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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Presenting… our diy campervan

Well the deadline was Christmas, and apart from a few final tweaks, our campervan is finished. YAY!

The festive corner

Fridge nicely stocked

We still need to finish some edging, paint the inside of the back door and make some tiebacks (ribbon will do for now, in keeping with the season) but this can all wait until the Christmas break.

Of course I’m biased, but I think Paul has done a stunning job – the van is unrecognisable from its days as a minibus and I can’t wait for lots of campervanning mini-breaks.

And the maiden voyage is not far off; we’ve booked one night on North Stradbroke Island at a beachside campsite called Adder Rock. We’re hoping the name is not prophetic, but just in case we’ll be requesting a pitch far from any rocks.

We’ll let you know how it goes. Merry Christmas everyone!

Our campervan bathroom

With a new deadline of Christmas, we’ve spent the last few weekends adding the final touches to the campervan.

The bathroom is now finished:Campervan bathroom

Campervan bathroom

The glass mosaic tiles were left over from our own bathroom so we thought we’d continue the red theme through from the living area.

We have boxed in the wheel arch behind the toilet, which also provides a handy shelf or magazine rack:

The doors separating the bathroom from the kitchen are made from the same gloss panels Paul’s used for all the woodwork (sold as pantry doors in Bunnings – if the link is saying ‘sold out’, err.. we have bought quite a few.)

He added new hinges, handles and a lock at the top of each door, so they can be secured in both the open and closed positions.

Campervan bathroom

So the interior is very nearly complete.

In other news, the curtains are finished – hurrah! My new nemesis is the tiebacks; they are being decidedly tricky.

The great outdoors

Having spent the best part of a year building our campervan in preparation for lots of mini-breaks in the great outdoors, a thought suddenly occurred to me: I hope we do actually like the great outdoors. In 13 years together, our experience of campsites has extended to one short holiday travelling around New Zealand a few years ago – a campervan trip we enjoyed so much it encouraged us to build our own.

Limited experience of ‘the outdoors’ (in NZ)

The main reason we’ve never truly embraced this quintessentially Australian lifestyle is probably due to a complete LOVE of hotels. Whether it’s a city centre spa nestled in a quirky cultural quarter, a boutique B&B perched on a clifftop, or, quite frankly, a Holiday Inn on the M1, if there’s ever a chance for a weekend away, you can put our names down.

It’s such a treat staying in a hotel; a real feeling of escapism. I love the sense of anticipation when you first pull back the curtains and peak at the view. The excitement when you prise open the mini-bar and involuntarily gasp at the price of the Pringles. The thrill when they replace all your toiletries the next morning (when actually you’ve just stashed the first lot in your washbag). The indulgence of hanging the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door, just because you can. (Much to my sister’s embarrassment when I was sharing a room with her.)

While room service and complimentary smellies might be harder to come by at a campsite, it’s the sense of freedom we’re hoping to capture in the campervan. The chance to escape after work on Friday, put a pin in the map and then just rock on up to somewhere new – particularly somewhere with a beautiful view. (Of course the fact we’ll be able to open the fridge when we get there and not have to pay for Pringles is an added bonus.)

And having devoured every episode of Bear Grylls in recent years, I feel we’re fairly well equipped to deal with anything nature might throw at us. I will be quite content to sit under our awning and twirl a twig for three hours to produce a spark for our stove. And if ever a cold front moves in and we get caught in a storm, I will be instructing Paul to immediately strip off all his clothes and perform 20 star jumps naked to get his (and everyone else’s) heart pumping.

<I won’t be inserting an appropriate picture here.>

Anyway despite these useful skills, for all intents and purposes, we are definitely camping novices. So we thought we should conduct a trial run before our van is finished, just to brush up on our camping etiquette and basically check that after 12 months’ work, our enthusiasm for an outdoors mini-break is still intact.

The opportunity arose a few weeks ago when we visited some friends in Mackay, 1000km north of Brisbane. We decided to break with tradition and, after spending one night in ‘a nice hotel’, we checked into the Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort for the next night. I’ll do a quick review of the campsite and our experience in the next blog post – not that it particularly warrants the added suspense, but from a ‘technical perspective’ I can separate it out from blog posts about the campervan conversion.

Thankfully though, we had a great time. And suffice it to say, star jumps are so last year.

Raising the roof

Early on in our diy campervan project, Paul removed the back panel of the internal ceiling so he could install the wiring. (The front panel stretched right down to the windscreen and housed all the air conditioning, so he left this intact.) Removing the ceiling afforded us an extra 10cm head height in the main part of the van, which has been useful with Paul working in there every weekend, and which we’re now reluctant to lose! So instead of replacing the original ceiling, Paul’s created a new one out of panels of flexible hard board.

This shows the original ceiling at the front and the extra head height we can gain at the back:

Once all the ceiling was insulated (using flooring insulation as above), the hard board panels could go up. It was quite a long process involving a lot of measuring and sawing, before each panel was screwed into the van framework with metal screws.

