Kitchen and Cooking

Van life without a fridge? And is an electric cooler worth it?

You don't need to spend hundreds of dollars to keep your food cold.

I’ve struggled with the issue of a fridge. I’d only ever use it for egg substitutes, soda, and water. When you want a cold soda, you freaking want a cold soda. Here’s how my brain broke this down:

Keeping Food Cold in a Van or Car

  • Fridge: Nothing wrong with it. Absolutely ideal if I had the solar to keep it going non-stop or had a house battery connected to the car battery.
  • Cooler: There’s something to be said for going basic. What’s complicated about refilling a cooler every 3-5 days? Nothing. At $2 a refill though, that adds up. There’s also the issue of mess. I hate lugging ice and dumping the melted water is an even bigger headache. If you’re not a lazy bridge troll like me, this could be the best option. And you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on a Yeti cooler. Both the larger Target and Wal-Mart Yeti dupes have been tested to cool for up to five days.
  • NO cooler. NO fridge. No Problem: You’re in a thing with wheels. You can drive to the store and get cold/frozen food an hour before you intend to cook it.
  • 12-volt Electric Cooler: For me, this was the best of both worlds. I use the Adventuridge Electric Iceless Cooler from Aldi. It can be powered by 12V or 110/120 (cigarette charger or wall socket) and can keep things cool for days.

How I use the Electric Cooler

I follow the basic cooler rules my grandma taught me – never put warm food in a cooler and always pack it full. When I’m going out for a week or two, I’ll pre-cool my drinks and fruits. I charge the electric cooler/cool box as I drive and by the time I get to where I’m going, my drinks are cold.

Aldi Dometic Cooler Review.jpg
She fits happily beneath my bed.

Let’s say I’m staying in a place without electric hookups. No problem. The thing’s still a cooler. As long as I’m not opening it every three seconds, it will stay cool enough to last me through the night and well into the next day. If I need to (on a 90 degree weekend), I can give it a little boost by turning on the engine.

If I’m at a site with electric hookups, I run an extension cord and let it go all night. It isn’t soundless – the two fans on top emit a low hum, but they are by no means loud.

To really keep this thing as cold as possible, I throw in a couple of quality reusable ice blocks. If you’re constantly on the road (and don’t have access to those glorious blue slabs), it’s totally cool to put loose ice in this. Unlike many other cool boxes, the fans and other electrical bits are in the lid. So no worries about melting water ruining the equipment. The Adventuridge also has a warming setting, but I’ve never used it.

Number Breakdown:

  • DC 12V = 47W/3.9A in cold mode
  • DC 12V = 43W/3.6A in warm mode
  • AC 120V = 60HZ 50 W 7A

Dimensions: 15.75 x 17.52 x 11.81 – These are crucial numbers. It means that this can hold 36 regular sized cans of Coke Zero, 10 one liter bottles of Coke Zero, and 6 two liter bottles of Coke Zero. If there are sodas other than Coke Zero, I am not aware of them.

Yes, I know I should drink more water.

Power Draw of the12v electric cooler .jpg
So…she’s not in the running with an RV compressor fridge.

Wait. It’s a Dometic?

It wasn’t until I looked through the manual for this post that I realized this was made by Dometic! To get customer support, you’re supposed to email customersupportcenter@dometicusa.com and tell them it’s model KB2018.

Real talk time

As a vegetarian, it’s enough for me. However, there’s no way I’d use this for keeping meat the right temperature. This electric cooler only cools to about 35F/18C degrees below ambient. I don’t know how to keep meat safe, but I’m guessing this ain’t it. Maybe for a few hours? Also, it doesn’t come with a tray to separate things. You’ll have to improvise. The Tupperware you lost the lid to seven years ago will work just fine.

Electronics on top.jpg
But for the price, you can’t go wrong

How to get it

This is where it gets tricky. These things don’t stay on the shelves and they can’t be ordered from their website in America. They’re cheap too, between $39-49 depending on the sale week.

Oh, and Aldi only puts them out at the beginning of summer. If you see one, grab it. Otherwise, prepare yourself to pay top dollar to an eBay reseller. Although you could grab a map, plot out some Aldis on the nearest coastline, and make an adventure out it 🙂

Heads up: The manual to this isn’t online. If you have any specific questions that I haven’t covered here, drop it in the comment section below and I’ll check the booklet that came with the cooler.

To quote a hero of a man, “Stay thirsty, my friends.”

10 comments on “Van life without a fridge? And is an electric cooler worth it?

  1. Excellent product review! My parents are considering living out of a converted van in the near future, so this information will come in handy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We were discussing buying one of these today – sadly we did not buy the Aldi one when we saw it last summer and have regretted it since! Road trip in two days, we’ll probably buy a box and stick a couple of fridge cool packs in there.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent suggestion!! We’re just starting our van tour. This will be very helpful. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: How I Power Electronics in My Van (Without Solar) – It's Her Van

  5. Nomadic Nerds

    Very interesting – we ended up buying two regular coolers that we fill with ice every couple of days. It’s a real pain so we might look into the 12V cooler!

    Liked by 1 person

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