The Goods

Essentials for Van Life

How do you build a bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a workspace in a van?


Enjoy the fruits of capitalism with The Goods, a regular series highlighting products that can make life a little bit better.

For two years, we lived in a 72-square-foot tiny house we built inside a van. Our van gave us the freedom to live rent-free across North America, making our home in picturesque high deserts, isolated mountaintops, secluded beaches, wineries, and even the streets of Manhattan.

Whether you're using your van for full-time living or just for weekend escapes, you can strip down to the bare essentials while also making a comfortable living space. A van is about the size of a walk-in closet and must serve as a workspace, a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom, so every inch counts.

If that sounds like the life for you, these are some products that can help you live the dream.

Chris and Cristina Moody lived nomadically in a van for two years. They recently settled in Boone, North Carolina, where Chris teaches journalism at Appalachian State University.

Getting Around

Galich Ws/Fiverr
(Galich Ws/Fiverr)

For our travels, we chose the 2017 RAM ProMaster cargo van because of its price (cheaper than a Mercedes Sprinter), its size (fits in a parking spot), and its stealthiness (easily mistaken for a work van while secretly camping in urban areas).

Keep It Cool With a Ventilation Fan

Maxxair Maxxfan ventilation fan  | Galich Ws/Fiverr
(Galich Ws/Fiverr)

You won't be paying for campgrounds with electrical hookups very often, so you'll need a low-energy way to stay cool. Cut a hole in the roof of your van and install a Maxxair Maxxfan ventilation fan to blow air in or out and stay comfortable. With an open window, it creates much-needed circulation.


Great Stuff Pro spray foam, R-Tech 1-inch foam insulation boards, and a Reflectix roll | Galich Ws/Fiverr
(Galich Ws/Fiverr)

Without insulation, you'll be living in a hot tin can. (No thanks!) We insulated our walls with R-Tech 1-inch foam insulation boards combined with Great Stuff Pro spray foam between the panels. We covered the insulation with a roll of Reflectix for an extra layer of protection.


Renogy Deep Cycle Battery and WirthCo Battery Isolator Kit | Galich Ws/Fiverr
(Galich Ws/Fiverr)

If you want to go off the grid, you'll need solar power. We installed a Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Polycrystalline Solar Starter Kit, which included 100-watt solar panels that fed our Renogy Deep Cycle Battery through a 20 Amp Rover MPPT Solar Charge Controller. Because the sun isn't always reliable, a WirthCo Battery Isolator Kit charges the battery using your vehicle's alternator while you drive.


Midea chest freezer
Galich Ws/Fiverr

If you have a fancy budget, install a Dometic CRX 65U energy-efficient refrigerator and freezer that will fit perfectly in a van. Or save money by doing what we did: Buy a small Midea chest freezer and rewire it to make it think it's a fridge using an Inkbird Temperature Control Thermostat. This offers a low-cost cooling system that provides ample space for storing food on long wilderness hauls.


Best Choice 4-inch Portable Mattress Folding Mattress Topper | Galich Ws/Fiverr
(Galich Ws/Fiverr)

Van life might feel like a long camping trip, but you don't always have to rough it. We slept soundly on a Best Choice 4-inch Portable Mattress Folding Mattress Topper that doubles as a couch during the day.

When Nature Calls

Camco Toilet Bucket | Galich Ws/Fiverr
(Galich Ws/Fiverr)

Everybody poops. Dirtbag van lifers might not mind filling a Camco Toilet Bucket with wood chips to do the job, but others might want a little more luxury in these private moments. For a step above, install a Nature's Head Self-Contained Composting Toilet.


KNOXHULT modular kitchen | Galich Ws/Fiverr
(Galich Ws/Fiverr)

You'll need to be organized, so get thee to Ikea, where you'll find plenty of options for storage bins, shelving, and racks for your new tiny space. We even bought a KNOXHULT modular kitchen from Ikea, and it held up beautifully over hundreds of miles of bumpy backcountry roads.


Gas One stove | Galich Ws/Fiverr
(Galich Ws/Fiverr)

A portable stove will allow you to cook outside and avoid filling your tiny space with kitchen smells. We cooked delicious one-pot meals on our Gas One stove, which runs on both butane and propane.

Working on the Road

weBoost Drive Sleek cell signal booster | Galich Ws/Fiverr
(Galich Ws/Fiverr)

Achieve digital nomad status by bringing along a weBoost Drive Sleek cell signal booster so you can take those important Zoom calls on a remote beach between dips in the ocean.

Where To Sleep: Memberships and Apps

You do a lot of sneaking around looking for safe places to sleep at night, so we recommend a Harvest Hosts membership, which provides thousands of gorgeous overnight spots, including farms, wineries, breweries, and golf courses across North America. We also relied on apps like USFS & BLM CampgroundsAllStays, and to find sleeping spots—and to find propane, water, dump stations, and cellphone reception levels.

Fresh Water

Travel Berkey water filter | Galich Ws/Fiverr
(Galich Ws/Fiverr)

Travel Berkey water filter is a dependable and sturdy way to ensure you have access to clean, fresh water wherever you are. When you're on the road, good water is key.


Streetwise Touchdown Rechargeable LED Stun Gun | Galich Ws/Fiverr
(Galich Ws/Fiverr)

On the rare occasion that you'll need protection from a predator, arm yourself for close-range combat. Firearms or pepper spray might not be the best option in your extremely tiny space. Opt for a hand-held taser, such as the Streetwise Touchdown Rechargeable LED Stun Gun.

Keep it Stealthy

NICETOWN Thermal Insulated Blackout Curtains | Galich Ws/Fiverr
(Galich Ws/Fiverr)

Discretion is paramount. Enjoy living in privacy by hanging NICETOWN Thermal Insulated Blackout Curtains over every window. They'll double as temperature control by keeping out cold air on chilly nights.

Don't Get Lost

Rand McNally Road Atlas | Galich Ws/Fiverr
(Galich Ws/Fiverr)

Google Maps is a great tool, but you still need to know how to find your way when you're beyond cell range. That's why we always travel with an old-fashioned Rand McNally Road Atlas to explore the nation's harder-to-reach locales.