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Items I Regret Not Packing on a 14-Day Van Life Trip

by Staff

Side-by-side images of the author and her rental van.
Monica Humphries/Business Insider

  • Last October, I took a 3,000-mile road trip in a campervan.
  • While I remembered to pack important things like a phone mount for driving, I did forget key items.
  • If I take another long trip, I’ll pack items like a portable shower and citronella candles.

As I packed up my campervan — aka the place I would call home for two weeks — I crossed my fingers and hoped I had everything I’d need.

I was embarking on a two-week van trip spanning 3,000 miles. I planned to pass through six states, meaning I’d also hit a range of weather and temperatures ranging from the chilly mountains of Colorado to the California desert.

While I had numerous bags, suitcases, and backpacks packed full of items to meet those needs, I was confident there was something I was bound to forget.

By the end of the trip, I realized I had almost everything I needed — emphasis on almost.

While I was thrilled I remembered to pack a phone mount for long drives, I regretted leaving a few things off my packing list.

Here’s what I won’t forget if I embark on another cross-country road trip.

A camping shower would have been a major help throughout the trip.

The author outside of an RV resort’s shower facilities.
Monica Humphries/Business Insider

For two weeks, I hopped between showering at RV resorts and gyms.

But more often than not, I sacrificed showering.

Sometimes, it was inconvenient to find a place. For example, while sleeping in California’s Joshua Tree National Park, I found one RV resort where I could clean off. None of the other nearby resorts I called offered day use of their showers.

And when I did find RV resorts with showers like the one in Joshua Tree, I had to pay for the luxury. In that instance, I paid $10 for a 20-minute shower.

A portable camping shower would’ve been a game changer. Camping showers, in their simplest form, are bags attached to a hose and shower nozzle. More luxurious ones often use solar to heat the water or a pump for more water pressure.

Having one would’ve meant I could’ve rinsed off anywhere I traveled as long as I had enough fresh water to fill the bag.

The options available on Amazon can range in price, but plenty cost less than $50.

If I embark on a van trip again, I’ll buy and bring a camping shower.

I should’ve packed a couple of gallons of water or a collapsible water tank.

A collapsible water jug.

Van life made me realize I take aspects of apartment life for granted.

The convenience of showering is one example. Another is access to potable water.

My van rental came with a seven-gallon water tank. This water was what I used for drinking, washing my face, brushing my teeth, eating, and washing my hands.

Initially, seven gallons felt like a lot.

I’m sure I’d learn to minimize my water consumption if I did van life full time, but on this trip, I went through seven gallons every few days.

Once it went dry, I needed to find a place to fill up. This was an often inconvenient task since I typically stayed in campsites and public land that lacked free, fresh water.

So I turned to places like RV resorts and rest stops to fill up.

Next time, I’d pack a collapsible water tank to use in addition so I wouldn’t have to replenish mine so often. They’re inexpensive, too — a five-gallon one on REI costs just $12.

I’ll also grab a citronella candle for future trips.

The author watches a sunset while bugs fly into her van.
Monica Humphries/Business Insider

I’m well aware that the outdoors and camping often involve dirt and bugs, so I thought I properly prepared by adding bug spray to my packing list.

On my third night in the van, I pulled up to a campsite just in time to watch the sunset. I opened the back doors of the van, crawled into bed, and watched the sky turn a myriad of pastels.

By my open van was also an invitation for flies, mosquitos, moths, and beetles.

It was impossible to enjoy the sunset without critters flying around, but I wanted to avoid coating myself with sticky bug spray right before getting into bed for the night.

This could’ve been avoided if I had packed a bug-repellent or citronella candle, which costs $6 at REI.

Beyond loving the smell of a citronella candle, I’ve found that the combination of a lit candle and a fan blowing bugs away is a solid bug-repellent.

Three items worth less than $75 would’ve given me a handful of comforts throughout the two-week trip.

Business Insider’s author stands in front of a campervan.
Monica Humphries/Business Insider

I would’ve been cleaner, less itchy, and more hydrated throughout my trip with these three items.

For any future adventure in a van, I guarantee my packing list will include a citronella candle, water jug, and camping shower.

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