5 Vanlife Purchase Fails

Hey Guys!

I am happy to see you here.

Vanlife can be daunting to get into because if you don’t have a lot of money or don’t know where to start if you are building out your rig. I have been on the road for 2 1/2 years figuring out how to make myself feel the most comfortable.

5 things that my vanlife friends and I have dealt with not working out include complicated showers, expensive toilets, sketchy heaters, heavy camp chairs, and power-hungry power stations.

  1. Complicated Shower Systems

I personally have never tried to take a shower in my van. I prefer to use baby wipes day-to-day and then take a shower at a truck stop once a week or so. For a lot of people though this isn’t enough so they create a shower system in their vehicle. One option is opening the doors, clipping a shower curtain to the outside, then perching a black solar bag with a shower head on top of your vehicle. The problem with this is the weather, wind blows the curtain around so it is not as modest. It’s most likely cold outside so your water may or may not get as warm as you want plus you are cold anyways from being exposed. Another option is getting a shower tent but you would need to get really long tent stakes to get good stability in the wind.

One of the better options I have heard is getting a gym membership through one of the nationwide fitness centers like Planet Fitness, Anytime Fitness, or 24 hour Fitness. They can be as cheap as $30 a month but can be a little difficult to figure out when you are constantly going to new gyms in different states. This is a route I am looking to go to because I pay between $5 – $12 per shower currently.

2. Sketchy Heating – Little Buddy Heater

Everyone wants to feel comfortable and climate control in a house is way different from being in a van. I knew I needed something when I first started out so I got a Little Buddy Heater(one that was rated for indoor use). But I never found myself using it because I would only want to use it while I was sleeping since that was the coldest time of the day. I have spent some time in really cold environments and always just bundled up anyways. I have since gotten rid of the propane heater and started wearing more layers.

Other options of keeping warm include turning on your stove either to boil water, make a warm meal, or just to heat up the space. While living in North Dakota I found these little heater packs that you can put in shoes and gloves. They work pretty good and up to 8 hours.

3. Expensive Toilet

Composting toilets are a cool way of dealing with your “business” but spending $1000  doesn’t seem as appealing. Nature’s Head has amazing toilets that divert the liquids from the solids in order to keep smell down but you can also create this same system for way less. Simple purchasing a large juice bottle, for example, drinking the juice and repurposing the bottle for #1 business is a very cheap alternative. For creating a simple composting toilet buying a 5 gallon bucket like a Luggable Loo with a plastic toilet seat top, thick bags, and some sort of composting material. Some good options for composting material is animal bedding, cedar chips, and peet moss. The material helps to soak up and eliminate odors. With this set up you can have a close to $20 composting toilet and supplies being about $20 per month of use.

Other toilet options are ones that are like a small version of an RV toilet system with a black tank. I bought a $150 Thetford toilet  and even though it was super convenient to use it was very inconvenient to empty.

How I have been getting by for the past couple years is camping on BLM and National Forest lands following the Leave No Trace guidelines for digging cat holes also known as latrines. When I am in towns I find public restrooms like gas stations, grocery stores, libraries to use. When I am in a situation where the only option is to go to the bathroom in my van I use a device called a P-Style and I find that juice bottle.

4. Heavy Camping Chair

When you come out on the road everything has multiple uses, this includes your chair. I have a simple camping chair and after 2 1/2 years of use its about time I get another one, it’s a good chair though for carrying around. Space wise there are some very small and lightweight chairs that take a little bit of assembly but work great. I also have a three-legged stool that I use when I go to big events. Having a zero gravity or rocking chair is amazing for comfortably. If you have the extra room definitely go for it but if that is your only chair it will cumbersome if you need to take it farther than a few yards. I recommend also having a cooler or ottoman inside of you rig that you can sit on. It’s great for when I have friends hanging out in my van to have a few different places to sit. Some people reverse their passenger seat which makes it feel more like a living room.

5. Power Hungry Power Unit

I have been using the Goal Zero Yeti 150 for the majority of my time out on the road but it hasn’t been until recently that I learned about solar and batteries. Having a source of power can be critical on the road depending on what you need. RV’s come with generators which can be cumbersome and loud, but they power microwaves, hair dryers, and CPAP’s. Others just need to charge their cell phone. I have charged my devices through the 12 volt plug-in my van and gone to libraries to use my laptop. Since I have been more stationary though I haven’t been able to use the 12 volt as often and have needed solar power to charge my electronics. I have a laptop, Ipad, phone, and camera battery that need to be charged daily. A couple of months ago I upgraded to a 100 watt solar suitcase and AGM battery with a 600 watt inverter. I still go to libraries because I am not always camping where there is internet but it has been an extreme difference in how I have been spending my days. My new solar set up is awesome but since it is an AGM battery I cannot drain the battery down to $0 so at night I use my little portable power unit, the Jackery Explorer 240. It is a lithium battery alternative to the Goal Zero Yeti 150 (which has an AGM battery). Learning about the difference in batteries helped me understand that the Yeti 150 was not working for me because it needs to be constantly charged up to 100% or the lifetime of the battery is shortened. Lithium batteries are not effected by being used down to 0%. Unfortunately lithium batteries on their own are quite expensive.


I hope this run down of purchase fails helps you navigate some of the more creative things you have to figure out while on the road. I really enjoy the freedom that living in a van offers so cutting corners on the typical house convenience is okay for me.

If you liked this blog check out my YouTube video with the same subject!

Stay Curious,


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