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Van Life Essentials: What is Really Needed to Feel Like Home?

As regular readers know, I've been on the road for two months living the van life while enjoying a road trip around the gorgeous western province of British Columbia in Canada. But van life isn't all gorgeous vistas, fulfilling hikes, fun places and amazing adventures. About a month ago, I shared some of the stories and the practical challenges. In any long-term travel, there are times when it's just you doing the regular daily activities of cooking, cleaning, laundry, or chilling. Spending all this time in my cozy converted Sprinter van named Wanda gives me plenty of opportunity to think about what I carry around with me and what I need to make sure my van feels like home and not like I have been transported to a primitive life without modern conveniences. I welcome you to meander along with me on my travels by following the blog. Solo female van life is only one of the ways I travel. I also travel solo or with my Approved Travel Buddy to fabulous international locations like Bali, Mexico, France and Peru. I joined group tours to Costa Rica and the Peruvian Amazon. I travel on a budget and tend to avoid cruises and resorts in favour of guest houses and hostels. If this sounds like your kind of travel, subscribe to get notified of new content (it's free!). Help the blog to grow and remain ad-free by reading regularly, commenting on posts that interest you, and sharing the link with your travelling friends on social media.

This isn't a post about survival skills and gear. I'm going to assume anyone setting off on a road trip has figured out those life essentials. This post is about the additional things that I carry that make my van life feel more safe, connected, homey, functional, and above all, comfortable. Stunning views are not rewarding enough for me to spend time struggling to perform daily tasks and being uncomfortable.

Most campsites have 30 amp outlets. Regular extension cords are 15 amp. You may need a converter.

It seems to be a universal truth that our junk expands to fit the space we have. Space, weight, and usefulness are important considerations for everything that goes into the van. I have a lot of indoor cupboards and drawers and there is additional storage space in the garage under the bed. Some of the things I carry would be considered frivolous to a tenter or backpacker, or useless for a road tripper planning on staying in guesthouses, cabins, or hotels. My list would be sparse compared to those travelling around in large motorhomes.

Navigation programs are great but to really explore you need map books and backroad guides.


I've made both impulsive and meticulously-researched purchasing decisions. I have gathered some clutter along the way that needs to be culled at the end of the season so I've been thinking hard about my essentials for van life -- What do I use every day? What makes my van life more like life and less like travel? What makes chores easier? What items make my life more comfortable inside and outside the van?

It is amazing what a difference a broom makes. This one folds down to the size of the brush.


For those heading out on a van life road trip adventure, here are the things that make my road life more comfortable for long-term travel from electronic devices to cooking gear; from comfort items to tools and cleaning supplies. Your list will look different but this list should give you some inspiration and get you thinking about what would be important to you on your own road trip adventure


Essential BC Van Life Electronics and Apps

My van life is not a rustic and adventurous off-grid journey into the vast wilderness. My backcountry tenting and carrying all my gear on my back years are behind me. If I'm honest, those adventures are no longer appealing. I find I can enjoy beautiful places even more when I've slept in a bed with a real mattress. I am not the "get away from it all" van lifer, I'm more of a "take it all with me" type. Modern conveniences and my various devices make my van life comfortable and easier. I like comfort. I wouldn't enjoy myself nearly as much without access to a good power supply and my essential devices which include my mobile phone, laptop, portable power generators, and my cameras and kit.

I use a fair amount of power for my devices. My 100 W solar panel isn't enough on dull days. My power banks are necessary.


I am not using my DSLR camera nearly as often as I did before I got my current phone but I still want access to a better camera and my humongous lens when photographing wildlife. I am willing to sacrifice the space and weight because no matter how good my phone camera is, it cannot zoom like my telescopic lens. This also applies to my drone camera (one day, when I can fly straight and steady, I'll actually share some of that footage).

Not only is my phone replacing most of my camera needs and is my primary navigation tool but it is also full of apps specific to van life that help me monitor power consumption, get wildfire alerts, and provide real-time information on traffic conditions as well as finding campgrounds, recreational sites, and the nearest cell tower. I also listen to downloaded podcasts and music while driving.

