Alright, you've found your van and you are ready to hit the road. While sometimes you can be lucky enough to cop a van with all the bells and whistles that's ready to rock and roll, most of the time you'll be purchasing a basic van with maybe just a bed in it. This post isn't aimed at how to build out your van. It's more of a guide to help the traveler get their van ready to hit the road on a budget in a new country.
Water - 10+ Gallon (20+ Liters) drinking water tank with an easy pour spout. You'll find that water is one of the most important resource in the van. You'll use it for cleaning as well as drinking and cooking. If you have room, we recommend a drinking water tank and a auxiliary tank that you can fill anywhere. You'll use for dishes/washing/etc.
Portable Gas stove - Swap and Go tanks are the way to go. Even look into a fold up dual burner set up that runs off propane. Small portable cookers are wasteful and each butane bottle has very little cook time. Also, it's a chore to always hunt down and buy the butane.
Cookware and utensils - We highly recommend a cast iron skillet; it's extremely easy to clean and care for. You'll also want a kettle for coffee/tea and boiling water for meals. A saucepan can be handy but not mandatory. You'll need eating and cooking utensils, such as, a 3-in-1 spork with a knife on it. It's an incredibly useful tool. Also, a spatula, a few good knifes, a couple of plastic small cutting boards, stackable bowls (we never use plates), plastic coffee mugs, and kitchen scissors come in handy so many times.
Food storage - This can be the most tricky part of vanlife. Ice can be a pain in the neck and it can ruin your food. It constantly melts and the whole cooler shuffle can be a pain in the ass. A powered fridge is the best way to go, but can be expensive and out of your budget, if you're only using the van for the short term. For this item, do what's best for your situation. Currently, we aren'tusing a cooler, but we are vegetarian; so, it makes food storage easier. If your eating meats and other perishable items, you'll have to go with ice. My best advice on ice is to put all your ice in large ziplock bags, then when the ice melts you won't have a food pond. Also, you can transfer the melted ice into your water bottle, if it's from a good source.
Bin and Containers - Living out of your vehicle will be much easier, if you have organized chaos. Get specific bins for clothes, produce, dry food, toiletries, spices, cooking utensils, and any other random items you need to put somewhere. Once you get all your shit organized and into specific container, you won't have exploding van syndrome every time you try to find an item. Get creative and reuse good boxes or packaging. We are inspired everyday by some organization techniques by other vanlifers!
Curtains - You'll have to get creative on this one, but you will definitely want some type of window cover for privacy and a little bit of a sleep-in on bright mornings. We've found curtain wire to be the most effective way to set up some privacy drapes. Also, sewing isn't always required. You can just cut holes along the top and weave the wire through the fabric. Or we used the hemlines of black sheets. The first option is the easiest.
Lights - While you could get away with just headlamps and flashlights, but blinding each other can get old. Relying on your car's dome lights is dangerous, as your battery can die and leave you stranded. It's happened to us. We recommend solar powered Christmas lights or rechargeable / USB powered lighting options. The cheapest option is battery powered lights but, depending on your country, batteries can be quite expensive to replace.
Car care essentials - We can't stress enough how important it is to have back up fluids for your vehicle. You want a few quarts of oil for your car. Also, antifreeze concentrate, power steering fluid, even spare belts have come in handy for us, window cleaner to mix in with your wiper water are all items you should highly consider carrying around in your van. Since most travelers are in ELVs (end of life vehicles), you should always be on top of your fluids. It can make or break your trip. Last but not least, a good pair of jumper cables. I don't know how many times we swore we wouldn't use them because we would "be careful," but they saved us countless times we left those headlights/domelights on.
Music - If you are traveling, you'll want a lot of music. More than you'll ever think you'll need. We download long mixes off SoundCloud from our favorite DJs. Put as much as you can on an iPod. Unless you have a fancy 200+GB iPhone, you don't want music taking up your adventure picture space.
WikiCamps App - This app is in the AppStore for most countries. It is a community used app with comments, pictures camping spots, grocery stores, gas stations, drinking water refill stations, prices, libraries, public pools (for showers) and everything and anything else useful you can think of. It's a game changer.
These are a few options to get you up and going. We've also put together a checklist to help you get all the vanssentials to start your advanture.