I recently wrote an article for DoItYourselfRV.com about the top gadgets for full-time RVing. Tim was helping me brainstorm for the article one day, and the conversation morphed into a discussion about all the different things — not just gadgets — that we consider essential for full-time RVing. As we talked the list got longer and longer, and at some point, I thought it would be fun to put it all together into a list of all the “stuff” we deem essential for our lifestyle. While this list is by no means 100% complete, it represents a good portion of things we use nearly every day. Let us know what you think. Are we missing anything?
We rely on the Internet as our means of working and supporting ourselves on the road. Which means we need the most reliable source we can find. Rather than trying to use crappy campground wifi, or spending our days driving around to coffee shops & libraries, we have our own personal MiFi hotspot. We pay a service called Millenicom $90/month for 20 GB of data. This makes up the majority of our Internet along with a shared 10 GB plan through AT&T.
*Update: Millenicom no longer exists. We now have two unlimited data plans through Verizon & AT&T For the most up to date information on data plans for RVers (and everything else tech-related) we recommend you visit the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center.
Since we enjoy spending time in out of the way places that might not have the strongest signal, a booster is a must. Currently, we have the Wilson Sleek Booster, and while it can’t work miracles, it does a decent job of boosting the signal at times when we need it. Recently a few new boosters have come out on the market, and eventually we would love to upgrade, but for now, we’re letting the experts over at Technomadia test them out before making the investment.
*Update: We now have the latest version of the Wilson Sleek called the weBoost Drive 4G-S.
When you live in a less than 200 sq. ft house, small is the name of the game, and when you need your computer to perform reliably, Apple is the only game in town. Tim and I have both gone through several other brand laptops with nothing but frustration and angst. A few years ago Tim switched to a MacBook and I followed suit about a year later. We have never looked back. Currently, I have a 13″ MacBook Air, and Tim has a 13″ MacBook Pro. As far as we are concerned these small, lightweight, energy efficient, well made, and frustration-free laptops are the best choice for full-time RVing.
12-volt Laptop Charger
We live off the grid a lot. In fact, in the past two years on the road, we have spent more time not plugged into shore power, than plugged in. We also have chosen not to have an Inverter (converts 12v power from our house batteries to 120v power), which means that when we are not plugged in we run all our electronic devices off 12v. This simplified system has worked out great for us, but it does mean that we need 12v chargers for all our devices. There are a few different companies out there that make 12-volt cords for MacBooks. The one we have is called the EEO AC Car Charger. We actually have two since there are different models for the Air & the Pro laptops. These chargers perform just as they should, and as an extra bonus, we can use them to power our laptops in the truck while we’re driving if the need arises.
We listen to music nearly all day. While we do have a nice stereo in the Airstream, the speakers are above the couch, and therefore above our heads, which gets annoying after awhile. The solution is a mini, portable, rechargeable, bluetooth speaker. The one we have is the HMDX Audio Jam Classic Bluetooth Wireless Speaker. We love the small size, and the fact that it’s Bluetooth compatible means it can be placed anywhere around the Airstream (or outside) combining great sound with convenience.
*Update: Our Jam Classic died and we know have a Bose Bluetooth Speaker Soundlink Mini It’s a bit bigger then the Jam Classic, but it also has a better sound.
I simply could not live without my Kindle! I’ve always been an avid reader, and have probably read more in the last few years since I got my Kindle than ever before. I love the small size, the long battery life, and the touch screen page turning function. My favorite part though, is the fact that I can buy books from virtually anywhere. We are a a two Kindle household and both have the Kindle E-ink. Eventually I would love to get the new Kindle Paperwhite with improved screen and built in light, but for now, I can’t justify replacing my original 4-year old Kindle that is still going strong.
*Update: Tim surprised me with a new Kindle Paperwhite this past Christmas. I love everything about it, especially the built in back light!
Small Printer – We don’t print a ton of documents, but the need arises often enough that it would be nice to have our own printer rather than seeking out a library or copy store. If we ever do get a printer we would probably go with this ultra portable Canon Pixma Mobile Printer.
A super useful app that tells us where we can expect cell coverage from different carriers. Created by fellow full-timers who understand the need to stay connected, this app is absolutely essential for our lifestyle.
Weather on the go, no matter where you are. Weather bug knows your location and will give up to the minute radar. It also has weather alerts that are very handy if you’re in an area with approaching severe weather.
You know how sometimes you get gas and then drive a mile down the street and see it for 5 cents cheaper? This will never happen if you use the Gas Buddy app. Gas Buddy tells you the current gas prices wherever you are, in both a map and list form. It’s a really simple app that can really save you some dough.
