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When you are first starting on your vanlife journey; maybe you are buying your van, building your van, or waiting for it to be built. No matter how you are beginning your journey, the result is the same, you need to start packing for vanlife. When you are prunning down your items and trying to figure out exactly which items you will need for your journey this vanlife packing list should help you as a basic guide. I have also created a downloadable PDF so that you can have a physical list you can check off to ensure you don’t forget a thing!
This post was updated on 7/19/20 and originally posted on 11/14/19
Vanlife Kitchen Packing List
When it comes to packing up your kitchen, you need to reasonable. Think about what you like to cook and how you can cook it with the least amount of items. Often in a house, you will cook several items at a time. It’s not always this easy in a van and you might end up making more simple meals that only require one pot where everything can be cooked together. For Shawn and I, we typically only use one skillet and one pot if we are making rice or pasta. For your accessories, you truly need to pair down. You don’t necessarily need a potato peeler, cheese grater, or even the citrus squeezer I listed below.
Pick out your favorite accessories that you know you use often and then store the rest. If necessary pare them down and then as time passes make several sweeps through your kitchen drawer and get rid of the items you don’t utilize. When it comes to your dinnerware this is going to come down to personal choice but my advice is to simply have 2 of everything. I would be lying if I told you that is what Shawn and I do but it’s still my advice. Shawn and I have 4 plates, 2 small bowls, and 2 big bowls. Chances are when you are serving people they will be vanners or travelers and will have their own items. However, we enjoy having the extra plates and it is worth taking up a little bit of extra room. It’s up to you to decide what you are and aren’t willing to sacrifice.
- 4 plates
- 4 Bowls
- 2 mugs
- 2 Yeti’s – These fit in the Sprinter cup holders!
- French press or AeroPress
- Coffee Grinder
- Lemon squeezer
- Magnetic strip for silverware
- Kitchen Towels
- Cutting Board
- Wine/Beer Opener
- Can opener
- Vitamix – Ok maybe not a necessity but we love it!
Download Your Free Vanlife Packing List PDF!
Clothing Vanlife Packing List
Your vanlife packing list wouldn’t be complete without looking into what clothes you will pack. The best advice I can give when deciding which clothes should stay and which ones should go is to think practically and quality. If you’ve ever been on a two-week vacation abroad then this process should look similar. Pack items that have multi-purposes and can be stored easily without wrinkling. Have a few nice shirts/outfits that can be worn on a regular workday and will look good if you happen to go out on the town. Layering is always important and doesn’t overdo it. You will quickly find your favorite clothing items and the rest will end up collecting dust. If you buy new items then try to buy one quality item so you don’t have to have multiples and it will last a long time helping you out with your vanlife budget.
- 1 pair of jeans/pants
- 1 down/winter jacket
- 1 Flannel/ Jean shirt
- 2 plain t-shirts
- 1 all-purpose dress / nice outfit
- 2 long-sleeved shirts
- 2 pair running/hiking shorts
- 2 tank tops
- 2 bras
- 10 undies or 4 pair boxers
- 1 pair running shoes
- 1 pair hiking/winter boots
Vanlife Bedroom Packing List
Having a comfy bedroom area is important for getting a good night’s rest which keeps your vanlife road trip a happy one. I personally enjoy having a comfortable pillow, soft blankets, and nice sheets. Plus cute bedding is important for all those vanlife photos you’ll want to take!
Vanlife Laundry Packlist List Items
Your Laundry room is getting a huge downgrade on this vanlife packing list. Our laundry room is now right behind the driver’s seat and is composed of our dirty laundry bag and laundry detergent. Don’t overcomplicate things when it comes to doing your laundry on the road.
Vanlife Cleaning items Packing List
The great thing about having such a small space is clean up is an absolute breeze! Even if we need to reorganize a few things, cleaning up the van takes a maximum of an hour and frankly, that’s only if we are deep cleaning it. You don’t need a ton of cleaners or vacuums to get the job done. We use an eco-friendly cleaning spray, a washcloth, and Lysol wipes when we feel it’s necessary to kill some germs.
Some van-lifers have a small handheld vacuum and love it. We bought a vacuum and found it didn’t work well enough to take up space and returned it the next day. Using a broom and hand washing the floor is so much simpler!
