Van Life Tips: Eating Healthy, Staying Powered, and Overcoming Challenges on the Road
Are you an outdoor enthusiast looking for your next great adventure? Vanlife can be the opportunity of a lifetime for those who desire a thrilling way to see the world—but whether you're a seasoned pro or a newbie, we could all use some essential van life tips on how to make the most of the experience.
For firsthand knowledge on the topic, we sat down for an interview with Anker Ambassador Justin Krompier, who lives and travels full-time in his van as he pursues a career as a landscape and lifestyle photographer. Justin offers some valuable insight into what it takes to lead a life on the road, as well as how he makes sure his essentials are powered while keeping his meal options healthy and delicious.
In this Q&A, we'll explore some of the challenges associated with this nomadic lifestyle – and how devices like Anker portable power stations can provide convenience and peace of mind for a more enjoyable adventure. If you're curious about what it's like to begin van life, then this article is the perfect primer for your journey!
Vanlife Equipment: Keeping the Essentials Powered
Let's talk about your van. What kind of electrical system do you have installed (batteries, solar panels, inverter, etc.)? Can you quickly run through your setup?
Yeah, absolutely. I have two 100 amp-hour lithium batteries. They're Battle Born brand. So that's a total of 200Ah. I have 300 watts of Renogy solar. I have a 2000 watt inverter charger from Renogy, which allows me to plug in as well to shore power. I have a Victron 30-amp DC to DC charger, which allows me to charge those batteries off of the alternator when the van is running. And that's it.
What kind of fridge do you have?
I have a Iceco 45 liter or something like that. It's a cooler style fridge. No freezer, just a fridge. It's a 12 volt. So it goes right to my battery; it's hooked up right to my DC stuff.
What about a heater or AC?
Yep, I have AC. That's what the inverter does. So it'll take the 12 volt and convert it to 110. And then I have, you know, so that I can power my induction because that plugs into 110. My battery chargers for my cameras, my laptop, all that sort of stuff, all goes off of just regular house outlets. So the heater is 12 volt. The heater takes fuel from my gas tank. I tapped it right into my gas tank. And then that hooks up into my 12 volt system. So that is like a built-in permanent fixture now. And it runs off of my 12 volt battery system.
So on a really cold day I'm realizing, because I have so much being powered by only 200 amp hours and only 300 watts of solar, the need for a backup or supplemental has actually increased. Just if nothing else, if it's really cloudy for a couple days and I'm not driving or I have nowhere to plug in, I'm screwed. So I need that backup for sure.
How does the Anker PowerHouse fit in with your lifestyle? Do you use it as a supplement to your existing power system, or is it more like a backup to it?
Yeah, I would say it's supplemental and a backup. I've been in situations before where I had some issues with my batteries and I wish that I had a backup. And so the backup was I had to go out and buy a Coleman stove in order to cook 'cause I cook off induction. So that's a great example of how I would use it as a backup if something within my system fails.
The other thing is that if I'm in a situation, like we were streaming the Super Bowl here on the beach the other night, and we could charge the projector and laptops off of it [...] So we were powering the Super Bowl from the beach with the Anker system.
Vanlife: Cooking with Portable Power
How does the PowerHouse help you with cooking?
So, I was limited with cooking. I have an induction. I didn't want to mess with propane. I was a little weary of having propane tanks in my van, just in case anything ever happened. And I've heard horror stories of friends [with propane tanks] not being set up right, and their vans literally exploding—like their kitchens exploding, their cabinets. Luckily nobody was really seriously injured, but that scares me.
So my ex and I, who I built the van with, opted for electric. And we didn't have enough money to do like some crazy electrical system. So we knew we're living in a van. We're going to have to be okay with less. If I want to make rice or pasta and you know, I need to cook the vegetables or chicken or beef or whatever, and I cannot use my rice cooker and my induction cooktop at the same time, I'm limited. Now I'm not. Like I very much look forward to now cooking my rice at the same time as the steak or as this or whatever. So as far as cooking goes, it's actually a game changer.
What other kitchen appliances are you using?
Well, I just use an induction cooktop that is 1800 watts on high, but whenever I get anywhere close to 1800 watts, I start getting a warning on my electrical system. So if I need to cook something on high, like a steak and I need to sear it, there's no way that I can also cook my rice or anything else.
One time we tried cooking - and I wish I had the PowerHouse. We were in Glacier National Park and my friends and I wanted to do a pot roast in my pressure cooker, but that's got to run for like an hour and forty-five minutes. And I just did not feel comfortable with the way the sun was that week, cooking that for that long on my batteries. So we had to find some place in the park, like next to a bathroom to hook up the pressure cooker. But if I had [the PowerHouse], I could have just ran that, you know, where we were camping, which would have been amazing. So, you know, now that frees me up to do pot roast and stuff.
What are your favorite dishes to make on the road?