Cast Iron Cookware
I used to think cast iron cookware was too heavy for RV living. After all, we do need to be aware of how much weight we carry around in our small house on wheels. But that was before I realized that a single cast iron pan could replace virtually all of my other pans. About a year ago I purchased a 10″ Lodge Pre-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet and subsequently got rid of all my pans expect for a tiny 8″ non-stick that I like to use for scrambled eggs. I can’t say enough good things about this pan. Heats and cooks evenly, cleans up easily, can go from stove-top to oven to grill, made in the USA, and extremely affordable.
Magnetic Spice Tins
The perfect way to store spices in an RV. These small metal tins with clear lids that twist for either a pour or sprinkle option are simply the best way to store spices. I like having them on the wall in my kitchen where I can easily reach them without having to dig through a drawer or cupboard.
Collapsible Colander, Salad Spinner, Measuring Cups, etc.
Collapsible is the way to go when space is a premium. Especially when it comes to bulky items such as a colander or salad spinner. More and more of these products are popping at places like Amazon and Target. I recently discovered this really cute collapsible tea kettle. Love that orange color!
Why take up precious counter or cabinet space with a bulky toaster when all you need is this super simple folding contraption. We’ve been using this stove-top toaster several times a week for over two years and are more than happy with its toasting ability, ease of cleaning, and space saving design.
You really don’t want to use your best china in the RV. While we’ve never had an issue with things rattling around so much in the cabinets that they break, we have had some cabinet doors fly open while in transit, so to be safe we stick with unbreakable dishes and glassware. We’re currently in the process of upgrading our melamine (which was pretty, but after only 2 years is showing some serious signs of use) with enamelware dishes. We went with this gorgeous green enamelware from GSI. We didn’t end up buying the set because we don’t use mugs, and we want 2 different size plates. Instead, we are buying it a few pieces at a time when we see it for sale at various outdoor stores. So far we are loving it, and expect it will last forever.
Soda Stream – We’re not big soda drinkers, but I do drink seltzer water everyday. Which is why the Soda Stream is at the top of my kitchen wish list. I love the idea of making my own seltzer, adding my own flavors, and not having to carry around all those empty bottles while we search for a recycling center. The only reason I don’t already own a Soda Stream is because I can’t figure out where to store it. We have virtually no extra counter space, and at 17″ tall it won’t fit in any of our cabinets. So for now I am Soda Streamless, but as soon as I figure out the storage issue, it’s moving from my wish list to my kitchen.
Folding camp chairs are an absolute necessity for RV living. I will admit that these days we don’t spend as much time sitting outside as we used to (preferring to spend our outside time hiking, biking, etc), but we still value the importance of a good set of chairs. Our current chair situation consists of two folding Zip Dee chairs that came with the Airstream and match our awning, along with two Zero Gravity Reclining Chairs. The zero gravity chairs get a B for comfort, and an F for portability. At nearly 20lbs each they are simply too cumbersome to easily stow in the back of the truck. Also, as someone who has a height deficiency (that means I am short) I don’t find these chairs comfortable in the upright position. After two years of grumbling about these chairs, we’re finally ready to replace them with something better. Suggestions would be greatly appreciated!!!
You have to have a few tables to go with your chairs. We have two different size folding tables. One that’s fairly tall and has a roll-up top which fits nicely in a bag along with the folding legs. And another smaller folding table that makes a great side table for drinks.
Grill + Quick Connect Hose
I’ve mentioned our Weber Q Grill here more than once. We think it’s the best grill for RV travel. Small and portable, made of quality materials, and provides an even cooking surface. The model we have is the Q1000, which is the smallest option without the attached fold-out tables. We debated this feature for a bit, but in the end, decided it was silly since we would always have it on a table, and therefore had no need for additional tables. It was a good decision and we’ve never regretted not having the attached tables. We also elected not to get the fold up stand because that was just one more thing to store while traveling. Another good decision since we end up using either a picnic table or our tall folding table as a grill stand.
The last component to our grill set-up is a 15′ quick connect hose that goes from the grill to our propane tanks on the front of the Airstream. This is super convenient since we never need to buy (or find a place to recycle) those small propane bottles. If you’re interested, Tim wrote a little how-to guide chronicling the set-up and all the parts he used. You can find it here.
