A life of adventure and travel is what many are dreaming about. This type of lifestyle has never been more reachable than now. Many have explored living their life on the road by converting their van into a livable space. You’ll find different inspirations and photo blogs online that will really make you wonder if it is possible to live in a campervan.
Can you turn your van into a home? The simple answer is yes. There are different floor plans and layouts you can choose from. You can choose to have a mini-kitchen, a toilet, a full-sized bed, or a full shower if you want.
This article will give you an in-depth discussion of the possibility of fitting your life in a van, info on what a usual camper van layout has, and the possible floor plans for your van. There’s also a section that will discuss why many make the switch and a section on how the Covid-19 pandemic affects the vanlife community.
The Possibility Of Fitting Your Lifestyle Inside A Van
It is possible to convert your van into a tiny home that can cater to your basic needs and still feel like you are home. There are many van conversion videos and photos that show this possibility. Some would convert their van in a very economical way, and others would go all the way out and spend thousands of dollars to get their van looking and feeling like a tiny home. It’s fun to look at these pictures, and they really do inspire, but it is still going to be a big step for anyone.
People who made the switch did not take this decision lightly because they all know and understand that there will be sacrifices along the way. From living in a typical home, you will be downsizing your lifestyle into a vehicle’s size. This is why it is vital to determine your needs first before starting your floor plan layout. Keep in mind that this is a balance between the available space and what your needs are.
There’s this guy I saw who made a cardboard cutout of his floor plan for the conversion to show his viewers just how much space there will be inside his van. It’s a good idea because he could layout his whole floor space and rearrange it according to his van’s dimensions. It also made it easier for him to decide which items needed to go and which aspects need to be cut down significantly. For your lifestyle to fit in a van, there will be many sacrifices and adjustments you will need to make. This brings me to my next topic, which is the floorplans that would fit your needs.
Floor Plans According To Your Needs
Floor plans and inside layout will vary on the van. Some vans are made with more headspace than others, and some are wider or longer. Depending on how much workable space you have inside your van will determine just how much space you have for your basic needs. Most vanlifers on a budget opt for simple conversions and the bare basics, while others who have deeper pockets turn their van worthy of the term “glamping.” Let’s talk more about each area in your floor plan in the following sections.
Kitchen, No Kitchen
The kitchen usually consists of a small countertop and a small sink, while others have stovetops. Some options allow you to pull out your kitchen and cook outside. Another option is to have all your cooking equipment stored in a dedicated container that can be taken out when it’s time to cook. Many often prefer to have a mini kitchen inside to have a sink that allows them to brush their teeth and a countertop for added space.
If you are the type of person that prefers to cook and prepare their meal from scratch, when building your van with a kitchen is a no-brainer for you. The thing you will need to consider is the placement of your kitchen and if you want a stovetop or not.
I’ve seen countless van conversions that incorporated the kitchen in their floor plan in an ingenious way, and one of my favorites is the pull-out style. The van’s back door opens up, and from under the bed frame, you can pull out a whole kitchen. Another favorite of mine is where the kitchen is built on a cabinet/countertop that you can take out to cook outside if need be. It secures inside the van with locks and straps for when you want to hit the road.
I prefer to do all my cooking outside as much as possible because the smell of food on my beddings is not something I am looking forward to when my day ends.
With Toilet Or Without
Now, this is a bit of an essential aspect of becoming a vandweller, but it is also one of the weird topics to talk about (Do I need to say more why this is weird?). Different toilets can serve the purpose of peeing, but it is the number two that really makes this topic a bit cringe-worthy.
Your options for toilets can be your store-bought products or a DIY version depending on your preference. Most van dwellers would go for porta potties and composting toilets to meet their needs. The challenge is finding a place to store them in a discreet manner. Others would go for a pee bottle, and then there are the bucket toilets. These two options are easy to store discreetly compared to porta-potties and composting toilets. Another option is the chemical toilets, but this will require that you have a black water tank since this works pretty much the same way your home toilet does.
If you opt for no toilet option, then you will be stuck with doing your business “au natural” coupled with a shovel, using public toilets, or a friend/family’s toilet. The downside to this is that you need to find a place to dig and bury your evidence. Public toilets can be unsanitary, and friends/family will not be available during emergency situations.
Without a dedicated bathroom area that can store your toilet, you are left with figuring out how you can store your toilet most inconspicuously. I’ve seen campervans that store their porta-potties underneath their mini kitchen or underneath a bench seat.
When choosing whether to have a toilet or not inside your campervan, there is another issue – dealing with the maintenance. You can empty a porta potty by taking out the liquid reservoir and dumping it out in a public toilet. You can apply the exact process for your pee bottles. Composting toilets and bucket toilets work the same way since they combine human waste with a composting material to start the decomposition process. These can be emptied in a garbage bag and thrown in the dumpster, or you can use them to fertilize the soil.
