Have you ever lived in 6 square metres for a year? No, me neither. Which is why every item we packed was a gamble.
There are some things we knew we would find indispensable: the Helinox camping chairs, our solar power system, a giant mosquito net, and the coffee grinder.
Then there are things we kind of wish we hadn’t brought. That list, thankfully, is very short.
Finally, there are the surprising items. Not surprising as in “Oh I didn’t know we packed that!” but surprising in how valuable they have proven to be. These are the things we really couldn’t do van-life without. In fact, I’m starting to wonder how we did apartment-life without them!
Here are 5 surprising things you shouldn’t live without on the road:
We almost didn’t bring them, as neither Mat nor I are big on cycling (Mat gets saddle sore after a kilometre and my bike has an incessant squeak). But not a week has gone by where we haven’t gone for a ride or two.
You know what makes them so handy? Imagine you’ve found the perfect camping spot. You’ve unpacked the workbench (see below) and set up the tarp for shade. Then you realise you need to grab a few items from the shops. It’s just too far to walk, so do you:
a) Pack up everything again and drive to the shops?
b) Jump on your bike?
c) Sulk in the Old Girl and moan about how you should have brought your bike?
That’s what I thought.
Okay, technically we didn’t pack them. But we did download lots of podcasts onto our phones before we set off. On cold nights, or when we just feel like it, we hook up the phone to our portable speaker, settle down on our “sofa” and listen.
We’ve enjoyed This American Life’s Serial (Series 1) and are just starting on BBC World Service’s My Perfect World. These are fascinating to listen to, but we’ve found the whole experience offers more than interesting conversation – it’s a little piece of home.
I was dubious when Mat explained what the workbench and sheet of form ply were for. Okay, I was more than dubious; I actually tried to talk him out of it. But now I’m a convert. Let me explain.
The workbench and wood create a table. This may seem like a lot of effort for a table, but it means Mat can work at the right height for printmaking, drawing and painting. Then, come dinnertime, he flips over the wood and ta dah! The perfect kitchen benchtop. Best of all, it all packs down neatly into the roof rack.
- Collapsible bucket
We laughed when my mum gave us this pop-up bucket for Christmas. Even she admits she bought it as a joke. But the jokes on us, because this has proven to be the most ridiculously handy item we could have packed. We use it for bucket baths, to collect chestnuts, to store wet clothes, to cover up Mat’s cold brew coffee overnight…the list goes on. Do yourself a favour, even if you’re not going on a road trip, buy a collapsible bucket.
- Paper map
Sure we have a Garmin GPS and smartphones with Google Maps. But there’s something about a giant paper map of Australia that you just can’t beat. You know the kind…big paper maps that you unfold and spread across a whole table. Then laugh over town names like Foul Bay, Mt Buggery and Nowhere Else, before trying to fold it back along the correct creases only to eventually give up and make new creases. This is good old-fashioned fun you just can’t get with Google Maps.
A giant paper map gives you a sense of where places really are. It reminds you how big this country really is. And how it might be a little optimistic to try and drive from Katoomba to Cairns in a month.
Things we should have packed and have since bought:
- Plastic tub with lid
You don’t want smelly rubbish in the van, but you also don’t want leave it in a bag outside. You might as well round up the local possums and invite them to a midnight food fight. That’s where your tub with a lid comes in. Throw in your rubbish, put the lid on, and stick it outside. Job done.
It was a silly oversight – we had a washing line but no pegs. Fortunately no town is without a dollar shop. Now we have pegs.
- LED light
Bedtime reading used to be a big saga. First we started with our headlamps on our heads. Then we decided to put some 3M hooks on the ceiling to hang the headlamps. Then, after one person almost blinded the other person one evening while trying to hang the headlamps, we decided it wasn’t working. So we invested $10 in an LED lamp with sticky backing and stuck it on the ceiling. Two weeks later, that has fallen down and no amount of duct tape will keep it up. Any suggestions welcome!
What’s the one item you couldn’t live without for a year? Can you think of a better way to attach our nightlight? Tell us your thoughts!