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!
15 Van Life Essentials To Survive Your Road Trip
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.
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.
This is something that people often forget, and that’s why you’re the hero of the hour when you whip yours out!
You can easily stick to a budget speaker if you don’t plan on using it for big parties, or invest in a high-quality device that’s waterproof, durable and super portable.A speaker is great for Netflix nights and campfires, and you’ll always use one even when you finish your trip so it’s not a waste of money.
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!
In this day and age, it’s practically impossible to do anything without the internet. Some people hate it, others love being connected 24/7.
I personally think that it’s quite important to be able to get online when you’re on the road.
There are so many risks associated with driving long distances whether you’re solo backpacking or you’re travelling with a partner.
In most places that you’ll be road tripping, the chances are that you’ll often be far from civilisation.
I think it’s good to have access to emergency hotlines, friends and family back home and Google if you need the answer to something important quickly!Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to be unplugged for a while, but having the backup of the internet is quite reassuring when you’re 100 miles from the next town!
It’s also good to be able to download films, stream music and find tasty recipes when you’ve parked up for the evening.
The van life is all about enjoying yourself and being free to do whatever you want, so if that is mindlessly scroll through Instagram for an hour before bed, then WiFi gives you that option!
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!
Most people use Netflix, but do most people actually PAY for Netflix? That’s a definite no!
So many people are streaming from someone else’s account (whether they know it or not!) but it’s a risky move because if you end up using too many devices at the same time, you’ll be blocked out.
If you’ve organised to share a subscription, then fine, but you don’t want to be that person who stops someone from watching Netflix on their own account!
Just sign up yourself and you won’t have any issues! That is, until someone innocently asks to use your password and you become the mug paying for everyone else’s TV (yes, this is us!)
Having an audiobook to listen to on your travels is a great way of unwinding after a hard day’s drive. You can sign up to Audible for free, and you even get 2 complimentary books to start you off with! You get to keepy the audiobooks you buy, buy if you don’t like one you can easily swap it too.
I wouldn’t recommend actually listening to an audiobook whilst driving though because it can take away from your concentration. Avoid a potential accident risk and keep your books for down-time!
This is something that you really really can’t skip when planning a cross-country road trip.
It’s all well and good changing your own tyres, but when your head gasket blows in the literal middle of nowhere, you’re going to want to be able to call somebody to help you!
This was just one of the many vehicle problems we had on our trip, but we were prepared and our roadside assistance company helped us massively. When we had to stay put in a tiny town for 10 days waiting for our car to be fixed, we were reimbursed for the caravan park that we stayed in! Look for the perks and compare companies before you buy.
There are a couple of options when it comes to washing on a road trip.
1. Au natural
Washing with eco-friendly products in rivers and pools that you stumble across is the cheapest way of staying clean.
I don’t personally recommend this because it means that either your route is dictated where you can wash, or you have to skip showering for a few days.
It’s important that you don’t use everyday soap if you’re washing in nature though because they can really ruin a tiny ecosystem if you flood it with bubbles.Find eco-friendly versions of your toiletry kit here.
2. A solar powered shower
These types are handy because you can literally fill the bag up with water and shower anywhere.
You don’t even necessarily have to wait for the water to warm up – you might just need a quick rinse and you can hang it up high to avoid having to just splash yourself clean.
However, if you’re travelling somewhere that doesn’t get much sun then it might not be worth investing.Buy yours on Amazon
3. An electrical shower
It might not be the power shower you have come to take for granted at home, but these electric showers can get pretty close!
They plug into your car and use the battery power to pump out water. Just stick the hose into a bucket of warm water and shower away. You could find a way to hang up the pipe if you’d find it easier.
Some of the showers also come with a box to tidy every away into – you might also be able to store toiletries in here which is what we did to save space!
The really cool ones even come with a pop up tent so that you have full privacy!Check prices here
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!Order a pair now
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.Stock up on a few bottles here
Towels are just a big pain in the ass when you are living the van life. They’re big and bulky, they take too long to dry and they can be expensive if you don’t want one that scratches like straw.
A microfibre towel is the perfect answer to anyone wanting to save space and time on their road trip.
Hanging Toiletry Bag
This might sound like an obvious one because you’ll need somewhere to out all of your toiletries. But the important thing here is to buy a bag that you can hang up.
It’s surprising how quickly a bag can get soaked in a shower cubicle, however careful you are. You really don’t want to get back to your van and just leave your damp bag festering inside.
Air dry it as much as you can, and then hang it up quickly so that you don’t have a pool of stagnant water collecting in your home!
There are some really nice toiletry bags designed for travellers so you don’t have to sacrifice style for practicality.
Day To Day Living
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.
Handheld Vacuum Cleaner
Am I exaggerating if I say our hand held vacuum was a game changer? NO!
Okay, I did get a little obsessed with sucking up every single piece of dirt with our might powerful machine, but it made such a difference to the hard to reach nooks and crannies of the van!
A dustpan and brush is cheaper, but they really don’t do the job properly. Buy a handheld vacuum cleaner and feel house proud of your little home on wheels!
First Aid Kit
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.
Van Tool Kit
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.
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.
Roadside toolkit (+ learn how to use them!)
A roadside kit really is an essential van life item because you won’t necessarily be able to rely on passing traffic if you get stuck.
I’d fully recommend buying a roadside assistance plan, but for something small like a changing a flat tyre or jump-starting a dead battery, you should be able to fix it yourself.
Make sure that you actually learn these skills before you go too!
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.
Windscreen Phone Holder
These are really handy for driving long, unknown distances, especially if you’re travelling solo because you don’t have to keep stopping every 5 minutes to check directions on your phone.
I recommend buying one before your trip, because if you buy one last minute from a supermarket or roadside garage then the prices shoot up.
Remember to take it off whenever you’re not using it and wipe the windscreen so you don’t leave any tell-tale signs for thieves!
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.
A cup holder is also pretty much a necessity!
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!
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 do’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!
For other backpacking essentials, take click here for an up to date list of useful items!
Are you planning an #vanlife road trip? What else do you think is essential to live comfortably whilst on the road? Let us know in the comments below!