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Living or spending time traveling in a van can be a challenge if you value your space. Since a van is limited in this regard, you’ll have to get a little bit creative to make the space as comfortable as possible. There are many things that you can do to improve the quality of your life while living in such a small area. There are a variety of accessories that can help you to overcome the challenges often associated with such small living spaces.
These types of accessories can help keep your space organized and keep you sane in the process. I have discovered a few things that are almost a necessity and would help nearly anyone in the same situation. If you have a camper van or other small RV or are considering building a van conversion, you will want to take a look at some of the items listed below. These are all items that I personally use and find great value in having in my van.
Kitchen / Cooking
1) Ratcheting Paper towel holder
This ratcheting paper towel holder works great for moving vehicles. If you were to use a standard paper towel holder, it’s likely that your paper towels would be unrolled by the time you got to where you were going. This ratcheting system keeps your paper towels nice and tidy and it’s easy to pull off what you need when needed.
2) Lightweight Bamboo Dinnerware
For dinnerware, it’s good to opt for dishes that are lightweight and non-breakable. Since you are driving around in a vehicle with things shifting occasionally, standard ceramic plates will be prone to breakage and are also heavy. These bamboo dishes are super lightweight and you won’t have to worry about them breaking as you are driving. Even if they fall and bounce all over the van, they’ll still be fine. Plates, bowls, mugs.
3) Sea To Summit Sigma Pots
Any cooking pots will work but having pots that can fold up is a huge plus in a small space. These pots have a handle on them that twists around to take up less space. The small one will fit into the large one and both of these pots together take up a very small space. They are also made of thin stainless steel so they are light and your food heats up very quickly. You just have to be careful to watch your temperature because they get hot so fast, you may burn your food. I keep these stored easily in one of my kitchen drawers. I use the 2.7 liter pot and the 1.2 liter pot. You can buy them as a set at REI.
4) Collapsible Kitchen Accessories
There are many things you can buy that are collapsible. These items are perfect for the small space of a van or any small RV. You can collapse them when not in use and open them back up when needed. I use a cutting board with a removable colander and measuring cups that store away nicely when they are collapsed down.
5) Coffee Kettle / Ceramic Coffee Dripper
If you are a coffee drinker, a coffee kettle is a must-have. The kettle that I have and recommend has a temperature gauge on top so that you know when the water is at the perfect temperature for your brew. Combine a good kettle with a good coffee dripper and you have an awesome, premium coffee brewing machine. Of course, you’ll need a stove to heat the water. You can use your built-in stove, or a propane camp stove. Don’t forget the coffee filters.
6) Jet boil
A Jet Boil system is great to use as a quick way to boil water or as a backup to your cooking system. It’s also great to take on hikes or wilderness camping trips when you leave the comforts of your van. I often use the Jet Boil Flash Cooking System when I want to boil some water quickly for some oatmeal, coffee, or tea. It’s easier to set up and put away and quicker than my camping stove. It brings the water to boil in only a couple of minutes.
7) Eureka Camp Stove
My camping stove of choice has been the Eureka Ignite stove. If you don’t have a stove built into your van, a camping stove of some type will probably be your best bet. I have used my Eureka stove and have been happy with it. You can read my review on it here.
8) Dish Mat
It sounds so simple but it is essential in my van. I don’t have a ton of counter space and this type of absorbent dish mat gives me a place to lay wet dishes so that they can dry off without getting my counter wet. Having this type of dish mat allows you to have an additional area where you can sit down your wet items and not have to worry about them getting the area wet.
9) Magnetic bag clips
Another simple item but these are super handy to have because you never know what you’ll need to keep closed. Magnetic chip clips will easily stick to the sides of the van and you’ll have them quickly on hand when you want to close a bag of chips or cookies.
10) Instant Pot
The Instant pot provides a simple way to throw some great meals together. It cooks foods super fast so even though it does initially need a lot of electricity to get going, it doesn’t use a lot of electricity as it is cooking. I cook all kinds of meals in the Instant Pot and it’s perfect for my morning oatmeal that takes me 4 minutes to cook steel-cut oats. My Goal Zero Yeti 1400 handles it with no problems.
11) Water Filter
If you will be filling up with water as you travel, a water filter will be a necessity. The Berkey is one of the best on the market and great for van-lifers because they require no electricity. You simply pour the dirty water in the top and it filters through to the bottom. The Berkey removes most everything from the water and can even be used to filter pond water. I wouldn’t go that far unless it was an emergency but it is a great solution for making sure tap water is always filtered.
12) Insulated Reusable Bottles
Double-walled, insulated bottles are great for keeping your drinks cold or hot. They also don’t sweat and they are easy to clean and reuse. You can usually find these on sale and it’s a great idea to stock up on a few when you do. REI often has these for a great price in their clearance items.
13) Camp Stove Toaster
If you like toast but don’t have a toaster in your van, a camp stove toaster may do the trick for you. Typical toasters take up a lot of electricity so there is not enough to go around in a typical van electrical setup. The camp stove toaster makes use of your propane stove to create crispy toast. Although it may not be as good as your home toaster, it will get the job done when out on your journeys.
