The best list of vanlife essentials in South America

What do you need whilst travelling with a campervan through South America? In this blog, we made a list of vanlife essentials in South America.

Due to its vastness, South America is perfect for exploration by car. If you are travelling for a long period in South America, buying your own car can be a valable option. In our blogpost on how to buy a car in Chile, we provide detailed information on how to buy your own car in South America.

When you are travelling with a car or a campervan in South America, you are in for an adventurous cross-country road trip with stunning landscapes, friendly people and lifechanging experiences! But vanlife is also a minimalist lifestyle where you live in a very tiny space. So sometimes it is difficult to decide what to take with you. Below, we created a list of vanlife essentials in South America to help you plan your trip through South America! This list is specifically designed for travelling with a campervan. Therefore we will not elaborate on standard travel equipment like for example type of clothes, shoes, hiking gear, …

vanlife essentials chile san pedro atacama

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Essential paperworks for your campervan in South America

Before you start your road trip, make sure you have these essentials with you:

  • Your (international) driving licence and registration of the car. Keep in mind that to cross certain borders, it will be important that the car is registered on your name.
  • Your passport that you will need to cross the borders. Always store your passport safely and make copies in case your passport gets lost or stolen.
  • Insurance papers. Be aware that certain countries in South America require that you take car insurance in their country upon arrival in the country. We arrived in Peru on a Sunday, with insurance companies closed. Unfortunately, that day the police pulled us apart and we got a fine for not having the correct insurance.

Essential apps for your roadtrip 

App Park4Night. This app is a perfect companion for your roadtrip. It has a huge database with campsites and spots were overnight camping is allowed. The community behind Park4Night is very active, so plenty of great spots to choose from.

App iOverlander. Similar as Park4Night, the app iOverlander has proven to be a very useful app for travellers. The app is designed for overlanders and campers. It gives an overview of all places that are relevant for those who travel with a car or campervan. This app allows you to download maps of certain regions when wifi is available. When there is no internet connection this app allows you to navigate without an internet connection and mark places for later use.

Vanlife essentials for road trip emergencies

Even though you have a trustworthy vehicle, you should be prepared for anything and everything during your roadtrip through South America.

If you are heading to a less-populated area or off the beaten track, expect to drive on dirt and sandy roads with no other people around. It would be unfortunate to get stuck in these places, so be prepared for the two most common issues: a dead battery and a flat tire.

Many of the roads in South-America are dirt roads

A dead battery can happen every moment, just by forgetting to put out a light or the battery life deteriorating over time. So besides a pair of jumper cables, it can be worthwhile to take an emergency car battery jump starter with you.

Regarding tires, you should always carry at least one full-size spare tire with you. A hydraulic car jack will lift your camper van off the ground with ease. But it can also be worthwhile to bring a fix-a-flat for emergency situations. If you got stuck in sand, lowering the tire pressure can be the solution. In that case, you afterwards have to pressure the tires back up, and a tire inflator then comes in handy. And a shovel to dig you out of the sand also belongs in the list of vanlife essentials in South America.

Let’s hope it won’t happen to you, but a campervan can set on fire. We suggest to have a fire extinguisher at all times with you. If you cook inside your van, we highly recommend to have a carbon monoxide detector with you to warn you in case of a possible danger of CO poisoning.

A final essential for road trip emergencies is a first aid kit.

Vanlife essentials for electronics 

Dependent on the car you have at your disposal, the car will have an extra battery (a so-called household battery) that is charged via the main battery of your car or via solar panels. However, if your car has no extra battery, this shouldn’t be a problem either. To charge your electronic equipment, you can bring a  rechargeable battery-powered generator like a Jackery power station and an accompanying solar panel.

Another item we use a lot during our travels is a wireless modem. You just insert a SIM-card and you are ready to connect your devices to the internet.

