Road tripping across the United States with only what we could fit our van meant striking a balance between what was especially useful to accomplish our goals and trusting there would be certain things we could pick up along the way or simply do without.
We both camped and stayed in hotels and Airbnbs. Tent camping for many of the nights meant being a bit more prepared than if we were only staying in structured lodging with more amenities.
Two months on the road is a good amount of time to figure out what was especially helpful, and what was a waste of space bringing along.
Making the decision before embarking on this journey about what we would actually use and need was pretty challenging for us. It’s easy to think there are certain things that would be used, but when it came to day-to-day living, there were certain seemingly essential items that just didn’t get any use.
Then, there were things that we thought we might want or need that ended up getting a good amount of use, and we were especially grateful that we chose to have those items with us.
Since making those decisions at the beginning proved to be somewhat challenging, I thought I’d share those items that we were grateful to have had with us.
If you’d like to see a post about the things that we brought that simply got little to no use that could have been left behind, let me know in the comments below.
And just a heads-up, some of the links below may contain some affiliate links. If you end up purchasing any of the items through the links below, thank you. There is no additional charge for you, but we get a small commission that is very much appreciated and helpful for our journey.
I, of course, urge you to be mindful about your purchases. Choose local and/or second hand whenever possible. If not possible, I do include online links to find most of the items.
In no particular order, here are the items we are grateful to have included in our two-month journey across the US.
Having some way to clean our hands while we encountered the many possible situations definitely comes in handy (: . I’ve never been a huge fan of using hand sanitizer, but I do like to use it before eating after using the campground vault toilet.
I saw this option in the checkout aisle at Natural Grocers a few weeks before we left Corvallis and thought I’d give it a chance.
I loved it so much. I kept in the compartment of my door for easy access.
It also came in handy for use on itchy mosquito bites. Cedar scratched quite a few of hers. The lavender ended up being soothing for the itch, and the alcohol might have helped prevent those bites from getting infected.
You can find it on Amazon or your local store that carries natural body care products would likely have it. One bottle lasted me the entirety of our trip!
John made this purchase before we departed, and we got a good amount of use out of it. I’m a tea-drinker. He can’t live without his coffee. Getting up before the kids and drinking our warm beverages in our camp chairs was our favorite part of the day.
This tea kettle from GSI is just the right size for the amount of water we needed. We opted for the 1.8 liter size. It also nests nicely within the pots in our camp tub. We also brought it in to Airbnbs that had stoves.
We were super satisfied with this purchase and will be bringing it down to Costa Rica with us.
I know that phones with Google Maps and Waze are what most people are using these days, but I’m still a bit attached to my Garmin GPS. I prefer to not eat up the battery on my phone and use my data (I like to spend as little as possible on my phone plan).
That being said, I found an even better reason to use a Garmin GPS while on a long-term travel very early on.
Our first camping stop at Glacier National Park came without any phone coverage. It actually was quite enjoyable and beneficial to disconnect, but we still needed to navigate.
Paper maps are definitely an option, but if you want GPS assistance to navigate a very large National Park like Glacier, the Garmin is very handy.
While Google Maps uses satellites to navigate, you need to download the map ahead of time if you have no cell service in an area. This is definitely an option, but having a device that doesn’t require this planning is very helpful.
I’m looking into getting the maps for Central/South America for my Garmin, so we can continue using it abroad.
There are many Garmin GPS options on Amazon. Ours is probably over five years old and still works quite well. I haven’t updated the maps, but it’s still very useful. I’ll oftentimes search for a location on Google Maps, and then I’ll plug the physical address into the Garmin. I don’t typically search for businesses because they have often changed in the past 5 years, but plugging in the current address works just fine.
You could also probably look on ebay and find a used one there.
In figuring out what we wanted new for our time down in Costa Rica, we wanted something that would be lightweight that would also provide protection from the sun when we wanted it. We try to wear sunscreen as little as possible and instead cover up.
We purchased a sun hoodie for each of us to fill that need. Our thoughts would be they’d get a lot of use in Costa Rica, but they ended up being worn quite a bit while we were out exploring in the various national and state parks during our roadtrip.
At the last minute before departing, John also purchased a merino wool hoodie from Smartwool that he was hesitant about buying because of the price tag. However, he got so much wear out of it and was grateful he had it. Because it’s made of merino, he was able to wear it for multiple days without it ever smelling!
These all have the bonus of being quite packable and perfect for layering due to being so lightweight.
After how useful these were, I’m now a sun hoodie convert!
Lamps for camping are something we likely had more than was necessary, but I guess we didn’t want to be without light if needed while camping. We all had our individual headlamps, but we also acquired a few new tent lighting options before we departed.
While we did use the lamps, they didn’t get the heavy use like we thought they would due to the extra long days where we happened to be in Montana and Wyoming.
We purchased this USB-charging lantern that we were excited about due to not needing to replace batteries. However, we also purchased this little solar light and these solar-powered string lights.
We ended up using the solar powered lights and were quite pleased with how they worked. We stuck them out in the sun during the day or on the dashboard while driving during the day. They provided just the right amount of light needed at night in the tent. We also used our headlamps if needed while reading.
I definitely would not go back to battery-powered lights for longer-term camping when solar-powered lights are so simple and pretty inexpensive.
Single-burner camping stove
To do most of our cooking, we used a double-burner Coleman stove that we really enjoyed using. However, we found it incredibly useful to have a compact single-burner stove.
