It’s not overly complicated, but, converting less than 100 square feet in to a ‘home’ involves a lot of thought and planning. The purpose of this trip is to chase the trails, so having space for added adventure equipment, such as a mountain bike, made the process a tad more challenging. Why not a bike rack? Van Life highly revolves around budgeting, especially if you do not have a source of income while on the road. My goal was to borrow, up-cycle and spend as little as possible getting the van ready to roll, and a bike rack was just one of those things that I couldn’t see as a good investment beyond this trip. Plus, it adds peace of mind knowing my bike wasn’t sitting out in the crummy weather while I drove across the continent, or that it won’t catch the eye of a potential thief.
The second biggest challenge was that my conversion was not going to be permanent. A big thanks to my parents for kindly letting me borrow their Chevy 15 passenger Van to transport me into the world of unknown. This also means that I have to return the van back in its original state, or as close as possible.
And lastly, the third biggest challenge is cooking and cleaning. Food and coffee are a huge priority, especially when your trip revolves around high intensity activity. I have a double-burner propane stove and table-top BBQ for cooking, and x2 20L jugs of water filled at all times. Make sure you opt for ones with a good spout for pouring – it will save you a lot of hassle. I haven’t experimented enough with the camping shower I purchased, as fortunately so far I have been able to borrow friends and family’s showers as I visit along the way. It just needs 3 hours in the sun to warm up (more details to come on that).
A custom built plywood bunk serves as my bed, with a single mattress nestled on top. Comfy pillows and warm blankets were mandatory. A bunk is a convenient way to utilize space – most of my storage is captured in the four rubber maids that were custom fitted to the space under the bunk. When packing, make sure you think about the things you will need the most, so they are located in a spot that is easiest to access (i.e. kitchen items). It is a lot of trial-and-error in the beginning. A set of drawers is also a great way to store clothing and soft goods. The drawers don’t fall open while driving, and it is solid enough to not move around either. Strategically placed mats under my bike to help keep the space clean when my bike brings in a bit of dirt on the tires. I also keep a small whisk & dust pan at hand. No shoes allowed!
The single bench I left in the van doubles from seating extra passengers while driving (you never know what friends you’ll make or bump into along the way), but flip it sideways and voila! a living room. If the weather isn’t up to standards, I have just enough room to roll out my yoga mat, or pull out a sweet TV tray and work away on my blog.
Small touches give your van a homey feel, like pictures of loved ones, and your favourite pillow from your couch at home. A plug-in cooler also makes it as easy as living in a real home. Not having to purchase ice saves on the budget, and it also doubles as a convenient side table in the front of the van. Readers take note; these coolers have a cold and a hot setting. What I thought was a broken cooler, turned out to just be plugged in to the “get effing-hot” setting. Almost had a full grocery shop go to waste…
When deciding on lighting, a re-chargeable lantern seemed like a good option, but with limited access to power, I opted for a single-use battery one. A string of battery powered lights also adds nice ambiance in the night, but make sure you read the packaging and purchase the right colour of choice (grabbing them from Boxing Day sales means it is highly likely that you will grab any other colour besides white). Goldilocks always has a festive glow. A key item to include is a rechargeable battery pack. It will come in handy if the van battery ever needs a boost, or I need power beyond when the van is running. I tossed around the idea of getting a solar panel setup, but I’ll save that for next time.
What you don’t realize, is that Van Life is a great way to reset your circadian rhythm. You will find that bedtime comes early once the sun sets, and mornings start bright and early with sunrise. In the desert, prepare for epic sunsets and brilliant star gazing. What isn’t shown are my curtains – these were created via fabric cut to the shape of the rear and rear side windows, attached to the windows via suction cups. Curtains are highly recommended if you decide to put up for the night near any urban setting. Street lights can be monsters to your beauty sleep, and it is nice to have some privacy.
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And always remember, home is where you park it!