When we packed for our year-long roadtrip in Vinnie, he was almost packed to the roof. Two days before we left we had a huge meltdown and tried to do a big cull.
Here’s what we needed (and what we didn’t)!
1. Good stove – we had the Lido junior installed in Vinnie (with double burner and grill), but on hikes we used our Trangia or Jetboil.
2. Lighting – we installed lighting in Vinnie but found head torches super useful. Quite often we had to set up camp in the dark (as we stayed out watching the sunset) and having both hands free was essential. Also getting to a look-out or viewpoint for sunrise meant hiking in the dark – making head torches very handy!
3. Fridge – we have an upright Engel, mainly as it came with Vinnie. It’s much easier to take food in and out of but in the hot weather we found it was a lot more power hungry than the standard chest fridges.
4. Solar Panels/Power – we installed solar panels on Vinnie’s roof before we left, however they were only 80W in total. We ended up buying a portable 200W set on the road so we could free camp as much as possible. Since returning to Perth, we have replaced the solar panels with a thin flexible 200W panel and bought another 200W portable set (this time a lightweight set - 3.5kg only). Our previous set was closer to 15kg.
5. Inverter – absolutely essential, especially with how often drone batteries need recharging. Make sure you spend a little bit extra for one that outputs a genuine sine wave. We didn’t and it cooked the battery on James’ laptop (oops).
6. Dual battery system – given the amount of driving we did, this was a lifesaver for both charging the auxiliary battery and preventing any draw from our main battery. An absolute must have.
7. Water and water containers – we actually ran out of time (and money) to install a permanent water tank under Vinnie so we carried 15L containers from Bunnings. We were always cautious to fill up with water before going really remote.
8. Chairs/Table – we had a fold out table with two small benches and used this most days. The fold out aspect made it compact and we found we didn’t need individual chairs as well.
9. Toolbox – we took all of our basic tools and certainly didn’t regret it. Corrugations caused several of our panels to rattle off and having our tool box meant we were able to fix most simple mechanic issues ourselves.
10. Spare tyre + other common parts – fairly obvious but we always carried a spare fan belt, tyre and accelerator/clutch cables.
11. Spare oil + petrol – we checked our oil religiously, at least once a day, however that may have been more related to Vinnie’s 41 year old engine. We also carried a 10L jerry can on the roof but only really used it in Karijini National Park.
12. Lighter – we did a one day “bush survival course” and trying to rub two sticks together to get a fire going was nearly impossible. It was nice to know we wouldn’t have to resort to this if we got stuck. We really recommend the lighter from Dusk – especially as you can get free refills if you’re a member!
13. PLB – thankfully we never had to use this but for peace of mind, especially in remote areas, it was well worth it.
14. First Aid Kit (incl. snake bandages) – we recommend a larger kit to keep in your van/home and a smaller one to keep in your day pack. We made sure we went on a first aid course before we left on our trip and while we were very lucky (we only ever had minor burns, cuts and grazes) it was good to know we were prepared.
Earlier this year in Karijini we also witnessed a traveller slipping and falling – knocking himself out and nearly drowning in the gorge. We were thankful for our first aid training and quite surprised how few travellers had first aid kits on them. Definitely a must.
15. Picnic blanket – everywhere you camp becomes your new “garden”. We loved having breakfast, lunch and dinner on our blanket anywhere and everywhere.
16. Camera (and equipment) – it wasn’t until this trip that photography became a passion for us. Items we always carry (in addition to a camera and lens) are:
set of filters;
lens cleaning kit; and
phone (for info on the sun and weather).
17. Compact board games – we really love games and couldn’t resist taking a few away with us. Our favourites which are nice and small - cards, spot it/Dobble and catchphrase.
18. Notebooks/Diaries/Journals – we had so many weird and wonderful thoughts and ideas on the road and it was great being able to record them. I know you can use your phone/laptop but sometimes it’s nice to put pen to paper.
19. Speaker/Radio – we had a questionable Chinese head-unit installed and when it (eventually) broke down (week 29 on the road), I (Char) was forced to listen to James’ on-going renditions of Adele’s 'Hello' and even better, his gripping conversation starters “Where do you think moths go when there’s no light”.
20. Sentence a day journal – we love this. We used the book from Kikki K and really enjoyed recording our daily highlights. It’s so lovely looking back and seeing what made us smile. Here’s a few snippets from 2016:
June 16 – “Finally getting to see a platypus!”
July 12 – “Scoring the bargain of a lifetime and getting eight avocados for $5”
November 27 – “Finally doing a load of washing”
21. Wiki camps – this app was honestly a godsend. Can't recommend it enough – it consists of user ratings and details for camp spots, caravan parks, day use areas etc. I don’t think we went a day without using it.
22. Toilet paper + shovel – pretty self-explanatory. Cue the cute couple chat, “Where’s the poo shovel at babe?”
23. Sunblock and sunnies – travelling Australia, this is a must. We like LeTan for sunblock. Mostly because of that video on YouTube where the French man says I’m Le Tired.
