10 campervan essentials* to pack for your first trip

*may be subjective.

One of the best things about campervanning is the spontaneity. The potential to escape the city at a moment’s notice on a Friday afternoon for an impromptu mini-break, knowing that everything you need is already packed up and waiting to go. As someone who can easily spend a full day packing a suitcase preparing for every eventuality that could befall us the minute we leave suburbia, this really appeals.

So it’s worth taking the time to pack your campervan properly before your first trip, then the next time the sun appears you just have to throw some food in the fridge and you’re off.

Along with your bedding, lightweight clothes and a few good books, here are ten essentials you shouldn’t leave home without!

1. Everything in miniature

Unless you’re travelling in one of these, storage space will be at a premium so you might need to get creative with your range of kitchen utensils. The great news is that picnic crockery and camping gadgets fit the bill perfectly and are easy to find. I spent a very happy afternoon stocking our campervan kitchen, choosing plastic plates, mugs and bowls and miniature pans from Robins Kitchen – they had a fabulous selection. And if you choose brightly coloured items… they can match your cushions!

These are the pans I’m hoping will inspire me to create some hearty camping fare, although given their size, nouvelle cuisine might be a more appropriate description. We have a two-burner gas stove so a saucepan, frying pan and colander should be sufficient. I also couldn’t resist the tiny red milk pan, which is probably too small to be practical (the first time I placed in on the stove, a gust of wind whipped through the campervan and blew it off) but it might come in handy for a little hollandaise.

Nb sometimes it’s just not possible to find smaller versions of everything, for instance unfortunately I could only find bucket-sized wine glasses.

2. A whistling kettle

The quintessential camping accessory. Continuing the theme of miniature, I found this fab little kettle:

But when I got it home, it was devoid of a whistle! So we now have a proper camping kettle, which will join all the other whistling kettles in the campsite to proudly carol out cup-of-tea time.

3. All-purpose microfibre towel.

We hang this by the campervan door and it’s so useful for dusting off feet, wiping up spillages and drying chairs. Being microfibre it dries very quickly. Ours was from Kathmandu.

4. Long-handled broom

This was a last-minute purchase before our first trip but is one of our most useful items, particularly when camping near a beach. It takes no effort at all to sweep out the sand; much easier than crawling around with a dustpan and brush.

5. Pretty tea light holders

What’s an al fresco dining experience without flickering candle light? These will add a spark of colour to your outside table and provide a bit of light in the evening without attracting the mozzies. Surprisingly these came from Bunnings – one of those trips where you just go in for a few bolts…

Number 5 was originally going to be ‘portable washing line’, but the photo wasn’t very inspiring – particularly on the back of numbers 3 and 4, ‘broom’ and ‘mop’.

Nevertheless, what a washing line lacks in aesthetics it makes up for in practicality, and is really handy for drying small items. Such as zip-loc bags.

Note this is not our washing line, but that of a neighbouring campervan when we were travelling in NZ. I thought it was very admirable. (Note to self: pack more zip-loc bags.)

6. First aid kit

This is one of the essentials that is…well, more essential than previous items, particularly if you’re venturing off the beaten track. You should also know how to use everything in your kit. So far we haven’t strayed far from civilisation, and I’m hoping that relocating our daily weekend routine from house to campervan won’t be dramatic enough to suddenly necessitate an eye bath or splint, but it’s there just in case.

Given the propensity of some of Australia’s more lively creatures to inflict any potential harm, we also have a comprehensive wildlife book to identify everything that could possibly join us on our voyage. I’d recommend not even flicking through this before you set off.

7. Novelty tea towels.

This is the perfect opportunity to use all those tea towels that you really, really love but for some reason have never been displayed in your kitchen at home.

8. Evening activities

So you finished your book during your afternoon siesta, but before you start hyperventilating at the thought of spending even a night without tv/dvd/dailymailonline, there is still much fun to be had with an old-fashioned pack of cards and the ubiquitous travel Scrabble especially if you try rude scrabble. Our next trip will be very exciting because we boosted our activities box over Christmas when Paul got a mini telescope and I got… a cross stitch!

9. Citronella candle and insect repellant


It’s a fact. Scottish highlands or Queensland hinterland, mozzies love camping. Some people naturally attract them more than others, so your best defence is to travel with one of these people. That’s what Paul does. Hmmm. You can’t avoid them completely but burning a citronella candle outside your campervan and dousing yourself in Aerogard will take the edge off.

10. Unconventional cutlery
Whether you’re picnicing in a meadow or huddling under your awning, all outdoors meals can only be improved with the addition of a stripy knife and fork and gingham spoon. These came from Robin’s Kitchen. Love that shop!

So there you have it. Our ten essential items to stock in your campervan. Is there anything I’ve missed that you can’t leave home without?

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Access to the campervan gas bottle

Is it me, or are these post titles getting increasingly less intriguing?

Anyway, it’s always a slightly hairy moment when you take a power tool to the van’s shell. Particularly when the size of hole you’re cutting could not be easily patched up with a bit of sticky-back plastic and passed off as a ‘vintage’ feature if anything went wrong. Thankfully, it didn’t! So we now have external access to the gas bottle.