A pretty tablecloth for aesthetics, folding plastic tool trays for efficiency, and coffee to get me going in the morning.


Before heading out on your road trip in BC, download the Drive BC, BC Wildfires Service, iOverlander, and maps.me apps. DriveBC will keep you up to date on road conditions. The Wildfires app is essential for travelling safely in BC during the summer. iOverlander is a user-generated database of places and services valued by a nomadic community showing places to park overnight, the location of showers, fuel stations, and get fresh water. Maps is handy if you remember to download the maps while you are connected. It does not need to be connected to a cell network to function.


Cell Connection

As I've already made clear, I value the apps I use on my phone but most require an internet connection. As a solo female retired traveller, I also think it is essential to maintain a connection as for safety reasons in case of injury or mechanical breakdown. I want to communicate with my family and petsitter, access news and entertainment, as well as continue blogging while travelling. While I don't need a data plan on my phone when I am not travelling, being connected is essential when I'm on the road.

The Skyroam Solis hotspot. Up to 10 devices can connect at the same time. It's also a camera and a charging device. Buy plans on sale.


After doing a ton of research, it became clear that it was less expensive to use a hotspot device (or e-sim with hotspot capabilities) than it would be to add enough data to my existing plan. I have used several different versions of Skyroam Solis for more than 10 years and have been very happy with it. Their prices look expensive but they have excellent sales throughout the year and I load up for less than half-price. I've used it on all my travels for the past 10 years and have upgraded twice.

A cell booster can enhance a weak signal.


There are large areas of British Columbia without any cell service. A personal safety rule I make myself follow is that I won't stay alone in a remote area unless I have a cell signal. Most of the places I've been travelling have weak signals that can be strengthened by the use of a cell booster (which needs to be powered using a DC outlet). There needs to be some service to boost. It won't take a weak signal and turn it lightning fast but it can take an unworkable weak signal and boost it enough to be useable.


I miss out on some amazing wilderness opportunities due to my rule so I've been researching the Starlink RV system. The miser who lives inside my head says it's too expensive but I suspect this argument will continue throughout the winter. People who work remotely would likely require the reliability and coverage of a Starlink system.


Meal Preparation and Storage

Cooking camp meals gets old very quickly. I enjoy healthy meals. I'm not particularly fond of the standard camp meals either. The budget for long road trips doesn't include daily restaurant meals. I want to be able to cook whatever interests me and not be limited just because I'm temporarily living in my van.

Wanda has a single induction hub inside. I've used the induction hub twice. I prefer to cook outside with a butane camp stove to keep the odours and grease out of my living area. Last season I learned how to use Dutch oven techniques to make bannock and pizza on the butane stove. This year, I added the collapsible Coleman oven which I use several times a week. For about $60 CAD, I am very happy with it. An added bonus has been sharing meals and treats prepared in it. I'm a bit of an introvert. The oven has been a conversation starter and has provided opportunities for my neighbours to initiate conversations and allow me to interact with fellow travellers.

Efficient meal prep requires good tools. I have good kitchen knives and a thin plastic cutting mat, decent tableware and cutlery, as well as nice drinking glasses. I have a couple of small mixing bowls and spoons. Equally important are some basic seasonings and spices. I think a lot of the reason I have been scornful of camping food over the years because food just tastes blah without seasonings and eaten on a paper plate with lightweight cutlery.

I don't want to worry about drinking the water that comes out of my taps nor do I want to get dehydrated. I really don't want to deal with feeling ill while on the road. My filtered water bottle is a constant companion. To encourage myself to keep well-hydrated, especially when on the beach, hiking, or under the summer sun, I use a squeeze of flavouring. Those little bottles of flavour are a silly essential, but an essential nonetheless.

Any appliance or tool that is collapsible is perfect for van life. In previous posts, I've talked about buckets that flatten and my 3-metre ladder that compactly stores in less than a metre of flat space. In the van kitchen, I have a collapsible colander and a cute little electric kettle -- both items make life much easier and take up much less room than the regular version

The luxury items I carry and won't give up are a mini waffle maker and an ice cream maker. They are small and are only used when I have full power but a hot blueberry waffle with a scoop of freshly made ice cream is a fabulous campfire treat. We treat ourselves in frivolous ways at home, it's essential to treat yourself even when sitting in a campground.