Vanlife Bathroom Packing List
Personal hygiene items probably take up more room inside our van than we would like. We love oils, face cleansers, and even have toothpaste for our dogs. This is probably one area I don’t recommend skimping on. Keeping clean in a van is tough enough and when you don’t have the proper tools you are making it that much more difficult. A top tip is to create an area just for your bathroom supplies with storage containers or built-in dividers.
To learn more about keeping clean on the road check out my post on Vanlife Hygiene.
Vanlife Electronics Packing List
Inside your van you may be surprised how few electronics you truly own. The truth is, since your van has limited space you only need one of each item and since it is so small it is much harder to lose things (minus cell phone chargers which disappear just like socks!). I have listed the basic items you will want to have while traveling in your van.
Vanlife Safety and Maintenance Packing List
If you are going to have a kitchen in your home then you need to have a few safety items. First off a small fire extinguisher and a carbon monoxide detector. It is a small price to pay to avoid a major catastrophe.
- First Aid Kit
- Carbon Monoxide Detector
- Car Jack (Most vehicles come with one but double-check!)
- Fire Extinguisher
- Battery Cables
- Reflective Vest
- Snow Chains (If you plan on being in the mountains during the winter)
- AAA Card
Vanlife Pet supplies Packing List
Don’t forget about your pet in this vanlife packing list! If you have a dog or cat then make sure and carry the basics with you so they are taken care of as well. The great thing is that there are storable items that you can purchase for your animal. For more essentials head over to Vanlife with a dog.
Download Your Free Vanlife Packing List PDF!
After looking at this list, you may wonder what our top must-haves in the van must be. We’ve learned a lot in these two years from the items we will NEVER use and the few things that we do not want to live without. Although when living on the road you can honestly always make due and there’s always a store around the corner here is a list of the top vanlife essentials we do not believe you should start vanlife without!
Top 14 Vanlife Essentials
1. Propane Cooktop
Chances are if you are choosing to live vanlife full-time then you probably don’t want to eat out every single day. Which means you will need to have a way to cook your food. Ideally, you would have a built-in cooktop so you do not have to pull it out and connect it to propane every single time you are ready to cook. That, however, is not always the case which is why we highly recommend the Coleman Gas Portable Cooktop. It’s easy to use and folds right up for storage. To learn more about the available cooktop options check out Top Stove Options for Vanlife.
2. VanMade Gear Window Covers
When you stay in your van whether part-time or full-time you will still want it to feel safe from prying eyes. This is why window covers are one of the first things I would invest in and are a TOP of the Vanlife Essentials list. Not only do they keep your windows covered and allow for privacy but they keep your van cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. VanMade Gear is my favorite option as they are affordable, and are pre-cut so they easily fold up and have magnets that allow them to stay on the window even when rolled up!
3. MaxxAir Fan
A world without a fan inside my campervan is not one I want to live in. When you live inside your van chances are you will be in different kinds of climates all year long. Sunshine, rain, snow, really there’s no escaping the cold or hot wherever you are. This is why you will need to install a fan into the roof of your van. The MaxxAir fan is by far the best option for the job. The main benefit of the MaxxAir fan is that it has a cover that allows you to open it in the rain without risking getting water inside. I have met many vanlifers and the Maxxair is by far a favorite and doesn’t get many complaints. Trust me, spend the extra money and get a MaxxAir fan.
Looking to upgrade your fan? Before you do that read this guide on how to fix a leaking fan.
4. 12V Refrigerator
Now that you have a way to cook delicious food in your van you will need a way to store and keep your food fresh. There are many options for food storage including a cooler, mini-fridge aka “dorm fridge” and a 12-volt refrigerator. We started with a mini-fridge and soon realized it was using an excessive amount of battery power, therefore on cloudy days or short days we had to limit our energy use to keep our food safe. After a year and a half on the road, we had an issue with our mini-fridge and opted to get a 12-volt replacement. We went with a chest style 54-quart Costway refrigerator because it fits between our front seats and holds enough food for a week plus.
5. Water Filter
As a vanlifer on a budget, we don’t love purchasing water every 5 days. So when possible we fill up at parks, friends’ houses or wherever we can get free water (legally). Since we are often getting water at a park that usually means the quality isn’t the best which is why we LOVE our water filter. No matter where we get our water we know that it is going to taste fresh and delicious. This does mean you will need an electronic water pump but again this was something we were not willing to budget on. Another option if you do not want to use an electric pump is the Berky– a charcoal filter-based water container. The Berky is quite large and does take up a bit of space on the countertops.