A good outdoor rug not only makes your RV yard feel more homey, it also reduces the amount of dirt you track inside. We’ve gone through a few outdoor rugs, and our current has been with us about 8 months now and is still going strong. I feel like we still have yet to find the perfect outdoor rug, but this one come close.
Pros: plain design — no crazy checkerboard or wavy pattern, perfect size to fit in the back of our truck while in transit, does an excellent job of collecting dirt, has grommet holes in the corner for staking when it’s windy out.
Cons: doesn’t dry as fast as our old plastic rug, hard to shake out, no carry bag.
I almost didn’t put this one on the list, because for most RVers a solar shower is far from an essential item. But for us, it has become an important part of our boondocking arsenal. The thing about the solar shower is that when the conditions are right (warm day, complete privacy, a nice branch to hang it from) it’s the best shower in the world. But when the conditions are wrong (chilly breeze, a lack of privacy which leaves you awkwardly washing under your bathing suit) it’s not such a great idea. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ll only use it under those perfect conditions, but Tim is a bit less fussy than me. The fact is that while boondocking it saves grey water tank space, and doesn’t deplete precious water from the fresh water tank, which makes it a pretty great product.
We initially started our journey without bikes. The decision was due in part to the fact that we already felt like we had too much stuff, and also because our old man Phineas dog would not be able to bike with us, and we felt bad always leaving him behind. At some point, it became apparent that Phin would not be with us much longer :( and we realized that bikes would in fact fit in the back of our truck, so we bit the bullet and made the purchase. We bought our used bikes from a rental shop near Mt. Hood at the end of the season. This turned out to be a great way to purchase great used bikes for a reasonable price. We are by no means fanatic bikers, but we have gotten a good amount of use from them, and can no longer imagine traveling without bikes.
Lantern: We are currently without a good outdoor light source. I think a battery operated lantern is probably the best solution, but have not yet found the perfect one.
*Update: We now have an inflatable Lucie Light Solar Lantern which we love!
Binoculars: For spying on the neighbors…I mean looking at wildlife.
Inflatable Kayak: I am convinced that we need one of these, but Tim is hesitant to add more stuff to our already expanding collection of toys. Someday I’ll convince him.
Water Filter –
We use two different water filters. One is an exterior filter that we connect to our fresh water hose. This basic filter prevents sediments, bad taste and smells from entering the RV. The other is an under sink filter that does a great job of removing any lingering impurities from our drinking water. Which is important to us because we drink the water that comes out of our faucet. We firmly believe that unless we are in an area with terrible water, there is no reason to purchase and lug around extra drinking water. I am pretty fussy about the water I drink, and so far have only come across one or two occasions where the water was undrinkable after going through both filters.
Leveling Blocks –
We don’t have one of those fancy RVs with automatic levelers. What we have instead is a collection of very snazzy looking plastic leveling blocks. It’s a rare and momentous occasion when we arrive somewhere to find a perfectly level site, so these blocks are in near constant use.
Update: We purchased a set of Anderson Levelers and they are a HUGE improvement over the stacking blocks. Instead of guessing how many blocks we need, we simply roll up on these ramps and stop when we are level.
Locking Wheel Chocks –
If you want your trailer to stay put after unhooking, these locking wheel chocks are the answer. Sure, we could carry around chunks of wood to place behind the tires, but we find these compact, reliable, and easy to use wheel chocks a bit more effective.
More Power (batteries/generator/solar)
We began this lifestyle knowing that we wanted to spend a significant amount of time boondocking or in public parks with no hook-ups. We also knew that we would rely on computers and various devices for connecting to the Internet which means we needed a good supply of power. In the last two years, we have made several improvements to our power supply.
- Replaced the single battery that was in the Airstream when we purchased it with a pair of Interstate Deep Cycle Batteries
- Bought a Honda EU 2000i Generator for charging the batteries.
- About 3 months into the journey we purchased a 200W solar panel kit from AM Solar that Tim installed on our roof.
- A few months later we added another panel for a total of 300w.
- About a year ago we replaced the Interstates with 4 AGM batteries.
- In 2017 we added another 100w panel that Tim built a frame and folding arms for so we could use it on the ground.
Our current set up provides enough solar power so that even in the winter months when the sun is low in the sky we can live comfortably without worrying that we’ll run out of power. Our upgraded batteries allow us to store several days of power if we are parked in the shade or it’s cloudy for days in a row. We still have the generator as a back up, but only use it when parked under deep shade.
Extra Hoses & Cords
Because there is no standard when it comes to how far or close the hook-ups are at campgrounds, it’s always good to have extras hoses and cords. We carry around a selection of various size hoses, all with quick connect ends, along with an extension cord.
