Written by Anaïs Monique

There is no starter kit for vanlife. It does not come with $500 blenders or fancy chest-style refrigerators. The owner decides what to include in their build based on their needs. However, this is not the message portrayed in vanlife media overall. Prior to the founding of the Diversify Vanlife community and the calls for real representation in vanlife media, one would be hard-pressed to find any resources for BIPOC, by BIPOC. Representation of any marginalized persons sharing their vanlife experiences was rare, let alone, them sharing their tips. Furthermore, there were very few images of people adopting the lifestyle without all of the household luxuries usually found in suburban starter homes. 

COVID-19 isn’t the only health issue threatening the richest country in the world— hunger is spiking too.

While food scarcity and food deserts have long been an issue in the United States, the pandemic has widened the margins of people going hungry. Lines to food pantries have been wrapped around buildings since people began losing their jobs in the spring of 2020. Food pantries, farmers’s markets and community gardens are ways nomads, travelers and vanlifers alike can donate food, volunteer their time or find help for their needs. 

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Not everyone plans their van builds in detail for a year or has the privilege to take off work for months to complete their build. Space has not been made for vanlifers who move intentionally through this life with only their minimal needs met. These people exist and there needs to be more variety in the images projected in the media.

Everything about one’s educational introduction to vanlife can be easily whitewashed, with plenty of privilege to round out the details. 

New Age of Vanlife

At the time of publication, amazing vanlifer content creators of color are popping up everywhere and being amplified like never before. Eat Fresh Veggies is a community favorite podcast on YouTube, created and hosted by the founder of Black Nomads Meet,  Kadedra Holmes. The activist and Diversify Vanlife community member  has chosen veganism for almost a decade and is “excited to share everything learned about the lifestyle.” Kadedra kicks off the first season of Eat Fresh Veggies with an episode discussing how plant-based diets are tied to Black liberation.

Kadedra’s Van Pantry List

There still needs to be more representation for all BIPOC and LGBTQIA2S+ peoples while making space for the classism that exists in vanlife to be challenged. 

In Kadedra’s words, “vanlife is often fantasized as a free-lance and free-spirited life.” She says it “gives a false impression of vanlife as a sterilized lifestyle packed with perfect days of breakfast by the beach and hiking adventures in the mountains.” It marginalizes people who are solo femmes, those who only vanlife for weekend trips in the summer, people that choose vanlife for survival and so many others not represented in that ideal. 

“This false representation of vanlife sets excited future nomads up for disappointments and unpreparedness.” 

Kadedra Holmes, host of Eat Fresh Veggies

Community member and bus home-owner, Tripp of @Tripp_y_Treks says, “it’s just like everything else the media does to everything awesome (yoga, crystals, tarot, astrology), it’s over-commercialized and super capitalistic; when in actuality, we created it, by just having simple survival skills.” The decision for BIPOC and marginalized peoples not to conform can be dangerous in areas where people of color living nomadically are seen as threatening to white spaces. 

Tripp’s Van Pantry List

For their van pantry, Tripp says “let’s be real, top of my list is ramen. Beef ramen. Yum.” They also suggest the following:

The Reality & Maintenance of Cooler Life 

The reality of not having a solar or battery-powered fridge in the van is that your options of how and when to store fresh produce can be limited. Vaughn of @tinyhometruck tells Diversify Vanlife, “I have had my refrigerator from day 1 in my truck. It was a priority for me to have fresh food without too much maintenance.” Living in the van with a cooler requires forethought, planning, and trade-offs. “Time and money go into the maintenance and upkeep of keeping your food fresh. It also limits what you can buy, leading to a lack of fresh vegetables and healthy perishables,” Vaughn explains. When planning a van build, list your priorities based not only on your needs but also on your budget. Solar-powered refrigeration options are very low maintenance with a high upfront cost, so it’s best to buy this early if it last near the top of your priority list. While it’s not a good idea to skip on the quality of your solar setup, Vaughn says, “the fridge doesn’t have to be fancy.”

Luz @luz.lituma on Instagram, the co-founder of LatinxHikers, travels in an SUV and is a veteran of how to manage unrefrigerated food in a van. She says, “while I’d rather have a little fridge I definitely don’t have space or budget to invest in that. I’ve learned the hard way that you have to change out the ice every 2 days or buy some dry ice. [Both] last around the same time.”

Luz’s Van Pantry List

Coolers for Your Rig

Until you’re able to take the plunge into big-ticket items like solar power, batteries, generators, or refrigerators, here are some coolers the community recommends:

  • YETI cooler — Kadedra
  • Small OtterBox Trooper 12 cooler — Luz
  • REYLEO 21Qt Portable Rotomolded cooler — Anaïs 

Being prepared for vanlife is essential to your safety, well-being, and comfort. The reality is something may come up that prevents you from buying your ideal vanlife setup and that’s ok. It is ok to ease into this lifestyle and build what you can afford.

Diversify Vanlife’s Non-Exhaustive List of Van Life Pantry Staples 

The fresh items listed can be stored in a pantry, or in canvas bags or in baskets with a lining, unless specified that it should be stored in a cooler*. All fresh produce or food that is cut or unfinished should be stored in an airtight container in a cooler. 

The items listed can be stored for up to a week without refrigeration during cooler seasons, reaching a maximum 70 degrees, unless otherwise specified**. Wet or dry ice should be used in the summer.