24. National Park Permits – we found it much more cost effective to get seasonal/ annual passes for the States/Territories that had permits (rather than paying for daily entry).
25. Lists – we love lists - we created a daily list that had all of our Vanlife checks like the oil, pop top being securely down, gas being off etc., but also generic grocery lists, hiking lists, meal ideas etc.). If you think some of these would be handy, let us know and we will do up a blog!
26. Breathable washing bags + sachets of fabric softener – we usually went quite a long time without doing our washing and found it handy to put our dirty clothes in a breathable bag with a couple of fabric softeners so it didn’t smell out Vinnie.
27. Back up supply of tinned/canned food including Cuppa Soups – more often than not you won’t be able to nip to a Woolies or a Coles so it pays to have a back up supply. Plus, some days you’ll be so knackered boiling water for your cuppa-soup will be the most you'll be able to manage. Trust us.
28. Dustpan and broom – we used this at least six times each day as it was impossible to keep the dust and dirt out.
29. Mosquito coil holder – we bought a clever little contraption at the Kuranda markets (near Cairns) which let us use all the broken bits of coil. (If anyone has any tips on how to not break mosquito coils let us know).
30. Reusable bags – we always needed these! E.g. for grocery shopping, carrying our clean washing, packing for day trips at the beach, showers etc. The options are endless. Highly recommend!
31. Jandals/Thongs/ slip on shoes – waking up in the middle of the night needing to use the loo urgently and then spending five minutes doing up your laces. Not ok.
32. Electrolytes – a couple of times we miscalculated a few hikes in hot weather (oops) and it was so handy having these there to save us.
33. Pop up kettle – what a space saving revelation. Slightly painful to forego a whistling kettle but worth it for the space.
34. Rag towels – in cold weather everything got wet overnight and it was nice not having to worry about how dirty these towels got.
Get a dark coloured rag towel (like grey or black) so you physically can’t see how dirty they get.
35. Ant powder – too many times we would park up for the night and find ants had climbed up Vinnie’s wheels and sought out our food cupboard. If we saw any sign of ants we spread a tiny amount of powder around the wheels and it worked a treat. Bonus - also useful for when they’re ruining your romantic picnics.
36. Mini Spirit Level – we kept this in the front of Vinnie so it was within easy reach when we pulled up at a campsite. It proved to be extremely helpful in ensuring we were level so our food was uniformly cooked, we weren't sliding on top of each other in bed and our food didn’t come tumbling out of the fridge.
CHARLOTTE'S TOP FIVE ESSENTIALS
1. Wet wipes – especially useful when you can’t wash your face.
2. Hot water bottle – I get cold easily and have endometriosis so it’s great for tummy pains on the road. James bought me an awesome metre long hot water bottle for my birthday (it’s so long I can tie it around my waist).
3. Hat – sun smart and also hides your unwashed hair.
4. Dry shampoo – showers are far and few. The dry shampoo was to me, what the head torch was to James.
5. Collapsible cheese grater – do I really need to say more – space saver and happiness generator.
JAMES' TOP FIVE ESSENTIALS
1. Coffee – an all round essential (not just van life).
2. Keep Cup – for your coffee.
3. Milk powder – in case you run out of fresh milk (for your coffee haha).
4. Powerbank – we used this on hikes, when we needed to charge batteries/phones etc.
5. Condi’s Crystals – we used these heaps to treat water and also kept a small container in our first aid kits.
WHAT WE HAD TO BUY ON THE ROAD
1. A smaller table – which we used for showering/ non food stuff.
2. Collapsible bucket – for washing dishes.
3. Second water container – for the Northern Territory/top of Western Australia.
4. Frying pans/ pots with removable handles – removing the handles meant these took up so much less room than our regular frying pan and pots.
WHAT WE WISH WE DIDN'T PACK
1. Bikes – it was a lot of effort to attach and reattach these to the bike rack given how little we used them. They also got super scratched, scuffed and dirty with all the dirt roads we dragged them through.
2. BBQ – we started out cooking expensive barbeque meals (nothing like a roast on the Weber) but eventually switched to cheap options (hello 80c tin of baked beans). Given there are so many free barbies around Aus we probably wouldn’t bother again.
3. Our big awning/tent – we only set up our awning with enclosed walls a few times in the first few months. Even though the set up probably only took us 15-20 minutes, we decided to ship it home since it was big and heavy and we weren’t using it much.
4. Folding chairs – we bought some very comfy (and very expensive) folding chairs but they just took up too much room. We couldn’t justify them with our compact table and bench chairs.
5. Our expensive frying pan with a big handle – it barely fit in our cupboard (a.k.a kitchen). We were stoked to discover a frying pan and pot combo with removable handles – it saved us so much space.
If you want more information or have a question on our vanlife essentials, let us know in the comments below!