For years I have been secretly planning my escape from a responsible and structured lifestyle. It’s not for me. As an outdoor education instructor at a small community college, I got my fair share of time outside — but it was never enough. I still had meetings, a boss to report to, and a schedule to adhere to. I needed a way out.
The program I taught for recently received a large amount of funding that not only gave me a raise, but also allowed for the program to update their 2004 Ford Transit minibuses to newer vans. I was able to talk the school into selling me one of the Transits buses for a good price. I know what they are worth since I know the hell that I had put them through as an instructor. I picked the one with the lowest mileage and least amount of structural damage. At just over 200,000 miles, I had my new traveling home.
I started gutting the thing the very first weekend I had it. I put the seats on Craigslist and tossed out the rest of the unneeded material. I had big plans for my new traveling bungalow, but I quickly came to realize that I had a lot of questions that came up when it came to putting it together.
What would I use for flooring? I wanted to cover up the metal floor and make it more comfortable to stand on. I thought about putting indoor/outdoor carpet, not only on the floor, but also on the walls and ceiling as a way to soundproof the inside from external noise. I luckily had this brilliant idea as I was driving down the highway with the windows down in my Subaru and dog hair was circling all around me. The thought of fur-covered walls made me nauseous.
I went to Home Depot and looked around at different materials. I considered lying down laminate tile, but realized how flimsy and cheap it would look inside the van. My final choice I landed on was hardwood flooring to cut down on allergens and dirt collecting on the floor. I would put interlocking wood paneling throughout the entire van. Installing it is relatively easy, like putting together a puzzle. It would allow for easy clean up after the dog and is more sturdy than any other material that I had found up to this point. As a small bonus, it made the vehicle feel like a little cabin, with all the wooden paneling.
As much as I consider myself a minimalist, I still have a ton of stuff by a minimalists standard. I previously lived in a pre-fab tiny house that was 420 square feet. It fit all of my things inside with no issue. Fitting all my belongings in the van was just not as doable as it was in the tiny house. I had to come to terms with the fact that although I didn’t want to be rooted anywhere, and that I would have to get a storage unit to put my excess belongings in until I was ready to settle down again.
I had to be very selective about what I brought along and what would be left behind. I built my bed to incorporate sliding drawers underneath it that would house my clothes and outdoor gear. It was one unit that could be pulled out easily for the nights that I wanted to sleep under the stars and not stare at the van’s ceiling. I needed more storage though! My solution was to install a roof rack with two large Thule boxes side by side. My mini kitchen consisted of a single metal surface that folded up into the wall when not in use. I put magnets on all my kitchen supplies to stick to the folding table so I wouldn’t have to worry about things shifting in cabinets when I was driving.
I live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and we see a fair amount of snow every winter. As much as I would like to think that I would be spending a large amount of my time taking dreamy bohemian photos on west coast beaches, that probably wouldn’t be the case. I am a powder hound and chase snowstorms frequently throughout the winter. The question was, do I put winter or all-terrain tires on the van?
The winter tires seem like a safer option to me when I am considering that I would be driving my home and all my belongings around on the snow and ice, but where would I store my summer tires? All-terrain tires are more costly, but I wouldn’t have to change them out seasonally. Seemingly like the more logical decision, I bought the highest tiered all-terrain for the illusion of safety that it provided my little gypsy brain. In my head, higher quality meant a less risk of an accident.
Home Sweet Van
“Van life” has been everything that I thought it would be. It is like being on permanent vacation — which is still likely to have issues and stressful moments — but I wouldn’t trade my home on wheels for a stationary home anytime soon. One major change that I am hoping to make is converting my van to a diesel engine that can run off of vegetable oil. The van consumes a lot of gasoline and is my only true expense, in term of my costs of living.
I am so thankful that this van came into my life when it did. I spend a limited number of weeks out of the year teaching at my beloved school and spend the rest of my days on the road, either exploring new territory or chasing powder with my dog in tow.
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W.M. Chandler is a Colorado native and works best with her head in the clouds. She is an avid researcher and enjoys writing about unfamiliar subjects. She writes passionately about nature and the outdoors, human connections and relationships, nutrition and politics.