I am not entirely new to Van Life, but my experience is from before this lifestyle was "acceptable." I spent some time in an empty brown mini cargo van in the late 80s, and while it was an adventure, it paled compared to what people are doing today.
Our first few attempts at a build were... shall I say, a hot mess. I gave serious thought to doing build videos, but no one should have to see that. I wish I had not seen it.
Things we learned quickly.
1. Tom, at 5'11", can not sleep comfortably with the bed turned side to side at the van's rear. This is because the side panels of our van lift open, and the mechanisms are placed in such a manner that he had to straddle them to stretch out.
2. A futon mattress found on Kijiji is not the most comfortable thing to try to sleep on. I say try because we didn't get one good night's sleep.
3. Despite all the great videos online about making a wood sliding slat bed, we lack the patience and work area to do it properly. (it worked but was a pain to set up and put away)
A quick recap on the bones of the original build.
1. We purchased a 2005 GMC Savannah 2500 with the added feature of opening side panels. It needed work to Safety, but we felt the unique ability to have open sides worth the investment.
2. Everything inside was gutted, cleaned, and painted.
3. We used R5 foam board insulation on the floor and lower wall areas.
4. Vinyl flooring was installed to cover the entire back 'living' area.
5. Due to height restrictions, we only put Reflectic on the ceiling, and because it is light, we used it on the upper panels.
6. to Finish the ceiling, we used whiteboard and vinyl siding pieces ("J" channels & corner posts).
7. We found two LCD light sets for lighting, Each with 4 six light blocks. We put one on each side of the van.
Now to the rebuild
1. We gutted everything we built inside the core. (leaving the walls, ceiling, and flooring.)
2. Realizing the value of sleep, we purchased a futon from Ikea that fits perfectly in the van along the driver's side.
3. For shelving, we went with a galvanized steel pipe for the frame and wood shelves. Again, this was not a cheap approach, but the ability to repeatedly change its shape and size without a complete teardown and rebuild as you would have with wood was appealing.
A. We build three separate shelves at first.
1. A kitchen area behind the driver's seat. (for water and cooler)
2. A pantry along the Passenger side across from the Couch
3. A garage at the rear of the van at the end of the bed.
4. We installed a 100-watt solar panel on the roof and a 100 ah battery behind the passenger seat.
5. Finally, we suspended plastic shopping totes on one of the side doors for food and cooking utensils and baskets on the other for our bathroom items.
This setup allowed us to store everything needed to enjoy our time on the road. We have never been the traditional van lifers, so our list of items may seem odd to some, but home is what you make of it, right?
With that in mind, I will do a separate post on what we travel with and why we choose to carry the items we do. I am sure this will change as we go along, but some things make life worth living, and moving into a van should not change that.