As someone who lived in a campervan for 2+ years, believe me when I tell you there are some van life essentials you should not leave home without. Whether you’re headed on a short spin around the state or a full-blown cross-country road trip, these van life essentials will keep you comfortable, safe, and perfectly at home in your rig.
Keep reading to discover everything you need for van life, from one road trip aficionado to another.
Van Life Kitchen Essentials
Ready to eat a Cup of Noodles for a while? Just kidding. One of the best parts of van life is cooking up hearty meals in the comfort of your very own outdoor kitchen. Though to really whip up some good chow, there are a few van life essentials you should have before you start cooking.
There’s no more important van life kitchen essential than a camp stove unless, of course, you’re happy to eat cold meals for the duration of your trip. But a camp stove is good for more than only whipping up grub. A camp stove is crucial for boiling water for coffee, cooking outdoors on a nice day, and even for that cup of tea before bedtime. It doesn’t matter if you’re keeping it simple or cooking up gourmet meals, TB Outdoor Rentals has a camp stove add-on option, so you don’t have to buy your own for the trip.
Pots and Pans
And what are you going to cook in? Pots and pans, of course. Many campers can get away with only a cast iron skillet for most of the cooking, but it pays to have a pot to boil water in, too. Don’t forget the cooking utensils, either. I’ve found it particularly useful to have a wooden spoon, a pair of tongs, and a spatula.
Dish & Cutlery Set
Van life dishes don’t have to be anything fancy. All you really need is a plate, bowl, and simple cutlery set for each person on your trip. TB Outdoors can provide all you need for cooking and enjoying campervan meals so you can leave your fine China safe at home.
When it comes to camping, mugs are van life essentials you don’t want to forget. Aside from the obvious use of coffee or tea, a mug can double as a wine glass, water cup, or even a bowl for soup if you don’t have any. Plus, bringing your favorite mug along can help make van life feel a little more like home.
A Nespresso isn’t the most practical, so a coffee maker is a van life essential for any caffeine fiends. I don’t mean the plug-in, eight-cup guy, but rather a french press or an Italian Moka pot, both of which only require hot water and coffee grounds. This gives you an opportunity to step up your barista game on your van life trip.
Fridge or Cooler
If you don’t want to hit the grocery store every day, having a cold place to store food is a van life essential because hot days and fresh food don’t mix. There are tons of different fridge options for campervans, and TB Outdoor Rentals offers a fridge add-on so you can have a high-quality solution as soon as you pick up your van or RV.
If you’re planning some super yummy camp meals, do everyone a favor and remember to pack the seasoning. I personally love a blend of paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper that works with pretty much everything.
There’s something about van life that makes lighters disappear, so it’s always worth packing a few spares. Lighters come in handy for all sorts of things on the road, whether lighting your camp stove or starting a raging campfire.
I can’t tell you how many nights we spent digging around for a corkscrew or bottle opener when we wanted to have a few cheeky van beverages after the sun went down. Learn from my mistakes and pack a wine key and a bottle opener so you can enjoy your adult drinks hassle-free.
Van life essentials for anyone and everyone, water bottles come in handy around the clock. You’ll find plenty of places to refill them along most routes and in campgrounds, so do the planet a favor and bring yours along instead of opting to clutter the van with single-use plastic.
Nothing tastes quite as good as a hot drink somewhere beautiful. Bring a thermos for a cup of something warm on top of a mountain, on a windy beach, or anywhere else the road leads.
Handy Wipes / Paper Towels
Surfaces can get sticky quickly, especially when confined to a limited space. Handy wipes, paper towels, or anything else that can be used to clean countertops is van life essentials and will save your fingers from constantly swiping something gross.
Van Life Bedroom Essentials
Ready to cozy up and sleep under the stars? Make yourself a sweet little nest with bedroom essentials to set the mood and keep you snug all night long.
If you plan on getting any sleep, an inflatable mattress is a van life essential you can’t get around. While campervan mattresses come in all shapes, sizes, and materials, the old-fashioned inflatable is the most practical. It’s comfortable enough for a good night’s rest inside but can also be used outdoors when you feel like sleeping under the stars. Plus, when it’s not in use, it can deflate to save space and doesn’t get as dirty as a foam or cloth-covered mattress. Since they can be pricey new, grab an inflatable mattress as an add-on from TB Outdoor Rentals to complete your van life bed setup.
Even the hottest days can bring chilly nights, especially when camping in the backcountry or exploring desert roads. Save yourself from frigid toes and a night full of shivers with a heated blanket. These van life essentials are safer than portable heaters and might even be warmer, too. If you don’t feel like buying one of your own, TB Outdoors can provide a heated blanket as an add-on with your campervan rental.
