You bought your van, or you're ready to move into your car or RV. What to bring? What should you pack? It depends:
There are hundreds of questions you need to ask and answer before deciding what to bring with you, most of them are related to how you plan to live. Most women live simple lives, but others prefer to bring their cosmetics, "good clothes" and lifestyle with them - including dresses, and shoes. Sometimes, especially if you're forced into a van or vehicle dwelling lifestyle, having your old life around you can be comforting, if a little impractical. But, it's your vehicle, your life, so it's your choice. Don't feel guilty or silly. But do be semi practical so your stuff doesn't drive you out of your vehicle. Here are the top categories you'll need.
Whether you choose the simplicity and warmth of a good -0-degree sleeping bag, or sheets, blankets, and comforters, you need to stay warm/cool/comfortable. You also need to either be able to wash and replace your sleeping items quickly, or have two sets of sheets etc. so you can wash/dry one set while using the other. This is particularly helpful if you spill something in the middle of the night, have a pet (or people) accident, or dirty your bed with muddy boots, a vehicle leak etc. Having a second set of sheets/blanket can make the difference between a miserable night and a comfortable one. Keep your second set in a waterproof tub so you know they're clean and dry. Having two pillows is also a good idea.
You can't sleep comfortably in your clothes. I know. You want to be able to get up and get moving quickly, but clothes will restrict your movement and make you miserable. Find some lightweight cotton pajama bottoms - there are many that look like pants, and a lightweight t-shirt. Keep a pair of loafers, boots, or shoes you can quickly slip on if you have to get up and get moving. Again, have two sets of PJ bottoms and several tops that can double as sleep or day wear.
Most of us start off with the romantic dream of fixing breakfast and coffee and eating on the edge of forests and meadows. The work involved with shopping, cooking, and cleaning quickly makes that a pain in the ass, and something we reserve for days when we're not so rushed. Still, it's a great idea to have:
I have a stash of paper plates, plasticware, and a SMALL ziplock bag of condiment packs (Miracle Whip, pickle relish, monk fruit sweetener, mustard and ketchup). Trust me, you won't cook nearly as often as you think. I leaned towards single serve grapefruit, fresh fruit, cereal, granola, and oatmeal. Or, I eat out. Throughout most of the country you can always find bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee for between $1.99 to $4.99. I used to get up and drive five miles to a small local airport where I had gourmet eggs/bacon/toast and red potatoes every other morning for $3.49 plus tax and tip. It was worth the $5 -$20 a week I spent to relax, watch the planes and pilots, and enjoy the view of Mount Rainier for an hour or so while I read the paper, and talked to people I knew there.
Some mornings I would wander down to the Columbia River with my dog, and talk to fishermen there, and sometimes join them for fresh caught fish and eggs (I learned if I brought eggs, toast, and butter and offered to share, so did they. There's NOTHING better than fresh fried fish just caught, and farm fresh eggs and fresh butter and toast. And there were no dishes to wash either as we generally ate out of the skillet, or used a flat rock and our fingers for plates.
Stopping at local farm stands for pick-your-own strawberries or blackberries, etc. and adding them to oatmeal or a smoothie with non-refrigerated almond milk, can be a great breakfast treat too. Lunches were mostly sandwiches and salads, fruit, and dinner might be fried or grilled chicken or other things (corn, peppers, veggies) I could fix outdoors over a campfire. You'll settle into your own food/cooking/eating routine depending on where you are, and your food budget. Try to get used to NOT buying things that need refrigeration. If you save half of your restaurant meal for next day leftovers, the cost of eating out can be almost as cheap as buying and cooking your own meals - and a lot less hassle during really hot or cold months. There's less risk of fire, and your van won't smell like whatever you cooked last either. If you're not an avid cook now, living in a van won't change that. There's nothing wrong with setting off with nothing but a teapot and coffee mug and seeing how often you're moved to want to cook before buying any kitchenware.
