Now the fun starts.
So you've finally got the keys to your van and it's time to get her ready to go! All those hours researching, choosing your van, going through the buying process have lead you to this point. It's now time to get your home on wheels ready to hit the road.
Setting up your new van home.
First things first, familiarise yourself with your new home. Find all of the secret cupboards and compartments in your van. Locate the gas bottle, second battery, water tank and fuse box. Have a read through the user manual and learn to decipher the icons on your internal display. That way when icons flash, you'll realise that you need to empty the grey water tank or that the fridge battery is low.
Purify your water tank.
As the van had sat idle for some time, we purchased a water purifying solution to wash out the water tank. You can grab this solution from most camping or hardware stores and it helps to flush out any nasties or buildup. After the initial cleanse, we drank water straight from the tank. The water in most European countries is perfectly drinkable and I only purchased bottled water in Croatia as I disliked the metallic taste. Pouring baking soda down the drain every so often, helps to keep your sink clean and neutralises any odours in the grey water tank.
Fill up on gas.
For any long term travel, be sure to purchase a spare bottle of gas so that you are never caught without. We use "CampingGaz" which we were advised was the most popular and readily available brand throughout Europe. A spare bottle will set you back 50EURO, with refills costing around 30EURO. At the end of your trip you'll have the option to return the empty bottle to collect a 20EURO refund. I've been pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of our gas burners. Despite cooking a minimum of two meals a day and baking several cakes, we've managed to get 3 month's use out of the smaller bottle.
Sort out your power situation.
It's a good idea to stock up on spare fuses before you start your trip. We grabbed a handful from a mechanic in the Netherlands. As we prefer to wild-camp, we are very rarely hooked up to power mains. So plugging a USB adaptor into the cigarette outlet is invaluable as we can charge our iPad mini , cameras and phones while we drive. We attach our iPad to the dashboard to run all of our must have apps. That only leaves our 11 inch MacBook Air, a problem which can be solved by ordering a 12 volt car adaptor online. This draws charge from either the main battery while you drive or from the secondary battery while parked. NOTE: This charging system worked for us as we were constantly on the move. For future vanlife travels, we would definitely invest in a solar panel so that we have the freedom to remain parked in the one space for a longer time. For more information about setting up your solar panel system, our friends at Westfalia Digital Nomads have it down pat.
Have a spring clean.
As when you first move into a new house, take the time to clean away all the remnants of the previous occupants. We hadn't even thought to allocate time to do this but spent several days vacuuming, shampooing the carpets and upholstery and removing decal stickers. It proved to be a good way to discover several hidden compartments and cupboards inside the van that had escaped our attentions. For our general cleaning we swear by using Dr Bronners natural castille soap. The all purpose solution is highly concentrated and is much less abrasive than chemical alternatives. We apply it directly on a cloth or use it diluted with water in a spray bottle to clean our kitchen.
Stock up your kitchen with essentials.
Don't be afraid to buy glass. As long as you pack everything securely you will be without mishaps. Our kitchen is stocked to the brim with glass jars. They utilise the space best and I can identify and grab ingredients easily on the go while I cook. We brought our lightweight camping set along from home and used that while we spent the time selecting small, multipurpose kitchenwares.
Be fire safe.
As you will be living and cooking in a small space with gas, make sure to invest in a good fire extinguisher. Having one on hand means I can also put Dan at ease, when I hang my candle lanterns in the evenings. While we never used our internal heating, if you do I know that people recommend investing in a carbon monoxide reader.
Install mosquito nets.
European summers are notoriously hot and it is insane what damage a single mosquito can do when allowed to spend a night in the van with us. I am highly susceptible to bites and wouldn't wish the discomfort upon anyone. If your van does not come equipped with one, invest in a mosquito net for your windows or door. Ours is attached to the door frame by velcro and clips. I am sure that with some ingenuity you can fashion one yourself if you need to.