This is a selection of what we consider essential additional equipment in our van. There are other things such as food, van equipment and bedding etc, but these are things that have really improved the way we live in the van and travel. They have been convenient, useful or just really cool additions that we are thankful we made and some of them, we wish we had done much earlier.
1. Power bank
Having a spare battery, like this one from Anker, to charge up a phone (or anything else you can connect in with a USB) is really useful to grab in an emergency. They can charge up a phone several times before they need to be recharged themselves and you can also just throw one in your bag if you’re out for the day. We were kind of dubious at first at how useful a power bank might be, but we’ve used it way more than we expected to, even when we were living in a house for a while.
2. A Solar Power system
It is just too cool to get your power from the sun – FOR FREE. Eventually. When we connected our system together and it worked, it was amazing and part of us couldn’t believe it actually worked. Is it now an essential part of our setup. We went for a solar panel on the roof, an inverter and two big batteries to store power, allowing us to be totally off grid whenever we wanted.
An alternative to this is a portable solar panel, for smaller items, like charging a phone. You could lay it on the windscreen of your van all day, collecting power. The only problem is you do not obviously get as much electricity with this system and you can’t store the electricity to use later if you wanted to.
3. Meth spirit stove
Recently we upgraded to a double ring cooker, but for years we’ve been using a small methylated spirit camping stove to cook with on the road. It was one of our most essential pieces of equipment. We still use it now, if we need to heat something small, quickly. Ours originally came from the miscellaneous section of Lidl and it costs almost nothing to buy fuel in Europe. This awesome chart explains what the methylated spirits equivalent is in lots of different countries. I would recommend the Italian version, Alcool Etilico denaturato for sure. It is bright pink and the flame can get very hot, for faster cooking. It cost €1.50 for a two litre bottle that lasts for almost a month, used every day.
Ours also came as a set of two pans, as well as the base for the cooker. The lid also doubles as a frying pan, so it is great for saving on space!
4. Mosquito net
This is very essential if you’re travelling in the summer and camp anywhere near water. In southern Italy, the mosquitoes were almost unbearable at times. We have a mosquito net for the back doors and for the side, so we can keep cool and also bug free. The vent we installed also came with a bug net attached to it.
5. Swiss Army Knife
Originally, we bought Swiss Army knives as a cool souvenir from Switzerland, but it is hands down the most useful ‘souvenir’ we have ever bought. Seen as they come equipped with knives, corkscrews, tin openers, bottle openers, saws and more it saves buying a whole ton of other equipment. The quality of each tool is also surprisingly good. The screwdriver head has outlasted the normal screwdriver we also were given and as long as you oil it and sharpen the blades occasionally our knives almost look as good as new. A lot of shops, especially in Switzerland also offer personalised engravings, which is a nice touch.
6. Folding chairs/hammock
Sometimes it is nice to sit outside, beside your van rather than inside it. Folding chairs are always a great option for this but we recently upgraded to the hammock and it has changed our lives. You get a lot of jealous looks from other campsite folk when they stroll past and see you relaxing in your very own hammock. Especially when it matches your van! We got one with a hammock stand so that we could set it up anywhere we wanted. The stand is also really sturdy and well made. Our hammock is a La Siesta hammock.
7. Cool box.
We have a 12V cool bag that is in no way a fridge but can keep food lasting for a few extra days in the summer and in the winter can actually create cold food. It was the best option to run off our solar power system but if money was no option we would definitely go for one of these, a Yeti cooler. Very expensive but they can keep ice for about 4-5 days. Living the dream!
8. Mobile Wifi
This has been a game changer to our van life. Having a mobile WiFi connection has allowed us to do more work remotely, as well as stay connected to back home and research places we’re going to. We have a Huawei mobile WiFi hotspot that you insert a SIM card into and several devices can connect to. In the UK this is basically the same as having a WiFi router and it gave us unlimited internet. In Europe roaming is still a little restricted (to 9GB for us) but it is still awesome. Combined with long battery life laptops, it just feels like we are living in a house. We have pretty much all of the same home comforts now!
Sometimes a little bit of entertainment is going to be essential. Space is often an issue when you’re travelling in a van and if you’re a book reader like I am, you’re going to have to decide which few books to take with you. One alternative to that is e-books. They’re not as satisfy to read as a paperback, but you can definitely take a whole lot more of them if they’re digital. Plus you can use this offer with Amazon to get a free month trial of their Audible e-books. You can also cancel at any time with it and you still get to keep the trial for a month.
If you prefer music, and every road trip needs a good playlist, Amazon have a similar deal on their Amazon Music. You get the free trial again and you can cancel at any time, still getting a month of free music.
10. Diaries to remember your trip
I was so glad that I decided to document our travels busking around the world. Having a diary to look back on is really cool because it reminds you of all the things that you have forgotten. We also combined ours with a scrapbook, sticking in bits and bobs that people gave us on the road or maps that we used. Some of the diaries are now ridiculously large.