I love cooking steak. I don't know why. It's just simple, easy, I find it to be incredibly nutritious. I was vegan for four years and recently, like over the last year or so, switched back to eating fruits, vegetables, and meat. And that's kind of my primary diet right now is like lots of fruit and a steak or fish for dinner. So I eat fruit throughout the day, and then a bigger meal at night, which usually consists of like spinach, steak, maybe I'll throw an egg on top, some rice, stir fries, tacos. I make a ton of ground beef or venison or bison tacos. That's always really fun.
One of the biggest obstacles I've found with van life is cooking and eating healthy. Do you have any tips or "hacks" you can share with beginners about eating well on the road?
Personally, when it comes to food and my health, I just don't skimp. I know a lot of people that, because they live on the road or they're trying to keep costs down, which I completely understand, are eating a lot of ramen, which is totally fine. Hot dogs, like stuff that's like pre-packaged. I personally absolutely prioritize my physical health. And it's just an ethos of mine to make sure that I'm fueling my body correctly. And, you know, sadly because of that, I'm spending maybe a little bit more at the supermarket to get quality meat and vegetables and fruits.
So do I have a hack? I guess you just have to be smart about where you're sourcing your food from. Markets are great, like bargain outlets or local farmer's markets. But I think it's good advice to prioritize food, because I think for a lot of people traveling, it is the easy way just to get the cheap crappy food that's easy to make, easy to travel with, like gas station food. I just personally don't do that. I'm really intentional with what I eat and how I'm treating my body.
Having a good fridge really helps. Having a place to keep fruit and stuff really helps as well.
Adapting to the Challenges of Vanlife
What are some of the biggest challenges that you face living and traveling in a van? What does a beginner need to be most aware of before starting this lifestyle?
I think for sure everybody's experience is going to be different as far as like... there's a lot of alone time, there's a lot of driving involved. If you don't like either of those two things, it is going to be challenging.
I personally am a little more extroverted. I love being around people. I love meeting new people. I love connecting with people and sometimes it's just not a thing. And that's okay. It's actually been a great opportunity for me to learn to just sit with myself and learn a lot about myself.
I actually personally love driving days, because I'm usually on the go and moving so much that sometimes a day where I'm driving four hours somewhere else is like my favorite thing ever. And I use that time to connect with people back home or friends on the phone to keep me kind of mentally stable in a lot of ways. I belong to a 12-step fellowship, and so there's constant mental maintenance and spiritual maintenance that needs to happen so that I can stay clean, so that I can still have this life, this gift of a second chance at life. So alone time is definitely a challenge for me.
The small space I think at first was a lot to get used to as far as living. Like, I guess it's not that much different from a studio apartment in New York City. But it's definitely smaller. You're bumping your head on your cabinets all the time. You're banging your elbows on your countertops, all that kind of stuff.
But it's just different. It's an adjustment. Like I grew up with a laundry machine in my home, you know, everywhere I've lived. So like, having to go somewhere to do laundry and plan that out and fill up on water and fill my water tank — like these are things that I never had to worry about living in a house. You know, water was just there. You turn the faucet and it's just there. And now I have to make sure to find where I can get water and if it's drinkable or not.
It's just a different kind of lifestyle. But it's addicting. It's really addicting because it's a thrill. Everything is like an adventure, you know, everything. And getting a shower, same thing. Like where do you shower? Where do you use the bathroom? Like I'm on a beach right now and haven't really moved much in the last like two weeks, and I'm digging holes and [going] in a hole. That's what everybody's doing here. It's a different way of life, but it's absolutely the most exciting kind of life.
And when my friends from back home see how I interact with my van life friends and we're swapping stories, it's just like we speak our own language, you know. A close friend of mine was like, "I get it now. When we were all hanging out with your friend Jess and you guys were talking, I see you guys have your own language, and I don't understand it."
I never considered myself a van lifer. Like personally, I'm a photographer that lives in a van. I don't feel like I'm like an influencer, a content creator, I just am a photographer that happens to live in a van. But I've got to say, I've met some of the most unbelievable people of my life [in a van]. Even the last two weeks alone in Baja, I've made lifelong friendships, memories that'll last forever. It's just a special community.
So I'm willing to sacrifice some of the conveniences being in a really small space. I don't mind having to shower at Planet Fitness after my workouts. But where I'm going to the bathroom, my water situation, emptying my gray water tank, you know, like keeping everything in a really small space—like your whole life is in this small space—the fears of getting broken into and theft and having insurance and business insurance and, you know, all that kind of stuff—it's just different.
But, man, I wouldn't give it up for anything. I really wouldn't.
Begin Your Vanlife Journey
Vanlife can be an incredibly rewarding and thrilling way to explore the world, yet it does come with its unique set of challenges. But as Justin's experience shows, sometimes having the right equipment can make all the difference.
From supplementing your electrical system to powering essentials like cooking gear, Anker portable power stations help you live with greater freedom and comfort, no matter where on the road you currently call home.
Ultimately, van life is not for everyone, but for those who are willing to make the necessary sacrifices, it can be an addicting and unforgettable adventure filled with lifelong friendships and memories.
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