Van build

This is my story of building a van to travel and live out of. You can read some other stories of van setups which I've taken some inspiration from.

Purchasing the van

I got the van from a local dealership. Looking online for over a month across Craigslist and dealerships was frustrating. Either vans were way too new and overpriced, way too old and overpriced or sold for scrap.
The van I ended up buying is a 2001 Chevy Express with ~220k miles.

Interior Layout

I want the following in my van: bed, hammock, shelves, fridge and something to hold the solar batteries. Ideally I'd find or make a mini-table to put on the floor and sit under which would let me work, prep food or eat off of.
In order to really fit a hammock in lengthwise the bed will need to only be a twin. Otherwise the hammock wouldn't have the free vertical space to hang down properly.

Cleaning, flooring, and insulation

Originally I bought some heavy duty carpet to put overtop of some plywood (and insulation). I read some stories about how getting mold into your carpet was a death spell, so I swapped the carpet for some of the gym flooring. It's a bit spongy, shouldn't get as cold and won't absorb water/spills.

After talking with some employees I settled on R-13 insulation. It's pretty thin, but should hold up enough to keep the van interior warm. The van's roof has plywood screwed into it and was a bit hard to take down. The walls were much easier to take down and put insulation against (held temporarily by ducktape).

The first big step though was taking out the flooring which was broken up a bit and starting to rot towards the back of the van. Along the van interior sides was plywood cutout decently against the wheel and wells. Cleaning out the dirt under the flooring just required a shop vac.

Once the van was cleaned up it was easy to grab some plywood and put the insulation against the walls to secure it. I didn't go a fantastic job of covering every inch of the walls. (Let's hope the van stays decently warm.)

After getting the sides covered it was time to add some flooring. I bought some 3/4in plywood and cut it to fit the floor. Then it was putting a similar flooring material as what's in gyms (a bit squishy but holds its shape). Some trimming will be needed to make the flooring fit and look much nicer.
All that's left now for the floor is to trim up the overlap from connection bots of the flooring.

Bed Frame

I didn't want anything super fancy and saw a really simple bed design with 2x4's and plywood. This was easy to replicate. My biggest storage container is about 11.5in high so making the bed a foot off the ground will give me a lot of headroom and enough space under to store my containers. I bought a TwinXL mattress (39in x 79in) which is also what I cut the plywood to be.

First Week!

The first week has gone pretty well. I've been staying in parking lots and WMA camping spots. There aren't a lot of great spots I've found so far in Iowa, but I'm sure there are plenty!

Most days I've been working out of my van with a hotspot. It's gone alright, but I need to jump somewhere with power every so often to charge my laptop and phone. I need to get solar power installed this week or else it'll get annoying having to coffee-shop hop so often.

Shelving / Kitchen

I was deciding what to do with shelving and noticed some other vans had used the plastic tubs secured against walls as some shelving. This is extra nice in that because the tubs are clear you can more easily grab what you're looking for. No need to dig around in crates for days.

Update 2017-08-29

After a few months with haphazard shelves I bought more which got installed in a grid pattern. This layout is much nicer for a few reasons: better space utilization, more tubs (aka more storage) and they're not overflowing anymore.

Solar Power

Solar power was the part of my van build which I was the least familiar with. It turned out to not be that difficult and there are a lot of guides online that will walk you through what's required and what to be aware of.

Update 2017-05-11: I bought the Strongway Monocrystalline Solar Panel Kit (80W) and an interstate batteries battery. The panel and charge controller are working well. They've kept the battery charged and let me charge my 2013 (85W) Macbook Pro and phone without issues. The dc connection on the invertor is awful though. It barely works when connected. Instead I bought this Diehard 425W inverter which has clips for a battery. This inverter has been working great for a week now!


My awesome coworker Eli gave me a NATO Jerry can as a vandwelling gift. It'd awesome and I was looking to get one anyway for some reserve fuel. [Picture]


I got help with setting up the bed and wood walls from Spencer.