Around the time I first started Vanlife fulltime, I posted a picture of me reading a book in my bed…
So much was exactly how I wanted to be – working remotely, taking time to grow as a writer, taking time to read and just sorting my life out while fighting cancer.
I was so proud of the little home I built to work towards this life. What I was most proud of about my van was the bookshelf on the wall.
I dreaded leaving my books behind. I hated moving and culling the books down repeatedly, but the thought of leaving all my books behind was no fun. So, instead, I built a bookshelf. It was a creature comfort, an allotted luxury, something which would pass the Marie Kondo test of “sparking joy”.
I shared that picture and shortly after someone commented, “I thought Vanlife was about being a minimalist… ever heard of a Kindle?”
I’m not sure if it would surprise the person to know that, yes, since I only live in a van and not under a rock I have heard of a Kindle. In fact, I have one! I put my favorite books on it for when I travel on planes or throw it in my backpack for camping. But I have the bookshelf because while Vanlife does involve a minimalist attitude, true minimalism would be sitting on the floor with a gallon of water and a loaf of bread. Everything else is technically excess.
So, Vanlife is much about the extra choices you’ll make beyond true survivalist minimalism of calories and water it takes to survive. When I talk about things I wouldn’t go without I’m going to assume a method to cook, wash dishes, sleep, and sit are assumed. The rest is more or less chosen luxuries and options.
So, here’s my list of items I wouldn’t go without (and spoiler alert, a Kindle isn’t on it)
1) Huge Garage Space Under the Bed
This is one of the basic things that you have to decide on when building your rig.
Do you want a van you can completely walkthrough?
Do you want it to feel more spacious and oriented to live in it or have more room to live out of it?
I knew I didn’t want to be building my bed into my table constantly and wanted a real mattress. Mainly, I wanted to steal a line from Step Brothers and have “So much room for activities” so I went with a full-time bed with a table that slides out from underneath.
And accessible through the back doors, I have a huge garage space that can fit bikes, snowboards, boots, wetsuit, fishing gear, backpacking gear, tire chains, extra camera goods, lacrosse poles, baseball gloves, soccer balls, car maintenance supplies… All this stuff has been back there with room to spare. I chose to put in three removable drawers for easier access to everything, but keep them easy to remover if we go on a bigger trip and need to throw more people’s bags back there.
2) Rooftop Deck
Want to double your livable space? Create an amazing place to better experience all the places you’ll go to?
Try a rooftop deck.
This thing is a magnet for friends when we’re all meeting up and such a great place for everything from morning coffee to work all day to dinner and stargazing. The rooftop deck is probably actually the #1 thing I will always have in my van.
3) Large Mat for Outside the Sliding Door
I didn’t have this until two years into living Vanlife but then I won a Gilimat in a raffle at a Vanlife Diaries meetup and my day to day life changed for the better. I immediately noticed Ayla and I were tracking less dirt and sand into the van. I was spending more time sitting right outside my van, enjoying meals in the shade of the van on the matt, and could leave things out without setting them in the dirt. All of a sudden it was like I had a porch in front of my van and it was amazing.
4) A Projector
I’m a writer and hiker, I love spending tons of time outside under the stars and will always opt to watch the sunset over being in front of a screen… But, I’m a human and love movies.
I’m inspired by a good film and there is something way different about watching it on an iPhone or computer screen vs a projector.
Yeah, you have to have a sheet to hang but the ability to watch a movie projected to 72 inches inside the van and 10+ feet for movie night on the side of the van is so, so cool. I have the Miroir Smart Tilt Projector which is cool because it’s on a hinge and can rotate pointing straight out to straight up, so it can be on the ground but still point up at a screen or the side of the van and automatically changes its projection to make sure the image is still the proper dimensions.
5) That Beautiful, Huge, Unnecessary Bookshelf
Yeah, that’s right Instagram hater guy… I’m always going to have my bookshelf!
My books are my memories, but also ways to be able to pull the best reminders and wisdom from people who’ve got it figured out more than I do right now. They’re a sense of grounding normalcy that I really appreciate having.
And yeah, I love holding and flipping through pages and going back to dogear paper with sentences I’ve underlined in ink. I love having 120+ books on the shelf next to my bed. I love the conversations it’s started, the books it’s allowed me to lend and in return, receive.
The bookshelf is rad and I’m completely unapologetic for having it.
It’s also super photogenic, which is a bonus. That’s cool but I hope more so my bookshelf is a reminder that your van is YOURS to do with as YOU please.
Carry the sports you love.
Figure out a way to put in plants or art or everything you need to play a sport that most Vanlifers don’t.
Put a home gym in it.
Put 10 solar panels on top.
Have the whole thing built out for rafting or fishing or playing video games.
I love my five things and think that everyone should have a rooftop deck and mat, but not so much the bookshelf or projector. We’re all just making the best little home we can possibly make for ourselves and that’s something pretty cool. So I hope you find the five things YOU wouldn’t go without.
Don’t go with mine unless you love them too. Go with yours!
Writer, athlete, photo maker, friend. Equal parts empathy and adventure. Ayla is my boss.