In the bathroom we’ve extended the ceiling down to block out the two side windows (it seemed a bit of a shame to lose the extra light, but the alternative was making two more curtains. Hmmmm.)

The original ceiling is covered with a pale grey type of carpet, which we couldn’t match exactly so we’ve gone for a two-tone look with a darker grey carpet matting from Clark Rubber.

It was really fiddly cutting the carpet template exactly to size and fitting it in place – made harder by the fact that the adhesive (Selleys Kwik Grip spray) was brilliantly sticky and stuck fast the instant it attached to something.

The wiring for each hole was fed through the board and the carpet, then the light fitting screwed on top.

The final job is to bridge the 10cm gap between the front panel and back panel.

It’s great having the tiny bit of extra room, and we’ve realised we don’t even have to stoop over any more, if we just bend our knees into a slight squat we can stand up to full height – a quick and simple way to combine a bit of added exercise with excellent health & safety practice.

Preparing for a hot summer – campervan ventilation

Summer is officially here, and the temperature has soared over the last few weeks (sorry to anyone shivering in the Northern Hemisphere). All through winter I was wondering if we’d have enough cupboard space to store a 25 tog arctic duvet during the day (answer: not a chance), and suddenly it’s a question of how we’ll be able to cool the van down, particularly at night.

The front of the van has air conditioning, but it only works when the engine’s running. So as extra ventilation, we have the ceiling fan which provides a good breeze, and even when it’s not switched on, the open vent lets some fresh air in. We also have an air vent in the door next to where we’ll sleep:

To fit a vent:

  • Draw an outline of your vent panel on the inside and outside of the van.
  • On the outside of the van, cut three 10cm diameter holes through the body work with a hole saw, and seal them with a rust proofer. Note – if you’re fitting a vent to a door like we were, you’ll find it has extra bracing and reinforcements than the rest of the van – be careful to avoid these when you’re drilling.
  • Drill 6 bolt holes around your outline on the outside and rust proof each one.
  • Squeeze a line of silicon around the inside edge of the vent panel intended for the outside of the van (to prevent water seepage).
  • Attach this vent panel to the outside and bolt through.
  • On the inside of the van (ours is hard board) cut a square hole a few centimetres smaller than the outline you’ve drawn, and tighten the bolts you’ve just screwed through with nuts. Take care not to screw them too tightly, as the outside body work will start to bend inwards.
  • Fit the inside panel over the template you drew and simply screw 6 bolts into the hard board.

We have two other vents in the van: in the battery compartment and next to the fridge. The fridge didn’t strictly need one, but it’s an added safety feature in case it ever overheats. These two vents were much more straightforward to fit; they’re not visible from the inside so the open hole can be exposed, meaning you only need to bolt a vent cover to the outside. Here’s the battery vent from the inside:

We also have an extractor fan above the gas stove:

Paul boxed in the top using the same gloss wood he’s used all the way through.

So that’s the campervan’s ventilation, but hopefully for most of the time we’ll be sitting outside under our lovely new awning!

For some reason awnings are incredibly expensive. This one is a Fiamma ‘bag awning’ from Caravans Plus and a really basic version, but it was still one of our most expensive campervan purchases. You have to roll it down manually, but it seems to work okay.

The frame is fixed to the van and you roll the awning in and out of its bag. You can then remove the cover and store the whole thing inside when you’re not using it.

So there’s not much left to do now: refit the ceiling, build a bathroom door, fit the door handles and then we’re almost there! Oh, and make 11 curtains.

White light district

Timing is everything. As I stumbled in late from work the other day, Paul called out, ‘Great timing, I’m just ordering the lights for the campervan. For the entrance, I was thinking red would look good, to match the cabinets?’

Thank Crunchie I sneaked through that last set of traffic lights on amber.

‘Or blue, to match the curtains?’ he asked hopefully.

And breathe.

‘Red to match the cabinets or blue to match the curtains?!’, I may have shrieked, while having visions of pulling up at our first campsite under the disapproving gaze of seasoned caravanners curiously trying to work out whether we’re a fifth emergency service or mobile brothel.

Now usually of course, the key in all successful partnerships – be they in life or in campervans – is to compromise. On other occasions, one exasperated shriek is all it takes. Without further ado (and in the rather fortunate absence of a purple lighting option) we ordered white lights. The surfer-chic dream is still alive.

The ceiling lights are very cool. You operate each one individually just by tapping it – once to switch it on, another to dim it and a third to turn it off. It’ll come in very handy when we want to create our own mood zones in different areas of the van, although until I finish the curtains, romantic and atmospheric will have to be the default as the full beam is visible for miles around.

On the subject of curtains, well some familiar obstacles have surfaced – namely my uncooperative sewing machine and complete lack of sewing ability. Oh to have some more cushions to tackle – they were a DODDLE in comparison.

Post edited to add: if any of my fellow campervan diy-ers are still persisting with this blog in the hope of finding some useful tips (firstly, well done), we bought the lights from www.qled.com.au. They do a huge range of styles and colours. Each ceiling light is wired into the 12v battery via the main control panel, and the entrance lights are operated by their own retro switch – just to the left in the photo.