CLOTHING AND SHOES
You'll find yourself wearing the same items over and over simply because it's easier than wearing, and washing clothes every few days. I have three pairs of leggings, two black, one patterned. Two pairs of jeans - one black, one light blue, and a pair of ankle boots. I also have a pair of sneakers, a pair of lightweight hiking boots, and a pair of muck boots for rainy days and muddy campgrounds. The muck boots wash off well and are very comfortable. I have a pair of crocs for showering and puttering around a campfire. I have seven t-shirts and two polo shirts, and two long sleeved flannel shirts. Everything fits into one big drawer - folded Marie Kondo style (vertically so I don't have to dig through it all). I found I end up wearing the same leggings for 3-4 days (unless it's hot), and the same 2-3 t-shirts. I could probably cut my wardrobe in half, but as sure as I do.... Anyway, in the winter I add a couple of sweaters I can wear with anything, a few turtlenecks, and a lightweight jacket and a serious as hell winter jacket that could double as a minus zero sleeping bag if it had to. This is one area where it's best to designate ONE drawer or duffle bag for clothes, and then not bring anything that won't fit in that bag. I do have one simple modest outfit in case I have a meeting to attend, want to go to church, or go out with friends. I have three pairs of socks, two bras, and five pairs of underwear. If I need more, I stop at Goodwill, or Walmart to buy what I need.
PERSONAL AND VEHICLE CARE
This means shampoo, soap, lotion, sunscreen, makeup, toothbrush, toothpaste etc. The less you can pack, the better, but it's a personal thing. If you like getting up and putting on makeup every morning, and doing an evening face care ritual, more power to you. I keep it simple - comb, liquid soap, shampoo and conditioner, lotion, foundation, eyeshadow and eyeliner/eyebrow pencil, blush. I have clients I must meet from time-to-time and I need to look like I don't live in the jungle. If you need other feminine products - then add those. Remember, you can buy more. You don't have to stock the vehicle for the apocalypse. Add what you need once you find out you need it. I take band-aids, Imodium, standard over-the-counter stuff like aspirin and wait until I need other things to buy them. I always keep four rolls of toilet paper on hand. If I'm going into a rural area where there's not a store within 20-30 miles, THEN I stock up. I always carry five gallons of water too. A bottle of bleach, and a bottle of Lysol lemon scented cleaner are my only cleaning products. And, I'm generous with paper towels and sponges. You'll know what you need once you are on the road for a few weeks. I do urge you to get the smaller bottles and traveler size products until you know you have room and regular demands for them. I use paper towels, but have three bath sheet sized bath towels. It cuts down on the need to wash as often. When I do laundry I wash everything at the same time - usually 2-3 loads. I will hand wash my socks, undies, leggings as needed, but heavier things like shirts, jeans, and towels, go in a machine. They line dry inside the van or outside if I'm at a campground.
One of the fun things I discovered was that many campgrounds have free libraries. You can bring a book and take a book. My kindle holds all the professional, business, and non-fiction I need and takes up no room. I thought I'd read more than I do. I do enjoy movies, and the .99 RedBox movie rentals are easy to take advantage of. If I'm into binge watching something I park near a library or place with free wifi and stream. Or I download during the day and watch at night. Mostly I'm too tired from driving, working, exploring and am just grateful to eat and go to bed. If you're younger, or have more energy, your needs may vary.
I enjoy building things, and helping others outfit their vehicles. I also work on my own vehicle when I can, just to save money. Of all the things I have, tools are the thing that take up the most room. I have mostly battery powered drills and saws, but keep an electrical drill, jig saw, and circular saw around for tougher projects. A full socket set, some socket wrenches, electrical connectors, screw drivers, and the basics of any good tool bag go with me. I have a car jack, lug wrench, oils, and things to fix most basic and common automotive issues, or to build anything I might decide to build. Road flares, a battery charger, tire repair kit, and inflator all make me feel safer and able to get going if I do break down. A AAA card and a membership to Good Sam (in case I break down in a National Park) all round out the preparedness kit. I also have a two fire extinguishers (one in front, one in back), and flashlights, and extra batteries.
This is a catch-all category for things like batteries, flashlights, cigarette lighters, files, work related things, chargers, lap-top, iPad, tablet, notebooks, day pack, water bottles, moleskin (for blisters), tick remover tool, bug spray, pepper spray, taser, personal protection weapons, legal paperwork for the van - proof of insurance, etc. and whatever I know I'll need, but not on a daily basis.
