First, Essential PrinciplesNo campervan essentials article would be complete without an actual list of must-have items for your trip. But before we get to that, I want to share with you my most essential Vanlife packing hacks.
Following these guidelines has helped me develop a more mindful approach to packing, and hopefully they will help you get the most out of your campervan adventure as well!
Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute
The enemy of a relaxing campervan vacation is procrastination. Although it feels good at the time, procrastination is not a great strategy heading into a trip.
In order to maximize fun and minimize last minute panic, I always plan my trip and pack my van ahead of time. It might be painful to give up some “me time”, but smooth sailing down the road makes the sacrifice totally worth it!
Find Your Ideal Balance
Don’t be the campervan owner that crams all of his or her worldly possessions inside for a 1-week road trip. I have found it’s important to find an ideal balance between minimalism and enough. So, how do I decide what’s “enough” for vanlife essentials?
- Comfort – I don’t skimp on the mattress, sleeping bag or other bedding, pillow, or anything else I need to ensure my quality of sleep.
- Safety – Although tempting, I don’t leave behind safety essentials such as a first aid kit, warm clothing, or heating.
- Space – Crowding my already limited space with clutter will not end well for anyone, so I try to bring miniature versions of products.
- Essentials – I make sure to bring enough of the important stuff to avoid spending valuable time shopping, compromising, or improvising.
Pack Your Pleasure
What makes your bad days a little better? One way I stay sane on my campervan journey is by bringing one or two indulgences to get me through the rainy or, God forbid, broken down days.
I suggest something you don’t need to be connected for, because there isn’t always cell service or wifi on the road. Some of my favorites are
- A deck of cards
- Puzzle workbooks
- Coloring books
- Sketch books, art supplies or other art materials
- Mad Libs are still classic fun for 2 or more travelers
I confess I don’t like to exercise. I still get out and get active, but more days than not it’s a mental battle. So, it comes as no surprise I try to use my campervan trips as an excuse to take a vacation from exercise.
However, I know staying active on the journey is one of the most important factors in having a fun trip: exercise keeps you alert on the road, mentally happy, and helps to regulate sleep.
Instead of stopping for extra coffee or, worse, a sugary snack, I pull over to do a few stretches, squats or a few jumping jacks to get the blood flowing before hitting the next stretch of road.
Therefore, it is important to save space to carry your bicycle, yoga mat, climbing gear, hiking shoes, or any other gear you need to stay active!
When I used to go on road trips in the car, I fell into the habit of buying something every time I stopped for gas or the bathroom. On one extended weekend trip, I bought every single meal on the road. Not only was I kicking myself for wasting money, I had also done a great disservice to my energy levels and digestive system.
Now that I know eating healthy is a key aspect of having a good time on the journey, I make sure to plan my meals ahead of time.
The Quality Equipment Advantage
Deciding whether to buy disposable versus long-lasting equipment for your campervan adventures can be difficult. I have found the best answer lies in how often I will use the items: When it comes to critical gear, it’s better to dole out the cash initially for higher quality equipment.
What are some items I splurge on?
- Compressor fridge – It is tempting to buy an ice cooler or thermoelectric cooler, but a good compressor fridge will last long enough to pay for itself.
- Coffee maker, hot water boiler – Whether you enjoy a cup of java or tea, splurging on your comfort beverage is completely necessary.
- Quality bedding – Although initially cost prohibitive, a high-end, comfortable, easy to clean sleeping bag and/or bedding are worth it. And few things will improve your rest like a quality pillow.
- Portable toilet – There are times you can’t get to a public restroom, so it’s important to bite the bullet and get yourself a well-designed portable toilet.
- Heat – Being continuously cold makes a campervan trip unbearable, so don’t skimp on a safe, cost effective heating method.
To Bring or To Buy
Since space in a campervan is limited, choosing which items to bring versus which items to buy can be tricky. Some items I buy on the road or at my destination include:
- Non-essentials such as alcohol or basic medicinals that are easy to acquire.
- Fresh meat and veggies that aren’t road snacks
- Food as storage allows
- Items for unexpected weather (umbrella) or a change of destination (swimwear)
One Last Word…
Some forethought, planning, and investment can be the difference between a smooth, epic adventure and a stressful, harried experience.
I hope my hard-won knowledge can help you develop a mindset that’s the most cost effective and leads to the most fun for your campervan journeys.
And now, onto the packing list!
The basic campervan essentials list for vanlife travel
Plates and Utensils: Plates, bowls, cups, mugs, knives, forks and spoons
Cooking Tools: Can opener, bottle opener, spatula, tongs, knives, cutting board…
Cookware: Pot, pan, dutch oven
Fire: Matches, lighter, firewood, charcoal and lighter fluid
Condiments: Salt, pepper, mayo, mustard, ketchup
Cooking Oil: Olive oil, butter, peanut oil, coconut oil…
Clean up: Dish soap (preferably biodegradable), sponge, scrubber, dish towel
Storage: Tupperware, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, wax paper, zip lock bags
Paper towels and paper or cloth napkins
Garbage bags: I like to save 3 or 4 plastic grocery bags from shopping and keep one or two larger garbage bags (Hefty…) on hand just in case.
Refrigeration: 12 volt Fridge/Freezer, Cooler, Ice, thermos
I like to hit a restaurant or even a club if I’m passing through a larger town, so I often pack a basic blue blazer and pair of decent shoes.
Otherwise its shorts, jeans, Chaco Sandals, tennis shoes, hiking boots… the regular outdoor stuff.
Merino Wool Jersey
I’m a big fan of Merino Wool clothing for it’s incredible versatility and value and Ibex is one of my favorite brands.
Sturdy walking shoes or boots
Pants, jeans and shorts
Shirts, t-shirts, sweatshirts, sweater, rain jacket, warm jacket
Hat, baseball cap, wool beanie, rain hat
Socks and underwear according to temps
Bathing suit – if water sports or a pool are available at your destination
Pajamas, sweats or other sleepwear
Shower shoes/flip flops
Rain gear: raincoat, waterproof pants, umbrella, etc.
Towels and washcloth
Toothbrush, paste, floss
Contact lenses and solution/glasses
Insect repellent, citronella candles
Flashlight, extra batteries, camping lantern, fuel, mantles
Camera, batteries, film, memory card
Folding camp chairs
Folding Camp Table
Canteen, water bottle
Quarters for campground showers and laundromat
Cell phone and charger
Maps / Road Atlas
Activity equipment: Frisbee, fishing gear, biking gear etc.
Radio – Solar powered or wind up are good to have on board.
DVDs – if you have a portable DVD player
Thanks for reading!
What are your essentials? What must-have indulgence do you make room for no matter what? Please comment below.