Five Van-Life Essentials

That Saved Our Road Trips
Gabe and Rocio Rivero with their Thor Motor Coach Sequence in the Utah Salt Flats.

We’ve been lucky enough to experience unique adventures and jaw-dropping views over our six years of van-life travels, from countless wildlife encounters to morning coffee with views of mountains, lakes, rivers, and more. RVing can provide life-changing experiences, but not all experiences are created equally.

The unpredictability of life on the road brings its own set of challenges, from sudden mechanical issues to extreme weather conditions and beyond. To help you prepare for these eventualities, here's a guide to our five (ok we’ll say “five plus” because some are combos ) essential items that not only made our van-life journeys smoother but have also been absolute lifesavers during our six years of RV travels.

A solar panel on the roof of Gabe and Rocio Rivero's Thor Motor Coach Sequence.

1. Lithium Batteries for Power Independence

Why It’s Essential: Lithium, as opposed to the conventional lead acid or AGM batteries, can be drawn down to 20% of full capacity (and in reality, 0% in case of emergency) with little to no negative effect on the battery. Other batteries start to deteriorate quickly when drawn below 50% capacity. Lithium also charges faster. With lithium batteries, you can get more power with fewer worries. Oh, and they are safer to use, so they can be installed inside your RV if preferred as opposed to the other options, which are not recommended for indoor use. 

Life-Saving Moment

This is number one on our list because the extended battery life has saved us and made life more comfortable on countless occasions, especially when boondocking in the middle of nowhere.  

Tips for Maximization

  • Capacity Matters: Opt for batteries with enough capacity to sustain your typical usage for several days and combine them with a decent number of solar panels. 
  • Maintenance Is Key: Regularly check the level of your batteries and keep them charged to ensure longevity. Part of that means cleaning and maintaining your solar panels as well. 
  • Smart Usage: Use energy-efficient appliances to make the battery last longer and avoid unnecessary power drains.  
Gabe and Rocio Rivero's emergency road-side kit next to their Thor Motor Coach Sequence.

2. Comprehensive Roadside Emergency Kit (Especially a Spare Tire)

Why It’s Essential: Being prepared for mechanical failures or accidents is crucial, especially in isolated areas.

Life-Saving Moment

Miles from the nearest town in Canada (or kilometers as they say up north), our tire blew out. We called tow trucks, but they weren’t available, and we likely would have been waiting for days. However, our well-stocked emergency kit equipped with tools, a spare tire, and safety gear enabled us to quickly handle the blowout we made it to the nearest tire shop. We got back on the road within six or so hours. 

Tips for Preparedness

  • Customize Your Kit: Tailor your emergency kit to your specific vehicle and the environments you plan to travel through. 
  • Regular Updates: Check and update your kit regularly; replenish used items and replace expired or worn-out materials. 
  • Include a good air compressor: Many RV or Van tires need more air than your normal car, so make sure you have a good air compressor that will work for your vehicle. 
Gabe Rivero opens the exterior rooftop storage on his Thor Motor Coach Sequence.

3. Rooftop Carrier for Extra Storage

Why It’s Essential: Maximizes space by allowing more room inside the van and reduces clutter. 

Life-Saving Moment

From allowing us to store clothes and gear for long road trips through various climates to housing most of our emergency gear, our rooftop carrier is a game-changer.

Tips for Efficiency

  • Weather-Proofing: Choose a carrier that is durable and can withstand various weather conditions. 
  • Accessibility: Organize items so that those needed least frequently are stored deeper within the carrier. 
  • Security: Ensure the carrier is securely attached to avoid any accidents or losses during travel. We forgot to secure the top properly one time and the lid flew off. We were forced to store a ton of stuff in the van until we replaced it. 
Gabe and Rocio Rivero's back-up water jug.

4. Portable Water Pump and Foldable Water Jug

Why It’s Essential: Ensures a continuous water supply when you can’t find normal connections for a hose. 

Life-Saving Moment

During winter travel up north, many water sources were inaccessible due to freezing conditions. However, we were able to find and fill water inside grocery stores or at roadside fill-up stations to replenish our tanks. 

Tips for Water Management

  • Prevent Freezing: Insulate your water storage and lines during cold weather to prevent freezing. 
  • Regular Cleaning: Keep your water storage system clean to avoid contamination. 
  • Backup Plans: Always have a backup plan for water, such as additional jugs or identifying potential refill points ahead of time. 
A cell phone booster sits in Gabe and Rocio Rivero's Thor Motor Coach Sequence.

5. Cell Phone Booster and/or Starlink for Reliable Communication

Why It’s Essential: Maintains connections with the outside world for both safety and personal communication, which is essential in emergencies. 

Life-Saving Moment

Luckily, we haven’t needed these for a lifesaving moment, but as long-term RVers/road-trippers who love to go way off the grid, having that extra security creates peace of mind. It also works great for us as digital nomads and when we want to stream a movie or show. 

Tips for Connectivity

  • Test Coverage: Regularly test your communication tools in different areas to ensure they work when needed. Not all areas will have a signal, even with these devices, so always check all your options before setting up camp. 
  • Power Backup: Have a reliable power source to keep these devices charged. 
  • Stay Updated: Keep your software and maps updated to enhance reliability and functionality. 

With these five… ok, five plus, essential items, we've transformed potential crises into manageable situations and learned valuable lessons along the way. Each item not only serves a practical purpose but also brings peace of mind. As you plan your adventures, consider these essentials in your preparation so you can enjoy every mile of your journey! 

Gabe and Rocio Rivero next to their Thor Motor Coach Sequence in the mountains.

Class B Camper Vans

Class B motorhomes are small, streamlined and ready to roll. Nimble and more fuel efficient than Class C motorhomes, Class B motorhomes offer living space best suited for small groups. Most Class B motorhomes do not offer slide outs yet still offer luxurious amenities like galley kitchens, beds and restrooms.

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