14) Collapsible Ottoman
I use this ottoman as a step to get up on my bed. It makes the perfect place to step onto since it is very sturdy and besides being a step, it serves as a great area for additional storage. I often use it to store shoes in and other items that I might need to get to rather quickly when leaving my van. These collapsible Ottomans can be set up in no time and collapse down to a very thin block when not in use. Besides using them as extra storage, these are also great to use as additional seating for when you have visitors.
Mine measures 15 in. x 15 in. x 15 in. but can also be found in smaller or larger sizes. I picked mine up at my local Home Depot.
15) Hanging Storage
Hanging storage is such a simple solution and having various hanging compartments like this in your van or RV can make a big difference. I use this type of mesh storage on my back doors to hold shoes and other items that may be hard to store in other places. It’s great for items that you need to get to often. I can reach down from behind my bed and grab stuff out of these mesh nets or I can open the back doors and get them out just the same. It’s a cheap solution that can be cut to the dimensions you need depending on where you are installing it.
16) Behind The Seat Organizers
One of the best ways to store small items out of the way is by using one of these behind the seat organizers. These are great since this area is often wasted space and can be used to keep track of small items such as phone chargers, flashlights, dog poop bags, maps, books, and other small items that you might have lying around. This type of organizer keeps things up out of the way so that you always know where they are.
If you have a sink base in your camper van, you may have a blank space that could be used for extra storage. This hidden shelf is a great place to store items like sponges, drain stopper, dishwashing liquid, and other small items. It keeps my countertop clean and neat and allows me to store these small items out of sight. It’s a cheap upgrade that will provide additional storage and you can never have too much storage in a camper van.
18) Organization Boxes
If you need a way to keep your stuff nice and tidy, these boxes will help do the job. They are great for storing small clothing items in so that it doesn’t become messy in your cabinets. They come in lots of different sizes so you can pick a size that fits your specific cabinets.
19) Laundry Bag
A laundry bag is another much-needed item for a van. Typically, dirty clothes get strewn about all over the place or end up in a trash bag. It’s great to have a dedicated laundry bag that is used only for that purpose. Once you get to where you can do laundry, a bag like this is easy to take out and take your clothes to the washer. This an often overlooked solution for those living in vans or other small campers.
20) Toiletry Bag, Packing Cubes.
Packing cubes are great for keeping your clothing items neat and tidy. Rather than having them strewn about the cabinets, you can have cubes for different types of clothing making it easier to keep the place picked up. REI sells some great little cubes for this. The REI toiletry bag stores all of your essential toiletries and can hang from a cabinet handle and give you a small mirror to use. Pack it away when you are done and it takes up hardly any space.
Tools And Safety Products
21) Fire extinguisher
Don’t make the mistake of not including a fire extinguisher in your van. In an emergency, you’ll be glad that you had one. A small fire extinguisher can easily be mounted under the sink or in another location that’s easy to get to. This is an invaluable accessory that must be included in case a fire were to break out. Things happen and if you are cooking inside a small area, there is always a chance that a fire could start.
22) Carbon Monoxide Detector
A CO detector is an essential item that everyone should have. A van is a tight space and if carbon monoxide is ever present, you would want to have a warning. This is especially true for those who use any type of propane cooking device or heating. Anytime you are in an enclosed space like this with different gasses being moved through from cooking, heating, and engine running, it’s a good idea to have a protective warning in case the CO levels reach dangerous levels. I use this one. It detects CO and also displays the current temperature.
23) Tool kit
You never know when something will break when you are out on the road. Having a tool kit is another essential item that you just don’t want to be without. This kit should contain the standard tools that you might need to use. Screwdrivers, wrenches, plyers, wire cutters, extra screws, etc. If you are converting a van, it’s a good idea to create a toolkit as you go. This could contain extras parts that could be used to replace broken ones. Odd bolts, screws, washers will come in handy if you ever need to fix anything while on a trip.
24) Roadside Emergency Kit
An emergency kit is an essential part of every RV and should be included in your van. This type of kit contains items that you will need in case of an emergency or when you are broken down on the side of the road.
25) First Aid Kit
Similar to an emergency kit, a first aid kit is also important. Those of us who travel in vans often find ourselves in remote areas boondocking so it’s important to have essential first aid items in case something goes wrong. These kits are affordable and small enough to store anywhere out of the way in your camper van. However, you will be glad you have one if the need ever arises.
26) Jump Starter
A jump starter can be a nice item to have should you find yourself stranded on a dead battery. Rather than finding someone to jumpstart your van, you can hook up the cables to your battery and jump yourself. It’s a must-have item that I keep in all of my vehicles and it makes me feel safer when I travel.
27) Dash Cam
A dash cam is becoming an essential item these days and gives you a great way to provide your insurance with the exact details of an accident. A high-quality dash cam will help to ensure that you can catch problems on camera rather than having to explain what happened. It’s an item that will give you a little more peace of mind as you go about your journey. Most of us in camper vans spend a lot of time driving from place to place so it just makes good sense to have one of these.