The 2kg gas bottle sits in a metal box, which would provide some protection in the (hopefully unlikely) event of any gas leakage. The three-sided box sits underneath one of the seats and we’ve now fitted a vented door to the outside.

Paul made two cardboard templates to work out exactly where to cut the hole: one the size of the box and one the size of the door frame. He lined up the box template on the inside and drilled a hole through the centre. He then lined up the centre of the frame template on the outside of the van with the hole, and drew around the outline. He then cut the corners using a 50mm hole saw and cut between the holes with tin snips.


Paul sealed all the cut edges with rust primer, squeezed a layer of silicon around the door frame (to prevent water seeping through) and pushed the frame into place.

He then bolted the door frame to the van using nylon locking nuts (try saying that after a Sunday afternoon beverage – I am failing miserably), so they don’t vibrate loose once we’re on the road.

The next step is to connect up the gas and have it certified.

The cupboard doors arrived from Laminex this week and are trying desperately to blend into our carpet before being fitted. Here’s a sneaky peek:

Confessions of a campervan convert

As a very wise lady once trilled, ‘In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun’. Well, there’s a challenge. Always keen to find, and indeed exploit, any smidgen of fun when tackling these campervan cushions, I decided to go shopping.

My shopping list:

  • High-density foam cut into two seat cushions and two seat backs
  • Wool wadding to cover the foam and soften the edges
  • Spray adhesive
  • Plenty of fabric to cover cushions and account for (ahem) unexpected hiccups along the way
  • Various reels of red cotton and random zips (mainly for practising)
  • Wine
  • Crisps (large bag)

I went to Clark Rubber for the foam, and they were excellent. The girl worked out she could save me $100 by cutting the four pieces out of a double camping mattress, which was made of the same high-density foam. So she ripped off the cover and started sawing away, while I stood and marveled at the sheer variety of interesting rubber available. Who knew!

I decided to take the spare offcuts and squeeze them into my ever-growing ‘craft box’, to join the remnants of my previous attempts at creativity. As it turned out, it was a rather fortuitous decision…

Spot the deliberate mistake. So my first job will be to do my own sawing and sticking to cobble together the missing corner from the offcuts.

Paul and I then went to Spotlight to buy the stripy fabric. I realised when we got there I should have worked out in advance exactly how much material I would need. (In my defence, I was still hoping something even more suitably surfer-chic would jump out at us at the 11th hour. It didn’t. So stripes it is.)

I had the dimensions of the four cushions, and the length of the fabric was 1.2m. That was a shame because the cushions are 1.27m long, so what I’d hoped would be the length would now be the width. Okay, so the area would just be length x width x depth. Hmmm no, that would be the volume. This was all getting trickier than I thought. I tried adding the depth to the length twice and multiplying by the width, but then what about the other ends? And what about the hems and the seam allowance that I keep reading about?

I was feeling a bit flustered by this stage. I could sense Paul was getting one of his ‘heads’ and I was starting to see various formulas flying futilely in front of my eyes: ‘Πr²’? Nope.  ‘The square of the hypotenuse…’? I hope not, I can’t even remember how that one ends. Surely it should not. Be. This. Hard. In my mind I could see my Mum (who is a mathematician – not to be confused, as I unfathomably did many years ago, with a magician – maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong) screwing her face up in frustration. How on earth did I scrape an A in GCSE maths? I could feel beads of sweat prickling across my forehead and was on the verge of leaving the store altogether, when Paul triumphantly declared it was around 10m. Hurrah! Whether he had actually worked it out or had just seen that was how much was left on the roll, I wasn’t going to argue. So we got the lot. I’m sure the extra swathes of fabric will come in handy for something.

Overall, it was quite a successful shopping expedition, although the only items on my list that have actually been put to any use thus far are the wine and crisps. And for the time being, the element of ‘fun’ remains elusive; maybe I need to hold a little tea party on the ceiling or something, try a spot of sewing up there.

Creating a campervan kitchen

I’ve had a polite request for more campervan photos, so here’s a pictorial update on the kitchen (with as few words as I can muster!)

So our exciting delivery from Caravans Plus last week revealed a ceiling fan, a gas stove and a kitchen sink:

Caravans Plus has been a very useful supplier, we also bought the Thetford toilet and gas bottle casing there. And although they’re based in NSW, the delivery charge for everything in this picture was only about $30.

In preparation for installing the stove and sink, Paul came home every evening last week and lovingly sanded and oiled the wooden worksurface. Then he sanded it again with a finer sandpaper, oiled it again, sanded it again and gave it a final coat of oil for good measure. And then he cut a huge great hole in the middle to fit the gas stove. Still, the rim of the worksurface looks lovely and smooth:

The lid also comes down to create an extra worksurface:


It was obviously a cloudy day in Brisbane.

Paul also prepared the worksurface on the other side of the kitchen where the sink will sit. 

Neither the stove or sink are connected up to anything yet. 

The hardest bit with the worksurface was cutting around the handle next to the door – on the right hand side of the photo above. Paul used a cardboard template to cut around the edge, and the patent-pending right-angled pencil made another appearance.