Cleaning is Essential, too!

Camping and road travel are not clean and tidy endeavours. Dust, plant debris, and insects are everywhere and the wind and heat dry anything sticky into a solid mass in no time. Anything not put away becomes clutter. The biggest essentials for cleaning is to lower my minimum standards of acceptable mess and to ensure that I only use bio-degradable and vinegar solutions for cleaning.

I need to make sure that there is bug-destroying window cleaner solution in the reservoir before every drive. I also need a long-handled cleaning stick to get rid of the remains. If I can't see out the window, my road trip will soon come to a crashing end!


As I am short, collapsible step stools are needed for me to reach almost everything for access and storage. I would be lost without them but these stools would be handy even for tall folks. The slightly taller one is perfect as a footrest or side table when sitting in a camp chair whereas the smaller one is perfect to boost me up onto my bed, see into the upper storage cabinets, or clean the van windows.


Van Life Essentials for Comfort

The things that make me comfy at home are the same things that make me comfy in the van. Soft and attractive fabrics, bed linens, and pillows are essential. The ability to make a quick cup of tea, pull up an extra blanket, or put on a thick sweater and warm socks are nice to have on those inevitable rainy or dreary days.

These nifty window screens slip over the door frame so the window can be left open and keep the cab cooler.

On hot sunny days, shade solutions are needed. I put Reflectix (a shiny padded foil product) on the front cab window, and bug screens on all the other doors and windows. It has been my little portable canopy that has made a huge difference to my outdoor living. I like that it packs down into a small bag and that it sets up easily in several different configurations. It has been easier to set up and strike in comparison to stringing a tarp. On the other hand, it is attached to the van and that means taking it down when leaving the campsite on day trips.

I think the most important aspect of living comfortably in a van while on a longer road trip is to personalize your space. For me, that is the decorative touches. A tablecloth for the picnic table and some solar lights for the outdoor sitting area make a big difference. Inside, I've added (fake) plants, strung fairy lights, plus I painted and added decals. Even if you are renting a campervan there are little items you can bring along that can make the space more homey.

Bonus: My Favourite Extras

Any blog about essentials for van life that doesn't include a couple of gadgets will surely disappoint some readers. These items don't make the van feel more homey but they are items I use every day for multiple purposes and I can't imagine doing van life without them.


Magnets

I get super strong ones with hooks. I use them for all sorts of things. I hang my keys, wet towels, a cardigan, my hat, or a dish towel. I use them to attach the canopy to the roof of the van. The only problem is making sure I don't get them stuck to each other as they are impossible to separate.

Goop Glue

It is hard to get things to stick to the walls of a vehicle. Regular adhesives can't handle all that shimmy and shake while driving. Even superglues don't work well on automotive surfaces. Goop is different. It works. I have command hooks, signs, and camera mounts stuck in place that haven't moved since I put them there when I first bought Wanda. Just make sure that you are certain about whatever you are gluing into place.

Sticky Pads

Sticky pads are nifty little pads that are sticky on both sides and will hold almost anything in place. They can be easily and quickly removed without leaving any mark or residue. If they get dusty and lose their stickiness, a quick rinse in water will return them to brand-new condition. I have pads under a few things such as my spice rack, basil plant, and sink accessories that allow me to leave these items on the counters while I drive.

One of my best purchases came from aa dollar store. It is a simple fellted pouch with a fllap that I can slip between the bed frame and mattress. This pouch collects the remote controls for my various lights, pens, paperwork from my current campground, eyeglass cleaning cloths, tissues and a prayer bundle I was gifted at a First Nations campground in Enderby BC. It has become the van life version of a bedside table.

Final Thoughts

While the road presents its challenges, I've found solace in the small luxuries that make van life a unique and fulfilling experience. From collapsible appliances that maximize space to clever storage solutions and little indulgences like a waffle maker and ice cream maker, these extras remind me that even amidst the rugged terrain, life's pleasures can be savoured.