When dealing with human waste, whether it is the liquid or the solid type, the odor will be your number one enemy. Composting toilets and bucket toilets use peat moss, kitty litter, or coco coir to deal with the smell, while the porta-potties and pee bottles will need regular emptying and cleaning for it to stay odor free. Chemical toilets will use chemicals to deal with your waste, but you will need to find proper dumping sites to empty your black water tank.
Shower Inside, Outside, Or No Shower
Because many have joined and loved the freedom of living the vanlifestyle, different options for showering came up. A vanlifer has three main options to choose from when it comes to showers – shower inside, shower outside, or public showers.
If you prefer to have showers inside, you will either have to dedicate a space for your shower enclosure or find a way to have a shower area that will tuck away when not in use. Others have a portable shower enclosure that they set up outside with a portable shower option. Then some opt to use public showers in campsites and also showers provided by their gym membership.
Again, if you opt for having a shower inside, you will need to consider the amount of space this will take up. Most vans with shower enclosures will be vans that have enough headspace and are wider and longer than your average van.
Snooze Area: Bed Options
Moving to the most crucial area of your layout – the bed area; this should be the first major aspect you need to look at. Different types of bed designs, bed orientation, height and size of your bed, and many other things need to be considered before deciding what kind of design will work for you. You can choose from many designs, but all can be categorized into two – the stationary and the stowaway bed.
The stationary bed is built on a platform that is fixed to where you want it to be inside your van. Most stationary beds are located at the back because this is the most recommended area for such a design. The platform varies in height depending on how much headspace you want when you are on the bed, and the underside primarily serves as storage for adventure gear like bikes and skis, and sometimes this is where the kitchen is stored. The height will also depend on how high your van is.
The essential idea is the higher your bed platform is, the more space you have underneath. This space can be purely a storage area or your “garage,” as many vanlifers refer to it. It can also be another space for a bed if you are camping with kids.
The next bed option is the stowaway bed, and these come in different forms. There are murphy beds, draw-up beds, table beds, and bench beds. They all function the same way; they are beds that can be hidden from plain sight or are convertible to a different purpose if not needed. The nice things about stowaway beds are that they free up space in your cabin significantly.
If you are the type that does not mind putting in some effort to make your bed before you retire for the day, then any of the stowaway bed types will work for you. Unfortunately, not all of us are gifted with such patience – including me.
Single, Couple, Or More
Most vanlifer I see are couples or singles, but that’s not to say that I haven’t seen family vanlifers. Based on my research, most full-time vanlifers are either single or are living with a partner. It is a bit tricky to manage a household of four inside a van, so the demographics suggest that this lifestyle is more suited for a family of 1 – 2 members; three or more would be a challenge.
The Most Popular Types Of Van For Conversions
Since campervans and living in a van full time has become so popular in recent years, many companies that manufacture vans have jumped in the wagon. Some manufacturers have teamed up with van conversion experts to cater to people who are thinking of living their life on the road. However, not all vans are built the same way, and not all vans can meet your needs. Let’s talk more about the different van types that are popular with vanlifers.
The Easiest To Convert
Thanks to the ingenuity of mankind, there are many videos you can watch to get some ideas on how converting a van – DIY route – happens. Vans such as the Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, and Ram Promaster have been a few of the most popular vans to convert. The reason behind their popularity is because they are the easiest to work with.
The Ford Transit is relatively new to the van life game, so finding a used unit might not be as easy as you expect. This van is also popular because of the variety of body length, roof height, wheelbase, and engine options. It is more commonly referred to as Ecoline or Club Wagon by many vanlifers.
Mercedes Sprinter has been the quintessential van model for conversion because it has the most room to work with. It now comes in a four-wheel-drive option that takes your vanlife adventure to the next level. This is the perfect van for a family of three or four because there is enough space to fit more than one bed.
The Ram Promaster is not as eye-pleasing as the Mercedes Sprinter, but it makes up with its wide space for better custom build-outs. It comes in 118″, 136″, and 159″ wheelbase and is available in two different exterior heights. Another great feature of this van is its 90-degree angle sidewalls for the rear cargo area. It makes fitting build-outs easier and faster.
The High Top Van
High-top vans are very in demand with DIY converters because they have more height and allow the dwellers to stand inside without any problem. The most popular is the Mercedes Sprinter again, but Ford and Nissan have high-top vans for you to choose from too. Correct me if I am wrong; the tallest cargo van is the Ford Transit High Roof at 81.5 inches or a whopping 6 feet 9.5 inches.
There is another option that can give your van enough space for standing – pop-tops!. Vandwellers with low interior height vans have the option of installing a pop-top to give their van more headspace. The Chevy Express is a good van for conversion but is a bit overshadowed by the high tops. It has a solid chassis that is built to last for a long, long, long, time. You can expect this van to tick your affordability box because it is very budget-friendly.
