17 Useful Van Life Essentials You Actually Need + Free Printable Checklist
This post may contain some affiliate links. We’ll get a couple of quid if you use the link – at no cost to you of course. We’ll also always be honest and only suggest companies, hotels or products we actually think are worth it!
Taking a road trip is such a cool way of exploring a country. Whether you’re travelling in a campervan, RV, car or caravan, you’ll need to buy the basics before you start your adventures. Have a read of our van life essentials list to make sure that you are fully prepared!
We spent 3 months touring Australia, first towing a caravan in our Nissan X-Trail (Noel + Edmond), then in a camper we hired from Travellers Autobarn.
The best thing about driving yourself around is that you literally become a little snail. Tie up your home, pray nothing smashes and away you go to your next destination. It’s so much fun to be able to spend a day hiking, diving, swimming or just exploring, and the come back to your cosy little home on wheels.
However, when you first buy a van, you need to make sure that you’re fully equipped for life on the road. There’s no point in scraping by without your van life essentials because it will make you miserable and you’ll regret not planning ahead!
Everything on this list is something that we either used, or mentioned at least 3 times to each other how handy it would be to have.
You might be lucky and buy a van that has plenty of important van life gadgets, or you might be planning to start from scratch and convert your own vehicle.
Either way, make sure you tick off everything on this list before you begin your trip. Luckily for you, I’ve included a FREE printable checklist so that you can physically cross items off as and when you buy them.
I haven’t included the real basics in this article, but I have left some blank spaces on the checklist so you don’t have to worry about forgetting ANYTHING when you’re shopping.
Don’t be like us and buy one last minute at a garage – you’ll spend too much and it’ll probably break!
Everyone should have a USB cigarette lighter charger for those last minute battery charges you forgot to do the night before!
If you have a power bank, you have to remember to charge the thing that charges things, or it’s a pointless piece of tech.
Keep your USB devices going whilst you drive and make sure you buy a charger that is sturdy. You don’t want to drive for 2 hours thinking you’re charging you phone, only for the plug to have fallen out over a bumpy bit of road 20 minutes into your journey!
Most people (probably including you if you’re reading this!) use their phones on a daily basis.
Nowadays, batter life on smartphones hasn’t got a patch on the old Nokias, so you’ll probably need to charge your phone at least once a day.
My iPhone 6 is still going strong but does need a battery boost throughout the day as well as overnight now, so I found it really handy to have a power bank at the ready when we couldn’t use our van battery power.
Our electricity only ran when were actually driving so at night time, only the lights and fridge would be running once we switched off the engine.
A power bank also gives you the ability to use your phone all day when you’re out and about without worrying about running out of juice before you got back to your van.
You’ll likely be using your phone for taking photos, navigating where to go and even paying for things so it’s good to have enough battery life during the day.
Remember Limewire? Filling your computer up with viruses since 2000, let’s be glad it’s gone.
If you don’t ever recall using such an absurd service (we’re old, remember) then count yourself lucky and be grateful that you can use Spotify.
Obviously you can use the free service, but when your campervan is chugging along the highway (to hell, on the highway to hellllll) then your karaoke time will very quickly become a cappella, and you probably don't have the skills for that. No offence.
Upgrade to premium when they have an offer – it’s worth it. They regularly drop their prices so you can get a 3 month subscription for 99p. It means you can download songs to listen to offline which is the biggest bonus for a road trip.
Plus, there won’t be any ads interrupting your insane rap flow.
You can also use the free trial if you’re not sure it’s worth it, but the chances are that you’ll never look back!
Everyone needs bathroom bits + bobs - whether you decide to go the au natural route or need some pampering comforts. Click here to browse eco-friendly bathroom essentials.
Living in a campervan can be dirty work. You will probably be exploring hiking trails, making campfires and potentially fiddling around in the bonnet, so keep a couple of bottles of hand sanitiser in your vehicle to quickly get rid of germs without wasting precious water supplies.
It’s also a good idea to give your steering wheel, door handles and anything else that you regularly use a quick wipe-down too because bacteria grows FAST and the last thing you want to be doing on your holiday is sleeping the days away because you’re ill!
Also, public toilets along stretches of empty road possibly won’t have soap, so it’s best just to clean up with your own sanitiser.
This has got to be the number one thing people forget! Whether you have your own shower like I mentioned above, or you’re sticking to using public/campground facilities, you need to protect your tootsies.
