THIS IS WAY BETTER THAN ANTI-BACTERIAL GEL. It’s very clean feeling, without the smell or slime that comes with some gel anti-bacterial solutions.
Get a readably sized spray bottle (~6-8oz, the 2 oz spray bottles need to be refilled rather frequently and anything larger can be unweilding), fill with 70% rubbing alcohol (which is usually 70% alcohol), 20% witch hazel, and 10% filtered water. You can also add essential oils for a fragrant boost. With a medium sized spray bottle, you can have on in the door of your van, or it doesn’t take up too much room on a table or in your living area.
We used this spray, exclusively, during the pandemic. We always had a spray nearby. Our hands were NEVER dry. The witch hazel keeps your hands soft and healthy. It was shocking to stay at a hotel or with some friends for a few days and realize how quickly, even soap, dries out one’s hands.
Dish and household cleaning
Also have a spray bottle of water and a spray bottle of 50% vinegar and 50% water. Both spray bottles can be used to easily clean dishes…. when finished with a meal, spray your dish and wipe it out with your napkin. The napkin will pick up any fats that are left on the plate and everything is easier to clean before it dries out and get caked on. The vinegar spray helps lift grease from any surface.
The water spray bottle also helps when it’s hot and you need a cool spray to keep you cool. A wet buff will help even further.
Amazon for the portable shower - a shower wherever and whenever you want.
DO NOT get a portable shower head with removable batteries… the batteries must be kept out of the water. (We learned this from a community shower at burning man.) Get a shower where the whole system is waterproof. When you’re craving a shower, any temperature water will do, however, you can warm water in the sun all day, and when you’re at peak sweaty in the summer heat, that sweet sweet water will rain down on you in a glorious shower.
Off grid shower wisdom: A full shower (shampooed hair and full body scrub/rinse) can be achieved with 1.5 gal, so anything more will be luxurious. You quickly learn to spray yourself off, turn off the shower, lather and scrub, then turn the shower back on to rinse.
3 gallon stackable water bottles
5 gallon water bottles weigh too much. These 3 gallon bottles are the right size to make moving them easy, and they also have a great handle and are stackable 3 high.
Electric water dispenser
A rechargeable water dispenser gives you running water in any location. We haven’t used one on the 3 gal bottles, so do some research and check it out. If you know that you’ll be using the dispenser for cooking, look for a product that allows you to hold a pot with two hands and still allows you to turn the water on and off.
Just google something like this:
Going to the bathroom
Toilet seat for 5-gallon bucket
**warning, very honest discussion on human excrement ahead**
Toilet solutions and back-ups
In rural camping, you dig a hole… camping, you have vault toilets, in other cases, an outhouse… in other circumstances, you may want to remain indoors while using the toilet, and this
Men may be used to peeing on a tree while on the go, and it can be a learning curve for women.
A female urinal funnel is great when you’re comfortable to go outside, or to pee in a bottle like a guy. Clean up is much easier. Squatting can be messy for a female. Ladies, do your research about which might suit you best. I do not recommend one that has retractable parts, because you end up touching it after you’ve used it. Ideally, you’d let it air dry and not seal in the moisture in a water tight bag, but without a watertight bag… I haven’t solved this yet, so google this yourself.
For vanlife, when you’re in an urban or populated environment, or a parking lot, and you need to use the bathroom at night, the easiest solution is a toilet lid for a five gallon bucket (under $20 total), lined with a garbage bag. You could go #1 and #2 in a bucket for a day or two, then you’d need to throw out the back because it gets very liquid-y… so it’s best to urinate into a bottle (to empty or dispose of later).
You’ll want to dispose of the bag when it gets heavy (lots of liquid) or it starts smelling. Adding hamster bedding (wood flakes), sawdust, or kitty littler will assist in odor control and will absorb any liquid.
A toilet lid on a five gallon bucket is the most easy, cost effective, and flexible solution. Another way to go is a portable toilet with a tank that you’d have to empty in a proper toilet. It mixes #1 and #2, so it makes it challenging to empty it in nature. It is also not very discreet, unlike the garbage bag that you pull from the bucket.
The deluxe solution is a composting toilet ($900+), which requires venting and an electric fan ($ and engineering). It will take more planning to make this work, but it is the most “civilized” solution for an off-grid bathroom.
Off grid and on your period
The best solution for period hygiene is the Mahina (https://www.mahinacup.com/our-story/) menstrual cup. Tampons result in non-biodegradable waste that you’ll have to dispose of in town, as will pads. Pads also mean that you’re using more toilet paper and wet wipes to clean up. The cup keeps everything orderly so you don’t even need to use wet wipes. Using the cup feels so clean compared to the alternatives. To clean the cup in an off-grid environment, I used about a gallon of water to rinse it over the full period.
I would have two bowls, each with a cup or two of water. I would take the cup out and rise and wipe the cup in the water for the first stage of clean. Then, I would use an alcohol spray (rubbing alcohol + witch hazel in a spray bottle, fill the bottle with 70% alcohol, 20% witch hazel and 10% distilled/filtered water) then finish rinsing/cleansing the cup in the other bowl.
Even if you use pads now, being off grid means being exposed to greater temperature swings than living mostly indoors in a city. Heat makes pads very uncomfortable.
Living off grid requires a reconsideration of food habits. How you think about it depends on whether you have a fridge (like this 12v fridge that can plug into the cigarette lighter of your vehicle) or a cooler. A cooler will lose its cool by day 3, even if it is a Yeti.
If you are doing vanlife as a road trip, through cities, food acquisition is much easier.
If you’re going truly off-grid, or off-road, more planning is required.
When most people think about living out of a pantry, on dry goods, without power, they think rice and beans. However, dry rice and beans take A LOT of propane/fuel to cook. If it’s hot outside, you do not want to be cooking something for an hour. Consider canned beans instead. Try different brands for each bean or veggie.
Cabbage, potatoes, garlic, and onions keep well without refrigeration. Making a kimchi out of green cabbage or a bag of kale keeps greens around longer, and keeps meals interesting.
If you’re stocking food for more than two months, store food in air-tight containers, like the clean vacuum seal containers from Oxo. If you have big bulk bags, like 5lbs of rice, use a quart ball jar as your “ready to use” container so you don’t have to keep going into a big bag that could be inconveniently stored. Also, add at least one food-grade desiccant packet, like these:
EcoFlow has a great all-in-one battery system with all plug types, and you can use mobile or fixed solar panels to charge it. We are able to charge all of our devices (two iPad Pro, 2 iPhones, a MacBook Pro, iWatches, mobile battery lights.
We have 3 folding solar panels that are daisy chained together to charge the battery.
We use this system on our boat to supplement the 2011 fixed solar/battery system that came on the boat.
Having a few small battery packs gives you flexibility on where to charge your devices, otherwise, they need to be plugged into the big battery.
A combo battery and light is great to illuminate any space you’re in, and we love the SCL10 from Nitecore.
Stay in touch. I send out an email once in awhile.