Thinking of Van Life? Here is a Basic Overview to Inspire You!

Photo By Jordan Irving On Unsplash
Photo by Jordan Irving on Unsplash

No one thought we’d aspire to live in a van, down by the river.

But here we are, with our social media channels filling up with gorgeous vistas photographed from the back of a gorgeous converted van. A van conversion is the process of converting a standard van into a livable space, typically used during travel. The popularity of van conversions has grown in recent years, first due to the pandemic in 2020 but even more so now as more people look for ways to travel economically. Inflation has a tight constraint on many of our bank accounts where travel is concerned; one way to alleviate a bit of that is foregoing hotel stays by investing up front in a van conversion.

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Van Life Bedroom. Photo: @Syncvans Via Instagram

Van Life Bedroom. Photo: @syncvans via Instagram

Where do you Start when Considering a A Conversion?

Converting a van into a functional living area can be a fun and rewarding project. Whether you are planning a road trip, or a more long-term van adventure, a van conversion can be a great choice.

The first step in converting a van into a functional living area is to choose the right van. There are many different types of vans available, including full-size vans, minivans, and camper vans. Consider factors such as size, fuel efficiency, and durability of the van, as well as your budget. Some common choices are vans like the Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, or the Ram Promaster. These vans are popular because they offer a lot of interior space and are easy to drive.

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Bench Seat. Photo: @Syncvans Via Instagram

Bench seat. Photo: @syncvans via Instagram

Keep in Mind that Demolition is Part of the Van Life Process

Once you have chosen your van, you will need to remove any existing seats and interior paneling. This may hurt a little, but when you’re done you can then begin the process of designing and building your new living space. This can include installing a bed, a kitchen, a bathroom, and storage space. There are many different ways to design and build a van conversion, but some common elements include:

  • Insulation: this is a crucial part of keeping your space comfortable and energy efficient. You can use spray foam insulation, fiberglass, or reflective foil insulation. Each having their own advantages/disadvantages. The insulation must run against the metal of the van. If you have gaps between the insulation and the metal, you run the risk of condensation (more on that in a moment).
  • Electrical system: You will need to install a power system that includes things like a battery, an inverter, and a solar panel. These will allow you to power lights, appliances and other devices while you are on the road. You will also need to wire everything together and install outlets and switches throughout the van.
  • Plumbing system: You will need running water, including a water tank, pump and sink.
  • Furniture/fixtures: Building furniture and fixtures that can be easily removed or folded away is essential. This can include a bed, kitchen counter-top, and storage space.
  • Flooring: Installing a flooring that is durable, and easy to clean is key. You can use vinyl, laminate or rubber flooring.
  • Windows:  adding windows can help bring in natural light and provide ventilation. You can install windows on the sides, back or even on the roof of the van.

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Van With A Bathroom. Photo: @Narrow_Road_Van_Conversions Via Instagram

Van with a bathroom. Photo: @narrow_road_van_conversions via Instagram

Now, About that Condensation…

When it comes to condensation, the best advice is to be pro-active! Condensation and moisture are two inevitable nuisances when living the van life. Do not ignore these two or your van could become moldy, causing serious health issues.

Ventilation is critical, replacing the polluted inside air for the fresh outside air. A functioning ventilation system should have exhaust(s) and intake(s). Installing a ventilation fan is truly a necessity.

Creating Your Social Media Pièce de Résistance

Now for the finishing touches, such as paint, curtains or awnings and decor.

Converting a van into a functional living area can be a challenging and rewarding project. With careful planning, design and construction, you can create a space that is unique that will allow you to live, travel and explore in a comfort and style that is all your own.

Don’t forget, there are professionals (if needed) that will help you plan. Our friends @fieldvans on Instagram advise that step 1 would be to consult an expert before making any choices. “Gaining knowledge from a company that has built thousands of vans can help make the process easy. When designing a van, start with your most important interior feature whether it be a large bed, big bathroom, or key storage space; then design the rest of the van around that feature.” Thank you FieldVans for that solid piece of advice.

So whether you are looking to travel, live off the grid, or simply enjoy the freedom of the open road, a van conversion can give you the freedom and flexibility to live out your dreams. With a good plan, a flexible budget and a lot of patience, you will be able to convert a van into a functional living space on wheels that can be enjoyed for years to come.

I teach 6th grade social studies, travel the world in the summer, write auto/moto news between grading papers and... More about Tabatha Chovanetz