Van-Life Essentials

Living and travelling in a van is like no other form of travel. You have to be prepared for anything that nature might throw at you; Hail? You can’t just take cover behind your brick walls. Extreme heat? In some vans, you can’t just turn the air-con on (we don’t have any!).

So with this in mind, there are some essentials that you might not have even thought about. Some are essential for keeping the van going, some are essential for keeping you going:

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For the van

Fan

It was a long time before we finally got a van. After suffering summer in Sydney, we weren’t excited about facing another bout of hot weather in the Far North. When your van doesn’t have aircon, there’s only so much you can do to stay cool inside the van; crack a window, jam a door open, use reflective window protection, drink cool water. None of this really helps much when it’s hot as hell and humid.

A decent fan helps to circulate whatever cool air is available, and just having that breeze on you overnight does a lot for your comfort.

We personally use the Ryobi Hybrid rechargeable fan. We have two batteries, one 5amph, and one 1.5amp. The 5amph lasts us all night on fast. The 1.5 is great for using in the day if we’re ever in the van for long periods – like for lunch, doing some work or driving somewhere and needing a bit of extra breeze.

The batteries charge via our solar, but they can be charged through cigarette sockets or any normal mains plug if you don’t have solar.

Basic Tool Kit

This is for general car maintenance. It’s good to get your van serviced before you head out for a trip, but you’ll also need to be prepared for anything that might go wrong. Changing a tire etc. You’ll need the basic tools to be able to do this.

Jerry Can

You’ll need to carry extra fuel if you plan on heading inland as you travel up the coast too. It’s also just good practice to have spares; just in case.

Water Can

This isn’t a drinking water supply, although it could be used in extreme emergencies. We carried 10ltr on the roof, in case we had any problems with the radiator overheating. This is mainly for outback trips, but again it’s good practice to carry some just in case. It’ll get pretty hot on the roof, so you could also use it as an emergency show if you really needed to.

Gas Cooker

The easiest way to cook while on the road is with gas. We use small gas canisters you can buy in Coles or Kmart, instead of large refillable gas bottles. This is simply because they’re safer to travel with and don’t require any ventilation or security measures. We have two single gas burners as they’re easier to store than a double gas cooker, but we use both every night.

Fridge

A Fridge for us was essential. You could use an esky and ice, but for longer trips, it really isn’t practical. We run our fridge via our solar set up, but you could also run it off your car battery if you weren’t running it 24/7 or were doing long drives.

(There’s more info on solar through our Van-Lifer Directory.)

Our fridge of choice was the Waeco 12v Electric fridge. It has the option to be a fridge or a freezer depending on your needs. It’s screen it handy for keeping track of the temps and it even survived 47’C in the outback!

Esky // Water Cooler

Even though we have a fridge, we also have an Esky and a water cooler. Our water cooler holds 15ltr of drinking water, our esky holds our canned drinks and refillable water bottles. We put half a bag of ice in each and this stays cools for a couple of days in low 30’c heat. anything about 40’c, we needed new ice daily.

Spare Tire + Tire Weld

This should be an obvious one. If you’re between towns and get a flat tire. You either need to be able to fix the problem, or swap your tire. Having a spare tire and weld will cover you for most issues until you can reach a garage.

Extra Motor + Break Oil

Again, good van health comes from a regular motor and break oil top-ups. Carrying it with you will cut down costs of paying a garage to do it for you

Mozzy/Bug Net

If you’re wanting to park in amongst nature, a bug net is something you’ll not be able to live without; unless you keep all doors and windows shut. Any tiny lights will attract bugs to you, having nets on your doors will stop them coming in (hopefully). We also have a personal item below that you can pair with this for extra protection.

We used one Mosquito net and cut it to the size of our doors! Saved us money and stopped having excess net getting trapped in the door! You can also buy mosquito nets made to fit car windows.

Battery Operated Lights

These just make life a little easier. We use Dolphin small LED lights because they’re bright but don’t kill batteries quick. We’re also fortunate enough to have solar so we can use rechargeable batteries instead of buying new ones each time. You could probably get by with a headlamp or your phone light, but that will soon get tiring… trust us.

For you:

First Aid Kit

This was something that we weren’t sure was an ‘essential’… until we (and by we, I mean Leah) kept getting blisters or having hay fever breakouts. Having a basic first aid kit means if anything minor does happen while you’re away from civilisation (which won’t be often along the East Coast), you can fix yourself up pretty easily.

Our first Aid Kit includes meds like Anti-Diarrhoea tablets, plasters/band-aids, Hay Fever meds and anti-bacterial wipes.

Bug Repellent

If you’re going to be parking near rivers, lakes and sand dunes you’re going to need bug repellent. There’s one thing you don’t want while you’re living in a van and that’s sandfly bites. Why? Because they’re horrible. Dec got a bad case of sandfly bites while we were at Airlie Beach, so bad in fact, that we ended up booking ourselves into an Air B+B just so he could soak himself in a bath. We counted 213 bites just on his legs… so yea. Get bug repellent, even if you can’t see the bugs!!

