Your full time van life wardrobe essentials…I learned the hard way so you don’t have to.
Sh*t You Absolutely Need For Van Life
- Pyjamas you aren’t embarrassed by, for when you inevitably get The Knock. This day will come, and when it does, don’t freak out. Be polite. Apologise if you were in the way, or parked up somewhere you were not supposed to be. Say it won’t happen again. And then move on immediately. Yes, without getting dressed. Hence needing pyjamas that don’t have a hole in the buttcrack, or Peppa Pig on the front. They will make an already awkward situation infinitely more mortifying.
- Plenty of underwear and socks. From experience, I have found it is best to have 10-14 days supply, since you’re probably not going to a laundrette any more frequently than this. I actually started my van life journey thinking I could get away with only a few pairs of each, and wash them in my sink. Every evening as part of my nightly routine, when the socks and pants came off (at pyjama O’clock) they would go straight in the sink with a squirt of fairy liquid and be hand washed. Then I’d hang them to dry on my curtain rail.
The reason for this daily ritual is that when I washed multiple pairs of socks and pants in one go, I’d run out of space to hang them in the back, and so would need to hang some in the front cab.
I quite literally spent some rainy days and nights with multiple pairs of knickers draped over my steering wheel. There is no better way to advertise that you are a solo female van lifer and so I would not recommend this. Luckily I tended to be parking in places that I knew to be pretty safe, or I’d be parked up at the beach surrounded by other van lifers I knew and trusted.
- Flip-flops or a trustworthy pair of sliders, for all those speedy “just popping” ins-and-outs that you will inevitably do, to fetch x-y-z from the boot or the front cab, or to find somewhere nearby to sit and drink your morning coffee with a sensational view.
- A warm hat. I absolutely live in my knitted beanie in winter. Even inside the van. No, it doesn’t smell, and nor does my head thank you very much. Growing up, I was always told that we lose 80% of our body heat through our heads, and that that’s why wearing a hat makes such a difference. Unfortunately, I recently made the mistake of googling this, and discovered it is in fact entirely a myth and not remotely true (and now I’ve gone and ruined that for you too – you’re welcome 😉 )
…BUT since our head makes up about 10% of our total body surface area, wearing a hat – or even a balaclava, if you don’t mind looking like an amateur bank robber – will still make a genuine difference in helping you to conserve heat. And, psychologically, trust me – even knowing what you now do, the placebo effect still works miracles.
- One or two ‘nice’ outfits, for dinner and drinks. Just believe me on this one – if you don’t have them, there will 100% be times when you wish you did, and end up feeling awkwardly underdressed. Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that you fill your van wardrobe with high fashion items that you are barely ever going to use…but I would advise that you challenge yourself to select your two most-reliable favourite smart / dinner date outfits (note: don’t pick anything that requires ironing) and make a point of packing these. You’ll be glad you did. Van Life doesn’t have to mean completely slumming it.
Sh*t You Absolutely Don’t Need For Van Life
- More than two coats: one warm and casual, and one light and perhaps a bit smarter. Ideally, both should be waterproof. I bent this rule a little because I actually own three. This is because – like many females – I sometimes prioritise fashion over maximum functionality. So, I have a warm parka jacket; a light raincoat (which I can fold up dead small and tuck away in my shoe cupboard when not in use); and (here’s the bent-rule part) a Lakeland brown leather jacket.
- A dressing gown. Possible exception: England in Winter, where if you’re doing full-time vanlife and are somebody who feels the cold, this can be useful. Personally, I don’t have a dressing gown when I’m full-time vanlifing, but I do end up wearing two layers of clothes on a regular basis in Winter…Sometimes even to sleep in.
It’s not that I am without heating – in fact, every van I’ve lived full-time in has had either a diesel heater or an LPG heater. But to conserve fuel and reduce the frequency of having to top these up, on all but the coldest most nose-freezing nights I would leave the heating off and instead add extra layers and a hot water bottle.
- Welly boots. DEFINITE exception: England in Winter. Store them in a mate’s garage the rest of the time. Trust me, they ain’t worth lugging over to mainland Europe; you will literally never use them. Use that space for a good quality pair of hiking boots instead (most hiking boots are water resistant to an extent anyway).
- Anything – literally anything – that requires ironing. And it should also go without saying that clothing that requires dry cleaning is a no. To be fair, even when I owned an apartment in Liverpool, I never owned an ironing board. I found that if I hung my clothes carefully to dry, they would dry with minimal creases.
Now, I do own a couple of very nice Reiss jumpers and a silk jumpsuit that was tailor-made for me in Hoi An back when I was motorbiking across Vietnam, and technically these items are dry clean only. But I get around this by carefully hand washing them in the sink. And I tend to wear them multiple times between washes. Not only is is completely unnecessary to wash your clothes (except underwear and socks) after every wear, but it also reduced their lifespan. You’ll end up having to bin them sooner, I guarantee it.
- Multiple bikinis. You’ll end up using two, max. My suggestion? Pack one sunbathing bikini, something that makes you feel completely badass b*tch but (even if it might not be the most suitable for swimming butterfly), and one ‘active’ bikini, for the inevitable sea frolicking. If you want to be even more cut throat and only take one, then more power to you – and I suggest you prioritise ‘active’. Future you will thank you for it.
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