BUG OUT BAG
I have a bug out bag behind the driver's seat - in case of an accident, fire, or need for me to leave the van. It has extra medication, a little bit of cash, duplicate ID, bandaids, flashlight, cordage, razors, emergency rocket flares, a signal mirror, (in an emergency credit and debit cards will not work, and ATMS will be shut down and CASH will be king. Don't carry debit cards in your bug-out bag, carry at least $100 worth of cash in small bills ones, fives, tens a few twenties, a roll of quarters, a roll of dimes, etc. You don't want to flash big bills during a crisis when most people won't have money).
My bag has two knives - large and small, portable saw, cook kit, water purification straw, hatchet, shelter, poncho, food, and the things I would need to survive in the woods for up to a week, outside my van. If you can get through the first 72-hours okay, you'll probably be okay.
All that sounds like a lot of stuff, and it is. I haven't even mentioned food. I carry non-refrigerated snacks like nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds), canned or packaged tuna, beef jerky, celery, fruit, avocados, and high protein things like peanut butter (individual packets by Jiff). I rarely carry more than a couple of days worth of food because I enjoy shopping local markets, fruit and vegetable stands, and pick your own farms. And, I eat out a lot - it's cheaper than buying, not using and throwing away food (which I found I did a LOT).
Take your time when packing your vehicle. Pay attention to what you use and don't use and add or remove items as needed. I guarantee you that your bedding, clothing, and personal items will be your most used. The rest? You may only need it once, (like a tool), but it will be a critical need.
What you have in your vehicle? Why? What have you learned about what to pack and what not to pack?
When my father died of brain cancer in 2006, I quit my job, bought a used van $750 and hit the road. He hadn't started traveling or living really until he got sick, and regretted it. I didn't want to regret not living. I was working seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day and for what? So I ditched it all for the van life. I'd lived for more than a year in a full-sized RV and loved it. A van wouldn't be that much different - or so I thought. Unfortunately, the van didn't look this "good" until after I found an apartment and had the space, time, and money to work on it. But once I had it outfitted, it was great!
The short story of my van life is in my TED Global Talk. What I thought would be full-timing turned out to be being homeless. If I'd had an RV I could have parked at Camping World, where I was working full-time, and been fine. But a ratty old van (not painted at the time), screamed "homeless" to my co-workers. That was odd since the business was all about selling stuff to people who lived in their vehicles. That just went to prove my point - that homelessness is about having money or not, and choices.
The van was old, and eventually threw a rod and was sold to the scrapyard for $400. I used that money to buy a $400 Saturn van. I fixed it up, but then sold it to buy a Dodge Caravan...and was almost finished converting it when it too, threw a rod after a mechanic forgot to fill the oil after changing the oil. My next car was a Plymouth Voyager. I'll post photos of it later. $900 (I paid too much). It's now a dream car, although not much to look at, it's a work in progress. But it runs, is dependable and fun to drive. I recently bought a 2000 Isuzu Rodeo. It's still at the mechanics getting brakes and new hubs etc. but for $800, it was a deal. My goal vehicle is a NEW Dodge Ram Van - the tall one you can stand up in, or not. I'd like for it to be diesel so I can put in a wood burning stove.
I've always (since I was 14 years old), loved to camp, hike, fish, explore and travel. I'm now 63 and still intent on getting back to a traveling lifestyle - van dwelling, camping etc. I'll stay at hotels from time-to-time, but I love the van life. It's not for everyone, but it's worth doing for at least 3-6 months just to know you can.
When you live in a van you become more independent, confident, and capable. You learn to do things you never thought you could do. You survive, and then you thrive. You let go of fear. Yes, you'll still be afraid, but it will be different. This website, blog, and advice is my way of giving back to those who have chosen to live in their vehicles, as well as those forced to live in their vehicles. I hope you find something here that inspires, or helps.
If there's something you'd like to know, or if you have a question, contact me or leave your comments in the comment section below.
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