What you take with you regarding electronic equipment depends on the needs you have:

  • A laptop and charger
  • A smartphone and charger
  • Equipment for photography of videography. We are huge fans of drone shots and the next time we travel to South America, we’ll definitely take our DJI mini 2 with us.
  • A tripod for making photos of the starry sky or to light paint in the desert
  • headlamp when you have to go outside when it is dark.

Sleeping essentials 

Your van will be your home on the road, so it’s definitely worth to make a comfy space of it.

We recommend to take comfy pillows with you and a warm duvet. In case the evenings are getting really cold an additional fleece or flannel blanket can give you that extra comfort. Note that in South America they sell blankets from Alpaca wool which are really warm and comfortable. Another thing that is used often by vanlifers in South America is a hot water bottle.

vanlife snow south america chile
The weather in South America can very between very hot and very cold. We even got snow during our roadtrip

If you are a light sleeper, ear plugs and a sleeping mask may come in handy.

To make your bedroom/living space a more home like feeling, it can be worth to take some extra throw pillows with you, that you can also use to sit on outside or to support your back when sitting on the bed.

What us made really feel at home were the fairy lights above our bed. They functioned as our light in the van in the evening. As they are battery powered, we were sure we didn’t drain our battery.

Kitchen essentials

Being able to prepare food in the middle of magnificent landscapes and to have dinner while soaking up the beauty of nature is for us one of the best aspects of vanlife.

Water containers are a must-have when camping off-grid. Containers that have a tap make it easy to use them for drinking water. We recommend to use square containers because they take up the least amount of space.

A cooking stove that works on propane. This cooking stove has two burners, which is sufficient for us to prepare a healthy meal. Wind-blocking panels are a must-have in certain areas in South America. Don’t forget to bring a lighter with you, not only for cooking but also to make a campfire.

A compact water boiler to make coffee, tea or cook something simple. The Jetboil Flash boils 1 L of water in 100 seconds. Perfect when the weather is not ideal to cook outside or to take with you during a hike.

One of the best things we had with us during our travels through South America was a collapsible toaster. This allowed us to eat bread that was already a couple days old.

portable cooler bag. Although it can be cold in South-America, it can also be very hot. To keep your food (and drinks) refrigerated, a portable cooler bag can be a good solution if you don’t have a 12V fridge.

Pots and pans. When we cook, we use a deep pan that we also can use as an improvised wok. Next to a pan, we use one medium-sized pot and a kettle.

uyuni bolivia salar cooking pot
Our kitchen essentials were also very useful to take some illusional photos on the salar de uyuni

Plates, bowls and mugs. During your travels through South America, you will drive on many dirt roads with plenty of potholes. Ceramic tableware is therefore a big no and we recommend to use plates and bowls that don’t break easily. We especially like enamel tableware instead of plastic bowls and plates.

Cooking utensils like a spatula and a soup spoon

lifestraw water bottle is not only a vanlife essential, but it’s an essential item for everyone who enjoys the outdoors. They filter the dirtiest water in clean water.

South America has some excellent wines. With these silicon wine glasses you can enjoy wine (or other drinks) wherever you want. As these are foldable, these are also excellent to take with you in a backpack.

To keep your kitchen essentials clean, don’t forget to take kitchen towels and dish rags with you. And of course a biodegradable dish detergent

And most importantly, good chairs and a foldable table are essential in South-America to sit down and watch the magnificent landscapes.

Chile camping national park laja
Enjoying the landscape is your daytask during vanlife in South America

Cleaning essentials

Keeping your van clean

When travelling through South America, expect dirt roads! A lot of dirt roads! So be prepared to have a lot of sand and dust coming into your van. To keep our van clean, we took a brush and dustpan, dust cloths and cleaning spray with us. To remove dust from more difficult places, we recommend dust cleaning gel.

Packing cubes can help you to keep everything in your van organized. It is a small space, so keeping it organized is key!

Keeping yourself clean

But of course, it is also important to keep yourself clean during your travels. Below are the most important hygienic essentials we take with us:

chile laguna cejar floating
Taking a bath in the salty laguna cejar near San Pedro de Atacama in Chile is also a good option to keep yourself clean!

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