6. Mr. Buddy Heater
Truthfully it took 1.5 cold winters to finally convince Shawn to let us get a Mr. Buddy Heater. If I’m being 100% honest I went and bought one the moment I had to travel alone for a month. The Mr. Buddy heater is a small portable heater priced under a $100 (depending on the model) which allows you to warm up your van with propane without having to install a complete system inside your van which can run up to $1000.
Even on the west coast vanlife can get chilly and having a heater to bust out the chill in the mornings is well worth the space it takes up and the money spent.
7. Camping Chairs
Vanlife usually goes hand in hand with being outdoors. If not all the time then at least some of the time you will be at the beach, in the forest or at a park inside the city. This is why camping chairs are super important to invest in. They allow you the freedom to set up anywhere you may land without having to sit on the ground. We personally love our Eno Hammock Chairs and think they are perfect for the beach, the park or even the campfire.
8. Portable Bluetooth Speaker
What is a road-trip without a good playlist? The problem is with most vans they are older or utility vans which means the sound system they come with is very basic and probably will not connect to your Bluetooth phone. Upgrading to a better sound system doesn’t always mean replacing the factory speakers and stereo which gets pricey. This is why a portable Bluetooth speaker is a must-have vanlife essential. It’s also a great option for using outdoors wherever vanlife may take you.
We personally have the Anker Bluetooth speaker which only runs about $30 BUT ideally, we will be able to upgrade it in the future. Although it is a great speaker it can be more difficult to hear when we are driving on a rough highway in our sprinter van. When we upgrade we will likely get the JBL Flip which runs around $100.
9. Yeti Cups
If you have a Sprinter Van or are getting one then you likely already have this complaint; NOTHING fits in the front dash cup holders. It’s a small but annoying feature of the sprinter vans. If you are like us you have a reusable cup that you use all day every day. It wasn’t until Katie from So We Bought a VAn introduced us to the Yeti Cups that we found a cup that could keep our water cold all day AND fit in those particular cup holders!
We have been using our yeti 16oz tumblers for a few months now and still have zero complaints. We use the regular coffee lid with a copper straw and it keeps everything nice and chilled!
10. Aeropress or French Press
If you are a coffee lover then we already know you’ve been thinking through how you are planning to make your morning cup of joe. A traditional coffee maker isn’t really in the cards unless you are in an RV and have shore power or if you have a really nice solar set up. The amount of power that it would pull and the space a coffee maker takes is not vanlife friendly. So a top item on your vanlife essentials list should be an Aeropress or French Press. We have both items and typically we use our french press since there are two of us and we tend to have two cups of coffee in the morning.
Pro-tip: Get one that has more of a tight seal so you can store your coffee in the french press longer without it getting bitter.
One of the reasons we wanted to sell all of our belongings and live in a van was so that we could spend more quality time with each other. We were tired of spending our evenings staring at the television and missing out on life. So for those nights when you don’t want to or simply can’t watch TV because you have zero cell signal having games handy will keep you close with your partner or give you something to do with new friends that you meet along the way.
12. Microfiber Towel
If you plan on showering then you are going to need a towel. A regular cotton towel will not only take up a ton of room but will take forever to dry and likely mildew. This is why a microfiber towel is a must-have for vanlife. They roll up to the size of a small T-shirt and dry within thirty minutes to an hour. A pro tip is to get the extra-large towel. The puritan in me likes to be able to cover my entire butt while walking around the locker room.
13. Solar or Fairy Lights
When we built our van, we thought we were thinking through all of our lighting. That there would be plenty of light no matter where we were in the van. Unfortunately, that isn’t always true and often we find ourselves not wanting to use the solar power for the lights or we just don’t want the bright lights on. This is where solar lights come in. One of our favorite options for lighting is fairy lights that are battery-powered. We purchased rechargeable batteries and keep the fairy lights on at night when we are relaxing. One of our favorite gifts we’ve received was a solar light cube. We toss it on the dash during the day so it can charge from the sun and use it at night when we need something between the bright lights in our ceiling and battery-powered fairy lights.
So I almost didn’t put our Vitamix on our list as a vanlife essential. Because it isn’t essential but it is pretty damn handy. It’s great for making smoothies, hummus, soup, or any other cream-based item you may desire and the wattage works for a 2000 watt inverter (check your solar and the specific Vitamix you want before purchase.)
That is a wrap for all the items that you should have on your packing list for the ultimate adventure! I hope this guide helps and that you have an amazing adventure!