We, at The Vansmith, have been traveling in, living in, and building out vans for many years. In all that time, one thing is certain: every van we build becomes a home. We’ve found that it’s faulty logic to think of your van as a camping vehicle, whereupon you cart a bunch of camping gear from your regular, everyday home to your van. Rather, just like any other home, the best van-homes are equipped with the essentials that make living effortless and comfortable. Most of all, the stuff in your van will likely stay in your van, making it even easier to escape when you need it (i.e. escape) most!
The following is a curated list of some of the products we can’t live without (in our vans). Although we’re not reps or agents for any of the companies that make and sell these products, these represent ones that we, collectively, have and use in many of our vans. In fact, the photos in this blog post are from some of our personal vans ;-). We’re providing these as affiliate links from our Amazon account, mostly so that we can understand what people really like and want. Plus, the tiny tiny fraction that we make from sales here allows us to spend more time curating and designing better stuff for vans. What’s more, if we’re lucky enough to be building your dream van, these are the things you should either bring with you, ship to us, or have shipped to us prior to picking up your van...we’ll have them ready and waiting for your journey to whatever’s next!
Most of the vans we build come with amazingly comfortable full-size beds. And, just like any other bed, these beds deserve some really comfy bedding...especially for those cold nights in the mountains (or dessert, etc.). Around here we like sustainable, super-soft bamboo sheets. Just like layering clothing, we also typically top our sheets with both a blanket and a comforter. Comforter covers are a must as well, as you’ll eventually jump into the bed with dirty feet -- it’s still vanlife after all -- and it’s MUCH easier to remove and wash the cover than it is the entire comforter. For blankets, a few of us have awesome camping blankets from our friends at Rumpl, which can also be brought outside for stargazing. When it comes to pillows, there are millions of options, all of which are super personal. However, a few of us have these, as they provide support and comfort in every kind of situation.
Cooking & kitchens
Whereas the bed in a van is pretty close to any bed at home, the kitchen is a bit of a different beast. Though you’ll probably have running water and a beautiful counter to chop things on, storage and cooking are a bit different than at home.
Let’s start with kitchen storage. As you already know, storage in a small space, like a van, is a premium. Add on to this the fact that you will be driving down bumpy roads a lot of the time, for which you’re going to want to A) utilize your space ulta-efficiently; and B) be able to lock things in place so they won’t slip and slide while you’re driving. Starting with the basics, we like to organize the drawers according to the kind of use, like a utensil drawer with a large insert to keep everything in place. We also love drawer dividers!
For plates and dishes, we often use these non-slip drawer liners as padding between glassware and dishes as well as on the bottom of drawers to keep everything safe (and quiet). We also put spices and other small items in small canning jars with plastic lids that can be packed tightly into drawers. For towels and other kitchen cleaning supplies, we use this removable rack, which can hang from the cabinet over the sink. This is super handy for keeping towels and soap and such out of the way and dry but still really accessible.
When it comes to cooking, depending on the van build, you may or may not have a built-in stove/range. We often opt NOT to do built-in stoves as they take up lots of space, are often not nearly as good or as inexpensive as decent camp stoves, and for the amount of actual cooking we do in vans, it makes more sense to have other, more flexible ways of cooking. Instead, for gas stoves, we recommend the Camp Chef Everest 2. Whatever propane stove you buy, you might also want to pick up a hose to connect a large propane tank, which is way more economical and sustainable than having to constantly purchase small camping propane tanks. If you’ve got solar and a nice battery in your van, you might also grab a portable, single burner induction cooktop, like one from Duxtop. We’ve found that on super cold, dark nights, it’s awesome to be able to cook inside without using any propane. Likewise, for boiling water -- whether it’s for coffee, tea, instant ramen, or anything else -- we often go with simple electric kettles, which get the job done quickly, cleanly, and without any hassle.
Since we’re on the topic of cooking, don’t forget pots, pans, knives, dishware, flatware, and various other utensils that you can’t live without! We would hate to be tucked into a remote site, miles from anything, without a bottle opener, corkscrew, and can opener. We like pots that nest, which are usually made for camping. Just make sure that if you’re using an induction cooktop, your pots and pans are compatible.
As noted in another blog post, while we certainly have built vans with interior bathrooms, we also think it’s a waste of space in most cases. However, we also realize that when duty calls and the other alternatives aren’t so appealing, it’s good to have a backup plan. In those cases, we love this portable fold-up toilet. It’s super sturdy and light, easy to story, and ultra clean. Don’t forget to bring the toilet paper as well.
The same goes for showers. While building a shower in a van can be done, we’ve found the very best option is to go with something portable that can be hung from the back door by a caribiner, like this portable shower bag, which we typically use with a raised wood or bamboo mat. For more privacy, you might even open the doors and add a tension rod and shower curtain.
There’s no way or reason to sugar coat it. Vans, inside and out, get dirty. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep it tidy, especially inside. Some of the things we keep on hand to keep her clean are a small broom and dustpan as well as simple, environmentally friendly soaps and cleaners that can be sprayed on just about any surface...including dishes. We also often drop a rugged doormat outside the van to clean off boots and shoes before getting back in. We also put rugs down inside, like this Chilewich rug, that can collect the dirt and dust off our shoes, socks, and slippers, before being taken outside for a nice shake. Finally, we like small trashcans that can be stowed away in just about any of the cabinets.
It can’t be said enough: vanlife is just life, without most of the stuff that gets in the way. Organized vans make amazing homes. To keep our stuff tight, we pack our clothes in these amazing Eagle Creek cubes, which fit PERFECTLY in the upper cabinets of our vans. What’s cool about these is that you can simply pack up all of your clothes when at home then simply stick them in the upper cabinets, unzip them, and you’re all set. For everything else, including miscellaneous gear, produce, cleaning supplies, etc., we like mesh storage bins, which fit in most of our cabinets and do a great job of keeping everything clean and organized.
While that may seem like a lot of stuff, as mentioned above, we see vans as homes, even if they’re second homes (which is amazing by the way). Having everything you need in your van, ready to bug out at a moment’s notice, is not only smart, but it’s also comforting. Plus, we guarantee you’ll end up using your van more when you do this.
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