The Road to Van Life
How did I end up living out of a van full time? What led to this lifestyle? How has it changed my life?
These questions were never answered in advance. I approached the whole experience slowly. It all came down to RENTING.
I was living in San Luis Obispo, CA. It’s a college town and I went to school there, and lived with other students. The area is a small town with a big school, so the rental listings get swooped up quickly once the students get tired of living in the dorms. This competition made it difficult to find a home for two people and a dog. It was very competitive and expensive to boot. After a long list of no luck finding a home for the following year, I decided I would resort to outfitting my conversion van for life on the road. I had picked up a mid 90s conversion van for traveling to and from mountain bike events. I decided I would plan a trip through the Pacific Northwest and Lake Tahoe, CA. I would take a leave of absence from work and hit the road.
So my list of essentials for road life was water, refrigeration and a place to sleep. This was handled by a 25 gallon water tank, a pump, and a sink with a drain bucket. Electricity was solved by a set of batteries, powerful inverter to get AC house power, and a 270 watt solar panel. I built a bed platform to allow the mattress a place to rest on top of the water tank.
I spent a month exploring Oregon and Tahoe. The van acted as an apartment wherever I went. I could make coffee and keep food refrigerated. It was sufficient to live out of and was super useful!
After the trip, I realized that it was comfortable enough to live out of full time, without the need to be paying rent. This allowed me to return to work relatively free of bills and debt. After several months of the Urban VanLife, I decided I would like to be able to store my mountain bikes, and my motorcycle inside the van without anyone knowing they were in there. I also wanted more space and enough head room to stand all the way up! After months of searching I settled on a 2007 Sprinter van. I went with the 170 wheel base, which gave me 14′ of cargo room with 6’4″ of standing headroom. I designed a layout to give me a 7′ living space plus a loft bed, and a 7′ garage space which is just enough to fit a dirt bike. The only way I could have saved enough to buy a van was from the lack of bills I had due to the low cost of van life. This made all the difference and still does.
So for the next 4 months I spent all day working at my job and the next 5 hours each day working on the van build to make it into a home. I split the van between living space and garage space. Then I added a roof fan into the garage area, because the solar panels would be situated to the front of the roof. The fan being towards the back of the van allows the cool air from the front windows to be pulled all the way through the van during the warm days. The previous van I had built didn’t have room on the roof for a solar panel and a fan. The sprinter had enough room for TWO Panels and the fan!
So I set up my sprinter with a sink, stovetop, 40″ smart TV, folding sofa, full size memory foam bed, roof fan, garage with tool boxes and lots of storage, overhead cabinets and bins under the sofa. This gave me all the comforts of home, in a platform that people look at with respect. This gave me the pass to park the van overnight without interruption in the middle of the night and it kept the bills low and the lifestyle fun! With the moto, mountain bike, and road bike onboard at all times, the options are always open!
I had to make sure to have good window covers so that I could have the lights on at night and not let anyone notice that inside this big black cargo van there is actually a home with someone living their life.
Once everything was working, it was time to plan another trip. This time, Colorado Rockies in summertime were the destination. The plan was to leave in the end of June, and follow the Big Mountain Enduro races in summer of 2015. I travelled with my girlfriend and our two full sized dogs and we visited many beautiful mountain towns in the rockies. We went to Aspen, Breckenridge, Keystone, Steamboat Springs, Denver, Boulder, Winter Park, Crested Butte, and Vail. This was the trip of a lifetime and something I had always wanted to do. The trip was centered around ski resort parking lots and living it up at the mountain. The resorts were really friendly to us parking overnight in the empty parking lots. We were able to find hot tubs almost every night. Long days on the mountain trails always made for a nice hot tub session at night.
After traveling to every venue we could make it to, the events ran out and the weather began to change. It was at this point that work on others vans began. It started with Solar Power and moved towards full camper build outs. The plan slowly changed from full time van life to wanting to set up a shop somewhere to do build outs. So for now, the solution is to go back to the family home and get some build outs finished up. In the future we are planning to set up a shop in Grass Valley to do full time build outs for people. We will be offering services related to camper build outs. We can do everything a camper needs. Opportunities are limitless!
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