aeropress because it’s really small — making it really easy to find space for in the bus — and produces a great cup of joe!
We add almond milk and Agave nectar to make for a delicious energy boost every single morning!
Going from having a full-sized kitchen with an oven and multiple burners to a single burner can be tough, especially because you have to get used to making one pot vanlife meals.
But one of the best tips for making sure that your food is still tasty and exciting is to make sure that you’re well stocked in the spice department!
We bought stackable spice pots that actually turned out to be around five times bigger than I expected, but they work perfectly and I wouldn’t swap them for smaller.
Most dish racks are designed to sit on a draining board, but in a VW camper – we obviously don’t have a draining board!
So, we bought this collapsible dish rack and put a matching tray for the rack to sit, this then collects all of the water.
The strong grip bottom of the rack means that we can leave it on the counter and drive when we’ve just done the dishes with no problem!
We bought our bamboo bowls pretty recently and absolutely love them, they’re easy to clean, they’re lightweight, and don’t take up hardly any room.
When we first started out on our European VW road trip, we bought Tupperware tubs with the idea that we’d be able to pop the lids on and store leftovers in the fridge for no-spill storage while driving – but that didn’t work out – because with all their nooks and crannies, they’re hellish to clean.
When you have an open packet in your refrigerator or pantry in a stationary house, it’s no big deal. But in a rolling one, you’re pretty much asking for a big ol’ mess.
We had a sunflower seed disaster pretty early on; now we use ziplocks!
This is your most important purchase – you cannot embark without first having the knowledge and tools required to fix some basic problems.
We’re lucky in a way that our VW bus is so old because it means that she can pretty much be fixed with just a screwdriver and a spanner.
I don’t know about you guys, but living in such a small space – I find that I end up with way more cuts and bruises, it’s quite likely because we’re outside doing fun stuff more often so I can’t complain.
Having a first aid kit is a great way to keep the fun going, nobody wants to stop mountain biking because they’ve cut their hand – bandage that bad boy up and hit the trails again!
This hook-over storage is one of our guilty pleasures, we added this to the passenger side seat and by golly is it handy, but it’s also ugly as sin. Hey ho, sometimes being practical wins!
I chose not to mention obvious purchases like pillows and blankets because I wanted this blog post to be all about vanlife specific bits and bobs.
However, if you have any questions relating to other products and the considerations for vanlife versions, feel free to send me a message or comment below, and I’ll be happy to provide some input if I can!
Hugs and Cookies,