If you’re one of those people who says, “I can just sleep on a bunch of my clothes,” think again. This might work when hiking or backpacking, but when it comes to van life, comfy pillows are a must. After a long day of exploring, there’s nothing like crawling into a toasty bed and resting your head on cloud-like fluff.
Even if your van or RV has electrics, it pays to have a reading light for those late-night chapters or board games in bed. Reading lights are ideal since they’re softer than overhead lights and can be moved to whatever position is most optimal based on your activity.
Campsites can get loud in the mornings (or late at night), so spare yourself the early wake-up call with a pair of trusty earplugs. I can’t tell you how often earplugs came in handy throughout van life, especially for someone who’s never needed to use them before. Take my advice on this one and pack them, just in case.
Van Life Gadget & Electronic Essentials
Van life is all about unplugging, but these gadgets and electronics make life on the road that much easier.
Rather than draining your van’s main battery, a second, or leisure battery is a van life essential for keeping electronics fully juiced up, especially if you don’t have an electric system. Second batteries are ideal for van rentals because it gives you all the power you need without the costly installation. If you’re keen for additional power on the road, TB Outdoor Rentals has a second battery as an add-on for our campervans and RV rentals to stay connected for your trip.
I cannot overstate how essential a headlamp is for van life. You may think you don’t need one but believe me, this is a gadget that will come in handy over and over. Midnight bathroom trips, sunrise hikes, missions to collect firewood, and beyond. Having a hands-free light in the backcountry is invaluable.
Imagine you’re parked up somewhere beautiful and want to set the mood with some tunes… Good thing you remembered to pack a portable speaker. It always comes in handy when you need it, making it a worthy van life essential for any trip.
Documenting your adventures is half of the fun, so make sure that you have the right equipment to capture all the craziness. GoPros are epic for action shots, and drones are amazing for getting aerial footage of your van in motion. Don’t feel like shelling out hundreds of bucks for new tech before your trip? Choose one or both types of cameras as an add-on from TB Outdoor Rentals and start making some magic from the moment you set off.
There’s no worse feeling than forgetting to charge your phone before a big day of driving. That’s why car chargers are van life essentials to keep your electronics juiced up right from the road. Just make sure that whatever campervan or RV you’re driving has an auxiliary power outlet to plug it into (normally in the place of a cigarette lighter). This gas station accessory will always come in handy.
For long hikes, days on the beach, or adventures through the city, it pays to have a power bank that you can use when you’re out and about. Power banks are also van life essentials if you don’t have an electric setup or a second battery. That said, for longer trips, it’s definitely worth investing in an additional power source since power banks generally work with smaller electronics and can only last for so long.
Dashboard Phone Mount
Don’t risk a ticket (or worse) for using your phone while driving. Instead, stick it on a dashboard phone mount for directions galore and an easy method for talking on speakerphone hands-free. This van life essential is small but mighty, especially when it comes to keeping your focus on the road.
Van life can get hot, so it’s worth having a cordless fan to stay comfortable, especially if you’re adventuring during the warmer summer months. Cordless is the operative word, so you can use the fan in bed, while cooking a meal, or playing cards outside under the hot sun.
For those warm nights when you want to sit outside around a camp table or on a dark beach, a camping lantern is the ideal companion. It makes it easy to cook or play games outside without the hassle of holding a flashlight or irregular light from a headlamp.
Van Life Leisure Essentials
While these aren’t technically van life essentials, you’ll be happy to have the following leisure items on any outdoor trip.
Camping chairs are a must and a necessity for van life. While it’s cozy to spend time indoors, you can’t stay in the van 24/7, which is why it’s nice to have somewhere comfy to sit outside. Camping chairs are also handy for cooking outdoors, long days at the beach, or watching the sunset. This is a simple item, but one you don’t want to forget.
I went through a year and a half of van life without a camping table, and when I finally caved and bought one, it changed everything. While it’s not essential, a camping table makes van life that much better because it allows you to really live outside. Instead of spreading out a picnic blanket, a camping table gives you a solid surface for al fresco dining, a sturdy game table for lazy afternoons, and a dependable workstation if you bring your laptop along for the ride. Instead of buying your own, grab a camping table from TB Outdoors as an add-on to your campervan or RV rental.
Pass sunny afternoons lying between two trees. Travel hammocks are particularly nifty since they fold up and take up no space. Don’t have a hammock of your own? Borrow one from TB Outdoor Rentals with your campervan or RV to complete your outdoor chill station.