28) Trash Can
A trash can is needed but a camper van often has limited space. I made use of this mountable grocery bag holder to serve as my trash can. What would be wasted space typically becomes an area used to hold a grocery bag that can be re-purposed as a trash bag. The good thing about using A small grocery bag for trash is that you can only put so much in it. You are forced to dump the trash more often when you have a small solution like this. The one I have is plastic but it bends quite a bit as the trash gets full. I recommend a sturdier metal one.
29) Rubber Flip Flops / Shower Shoes
Don’t leave home without these if you intend on using campground showers or other public showers. It can be pretty disgusting walking barefooted on some of the floors that I have seen in various campgrounds and public showers. Having rubber flip-flops or some type of shower shoes allows you to keep your feet clean without having to walk through who knows what that has been on the floor where you are showering.
30) Broom / Dust Pan
Small areas such as those that are in a van can get quite dirty very quickly. Having a dustpan and small broom on hand is a great way to keep things picked up and cleaned along the way. You don’t need a large broom but a small one such as this one is great because it gets the job done and stores away easily when not in use.
31) Mini Space Heater
If you travel in colder temperatures, having a mini space heater will come in handy as long as you have a place to get plenty of electricity. I keep a space heater in my van for those cool nights when staying somewhere with electrical hookups. You can also choose to use a propane type of heater like the Little Buddy heater although I haven’t had good experiences with these.
32) Goal Zero Collapsible Lantern / UCO Flashlight
Lighting is something that you can also never get enough of. When in a van environment, you never know when you’ll be out of electricity or require additional light. The Goal Zero collapsible lantern collapses flat and can easily be stored in a very small area. I keep mine in the storage netting hanging on the back of my seat so that I always know where it is. Another great light is the UCO flashlight which is a super small light that doubles as a lantern. It’s a great choice for wandering off from your van during times of low visibility.
33) Bug Screen
Bugs will annoy you to death if you don’t have some way to keep them away. Having a bug screen on your van door is a great way to keep them out while you enjoy your time inside. You can keep the side door open while enjoying the airflow and keeping your sanity. Bug screens are available that fit specific van models or you can easily make your own for MUCH less. Read my post about how I created my own bug screen for my sliding side door.
34) Cleanwaste Go Anywhere Toilet With Bags
Whether you have a toilet in your van or not, it’s always a good idea to have another emergency option. There may be times when you can’t dump your black tank or something is malfunctioning on your cassette toilet. Having a simple toilet solution like the Go Anywhere toilet gives you an extra option when needed. Read my Go Anywhere Toilet review.
35) Reusable Shopping Bags
If you are in the USA, shopping can be a wasteful endeavor because of all the plastic shopping bags. Storing reusable shopping bags in your van is a great way to be more responsible and keep your van less cluttered. If you do happen to end up with the occasional shopping bag, you can always use it in the trash can attachment that I discussed above.
36) Portable Fan
No matter where you intend to go, there will probably be times when the weather is hot. Even if not hot, it can get quite stuffy in a van so you’ll want to have some way to move the air. While a roof fan combined with vented windows can do a great job, having a portable fan that can be pointed directly at you is a great way to beat the heat. A small fan can be positioned where you want it when you need it most.
37) Camping Chair
A camping chair is a must and a van needs a chair that folds up small and weighs as little as possible. Of course, small chairs aren’t always comfortable. Enter the Helinox Chair Zero that is super lightweight and folds up small and stores aways in the smallest of spaces. It’s great for sitting around the campfire or taking on a hike. This chair stays in my van at all times and is always in my backpack when I go on long hikes. It’s nice to have a comfortable chair to take a break in while out on the trail.
38) Bungee Cords Galore
Bungee cords are essential if you want to keep items from moving around all over your van. There is always something that needs tied down and you can never have too many bungee cords to keep everything secure. It’s best to have a large supply of them on hand for when you need them.
39) Portable Solar Power
Whether you are a fan of solar or not, having a backup solar power system can be a great way to ensure that you always have electricity. You can purchase a small Jackery unit that powers your devices and more so that you have it to use when you have no other way of getting power. If you don’t have a built-in solar system in your van, a portable solar power solution can be a huge help when boondocking off the beaten path.
40) Portable Clothesline
I have a shower in my van that has a shower rod where I hang dry my wet items. However, if you don’t have this, a portable clothesline will do the trick. You can stretch this out across wherever you want whether it’s inside or outside your van. It gives you a place to hang wet, sweaty clothes or use it for drying clothes that you have washed in the sink.
Van life is a good life but can be made so much better by all of these modern innovations. Each of these items on my list serves a purpose and makes your life easier or eases your mind of the stresses that you might normally have.
Living in a van requires that you become innovative in your approaches so these accessories will be welcomed indeed. You don’t have to live an uncomfortable existence or do without the luxuries that you may be used to. Instead, you need to find different approaches that fit the lifestyle of going small.
Each accessory you have in your van should solve a problem or make your life easier without taking up a ton of space. Hopefully, these accessories I have included will make your life easier as they have mine throughout my travels.