10 Essentials for Vanlife

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When you live in a van, you not only have to travel light, you have to live light. Over the eight months Ian and I have been traveling we’ve been able to perfect the things we have packed in our van, dumping many items and picking up others. (We even got rid of our cheese grater!)  A lot of the items cost us up front, but in the long run they have save us a lot of money while traveling.

How do you know what you need in your van? What kinds of gifts can you give to the vanlifers and travelers in your life? Here are 10 items that we love having in our van.

Magnetic Spice Tins

When we show people the van, the thing that people most consistently comment about is our set of magnetic spice tins. Not Ian’s beautiful woodwork or the hand-woven baskets…the spice tins! They look great, and they are really functional. We don’t have to dig through baskets of dishes or food to find just the right herb to add to our dinner. At first we were a little worried about these falling off on bumpy roads, but we’ve only ever had one or two fall off our metal backsplash.

These spice tins help us keep all of our spices really organized—I’d put these in a regular house too!

These spice tins help us keep all of our spices really organized—I’d put these in a regular house too!

The spice tins almost make our spices look like a decoration.

The spice tins almost make our spices look like a decoration.

Thermometer

Getting a thermometer was an idea from Ian’s dad the week before we moved into our van and it was such a good one! Our thermometer has an indoor unit and an outdoor sensor that we installed in our bumper. Now when we wake up on a cold morning, we can see how low the temperature is outside compared to inside our van (usually about 10 to 15 degrees difference because of our insulation and quilted curtains!) Because of our thermometer, we can better gauge how to prepare for weather hot or cold.

This little battery powered thermometer is really helpful to have in our van.

This little battery powered thermometer is really helpful to have in our van.

This thermometer is really nice because it can tell us what temperature it is in the van and outside the van.

This thermometer is really nice because it can tell us what temperature it is in the van and outside the van.

Sand-Free Outdoor Mat

I’ll admit, when we were first given this sand-free outdoor mat by Ian’s mom I was a bit skeptical about whether we would actually use this item or just tote it around. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. We use it almost every time we are camping for longer than a night. One of our biggest challenges is keeping our tiny 36-square-feet of floor clean and the C-Gear Sand-Free Mat is a huge help because the dirt gets off our feet before we even go inside. The mat allows sand to fall through its patented woven mesh.

The Sand-Free Mat has been really useful to us when we have had to do repairs on our van.

The Sand-Free Mat has been really useful to us when we have had to do repairs on our van.

When we are hanging out at a dusty campsite, we will put our Sand-Free Mat out in front of our door to keep sand out of the van.

When we are hanging out at a dusty campsite, we will put our Sand-Free Mat out in front of our door to keep sand out of the van.

Camp Chef 2-Burner Stove (+hose adapter)

When I began considering the idea of moving into a van with Ian, my main concern was having a decent kitchen. I’m pretty sure that if I weren’t living in the van with Ian he would be eating a diet of mostly candy and occasionally squatting over a camp stove at a rest stop to cook a Knorr’s Pasta Side. After tons of research, I chose a two-burner Camp Chef Mountain Series stove, and my parent’s gave it to us for Christmas. We use our stove at least twice a day and we couldn’t be happier with it. The Camp Chef Everest is similar to traditional camp stoves (ie. Coleman), but it gives you a lot more control over the temperature.

We love this camp stove. It allows us to cook just like we would in a house’s kitchen.

We love this camp stove. It allows us to cook just like we would in a house’s kitchen.

Here we are cooking some morels we foraged in Montana.

Here we are cooking some morels we foraged in Montana.

A great accessory to the Camp Chef stove is a hose adapter that allows you to connect the stove to a full-size propane tank. We have saved hundreds of dollars on propane by using a 20-pound propane tank instead of the small green canisters. It’s a lot more environmentally friendly too. It’s really hard to recycle the two-pound green cans (pro tip: a lot of national parks will recycle these), but you can refill or exchange the 20-pound tanks almost anywhere. (If you want to know more about the propane system in our van, check out our article about our van’s propane locker.)