As I said, not an essential, but an item you’ll be happy to have. Imagine sitting outside somewhere beautiful, grilling up dogs and burgers on your mini Weber. That’s what camping is all about. Choose a mini grill as an add-on from TB Outdoors for your next campervan or RV trip.
The USA is teeming with bike trails of all grades and levels. If you’re setting off on a campervan or RV trip, a bike rack is a van life essential for toting your two-wheeler wherever you’re headed. Since bike racks can be super pricey (we’re talking a few hundred dollars minimum), TB Outdoors can provide one with your campervan or RV rental so that no one gets left behind.
Don’t underestimate the power of the picnic blanket. Mine got so much use throughout two years of van life, it’s hard to imagine traveling without one. Choose a compact picnic blanket that’s soft on one side and water-repellant on the other so that you can sit on wet grass or damp sand without a soggy bum.
It’s possible to get away without a fridge during van life, but it’s worth having a portable cooler as an alternative. Even if you do have a fridge, it’s nice to have a cooler that you can pack up and take on beach days. Just stop off at a local gas station for some ice!
Frisbee, soccer ball, spikeball, you name it. Bring any kind of sports equipment on your van life trip for endless entertainment.
Deck of Cards
You’ll be very happy to have a deck of cards for rainy days or lazy afternoons hanging out in the van.
Van Life Hygiene Essentials
Keeping good hygiene in a campervan doesn’t have to be hard. Many people think that van life is a dirty hippy game, but in fact, you can stay perfectly clean throughout the duration of your trip with a few van life essentials.
Outdoor Shower System
If you’ve never experienced van life before, how to shower is a top question. Luckily, there are plenty of outdoor shower systems that allow you to stay clean no matter where the road takes you. Choose a shower system add-on from TB Outdoors to have it included with your campervan or RV rental instead of buying one that you’ll never use again.
For days when you go without a shower, baby wipes are van life essentials that will keep you feeling fresh. From personal experience, this is one hygiene item that truly pays to keep on hand.
Whether you’re showering outside or in a campground bathroom, don’t forget to pack rubber shower shoes to protect your feet. I personally use Crocs because though they may be ugly, boy, are they practical.
Quick Dry Towel
Another hygiene must-have, it’s worth bringing two quick dry towels – one for the shower and one for everything else (beach, lake, rivers, you name it).
Keeping a van tidy is a challenge – mine looked like a bomb went off pretty much at all times. One way to mitigate the mess is to have a laundry bag for your dirty clothes instead of leaving them strewn across the floor and bed. This will also make it easy to hit the laundromat when it’s time for wash day.
I recommend laundry powder or pods for van life over liquid detergent, and if you’re setting off for a short trip, stick some in a plastic bag instead of taking the entire box.
Just trust me on this one, will ya?
Van Life Safety Essentials
Hopefully, you’ll never have to use your safety essentials, but it’s always worth having them, just in case.
Roadside Emergency Kit
In case of a breakdown or other vehicle-related situations, having a roadside emergency kit can either aid in repairing your vehicle or help flag down a passerby for more assistance. Typically, roadside emergency kits have jumper cables, high visibility cones and a vest, basic first aid essentials, a multipurpose tool, and more.
First Aid Kit
Your van life first aid kid should be stocked with bandages, antiseptic lotion, burn cream, an emergency blanket, painkillers, and other odds and ends that will come in handy in case of a medical situation.
It’s definitely worth keeping a mini fire extinguisher in your van or RV, especially if you’re not the best chef.
More Essentials to Remember Before Setting Off
While many of the items on this list are obvious, they’re still worth mentioning to ensure they end up on your trip! Many of these van life essentials you won’t want to leave at home.
- Phone charger
- Lots of layers
- Extra socks
- Thermals/long underwear
- Hiking boots
- Bathing suit
- Medical cards
- Van/RV registration
- Day pack
- Trash bags
- Dish soap & sponge
- Beanie/sun hat
- Tire jack & spare tire
- Duct tape
- Bug repellant
- Spare key
Customize Your Campervan Rental with TB Outdoor Add Ons
If you’re setting out on a short-term road trip or just getting a taste for van life, there’s no reason to shell out thousands of dollars for new equipment or gear you may never use again. This is why we’ve created custom add-ons at TB Outdoor Rentals so that you can have everything you need for a comfortable campervan experience without the crazy costs. Whether you’re looking for van life essentials, kitchen items, tech gadgets, or anything else, we can likely provide it for your trip to save you the hassle (and money).
Reach out today to discover Phoenix and Los Angeles campervan rentals. Or click here to see our rigs.