Go Girl + Diva Cup

Self Explanatory. Guys, you can skip this section!

If you’re camping somewhere that doesn’t have a toilet and it’s somewhere private enough for you to have a bush pee, a Go-Girl comes in handy. If you’ve never heard of a Go-Girl (or a SheWee), it’s a device that lets women pee while standing up; sure, you could also squat, but when there’s a risk of ants/snakes/spiders, I’d definitely rather use a she-wee.

Another option for places that aren’t suitable for a bush pee is using a leak-proof Tupperware box… Once you’re over grossing out about that idea, hear me out… It allows you to pee in the comfort of your own van, and you can dispose of it once you reach a toilet or suitable bush pee area. Need to poop? You’ll have to wait for a public toilet for that one. Unless you’re in the outback and can dig a deep enough hole.

All this is, of course, assuming you don’t have that’s big enough for a toilet.

A Diva Cup comes in handy when it’s that time of the month. Using and disposing of tampons is a pain in the ass when you’re living in a van because it’s bad practice to dump them in nature and you’re not always near a toilet when you need to be (although I did find some eco-friendly 100% Cotton ones!). A Diva Cup is a rubber device that ‘catches’ the waste in the same way a tampon absorbs it. This means all you need to do is tip and rinse whenever you pee, no disposing needed, no chemicals being put inside you. They take some getting used to but it’s a lot let stressful than having to carry around used tampons in your bin until you find a public loo or bin to dispose of it in to.

Baby Wipes // Anti-Bac Wipes

If you’ve read the budget section, you’ll realise showers aren’t always available. To counteract this, we always have a stash of baby wipes handy in the event of a much needed quick wash. We’ve also used them to clean our feet after a hike in flip-flops if there’s no natural alternative (like a river, or the sea)

Anti-Bac wipes are the same solution for if you can’t wash your pots for whatever reason (i.e pure van-life laziness), or need to clean up a spillage. They’re also essential if you choose to use the Tupperware pee method, you’ll need to clean the box after you’ve emptied it to avoid a smell – and it’s not something you want to be washing with your normal pots.

Coconut Oil

Some would argue that this is a luxury, rather than an essential. I would argue that they’re wrong. Raw cold-pressed Coconut oil has come in handy for so many things that it’s now my go-to solution for almost everything;

Dry skin? – Coconut oil

Itchy bites? – Coconut oil

Sunburn? – Coconut oil

Dry hair? – Coconut oil

Chapped lips? – Coconut oil

You get the point.

Some other uses include: natural deodorant // cooking oil // moisturiser // Stain remover // make up remover

Spare Blankets

Spare Blankets… in Australia? Surely not.

YES

In the winter along the East Coast, we used three spare blankets to stay warm… and a duvet! You’ll be surprised how much the temp drops overnight, and after a 30’c+ day, you’ll feel cold at 15’c.

Even throughout summer, we’ve kept our spare blankets handy. They’ve been used as picnic blankets, beach mats and even as a make-shift canopy to give us more shade to sit under.

Bluetooth Speaker (if you don’t have a car radio)

If you have a radio, I’d say this isn’t a necessity. If you’re in a similar old van to us, and you don’t have a working radio then a speaker of some kind is definitely essential. A Bluetooth speaker that is also waterproof comes in handy for those days by the lake, pool or sea too.

We use a JBL Charge 3 waterproof, shockproof Bluetooth speaker. Bonus; if you have friends with the same brand, you can connect them for surround sound!

Black Out Curtains

Obvious? Not to everyone. When we say curtains… we use the term (very) loosely. You can get creative here.

It was about 6 months before we upgraded our ‘curtains’ (which were cheap material from Ikea) for proper ‘blackout curtains’ (which are now thick blankets from Kmart). The first set was dark enough to stop people seeing in, but if we had lights on inside the van you could see it outside. Not great for stealth camping. Our new curtains not only stop light escaping, but they also act as another barrier for the heat; meaning we stay cooler, longer, in the mornings.

As I said, you don’t have to splash out and buy proper blackout curtains. Thick material, like a blanket from Kmart, will do the trick. Simply sew up the edges and thread a pole through to create a functioning curtain… Do this for the back and side window and also as a divider between the front cabin and the back living space.

Reflective Window Covers

This pairs with curtains nicely, and it’s ideal to have a cover for each window. We don’t have one on the front door window, but the curtain divider between the front and back acts as a barrier for most of the heat; you’ll be surprised how much difference it makes when we forget to close it!

Reflectors do what you’d expect them to; they reflect the sun away from your window, meaning it stays relatively cool inside. They’re not miracle workers, on a 40’c+ day it’s still going to get pretty hot inside, but not quite as hot compared to what it would be without them.

With everything we have listed in the Ultimate Australian East Coast Road Trip Guide, we know you’re going to have an epic trip! We’d love to see you putting our guide to good use, so send us your pics with #OfficerTravelsGuide on your social media, or let us know your highlights of this trip.

Coming soon – our Ultimate guide to the outback!