December 16, 2020 7 min read

So, you want to get into van life, eh? It’s an amazingly unique lifestyle that offers a wealth of benefits, so how can we blame you? Van life IS life, but if you’re just getting into the lifestyle, thinking about it, or eagerly planning your future build, you’re gonna want to make sure you’re as prepared as possible. You don’t have to make the same mistakes hundreds of others have already overcome - learn from the best! That’s where we come in. We love to shine our spotlight on the real people out there living the life because we believe there’s no substitute for their first hand knowledge and experience. Today we’re highlighting the Top 10 Van Life Essentials, as brought to you by Instagram van lifers Sunny and Luna (@sunnylunaliving).

Sunny and Luna jump started their van life journey earlier this year at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when the couple decided to cancel their dream wedding and live their dream life instead. Since then, the two of them have documented their van conversion build, their design process, their adventures, and a ton of tips they’ve learned along the way. So what do these digital nomads consider to be essential for living the van life? You’re going to want to read below to find out!

Sunny & Luna’s Top 10 Van Life Essentials

Luna enjoying the view from the back of her and Sunny's van. Photo courtesy of Sunny Luna Living.

Compact water filter

When you’re living life out on the road, you aren’t always going to know the quality and condition of the water hookups you’re using at that random rest stop, so it’s important to know you have a way to purify your water before drinking it. Depending on your setup and how you plan to source your water, there are a variety of water filtering solutions. Sunny and Luna’s solution is a compact water filter that attaches to the tube that connects under-sink to the water storage reservoir and the faucet, so all of the water coming out of the sink is filtered. This ensures they’ll always have fresh, clean water to drink, but also means they’ll potentially be filtering their dishwashing water as well, which may not be necessary. 

Most water filters have a limited lifespan and the more water you run through them, the more particulates get caught in the filter. If efficiency is a concern for your build, there are versions that attach to the exterior of your faucet that allow for more control of when you activate the filter. It might also be worth exploring a filter that can be back-flushed out for repeat use.

Portable toilet

Nothing quite kills the van life vibes like having to rely on shady rest stop toilets every time you need to go, so having access to your own facilities is a no-brainer for most van lifers. The go-to option is a portable composting toilet that uses peat moss to compost waste, so it doesn’t require any special water hookups or drains - just pull it out and empty it. Since human waste loses much of its bulk in the composting process, you’ll only need to empty the tray every couple of months, depending on usage.

Rubber mats

You’ve designed and built your van’s dream kitchenette with exactly the right finishes and now it’s time to put your dishes in - the only question is, how do you keep them from slipping and sliding around in the drawers and cabinets? Anti-slip rubber mats are the perfect solution to make sure your dish and cookware stays where it should. You can buy them in rolls and then cut to size to solve for any space you need to. Line your pull-out drawers to keep utensils and gadgets in place or line your cabinets or bookshelves for extra security. You can even turn them into little coasters for your table. Best of all, rubber mats come in tons of different styles and colors, so you can add some design flair to your space at the same time. 


Mini broom

By now, you probably have picked up on the fact that when you’re living in a van, space comes at a premium. Oftentimes that means learning to live with compromise to maximize your usable space, such as combining your shower and toilet or hiding your dining table under your bed platform. So while you may not have the luxury of stocking a broom closet with cleaning supplies, you can still keep your space tidy with a space saving mini broom and dustpan


The reality of living in a room on wheels is that, well - it’s on wheels. Things like pictures, clocks, and potted plants tend to fall to the floor and break into a thousand pieces, so you have one of two choices: live a spartan lifestyle with none of those pesky keepsakes weighing you down OR get yourself a couple of velcro pads and move on with living your life. These velcro pads usually come with 2 velcro pieces with self-adhesive backing, so applying them couldn’t be easier - just remove the sticker, slap ‘em wherever you need ‘em and you’re good to go. 

Keep in mind that velcro pads can only carry so much weight before they begin to separate, so for larger items like coffee makers and other appliances, you’re going to want a more stable solution like bolting it down or securing it with a strap. 

Propane stove

What’s the point of experiencing the joy and freedom of the van lifestyle if you’re reduced to eating cold beans out of a can every night? That’s no way to live, my friend. Get yourself a portable propane camping stove and enjoy all your favorite dishes from the comfort of your own van or bus. Camping stoves are pretty widely available from places like Target or even your local hardware store, but most of them use single-serve propane canisters that can be wasteful and expensive if you’re using the stove with some regularity. PRO TIP: many camping stoves are easily hackable - you can just replace the standard hose tube with one of your own to attach to a larger refillable propane tank. You’ll get more use out of a tank and save costs by recycling the tank when it’s empty.

Always remember, safety comes first. You should always get professional assistance and thoroughly test your lines whenever dealing with any type of gas or electrical work in your van. Which segues nicely into Sunny and Luna’s next van life essential.

Carbon monoxide detector

Van life is a ton of fun, there’s no doubt, but it isn’t all fun and games, safety is a huge concern when you’re living in such close quarters. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that you’re ready for whatever trouble may come your way, especially the invisible kind. It’s no secret that vehicles produce carbon monoxide exhaust that can be deadly, but if you’ve got a mini propane tank for your camping stove or additional electrical work throughout your van then you’ve got a lot of potential accidents to worry about. That’s why having a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector is an absolute necessity for any van lifer. Nowadays, you can even get a 2-in-1 smoke and carbon monoxide detector combo unit to save space.

Camping chairs

Quite possibly the best part about van life is that although things can get a little tight inside sometimes, outside -the entire world is your living room. You’re definitely going to want to stretch out and enjoy it with some portable camping chairs. There are a ton of options to choose from to fit your style, needs, and budget. Whether you’re looking to fish by the river for a couple of hours or build a full outdoor living room complete with chairs, loveseats, and tables, having these in your setup is essential for any trip.

Magnetic window covers

This one is ingenious! Having a beautiful view out of your van is great when you can enjoy the fresh air and sunshine, but when you’re looking for a warm, peaceful night’s sleep those same windows can become a real liability. Sunny and Luna’s penultimate pick is one we’ve never seen before - magnetic window covers. Just pop them into place and you’ve got instant insulation and light-blocking. This one may not be an option for every van model out there, however, it would also make a great DIY project. We’ll definitely be looking to stock these at Van Life Style soon!


If you’re not the type who needs to work while on the road and prefer to unplug and disconnect then maybe this last one isn’t for you, but for literally everyone else - definitely get yourself a wireless hotspot. These tiny gadgets connect to wireless mobile networks across the country to deliver great wifi speeds almost anywhere (meaning wherever there’s network coverage, depending on your provider). Keep in mind that with most plans you likely won’t be streaming 4K video in full resolution, but for most realistic applications, a hotspot should do the trick. For digital nomads that need to be able to send email, upload photo and video, or connect to a video chat - there really aren’t any substitutes. 

Overall, we think these two delivered a super helpful list of Van Life Essentials that should provide any aspiring builders with a solid list of items to look out for. What did you think of Sunny and Luna’s selections? 

If you’d like to put together your own list of Van Life Essentials to be featured here on the Van Lifer Blog, let us know in the comments below.


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