The Extended Van
Extended vans are the longest van you can get in the market. The three longest are the Ram Promaster High Extended with a length of 160.2 inches, Mercedes Sprinter High Extended with a length of 193.9 inches, and the Ford Transit High Roof Extended with a length of 172.2 inches. I’ve mentioned it before, but I am going to say it again. These three are popular for the reason that they are the easiest to convert, and that is all because of the space it has. If you ask professional van converters for the best choice for a van, you’ll probably get these three mentioned.
The extended vans are perfect for families who want a campervan that will allow all the family members to sleep inside the van.
Reasons Why Many Make The Switch
Several have asked why people would want to downsize their living space into a van’s size when they can have an average-sized home. From the countless blogs and vlogs I’ve seen and read, the main reason that most give is that they feel happier. I’ve listed the reasons that I heard why living in a van makes people happy below.
Living The Dream
The wind on your face and the smell of fresh air as you cruise down the road to your next destination is a great feeling. Wanderers and adventure seekers love the thrill of being able to travel whenever the itch strikes. Having a home on wheels is a dream come true for some because this is how they can explore and be more than what society expects them to be. It frees the soul and opens up the world for many.
Freedom From The Grind
The grind burns out all of us at some point in the future. The corporate world has shown an increasing number of early retirees because the current generation values their personal growth more than their career growth. Millennials want to explore the world, taste different cuisines, and just have a life worth living. I believe that this freedom from the grind is what pushes many to convert to van living.
No More Daily Commute
The commute back and forth to work is one of the most tiring parts of an office worker’s day. It drains you both physically and mentally. A home on wheels can help with this since you’ll be bringing your home with you wherever you go.
Most vandwellers are freelancers and digital nomads who can work while on the go. They are not tied down to an office setup and, therefore, no need to commute. There are still not that many vandwellers who hold a regular job. However, a few live the vanlife and work a steady job with no problem. They still do some commute, but most of the time, they park their campervan in the parking lot of the establishment they are working from.
Better For Mental Health
Since you leave behind the grind and the constricting corporate office world setup. You get to make choices that are not possible before, like spending a whole day just lounging around your home. You have more time on your hands, and with this, many take the opportunity and turn it into a life-changing choice.
Vandwellers express how freeing it is just to be anywhere and just be who they want to be. There are no labels and no box or mold that you should fit in. You only get to be you however you want to be.
No Mortgage Payment Or Monthly Rent
With a typical home setup, you have bills to pay, including your mortgage. Some vandwellers would rent out their home to others and live in a van so that they can offset the payment a bit. Full-time vandwellers have no mortgage payment to deal with, and some have solar electrical hookups that provide them with all the electricity they need, so that is less expense too.
If you live in an apartment, then monthly rent is one of your expenses. Some housing units and apartments in many cities are just way too expensive for many employees. Therefore, many are forced to look for places farther away from the city and suffer the long drive every day.
Vandwellers have no rent to think of, and they don’t have landlords and rules they need to follow.
You Get To Practice Some Sustainable Living Option
I’ve often noticed that most vandwellers tend to be more health-conscious once they make the switch. They, of course, start with monitoring their electrical usage since they are not tapped into the grid and rely on solar power sometimes. From there, waste management, food choices, and water conservation follow.
In my opinion, living in a van is quite a different lifestyle that forces you to look at things differently. You make more practical decisions and find ways on how you can support yourself sustainably. You think more about the impact you make on a broader scale, making you a better person overall.
The Effect Of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Van Dwellers
This pandemic really hit the world hard, and it made us rethink about many things in life. People all over the world are feeling the effects of this global problem, including the vanlife community.
Before the pandemic started, it was easy to find parking grounds that would allow campervans to park overnight or just use the facilities like showers and toilets. Now that many small-time campsites have closed and large camping sites operate with less than full capacity, vandwellers have difficulty finding places to park. Many resorts to boondocking for extended periods, which can put a dent in vandwellers funds.
Another significant effect to the community is that gyms are now also operating at less than full capacity. The shower perk that comes with the gym membership is currently not a guaranteed way for vandwellers to get cleaned. Public toilets also pose a threat of being exposed to the virus. Some campers resort to just asking establishments or homeowners if they can buy water from the tap.
As you very well know, not all campervans are built with showers and toilets, which is why a large part of the community depends on campgrounds and gyms to get their showers. But this is not the only effect the pandemic has on van dwellers.
A certain percentage of campervan owners are not full-time van lifers. These folks use their campervan to travel and have an adventure, but they do have permanent homes. Since the pandemic initiated lockdowns, some campers are forced to stay put and not go back home to their loved ones. Other vanlifers are people who rented the van for a few weeks to try out the lifestyle; they are now part of the many vanlifers who got stuck wherever they are.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to floor plans and layouts for your van. You get to decide how you want your build to go and what big-ticket items are a must and what are sacrificial. The best advice I can give you before you start trolling the internet for a possible van for the conversion is to start with the bare basics. You then work your way around the conversion to fit your other needs. You can talk to an expert to get an idea of what layout would be best for you. Start with cardboard templates to feel how much space your van will give you once the conversion is complete.