Heading into vanlife? Check out our tips and recommendations for getting started on the right foot!
Keep in mind these are only our suggestions to get you started. Everyone is different and will ultimately fine-tune their specific setups to suit their particular needs as they spend more time discovering their unique path.
Assuming you can adequately breathe inside your van, the next most crucial life resource will be water and food. Let's also assume you thought about the fact you'll need to eat and drink to stay alive and make this discussion more about storage for these items. You'll want to make sure you have a decent cooler or onboard fridge to extend the life of these items. If you are camping in bear country, this may also alleviate some other concerns about securing your food. Kitchen utensils, cutlery, and food delivery items (forks, knives, sporks, whatever your thing is) will help in ultimate survival. The more comfortable you can make your cooking experience the more likely you will enjoy the process. Try not to think of it as a camp set up or a full kitchen but a beautiful hybrid between the two. Ultimately just be aware that your meals, snacks, and beverages will all be better to you if you take the time to take care of them properly. Living on 4 wheels does not mean you have to sacrifice on quality, healthy meals, or enjoyable treats. In fact, it might be a reason to invest more money in your diet and preparation tools.
*Side note. Having a way to cook inside and outside of your van will be vital. If your van has a built-in stove, pick up a camp stove and a little table. Let's just say there are certain smells you can never get out of your van. While dinner may have tasted great, that same smell wafting over your pillow later that night might come back to haunt you.
Now that you are sleeping in your vehicle, you'll want to keep a few things in mind. Number one: you should plan to be prepared for all kinds of temperatures. Be ready for hot nights and cold nights. Make sure your bedding offers some versatility. If you are lucky enough to have climate control in your space, keep in mind that this may greatly affect your daily budget and dependence on external power supply. Number two, this is your bed. Try not to think of it as a temporary camp bed. Make it comfortable, because your ability to sleep well in your new home may ultimately make or break the entire experience.
Even if your van has interior lights, it is important to bring a few solar or battery-powered lights along. Flashlights are helpful, too. We live in a digital age and, for most of us, keeping our devices powered up allows us to stay connected from your new homes on wheels. Whether you have a battery system that charges as you drive or you've implemented the latest and greatest solar system, you need to gauge how much your ability to live this way is related to staying connected and charged up. Make sure you understand the ins and outs of your power system. You don't want to be caught with a dead battery and no way to get help.
Just because you have everything nicely organized the day you leave on your trip doesn't mean it is going to stay that way. We know space is limited, but keep in mind that you will inevitably generate garbage and dirt inside your new home. Having a few cleaning tools and products on hand will allow you to manage a mess and make your life much more comfortable. Plus, trash bags are always great for other things like make-shift ponchos for unprepared friends, a temporary laundry bag for swimsuits, or to cover a broken window in a rainstorm. Finding dedicated spaces for laundry and trash will help keep your small space organized.
The excitement of moving into your van can be overwhelming. So much so that you can minimize the importance of your life just outside the walls of the van. Think about your van as your small, personal headquarters and the immediate ground around your van as your home. Spring for a comfy camp chair and a few other camp friendly items that will enhance your time outside of the van. Perhaps a hammock, some outdoor solar lights, and even a hatchet to help you manage firewood (hatchets can also double as an entertainment source when you get bored: find a stump and practice your throw! Plaid flannel optional).
You already understand the basics of personal hygiene because you've kept yourself alive long enough to read this blog, but trust us, there's a big difference between your in-home bathroom with plumbing and wall-mounted toilet paper compared to searching for a restroom in the rain on a dark night. It can be a little tough to wrap your head around the change before it happens. A well rounded personal hygiene kit includes all of your toiletries, an easy place to store them, and a plan to apply them. Many people make it work by taking advantage of gym facilities or public restrooms. However, those won't always be available and you'll want to make sure you have a suitable backup plan for inside your van. Think about real-life scenarios, like a job interview or a social event, and figure out what will allow you to straight from van to meeting. Figuring out what steps work for you will allow you to feel good about getting ready in the van.
Another thing to consider here is managing dirt and wet clothing. Again, you'll need to think about these things and how they will affect your confined space. Plan accordingly.
Unfortunately, things can go wrong. You need to make a plan for a broken vehicle or worse an injury to a person. Pack a legit first aid kit and make it really easy to get to. Know what is in it and what is not.
This should also apply to water reserves. We always like to have a little extra water somewhere just in case we run out.
Depending on the kind of driving you plan to do, you may also need to think about the tools you'll carry and how much recovery gear is necessary for your travels. If you are traveling paved roads from the city to your next camp spot where you will always have cell signal, a basic set of tire changing tools and a few emergency lights is sufficient. If you plan to travel to remote destinations by yourself, make sure you are self-sufficient and have the proper tools for self-recovery on board. Things like a come-a-long, a shovel, and traction boards are a great start.
Many people overlook the security aspect of their most vital possessions when living or traveling in their adventure vehicles. You'll want to think about where you will keep your irreplaceable items like your birth certificate, personal documents, and treasured family photos and letters. Some people opt for a safety deposit box at a bank, and that's a fine solution, but it may come with a little bit of cost. Just make sure you leave your key somewhere safe.
Most modern vans have some onboard alarm system that can scare aware potential thieves, but truthfully most of us try to avoid car alarms at all costs. So don't count on your camp neighbors stepping in if someone breaks into your van. Hearing alarms in nature is annoying and most people assume they are a user mistake rather than an alert of any wrongdoing. In the event that your van is broken into, a second layer of security might be a really good idea. Small fireproof boxes are wonderful solutions to keeping your most precious documents and belongings safe in the event of a break-in or vehicle fire. You can stow them easily under the seat, and thieves typically will not want to grab something heavy, difficult to open, or hidden somewhere inconvenient.
Are you ready to head into #vanlife? Always remember, the vehicle is the vessel that lets you live the way you want to live or explore the places you want to go. Making sure it's set up to fit your needs will help you get out there and find your outside.