Your support, engagement, and curiosity mean the world to me. I invite you to follow the rest of my journey by subscribing to this blog. You'll receive notifications whenever new content is posted. You can also stay connected through my Facebook page, Facebook Group, Twitter, and Instagram, where I'll be sharing more snippets, photos, and stories from my ongoing road trip

As I continue my van life journey and move along to Vancouver Island, I invite you to reflect on your own travels and the items that make your experiences more comfortable and enjoyable. While each person's list of essentials may differ, the underlying theme is clear: the small details and personal touches are what transform a mere vehicle into a haven of comfort, connection, and contentment on the road. So, whether you're considering van life or simply seeking to enhance your own travels, may this exploration of essentials inspire you to craft your own unique adventure with the perfect blend of practicality and personal delight.

 

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17 Comments


Guest
Sep 21, 2023

For those who, like me, have never taken a long journey in a van, there are some things that may initially cause some confusion, but which the post explains quite well.

The issue of cooking for me would be essential, not only to save some money on the budget, but also to try to eat as healthily as possible. Packet food once in a while, I can.... but every day, it would be unthinkable! Angela | Home - (blondearoundtheworldtravel.com)

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
Sep 23, 2023
Replying to

Exactly… packaged food is okay in a pinch but it would get old very quickly. Learning the systems isn’t nearly as intimidating as it might first appear. The apps that come with the systems make it very easy to monitor and learn how to manage.

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Guest
Sep 18, 2023

I can imagine van life to be quite uncomfy after a while/ the same logistics may become tiresome and the novelty wears off fast. I appreciate your insights on how you make sure to not lose that spark and keep going exploring with Wanda. The oven is indeed pretty cool, I would come over to yours for pizza for sure. I like the decorations and personal touches in your bed area. It shows you value comfort and style and just because one is on the road doesn't mean you have to compromise on some luxuries and style.


Carolin | <a href="https://solotravelstory.com/">Solo Travel Story</a>

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
Sep 18, 2023
Replying to

Being comfortable and connected in my space is important. No matter how much I love our gorgeous natural spaces, I'm not a rugged outdoor adventurer. I'm hoping sharing my experiences/solutions will show others who want to be in these amazing landscapes but aren't campers that it is possible.

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Guest
Sep 17, 2023

Everything seems so organized, well done! Love the folding broom, which seems handy for an apartment too. DriveBC is a necessary app for driving around BC, we have so many detours and road closures. It's cool seeing how you do all the kitchen stuff and make your living space feel comfortable enough for long-term adventures.


- Melanie

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
Sep 18, 2023
Replying to

Isn't DriveBC fabulous? I'm really impressed with the timely alerts and updates. When I started looking, I was surprised at the huge range of folding and collapsing products are available... especially from vendors outside of North America who have much greater experience of living in smaller spaces.

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Guest
Sep 16, 2023

This is such an important post for those thinking of doing long term RV travel. For me, the meal prep is a huge barrier so I really liked learning how you use the induction oven and Coleman oven to cool healthy meals. I love the canopy as well. A great way to get some shade but still have a view! You've really made the RV more homey than what I've typically seen.

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
Sep 18, 2023
Replying to

I couldn't afford to travel as much or for as long as I do if I depended upon restaurants which is a good enough reason to have good cooking equipment but I also enjoy meal prep. I've enjoyed the challenge of finding ways to continue my home routine of bread baking and oven-based meals. and if I'm really honest, I think my food tastes better than most restaurant meals.

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Emma Gilbert
Emma Gilbert
Sep 15, 2023

I absolutely love that you don't sacrifice comfort and the little luxuries just because you're in a van. Life's too short to have bad food and an uncomfortable place to sleep. Plus making sure you have cell service when traveling alone is just common sense, but not something everyone would think of. It seems like you've got Wanda organized in the best way,

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
Sep 18, 2023
Replying to

Cell coverage is constantly widening so hopefully it won't be something that needs to be considered within the next few years.

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