Essentials for Van Life in Europe


Katie Stevens gives her top-tips to ensure a great adventure whilst travelling through Europe in a van.

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Image by Los Muertos Crew

By Katie Stevens

I’m sure you’ve seen endless TikToks and Instagram posts showing the picturesque lifestyle that comes with living in a mobile home. Watching the sunrise from your bed in a different location every morning and leaving behind the unnecessary clutter of our usual lives sounds incredible. However, there are a few things that are essential when living in a van to ensure that everything runs smoothly and that you are able to have the best adventure possible. As someone who decided to leave home to travel Europe indefinitely with less than a day's notice, here is my list of van life essentials!

Whilst so many vans that are for sale today are adorably aesthetic and seem to account for everything you could need (I mean mine even had a washing machine, a TV and DVD-player, and a hot shower), there are always problems when trying to cram an entire house into a long wheel-base Renault. The biggest problem I have found are the electrics. Almost all campsites have electrical hook up points, but what happens when you want to camp in the wild or the electrics aren’t quite working at the site? Something which, in my experience, seems to happen about 60 percent of the time. Well, that is when it gets a little trickier. You can end up in all sorts of sticky situations such as: being trapped in several feet of thick snow without a heater, no lighting when trying to cook dinner or a dead phone in the middle of the Italian Alps with no idea where you’re going. While these experiences may fall under the character-building category, they probably want to be avoided wherever possible! So, my advice is to make sure you have back-ups for all essentials, meaning bringing portable chargers (and charging them whenever you get the chance), hot water bottles, heating pads and thermal clothing, and lots of flashlights or battery-operated overhead lights.

A spare gas bottle can be an absolute lifesaver. This was one thing that I didn’t think about in the 18 hours I spent preparing for my trip before leaving for three months and I absolutely wish that I did. As a result, I ran out of gas and therefore was unable to light my cooker and cook any food. What some people may not realise is that gas bottles available for purchase in Europe are often not compatible with vans built in the UK and so I couldn’t even buy myself a replacement. This resulted in a month of eating quaver wraps or microwaving pasta. The latter of which I had never tried until arriving in San Marino, where no restaurants or shops were open, but desperate times call for desperate measures. So, make sure to pack a spare gas bottle, or two, to make sure you’re always able to cook a delicious meal no matter where you are in the world.

While this may seem obvious, it’s always good to mention as it can be a life-saver - a spare tyre. This means that if anything happens when you’re far away from home, you’re able to change your tyre and get back on the road as soon as possible without having to call an international AA service and attempt to use google translate to describe your whereabouts. Therefore, it is a great idea to learn how to change the tyre before you go, or to travel with someone who does know, and to pack all the necessary tools to do so. You may never touch them and they could lie in the garage of your van gathering dust until you return home. But it’s better to be safe rather than sorry.

You'd be surprised by how much you forget when you’re packing as much as you can into a little van and saying goodbye to home, but make sure to pack lots of non-perishable food. Van life isn’t exactly known for being a high-tech lifestyle and you never know when your fridge might cut out or your batteries might power down so having plenty of non-perishable food is always a good option. Note my choice of quaver wraps and microwaved pasta. Whatever your go-to is, make sure you have lots of it. Also throw in a bunch of chocolate bars and road-trip sweets because if your experience is anything like mine, you might find yourself driving 16 straight hours to get across the border in time and you’ll definitely need some snacks to refuel and keep you awake. Additionally, pack as much drinking water as you can fit in the back of your van as you never know what the facilities in a campsite are going be like, or when your water will run out. I’ve found it is usually at the most inopportune times, like in the middle of scrubbing a tough rice stain off your pan, or at 3am and you’re freezing cold, half asleep and desperate for a glass of water.

All in all, there are always going to be difficulties when living in a van for an extended period of time - it is so different to what we’re used to but that’s all part of the fun and gives you amazing stories to tell when you get back home! And with a little bit of adjusting and some over-preparing you can make sure you’re all set to be comfortable and have an amazing trip. Don’t forget to put safety first and have essentials like oil and screen-wash at hand. And if you’re in continental Europe it’s always a good idea to have all the official documentation of ownership and insurance in case you get pulled over (believe me, it happens more than you would hope.) It’s also a legal requirement to carry a breathalyser, a high-vis jacket, a warning training and GB stickers on your vehicle in many European countries. You can find more information about all of these requirements on the government website. Remember to learn a few key phrases in the language of the countries you’re visiting.

While this article highlights some of the various problems that can occur, I definitely don’t want to deter you from what could potentially turn out to be a trip of a lifetime. There were so many incredible moments from my adventure, like skiing in Switzerland, visiting the Colosseum when it was entirely empty, and learning to make pasta and drinking wine in Rome with a professional chef. All whilst able to come home at the end of the day and watch a movie in my own bed. Overall, I visited ten countries in three months, spending a whole month just in Italy at the end! Van life can be so rewarding. It allows you to experience so many different places on a much deeper level with the freedom to go where you want, when you want, all whilst maintaining the comfort of your own ‘home’. Once you have offset the starting costs of buying or hiring a van and acquiring all the necessary insurance, it is also a relatively cheap way of travelling as you never have to worry about hotel costs or paying for overpriced restaurant meals. I could not recommend it more. For my final piece of advice, remember to have an amazing time and embrace all the new experiences, you never know who you might meet or what amazing stories you will have to tell!