How I Power Electronics in My Van (Without Solar)

I need my laptop while traveling. And my phone. And tablet. And electric cooler. Oh, and the lights.  More importantly, I need to be able to run these devices without solar. It is possible and I do it pretty easily. Here’s how:

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I Power Everything at Every Socket

  • Whenever I sit down to eat out, I charge my phone, tablet, laptop (+extra laptop battery), and Anker Power Core.
  • I have an extra laptop battery and I keep it charged and raring to go.
  • Finally, I keep a mini power strip in my purse. That way I’m not a jerkhole taking up every open socket in the restaurant or library.

Quick Review of the Anker Power Core 20100

Anker Powercore Review

The Anker Power Core gives me days of energy. I’ve used it to run a USB powered fan and charge an eReader. Officially, this gives 7 iPhone charges and 5 Samsung Galaxy charges. It can do all this because it holds 20100 mAh (which accounts for its weight of 1.03 pounds). That’s worth it for several days of charging.  If you’re in a pinch, there is a rapid charging input that gets to about 80% full in under half an hour.  I have nothing bad to say about the thing. I love it. It is consistently rated as the best in its class.

Use a Power Station (I chose the Schumacher 1200)

For something a little less portable, weighing 23 pounds is the Schumacher Power Station. I use this to power fans, my electric blanket, document scanner, and to charge everything else if I decide not to drive for a while. In addition to the power supply, it’s a 1200 peak amp engine jump starter and a 100 psi air compressor.

Schumacher Power

For everyday use, it as a 400 peak watt converter to run low pull-fans and charge smaller electronics.

I recharge it with a standard extension cord:

  • At night when camping in a site with hookups.
  • And as soon as I return home from a trip.

To recharge it while driving:

  • I plug in this adapter and shove one end into the car lighter socket.

Schumacher does not sell the car charging cable with the unit and it needs to be ordered separately. It’s not as efficient as charging it from a wall socket – you can only charge it 30 minutes at a time – but it gets the job done while you’re on the road.

In case I need to charge anything else at the same time, I picked up that 3-way 12v splitter you see in the picture.

What about an inverter for the van?

I use an EverStart 120 watt inverter. I bought it to pair with the electric cooler, but the cooler – like most everything else – is more efficient as a 12v. If I forget to charge my laptop ahead of time, I’ll plug it into this while driving. Sometimes I use it to recharge camera batteries. It has definitely come in handy and for the price, it’s worth having around.



How does lighting work in the van?

I talked about that here. The short version is that I use solar-powered Luci lights to HUGELY light up the van at night. For something a little more lowkey, white battery operated fairy/Christmas lights work. Before I go to bed, I toss one of the Luci lights (on low) into the front seat. That works as my night light.

When does a van need a solar setup?

If you’re running a TV and fridge (see my non fridge options here), I think solar is the best option. If you’re frequently out of the city or spending weeks boondocking, I’d also go with solar. But for someone like me, who doesn’t stay parked for more than 5 days at a time, my current setup provides all the power I need. I’ve never been without energy.

I’m no expert (duh!), but this is what works for me. I hope this helps someone wondering about the need for solar energy in vanlife. The best advice I can offer is to figure out your energy requirements before dropping a lot of cash and time. Just go for it. Shoot, if your needs change, you can always add to or modify your current setup. Nothing is set in stone.

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15 responses to “How I Power Electronics in My Van (Without Solar)”

  1. I am thinking about getting a solar panel setup for my little camper. It is wired for 15 volts so I don’t require a ton of energy. I work so I’m not home much of the dat and while I’ve been on the grid I shut off the main breaker till I get home at night. No point in leaving it on if I’m not using it. I just charge my phone and an iPod and have a light on really. That’s about it. I have a Yeti cooler instead of a fridge and a propane stove that does not require electricity to cook. So I don’t need a terribly expensive setup. Having read your blog entry in starting to think my car can charge what I need and ill just get a power bar like you do for my lamp. I think you just saved me a lot of money and time! Thanks for reading my blog by the way. I have fun following you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • First off, thanks for stopping by! I’m glad this was helpful and ya know…if you do need a whole solar setup, you can always add it later. But if you’re almost always plugged in, a power block and/or power station might be all you need. Wishing you a wonderful day! 💜


  2. Hi Pamela,
    You seem to be living my dream! I am not at a point yet where I have to think about these details, but thanks for the summary. I envy your lifestyle. 😊
    I also look forward to reading more about your adventures.
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

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