Pour over Coffee Maker

Ian and I recently switched from using an Aeropress coffee maker to a pour-over coffee maker. The Aeropress makes good coffee, but it’s frustrating not to be able to make a full cup of coffee at once and the rubber seal wore out after being used day after day. The pour over coffee maker is really easy to use, there are no parts to wear out, and you can make any size cup you want. Plus clean up is a breeze. All you have to do is remove the filter, toss it, and rinse the maker.

We love making coffee in our van with our pour over coffee maker. It’s so easy to use that we probably continue to use it even when we are not living in the van anymore.

We love making coffee in our van with our pour over coffee maker. It’s so easy to use that we probably continue to use it even when we are not living in the van anymore.

Old-Fashioned Tea Kettle

When you’re using solar power system like ours, you likely can’t have a convenient electric kettle that with a high power draw.  While it may not seem like an essential, we use our enamel teakettle every morning to make coffee, and many evenings to make tea. This teakettle heats water really fast and it has a narrow spout so it works for our pour-over. Its compact shape allows us to use the other burner easily while the kettle is on the stove. Plus it’s totally cute!

We like the compact shape of this tea kettle, because we can use the other burner while the tea kettle is on the stove.

We like the compact shape of this tea kettle, because we can use the other burner while the tea kettle is on the stove.

National Parks Pass

Ian’s grandparents gave us a National Parks Pass last Christmas, and we have used the heck out of it. Besides visiting 16 national parks last year, the pass is also valid in national forests and on BLM fee areas. There are countless areas where we have been able to camp for free because we have the America the Beautiful Pass. The $80 up front will save you or your loved ones tons of money in the long run.

Blue Tooth Speaker

Living on the road, we listen to a ton of podcasts and audiobooks. When we are driving, we listen through the new Bluetooth head unit that Ian installed in our van. When we are parked, we listen through our Altec Lansing Mini Life Jacket Bluetooth Speaker. It has really good sound quality and long battery life—it’s charge using a USB charger that we can connect to our solar power system. It’s waterproof to boot. Currently listening to: The Complete Guide to Everything.

We use the Bluetooth speaker to listen to podcasts while cooking.

We use the Bluetooth speaker to listen to podcasts while cooking.

We like this compact little Bluetooth speaker. We use it all the time for listening to music or watching movies.

We like this compact little Bluetooth speaker. We use it all the time for listening to music or watching movies.

Collapsible Ladder

This is an item we don’t use all that often, but nevertheless it’s essential. Everything in our living space is solar powered, and our solar panels are mounted on our vans roof. We also drive on dusty forest service roads at least a couple times a week, so occasionally we have to get up top and clean off our solar panels. Rather than mounting an expensive external ladder to our van that would reduce our stealthiness, we opted for a collapsible ladder that we keep under our bed.

This collapsible ladder is very compact, and it’s a lot cheaper than an externally mounted ladder.

This collapsible ladder is very compact, and it’s a lot cheaper than an externally mounted ladder.

The ladder extends to 12.5 feet, so we can easily get on top of our van whenever we need to clean our solar panels.

The ladder extends to 12.5 feet, so we can easily get on top of our van whenever we need to clean our solar panels.

Scan Tool

Did you know that most Mercedes dealerships charge over $150 just to plug your Sprinter into their computer for a diagnostic? Ian purchased this Autel Full Systems Scanner after we bought our van, and we have saved over a thousand dollars by having this tool with us. After scanning your engine twice, the scanner pays for itself. To be honest this is really an item that only Ian uses, because you do have to have some mechanical know-how for this to be useful. But even after some basic Google searches, you can often figure out that your check-engine light is easily fixed with some rudimentary maintenance. Important note: make sure that the scanner you buy is compatible to your vehicle.

This scanner has saved us so much money through out our year of vanliving.

This scanner has saved us so much money through out our year of vanliving.

Ian cleans the EGR valve every few months. We learned we should be doing this from a code we read using the scanner.

Ian cleans the EGR valve every few months. We learned we should be doing this from a code we read using the scanner.