So here’s an overall view of the kitchen, I think it’s looking beautiful!

Paul has already started work on the seating / bed configuration, so that will be the next chapter in the story. Just don’t mention the seat cushions. I was distressed to discover I have inherited no sewing genes whatsoever, and combined with an innate lack of patience and defiant new sewing machine, progress has been fairly slow.

The wonderful world of campervan upholstery (part1)

Other than being on hand to provide moral (and calorific) support over the last few weeks, I haven’t been physically involved with the van’s evolution so far. But now, I have a job. I’m going to be responsible for upholstering the seats.

This is quite a big responsibility as, space-wise, the seats take up a fair chunk of room in the van. They’re also very… visible. There’s no hiding them behind a screen or a gas bottle if I mess up the seams (that’s not to imply Paul is hiding anything behind the gas bottles, he’s a complete perfectionist). Anyway, I figured if he can work out how to convert a taxi into a campervan, I should be able to cobble together some cushions.

And I’m not a complete beginner when it comes to sewing; I did cross-stitch a placemat when I was at primary school in 1990 (I remember the date because that’s what I appliqued onto the mat – I’m hoping I’ve retained some of that creative imagination). Since then though, there’s been something of a sewing hiatus.

So last weekend I went to a fabric store to get the lay of the land. And a scary land it was. Aisles and aisles of different styles and colours and weights of upholstery material. One of the nice sewing ladies took pity on me as I was feverishly trying to capture each one on my phone. She seemed to be partly speaking in a different language, but the main thing I gleaned was, as long as the fabric doesn’t have a plastic backing, it’s just a matter of taste. Well that should be easy then.

This was my absolute favourite:

A sort of Cath Kidston inspired surfer-chic. Unfortunately I knew it would be vetoed as soon as I got home. It was. As was this lovely floral:

And this one:

So much for taste. I looked at some more neutral, sensible colours:

But they weren’t very inspiring. A bit too caravanny.

These were a bit brighter and quite hard-wearing, a possibility:

And I quite liked these:

A bit like deckchair fabric and nice and soft, although maybe not quite tough enough. Paul thought these could be contenders – two out of 200 is not bad I suppose.

Next weekend I’ll be brave and ask for some samples.

Campervan kitchen – in go the cabinets

We’ve had to bring in reinforcements; Paul’s parents, Jean & John, were staying last week and earned their keep by knocking a few cabinets together. J & J are also keen campervanners and have just embarked on their second tour of NZ in a v posh 4-berth campervan.

So the task last weekend was to build and fit the kitchen cabinets that will house the sink, gas stove and fridge. The ‘build’ part was made easier by buying ready-built cabinets from Bunnings! Well, they were flat-packed but still easier than just buying a load of wood. Amazingly they fit perfectly width-ways, so Paul just had to take some of the height off the bottom, and cut round all the wheel arches etc at the back.

So from left to right is the bathroom basin, then there’ll be a wall, then the kitchen sink, then the fridge.

The cabinet on the other side is for the gas stove and grill.

The fridge is a Waeco CoolMatic (80 litres), which is bigger than we thought we could fit in, and has a little ice box at the top for our frozen peas. It’ll be wired in with 6mm cables to the 12volt battery and should last about 3 days before the battery needs to be recharged. That should be plenty long enough, as I can’t imagine we’ll ever go that long without plugging into power somewhere – not intentionally anyway, and if the worst comes to the worst, we’ll just have to have a couple of meals of warm beer and defrosted peas.

The next job is to source and fit the two water tanks underneath the bathroom and kitchen sinks. Paul thinks he might be able to get them from a 4WD shop this week. He also wants to figure out the seating / bed combo; this has already prompted many colourful conversations between him and his Dad, as they both have very different ideas about how to build it. I think Paul is going to take advantage of J & J being in NZ for the next few weeks to make a start on it.

Thetford cassette toilet C200, swivel, flush tank, rear entry

This is the (slightly disconcerting) description of our campervan toilet.  I have been assured, though, that the rear is actually the best place for an entry point, and just refers to how you access the waste tank. Phew. And the swivel aspect means we can position the toilet with the rear facing towards the back door (for optimum cassette removal), but swivel the seat round so we don’t have to sit facing the wall.

As the photos below probably do a better job of explaining.

The toilet is freestanding at the moment, but will be secured to the wall that separates the bathroom from the kitchen.

And we have got the crème de la crème of campervan basins! It is twice the size of the basins in our house, and plenty big enough to have a personal wash twice a day. (Sorry, these Gavin & Stacey references just keep rolling off my tongue – anyone would think I was obsessed.)

Paul bought the bathroom cabinet and basin from Bunnings, and just had to saw 10cm off the bottom of the cupboard, and cut around the wheel arch and a couple of other protruding objects. I say ‘just’ – this was in 35 degree heat yesterday. The cabinet still needs to be bolted onto the floor, but we need to fit the waste-water tank underneath the basin first.

The next job is to fit the dividing walls, so we can start fixing things into place. Having tried out almost every conceivable colour for the walls, I think they’re going to be white.