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There are lots of other must-have lists out there, so we figured we’d throw in our two cents as well with our top recommendations.
After years of living on the road, polling friends (and strangers) about their top 3 or top 5, we’ve come to the conclusion that the below items are the overall top 5 must-haves for comfort in your van.
There are surely other items on different van dwelling lists, but as far as comfort goes, we have you covered.
Whenever new folks ask about our top recommendations, insulation always makes the top 2. Insulation will make or break your comfort as a full-timer.
Proper insulation keeps you cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and even without all the other fancy add-ons you see in vans, your quality of life will be so much better.
If you’re doing a start-from-scratch build, there are tons of guides on the internet with advice on how to insulate your rig, so we won’t reinvent the wheel in this post.
We’ll just strongly, strongly recommend not skipping this step.
If you’re retrofitting a rig, perhaps a Subaru or SUV, or you just aren’t interested in fully gutting your rig before getting on the road, we also have some advice.
Make or buy insulated coverings for all of your windows.
You can do this with Reflectix, Black Spray Paint, and sticky velcro for under $100 in one afternoon, or you can try and find after-market fancy magnet ones that will fit your rig’s windows.
If it’s an older vehicle, however, you might struggle to find new covers that will fit.
This has the dual benefit of being a reflective and somewhat insulating barrier between you and the outside world and benefitting your rig as nighttime blackout panels.
If you’re using Reflectix strategically, it will keep the cool evening air inside your vehicle for much longer into the day, preventing the sun from turning your van or car into an oven in the morning.
This is nothing new; folks have been using sunshades on their dashboards for decades- it’s the same concept.
In the winter, this will make your heater more effective, as you’ll lose less heat through your windows, and you’ll ultimately stay warmer for longer, all while burning less fuel (or power).
Just- insulate. It’s a game-changer.
Insulation + airflow = a well-ventilated, comfortable, home.
There are 2 main reasons to make sure you have airflow:
Firstly, when strategically paired with insulation, even small USB-powered fans will continuously push hot air out and pull fresh air in, lowering the temperature significantly on hot summer nights, and keeping you from feeling stifled.
Secondly, although it’s not glamorous to talk about, mold is a pretty big issue for vanlifers, and proper ventilation dramatically reduces the potential for sneaky microbial growth.
Think about it- humans are mostly water, and while we’re sleeping, we’re ejecting tons of moisture into the air with every exhale.
We’ve all woken up after a car nap to find the windows covered in condensation.
For full-time vanlifers, consider how much moisture will ultimately build up over time in the walls, floors, and hidden places of your rig.
If you’re a little grossed out right now, good!
Mold is no joke, it should be taken seriously.
Consistent and deliberate ventilation and airflow will take you a long way.
We have several friends who have had to gut and rebuild after discovering mold, so it’s worth it to take preventative measures.
We have a much longer breakdown on water here, but essentially- you can’t exist without it. No matter how big or small your rig is, you need to have a plan for how you’re going to deal with water.
4. Auxiliary Power
In today’s world, we’re reliant on technology.
Love it or hate it, we just are.
Even if your rig is super low-tech, I’ll bet you aren’t tucking yourself into bed by candlelight or whale blubber oil lantern.
There are tons of options out there on the market for auxiliary power in your rig, from a full, permanent solar setup to small, solar-rechargeable portable battery banks.
There are battery banks you can charge via USB while driving, and battery banks that attach to a foldable, portable solar panel while you’re in one place for a few hours or a few days.
Whatever your plan is, having a plan is essential and will minimize many future roadside headaches, trust us.
5. Your Comfort Choice
This one is fun because we can’t really tell you what it is. There are many long-trail through hikers who all cheerfully debate about fellow hikers’ “extra” or “comfort” items- the item they choose to carry the extra weight for because it simply provides so much comfort in their day that it’s worth it.
It’s a similar concept in a van. What’s the item that’s going to make your transition to this tiny, moving box most enjoyable?
For some, it’s knowing that there’s a toilet on board for emergencies.
Or a projector and screen for cozy Netflix nights.
For others, it’s having a fridge vs. a cooler, or a 2-burner stove+oven combo vs. a pocket rocket or jetboil 1-burner.
We always love to remind folks that there’s no one right answer when it comes to vanlife- only your right answer.
Consider this last one carefully- what others are doing in their rigs may seem truly “extra” to you, but what’s your “extra”?
Everybody gets to have one. Or two!
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