Portable Water Jugs
We started our full-timing lifestyle without any portable water jugs, but quickly realized that if we were going to continue staying at places with no hook-ups it would be much more convenient if we could bring the water to the RV, rather than the RV to the water. We only have a 39 gallon fresh water tank, which means if we stay somewhere more than 4-5 days we’re gonna need more water.
We initially purchased just one jug which turned into two during our first boondocking experience. At some point, we acquired two more, which brings our current total up to four 6 gallon jugs (more than an extra half tank of water). The jugs we have are made of rigid, BPA free plastic and come with a built in pour spout which makes adding water to the tank really easy.
Surge Protector – We spend so little time plugged into power pedestals that so far we haven’t bothered purchasing a surge protector. This fall and winter we will be staying at more campgrounds with electric hookups as we travel along the gulf coast to FL, so at some point, it’s probably a product we should invest in.
We try our best to use our mobile lifestyle as a way to avoid excessively cold weather, but sometimes that weather is unavoidable. Like the time when it snowed on us in Tucson, AZ, or it got down to 13 degrees while we were boondocked near Mammoth Lakes, CA in October. It’s during those times that we are thankful to have a built in furnace. But the furnace uses a ton of energy — both propane and electricity — which makes us glad to have some supplemental heat sources.
- A small ceramic heater with a blower. Needs a lot of juice, so only for use while plugged in, but does an amazing job of heating nearly the entire trailer.
- A catalytic heater mounted to a kitchen cabinet and connected to our in-house propane. A great supplemental heat source for boondocking or dry camping (a good alternative is the Mr. Buddy Heater). We’ve found that the best use for this heater is in the evening before a cold night. Due to safety concerns, we don’t keep it on while we’re sleeping, but we use it to heat up the trailer before bed which greatly reduces the amount of times the furnace needs to come on, thereby saving a good amount of electricity.
More important than I ever thought it would be. I assumed since we had such a small amount of floor space I could get by with a broom, a mop, and a tiny, practically worthless, handheld dustbuster. Wrong! It didn’t take long to realize that we were going to need a much more powerful vacuum to tackle the amount of dirt, sand, and debris that accumulated in the RV (despite the no shoes inside rule).
A lot of RVers swear by the Dyson Handheld vacuum, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend so much $$$ on a vacuum. I ended up with the Hoover Platinum Cordless. Still not cheap at $120, but this vacuum has survived nearly four years of heavy use and is still going strong. A few key features are the variety of useful attachments, an easy to empty canister, a washable filter preventing the need to buy refills, and a battery life long enough for two full vacuums.
Oxygenics Shower Head
Use less water and still get a great shower. A burst of air mixed in with the water means that the Oxygenics uses up to 70% less water than a traditional shower head. It’s truly an amazing product.
Roof Mounted Fans
Small spaces need lots of airflow. Our two roof mounted MaxxAir Fans help do the job. One is in the front, and one in the back, which means we can turn one on “In” and one on “Out” to creates a really nice breeze. One of the best features of these fans is the special design that allows us to leave them open while it’s raining and not get wet.
Memory Foam Mattress
This week we’re staying at a national forest campground where the tents out number the RVs at least two to one. It’s been raining a lot at night, and I’ve been going back and forth between feeling sorry for the tenters, and feeling gleeful that I am all warm and dry inside my house. I am telling you this to remind you that what we’re doing here is not camping! This is not a huddling around the fire to stay warm kind of lifestyle. While all those poor fools…I mean vacationers, are damp and cold on the hard ground we’re all snuggled up in our soft, warm bed. Beside the obvious fact that we’re inside and they’re outside, the biggest reason why we’re so comfy is due to our memory foam mattress.
We bought our Airstream used, so it was a given that we would replace the mattress, but even new RVs are not known for their excellent quality mattresses. Everyone likes a different kind of mattress, but in our case, memory foam was the way to go. We purchased our mattress from Overstock.com and both agree that it’s the best mattress we’ve ever had.
Fire Proof Safe: Because bad things happen, and if we did have a fire it would be nice to know that at least our important documents are safe.
This list was updated in August 2016. Be sure to read our newest post, Stuff We Love – 2016 for more recommendations of recent purchases.
Looking for more RV Essentials?
Don’t just take our advice! For recommendations from over 30 full-time RVers check out this article by The Wandering RV.
We rarely recommend (or participate in) these type of collaboration articles, but this one has some great advice from people who actually live on the road and use these items all the time.
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