12 Van Life Must Haves for a Smooth Road Trip

A converted campervan with its doors open revealing the interior, and a blue rectangle with the words

In today's world, van life is exciting and almost glamorous  and far easier than ever before. Thanks to mind-boggling new technology and products, and the advent of online #vanlife communities, it's never been easier or more enjoyable to hit the road

There are several tricks and items to make it even easier and more enjoyable, however...and who doesn't want that?!

We've rounded up some of our top van life must haves, ranging from apps and everyday essentials to just-in-case repair items and a few nice-to-haves. 

A look at the inside seating area and sink of a converted campervan

12 Van Life Must Haves

Whether you live in your rig full-time or you're a very occasional weekend warrior, having an arsenal of the most useful van must haves is, well, a must!

 

1. The Wander Club Travel Tokens & Wanderchain

Okay, okay...it may not be at the top of your van life must haves list in terms of a real need, but a fun way to document your adventures is pretty important, if you ask us.

Plus, a Wanderchain from The Wander Club also serves a very practical purpose: organizing your keys!

Choose from Travel Tokens for just about every imaginable type of destination. Countries, national parks, continents, landmarks, and even baseball and football stadiums.

A hand holding a Wanderchain in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

2. Power Source

When living in a van (or on the road in any capacity), you need a way to power your devices and appliances. This can be a combination of solar panels, a generator, and/or a standalone battery bank like a Jackery.

Solar panels are a popular choice because they're environmentally-friendly and can passively charge your batteries during the day. While some solar setups are pricey upfront, there are also several more affordable DIY kits.

A generator is excellent for use as an occasional and backup power source, and to power high-wattage items such as air conditioners. Even some small appliances draw quite a bit of power, like Instant Pots and hair dryers!

Finally, battery banks are often rechargeable, and several can store power generated by your van's solar panels or generator for use at night or on cloudy days.

3. Insulation System

Perhaps just as important as a power source when it comes to van life must haves is a high-quality insulation system. 

Regardless of whether it's hot or cold out, it's important to keep your van comfortable (not to mention safe!). 

Insulation may include portable items such as space heaters or personal fans, but it primarily refers to permanent and semi-permanent fixtures in the van. Think insulated walls, ceiling, and even floor, as well as insulated window coverings. 

4. Reliable Water Source and/or Storage

Having a consistent, reliable way to both access and store safe water is a top priority among van life essentials. 

Your setup will depend largely on the size of your van and how much time you spend on the road. Some people like having an on-board water pump and large water storage tanks, while others prefer to have a "dry" van and use a portable water filter.

5. Set of Tools

No matter how new or meticulously maintained your van is, it will inevitably need at least a minor repair here and there, not to mention routine upkeep.

And don't worry if you've never so much as aired up a tire or changed your oil — thanks to YouTube and video apps like TikTok, just about anyone can perform basic maintenance and repairs. However, it goes without saying that you should call in a professional for anything truly over your head, such as electrical or plumbing work.

There are plenty of ready-made RV tool kits out there, but you can easily create your own using some essentials. At the very least, you should have:

  • Screwdriver with multiple bits
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Pliers
  • Socket and ratchet set
  • Bottle jack
  • Wire cutters
  • Hammer
  • Level
  • Tape measure
  • Various adhesive, including duct tape, thread seal tape, and super glue

A blue camp percolator on a brown stove, two van life must haves

6. Stove or Portable Grill

Even if you're able to get by without actually cooking food (eating only cold and/or prepared foods), a stove is one of the most important van life must haves for a backup heat source. 

This comes down to preference; you can get a folding portable BBQ grill, a single- or two-burner classic camp stove, a propane fire pit, or even a backpacking-style personal camp stove.

7. Proper Food Storage

Speaking of food...regardless of what type of vanlifer you are, food safety and proper food storage is critical. 

Not only do you need to be sure your food doesn't spoil, but it's also important to protect it from hungry wildlife. 

If you have an onboard refrigerator or cabinets, at least part of this problem is already solved. In smaller spaces, you can use coolers and bear canisters and come up with clever storage spaces in your van. 

Another option is to set up a bear pole (or use an existing one) a slight distance away from your van. 

Regardless of what food storage method you use, make sure to put all food away at night and any time you're away from camp. 

8. Navigation System and Map

Everyone loves their favorite maps app, whether it's Google Maps, Apple Maps, or Waze. However, be extremely cautious of relying entirely on one. Even if you download a map or directions for offline use, you never know where you may lose service or your phone might die unexpectedly. 

It's a smart idea to have an atlas or a paper map as a backup (we're huge fans of this atlas). 

Bonus: marked-up maps make excellent travel keepsakes or even gifts!

9. A Way to Stay Connected

Keeping with the theme of connectivity, this one is for people who spend a great deal of time in their rig or who frequently travel out of cell signal range. Another van life must have is a reliable form of communication and, no, we don't mean a cell phone!

Communication devices that don't require signal are ideal, like the satellite-based inReach mini GPS two-way radio or satellite internet like Starlink. 

Again, you simply never know when you may not be able to use your phone, and that usually happens at the most inopportune time. Having a reliable communication device as a backup can very literally be life-saving. 

10. First Aid Kit

Just like the tool set mentioned earlier, the hope is that you never need a First-Aid kit, but it's important to have one just in case. Kind of like an insurance policy!

There are tons of inexpensive First-Aid kits out there, and many are geared specifically toward camping or road trips, so simply pick one you like or that's the right size for your available space. 

Important: don't forget to check the items in the kit every so often to be sure they aren't expired!

The bed area in a campervan

11. Sleeping Setup

This is one of the easiest van life must haves to overlook, but it's super important! You have to have somewhere safe (and hopefully, comfortable!) to sleep, right?!

Like so many other aspects of van life, there is no single "right" solution here. It can be a bed custom-built to fit perfectly in your space, an air mattress on a board, a camping cot on the floor, or even a hammock hung from nearby trees. 

12. Storage/organization System

This may not be something you initially consider a "must have," but trust us  if you don't put some thought into it ahead of time, you'll quickly grow frustrated on the road!

Living in a small, moving space can make it extraordinarily difficult to keep your things organized. That's sort of just a fact of the situation, but having a good organization system in place can help.  

There are countless blogs and Pinterest ideas dedicated specifically to this topic, but we'll highlight a few of our favorite campervan and RV storage ideas. 

  • Use Command hooks for everything possible. Think of how much wall space you have being completely unused!
  • Your oven makes great extra storage (when it's not in use, of course!)
  • Small tension rods across shelf fronts make sure nothing falls!

So there you have it, 12 van life must haves. Which of these are your favorite?

2 comments

I’ve collected quite a few tokens, my newest one being Italy. I love them so much I just bought a necklace and tokens for my sister. Such a wonderful memento of our travels.

Aileen Mattas January 30, 2023

We don’t travel around by van but we do have property in upper michigan(we live in lower mi) and we have been doing these suggestions/ideas for many years. As for maps my husband swears by them that’s all he uses and with the states no longer printing out there state maps when ever-expanding are in another state and see one(free of course) we pick one up.
We don’t travel that often ,but my daughter got us started on the token charms for Christmas. I can’t wait to go somewhere to see if we’ll be able to add to our token holder. Love the idea
Thanks kathy

Kathy January 29, 2023

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