I had a lot of fun building my van and a whole heck of a lot more fun driving around the country in it. However, if I did it again, I would do a few things differently. Here is my advice to anyone else who wants to live in a van and be a hobo:
- Plan out your design. I started off with a rough sketch of how I wanted things laid out and then just built on a day-to-day basis planning the details as I was building them. This was not always the best solution to things and I ended up redoing work a couple of different times because of it.
- Don’t go overboard (like I did). You don’t need things to be super fancy to have a good time. I spent way too much money building the van and not enough money having fun (…because I spent most of it on the van). I skipped out on a lot of things while traveling because it didn’t fit into my $6 daily expense “budget” (that’s excluding gas).
- Adding a water heater was a waste of time, money, and, most importantly, space. Although I had enough space for food, it sure would have been nicer if the water heater wasn’t taking up over four cubic feet of it.
- Don’t line all the walls and ceiling with 3/4″ thick boards. Sure, I loved the look and feel of how it turned out, but it added a ridiculous amount of weight that wasn’t needed. Ol’ Henrietta (my van) had a little too much junk in her trunk, if you know what I mean. Of course you know. Don’t pretend like you don’t.
- Adding a fridge and microwave was a waste. Yes, the fridge was nice to have, but when the temperatures soared during the summer it used up too much of my solar power to try to keep anything in it cold. I ended up turning it off and not using it after only a couple weeks.
- A stove was also a waste. I almost never cooked and when I did, I could have more easily just used my backpacking stove. Having a stove built in and having to lug around a 20 gallon propane tank was another waste of money and space.
- If I didn’t add the stove, I also wouldn’t have had to add the propane alarm. I probably would have kept the smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm, cause why not?
- My storage system was not ideal. I basically kept the sitting area folded out into a Queen size bed the entire trip and it was very annoying getting to my clothes and other things, which were all stored under the bed. I had to dismantle the bed every time I wanted to lift up the seating area to get to my things. If I did it all again, I’d make a slightly less wide bed and have my storage compartments accessible without having to tear everything apart.
- BUILD IN FANS. It was a full month of living in the van before I finally did this and it made the van 1,000 times more bearable in the heat. Even Walmart sells simple DC fans that just clip on to things. I bought a couple, cut off the DC plug, and wired them directly into my system in place of two lights I never used. Each fan was on its own electrical circuit with its own fuse, all running off of solar power.
- Speaking of fans, get a ceiling vent with a fan built in that has a reversible direction. On hot days it took a long time for the van temperature to go down even on cool nights. If I had a ceiling vent with a fan that I could have sucked in cool air, it would have made things a lot nicer. I ended up using some hooks and wire to hold up a small fan I had to suck in cool air. It worked OK, but definitely not ideal.
- Don’t go overboard on lighting. I had five recessed lights around the seating/sleeping area and I never used a single one of them. The LED light strip I had around the ceiling, which had a dimmer, was more than enough.
- Solar power is awesome. Could I have survived without it? Sure. I found it especially useful while staying over a week in Slab City and not going many places. It was nice being able to charge my laptop and cellphone during that week without having to go into town. And, again, it powered my fans and helped keep me cool in the 115° heat.
- Running water was nice, but again, I could have done without. I mainly used my sink just to wash my hair between shower days.
To be honest, if I did it all again, I’d probably just get a truck with a topper, throw an air mattress in the back, and call it a day.