It’s been more than three years that I’ve been enjoying my van in every possible way; I’ve lived in it, I’ve partied around it, I’ve camped with it, I’ve transported massive amounts of people in it, I’ve travelled with it, and much more. Most importantly, it’s taught me a lot about self-sufficiency, continuous learning, and the importance of minimalism.
Over time, I’ve been able to see what works well and what doesn’t work so well in the van. I’ve also been able to research what others are doing with their mobile living-spaces to see how they have created their rigs. Using this knowledge-base, I decided it was time to renovate.
The first thing that I was motivated to change was the sleeping situation. In the past, I had a single bed that only allowed me to sleep comfortably in the van – if there were any guests, sleeping on the floor was the only option, and believe me, that was not a comfortable option. After removing the original bed and checking out the situation, the problem became more apparent – how is it possible to have a king-size bed and still have room for storage?
The bed had to be carefully designed to allow room for accessible storage underneath; Since it wouldn’t be convenient to dig items out by crawling under the bed, I made sliding-rack boards (out of plywood and 2x4s) that could be pulled completely out of the back of the van so all space under the bed could be utilized. There are pros and cons to this configuration. On the plus side, the majority of your storage underneath the bed leaves plenty of space for a large, comfortable sleeping area that can fit at least two for sleeping and many more for traveling. The downside is that your stored goods are for the most part inaccessible from the inside of the van, which may reduce stealthiness and be inconvenient to access during inclement weather. The larger bed personally works for me because I only access a handful of items inside the van; food, drink, a few clothing items, hygiene products, and entertainment (usually a laptop, book, or cell phone).
On the left side slide-out board I drilled three plastic bins into the plywood which fill all of my storage needs. In two of the bins I have an array of tools used for working on all of the van’s systems, and in the third one I have various camping items. When I hit the road with the van again, I’m sure this arrangement will change to include food, the most critical tools, clothing, and other various needs. On the right side I currently have a small plastic storage compartment, and several long items (longboard, umbrella, tripod, etc) that fit in well. I plan on optimizing this space (most likely making another slide-out board, because I think I can maximize the storage efficiency even more.
Now that I had created under-bed storage, I needed to design my bed. I made three three long supports (a bit more than the length of my body) out of 2×4’s that extended from the back of the van towards the front. On top of these rails, I made cross supports out of thin pieces of wood, then put down two pieces of plywood on top of those. Voila, instant bed frame! Finally, I topped this creation off with memory foam toppers, sheets, a comforter, and pillows.
One of the biggest improvements over the last design is the new electrical system. I upgraded from a single 75AH Optima battery to two 110AH batteries running in parallel, giving me 220AH to throw around. The huge benefit here is both how much longer I can run my electronics as well as how many more electronics I can potentially run. The main power drains in this system when on the road are the microwave, the sound system, the secondary air conditioner, the Koolatron camping cooler, and the heating blanket. Having more energy storage allows me to be more liberal with the electronics I have on hand. The original 2500 Watt inverter is running off these batteries, which powers all of my AC devices (Air conditioner, laptop, air purifier, tools, etc). Also running from these solar-powered batteries are my DC devices (Roof fan, LED lights, and car audio system) which all controlled by a toggle switch board.
As far as aesthetics go, I felt obligated to sexify the van up a bit – especially since I’ve gotten pretty sick of the “creepy van” perception over the past couple of years – frankly, it gets pretty tiring to always have people’s first impressions be a negative one. I am aware that this exterior modifications are not on the minimalist list, however I consider my van an investment. On the exterior I got the van painted with a full black glossy coat, upgraded the wheels to four gloss black/chrome 😄 Series Hoss’s, and put on four brand Firestone Destination tires. Basically, the van went from looking creepy/dangerous, to 100% hardcore/awesome.
On the inside of the van, I made some changes to make the van feel more like a home. Each one of the walls is now a poster-board of memorabilia from the experiences I’ve had along the way. Shag carpet lines the floor and ceiling of these now much-heavier insulated areas, and an insulated metal barrier separates the front cabin from the rear living space. A toilet and camping cooler are now in place for discreetly using the bathroom as well as keeping food cool in transit. In order to add a bonus level to the comfort factor of the van, I setup a full surround sound system, complete with a subwoofer and Bose speakers – I absolutely love music/movies and having this awesome system just really makes the experience even more rich. Finally, I added a 16 foot LED light strip on a dimmer switch that illuminates the entire back area of the van while using an extremely low amount of power.
I’m pretty proud of how far the van has come – I picked it up from an auto-auction place down in southern Virginia for about $5000 and since then have put quite a bit of time and effort into it. It hasn’t been all easy either – I’ve had the transmission rebuilt, the water pump replaced, the timing belt replaced, the IAC replaced, and the fuel injectors replaced. And those are just the tough lessons that popped up along the way – I learned quite a bit more about how to be proactive and how to properly maintain a high-mileage vehicle. However, when I look at the before and after, I’m happy with the major improvements and look forward to doing even more with it.
Thanks to all my family and friends for your help and advice along the way – the van lives on!
As a final note, I’d like to mention that the intention of writing this article is to help generate ideas/possibilities for your van. This is just how I’ve come to evolve my personal van project, but I’m genuinely interested in how others may see things differently. Please feel to write me or comment any time so we can discuss ideas!