Not only is walking around outside barefoot dangerous (especially in Australia because pretty much everything can kill you there), but it’s gross too.
We alternated with our own shower when we were free camping, and ones available at campsites we paid for, and my trusty crocs came with me at every wash!
You don’t have to go full on nerd like me – a cheap pair of shower sandals or even flip flops will do. They’re also handy to slip into when you wake up in the middle of the night and need to find a toilet in the dark!
These tend to divide travellers into two camps - those who think they're the greatest thing since sliced bread, and those who think they're a massive waste of time!
I personally think packing cubes can be really helpful, especially if you don't have a lot of space and want to be organised.
You can buy as many as you need, and most packs come with different sized cubes for different types of luggage. You can shove them into your storage quickly, and easily remove them to find the item you need.
No matter how travel-savvy you think you are, living in a van can bring all sorts of complications that you need to ready yourself for. Remember that you're living in your home, not a hotel, so if anything goes wrong you need to be able to fix it.
Sometimes the simple stuff gets missed, so make sure that you can do the important things like change a light bulb and fix loose handles/hinges.
Get to grips with your van and kit before you set off so that you can overcome any minor problems without worrying.
Any self respecting traveller will carry around a first aid kit - it's not cool to be stranded with only your insect bites and splinters for company.
You can choose a tiny compact case, but if you're travelling in a van then it's not really necessary to go miniature. Just make sure your kit has everything you'd need in an emergency and then you can always restock it if you use any items.
Everyone knows that plastic is the enemy, but so many people are still buying single-use water bottles!
When you’re on the road, it’s really important to not only stay stocked up on water but to drink enough throughout the day.
Most big trips happen in the summer so it’s easy to get dehydrated, especially if your vehicle gets stuffy on a long drive!
Be the change, and invest in a good, long-life reusable water bottle. There literally isn’t any excuse anymore. If you’re filling your tank, you can usually fill up your bottle at the same time.
Obviously not all usable water is drinkable (water you shower in or even wash your dishes in might not be suitable for drinking) but campsites and caravan parks will always have a clean supply of potable water.
It's likely that this will be your first big road trip, so being prepared for driving disasters is so important. Learn basic roadside skills so that a) you can keep safe and b) you won't have to pay someone else an extortionate amount to do it!
When was the last time you used a real, paper map? The answer is probably never, and honestly the chances that you ever will are quite slim in the world of Google Maps.
However, if you are in a position where your battery has died and you don't know where you're going, you'll be so thankful for a simple map to get you to your destination.
It's especially important to have one if you're travelling in a camper because you might not encounter many people or shops on your way, unlike if you were just backpacking in a city centre.
If there aren't any locals around to ask, you'll not only waste a lot of time trying to get from A to B, but you could also potentially out yourself in danger by having to drive at night or stay somewhere unplanned and unsafe.
From night-time toilet runs to running out of power, a head torch can be one of the most useful items to have when you're living in a van.
Light makes everything easier, so having a rechargeable head torch will be a life saver to make it through the evenings if you have electrical problems in your van. Just make sure you keep it charged up before you have to rely on it!
Unless you’re RV pros, you won’t have decent lighting for those evenings you want to relax in the open air.
Grab a couple of these solar powered lights so that you can enjoy an al fresco dinner, or just to guide you to the nearest loo! You could even plop them in a pool for a cheeky night time swim as they float and they’re waterproof!
They’re small, and they’re easy to use because they’re inflatable.
When you're living in a van, you'll probably actually want to spend most of your time outdoors!
Eating, drinking, playing games and even cooking (campfire s'mores, anyone?) are outside activities on a road trip, so you need some sturdy chairs! Pick light, easily foldable ones that you will be able to fit in a small space when you're not using them.
One of the things that shocked me the most on our Australian road trip was how much it cost to dry your washing in a launderette! Sometimes we would end up spending over £10 on one wash + dry cycle, and half the time the dryers were so terrible that our clothes would still come out damp.
If you're lucky enough to have warm weather, just hang up a retractable washing line and air your clothes.
It's better for the environment plus you don't run the risk of shrinking or stretching any of your stuff (double check temperatures and the insides of washing machines for random metal or anything that other travellers' have left behind too though!)
Living in a van full time can be hard. These items should make your day-to-day a little bit easier and more comfortable, especially if your trip is longer than a month. If you’re sick of the boring stuff you need to buy, you can check out our post on the unnecessary yet awesome items to buy to add a little pizazz to your adventures!