If you Google “Top 5 Essentials for Living in a Van” (go ahead, do it), you’ll see list after list of useless items that you would barely call worth the space they take up. REI Chairs, cheesy cheap solar panels, garbage inverters, fluffy socks, Settler’s of Catan and all other types of stuff you wouldn’t want to waste your time with (the chair could be nice, but it’s not essential). I’m not sure where these lists are coming from, but I’m 90% sure it’s not from anyone that has lived in a van for over 6 months. I’m going to lay out (in my opinion) the actual essentials:
The real essentials for living in a van.
Double Sided Tape
That’s right. Number one on my list is double-sided tape. Specifically speaking, 3M VHB. This isn’t the tape that you find in the junk drawer at Grandma’s house. This is the tape you use if you want to secure an aluminum frame and don’t feel like using rivets. Yes, it is actually used in lieu of rivets. Crazy stuff, I know. It literally holds my roof rack and solar panels to the top of my van and has been for years.
On top of adhering some of the most important aspects of my home to its exterior, I also use 3M VHB internally whenever mounting anything to metal or plastic. Sadly, though, it isn’t perfect. When it comes to wood, the VHB tape just doesn’t stand up. It’s not made for a porous organic material. Most tapes aren’t. There are other materials for that, and we’ll get to them in a bit. But first, my number two.
These stretchy suckers right here are worth their weight in gold! I love me some bungee cords. If it can’t be held in place with one of these, then you probably don’t need it. They have so many uses. My personal favorite is the one I put on the wall along my kitchen counter to hold miscellaneous items I feel like leaving out: teapot, books, hats, glasses, trash, grenades, or kittens, it holds it all!
Aside from the counter strap, some other major utilizations of bungees include holding my surfboard to the ceiling, keeping my window covers organized, and hanging up my wetsuit to dry in the back. I also use bungees for little things here and there, such as holding the curtains back and keeping Robert Plant (the philodendron) in check. They are phenomenal, and I can never have enough.
Double-sided tape may be the best for permanently adhering items. But what if you don’t want it to be stuck there forever? Boom, velcro. Remote on the wall? No problem. Spices rattling around? Stick ‘em in place. You can purchase a big ‘ol roll of velcro from 3M (or as they like to call it, hook and loop fasteners) and just stash it in your van. You’ll be amazed how often you find yourself cutting off strips.
Velcro DOES have a few downsides though. It can wear out kind of fast with heavy use and doesn’t stand up very well in high heat. Not to mention, the god-awful sound it makes. Imagine going on a date with someone and hearing them peel open a velcro wallet. Yeah, it’s a cringy sound. Luckily, there is another solution! Allow me to introduce…
The Rare Earth Magnet
This isn’t some refrigerator magnet made with common plebeian earth. Nope, this is that hard-to-find (not really) rare earth. Unlike it’s casual cousin, we are talking about some REAL holding power. I keep a set of extremely sharp Shun kitchen knives mounted directly behind my head at all times when driving, and I couldn’t feel safer. Also, Shun knives are lighter than their German competitors and work well for the van.
Other than the death knives, I also use magnets to hold my window covers in place, mount my broom, and even hold some succulents next to my bed. One advantage of living in a metal tube is being able to use a ton of magnets. I also keep a cute magnet collection of cool places I’ve visited as well. Though these are basic earth magnets, they still deserve an honorable mention.
I know what you’re thinking. “A dogs is definitely not a van life essential”. And you’re probably right. For you at least. But for me? This is what makes my van HOME and not just a house on wheels. Feeling like you’re actually home when step into your van is absolutely essential to the lifestyle. You need to be able to relax and recharge, and what better way than a warm welcome from 13 lbs of pure love and affection?
Traveling a lot is taxing. Don’t let people tell you otherwise. Coming home to something you love can offer relief. I’m not saying you need to buy a dog, that’s crazy. But you should take the time to make your van feel like home. Maybe throw in a small plant, some decorations, or a wall of pictures from your travels and friends. It’s nice to slide open your front door and feel welcomed and at home.
Make your van yours!
In case you didn’t notice, the common theme of all of my essentials (minus the dog) is that they all hold things in place. For me, this is essential. After all, it is a moving home. However, I have a friend who lives in a Sprinter van that looks like a gypsies nest. Things just fly around on the regular. But that’s his van and his style. I still think he has one of the coolest vans I’ve ever seen. He would probably have a completely different list of essentials than me.
Don’t take anything you read on the internet as gospel (especially anything pertaining to the vanlife). Living in a van is all about freedom and flexibility. Use that to your advantage. Be creative and inventive. Most of all, be yourself. Then share your ideas! I’d love to hear what others consider to be essential in their tiny homes!