To go along with the aforementioned tea kettle for our morning beverages, we’d get out our simple single-burner stove to boil our water.
In bear country, everything would need to be packed up between uses. We found getting out the smaller stove to be easier and more convenient.
Also, on travel days, we’d have as much packed up as possible the night before. We wouldn’t do any cooking with the exception of boiling our water. It simply allowed for easier mornings, which easy, when camping, is always helpful.
We used an almost twenty-year-old stove by MSR that John had from his more adventurous days, and it worked just fine. If you’re interested in one for yourself, you can find the updated version from MSR here on Amazon or at REI.
Before this roadtrip began, I decided maybe I should get some deodorant to help me smell a little less should I have to go many days without bathing.
Many years ago, I switched to using baking soda for deodorant, which worked really well for many years. However, around when River was born, it gave me a rash on armpit. So, without putting much thought into, I just stopped using deodorant. I went full blown hippie, crunchy, granola, whatever you want to call it.
Some of you might think that sounds gross, but it actually was less bad that I assumed it would be. A decade ago, I would have thought going without deodorant would never be something I would do.
That might be too much information for you, but oh well. The point is, I found a new deodorant for this trip, and it has been an awesome natural deodorant.
I felt smell-free after 3-4 days at a campsite without available showers. I’m guessing the charcoal being a really adsorbent helped with neutralizing any odors.
If you’re on the hunt for a good, natural deodorant, I highly recommend Schmidt’s Charcoal Deodorant.
My plan was to do work on this trip, and I wanted a way to charge my laptop, in addition to my cameras and other devices.
We found that we used our devices so much less on this trip than in stationary life, but when we were out for 3 to 6 days at a time, being confident that we could stay charged was important to me.
I researched power stations and solar panels quite a bit before we left. There are a good number of options out there, many of which can have you spending many, many hundreds of dollars.
Because we would only be using this for this 2-month period since we can’t bring them on the plane with us due to flight regulations, we opted for the lower end option, which ended up being plenty of power for our usage.
We went with the Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 160 and the Jackery SolarSaga 60W Solar Panel.
This was able to charge my laptop and two tablets at once. With full sun exposure, we were able to get these devices charged in a few hours and the power station stayed above 90% full.
We never had uncharged devices.
I’m bummed we needed to sell this before departing to Costa Rica, as it would also be a good setup to have as a backup power source for any potential blackouts.
There’s a lot of natural movement you get from all the activities of camp life, but sometimes you still want to be able to get a more targeted workout.
John was especially sad about leaving his garage gym setup that having something to lift and give him some more resistance was highly desirable.
We ended up bringing our TRX, a sandbag kettlebell, and some bands.
This proved to be a good combination of options that didn’t take up too much space.
We were able to set up our TRX around a tree and get some reps in whenever the urge presented itself.
I’d look at eBay if you want to find a used TRX. Alternatively, you can find them on Amazon. There are off-label options for suspension trainers. I can’t speak for them, but they’re out there if you want to spend a bit less money on your camp gym setup.
John purchased this kettlebell by Brute Force before we left. You can put between zero and 45 pounds of sand in it, so it can grow with you as your strength increases. It could also be a good option for stationary life if you don’t want to have multiple kettlebells. We’re bringing it down to Costa Rica with us. We’ll have it empty on the plane and fill it when we get to the beach!
As far as elastic bands go, we have this type. They’re nice and compact, and you get different resistances for different exercises and capabilities.
(Let us know in the comments below if you’d be interested in John sharing some workout flows with such a set up.)
I’ve had a pair of Crocs for about twelve years that have acted as the shoes I slip on when I need to run outside quickly from the house. I didn’t really want to bring them because they do take up a good amount of space. However, I found that I was very grateful that I had them with me. In fact, we all had a pair, and they got all got their share of use.
Crocs are simply such an easy shoe to have a camp to easily go in and out of your tent with. John and I both found ourselves wearing our Crocs around camp most of the time.
I know people have their opinions of Crocs. We’re all about functionality, and Crocs, in our opinion, functioned extremely well for our needs.
You can, of course, find Crocs locally, so check your local stores first if possible. However, you can find them on Amazon or order directly from Crocs. We’ve found some good deals by ordering directly from Crocs when they’ve had sales.
I remember as a kid how much my dad loved his chamois for drying the car or whatever needed to be dried. This trip had me loving the chamois (I’m not sure what the plural of chamois is?) in a much deeper way.
The chamois was so incredibly helpful for the daily task of drying our dishes to allow us to pack them up quickly. Additionally, where they really saved the day was when it would rain the night before we’d have to pack up camp. We would wipe down the tent rainfly with the chamois to assist it in drying as much as possible before packing up.
Our chamois definitely earned their spot on the list of an extremely helpful item that we were grateful to have included in our cross country journey.
We used ones that we had purchased at Trader Joe’s a while back. They may still sell them there if you have one nearby. If not, there are many to choose from on Amazon.
That about wraps it up for our list of items that we found especially helpful on our two-month cross-US road trip that involved living out of our van and tent camping. Of course, your needs may differ, but these are some items to consider.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you have any items that you’ve appreciated having on your camping and/or long road trips. Let us know if you’ve used any of the items above, and/or if you think you might try any of them out.
Thanks for reading! Happy travels.