On May 14th, 2018, I bought a 1997 Chevy Gladiator for $5,000 with the goal to convert it (mostly by myself) to a nice, livable space by August for under $5,000 (no, my parents did not pay for any of it, I had a job). I ended up spending $4,765.21 on the conversion + all the items I would need to set out!
I had known about van life for about 1-2 years before doing this and when I first learned about it, it seemed like a terrible way to live. The first people I saw doing it just basically had a mattress in a van and like a cooler for food. But after a while I discovered people who's vans were actually really decked out and looked like nice places to live and travel in- they had insulation, walls, floors, beds that weren't directly on the floor, fridges, stoves, and all that other stuff. It was then that I really started to become interested in doing it myself.
Since I was probably 16 at the time, I had to wait a while before actually being able to buy and convert a van so I spent months doing as much research as possible and watching hundreds of videos on van conversions and van life in general.
My goal was to start looking for a cargo or passenger van in April and hopefully find one within the month and then have about 3 months to convert it and leave in July or early August. I didn't end up actually finding a van though until mid-May because of reasons explained here and I also wouldn't be able to leave until August because of reasons explained here.
So for about 3 months, I worked on converting the van and then set out on August 15th 2018!
Some of the reasons I wanted to do van life:
I'm out of high school and don't know what I want to do with my life and don't want to waste money and time and stress in college trying to figure it out.
It's a good way to save money because I don't have to pay rent or for accommodation.
I do not enjoy the area that I live in and have never felt any sort of connection to it nor have I ever felt like I would live there as an adult. I don't like cold winters, there's not many like minded people in my area, there's not a whole lot to do, all that kind of stuff.
I think it's a great way to go out of my comfort zone and learn a lot about myself, life, people, different places in the US.
Like most everyone, I love traveling. And nature. I think going on road trips is kind of in my blood because my grandparents and parents have driven all over the US and Canada.
Intuition. I just had this feeling inside me that it's the right path to take and every other time I've listened to that feeling, it has led me in what I feel to be a good direction.
I could die any day so I'd rather travel while I'm younger instead of tell myself I'll do it later when I might not even be here later- or if I am I'll be all wrinkled up and have no energy.
Not a reason I want to do van life:
Because I'm super naive and think that it's gonna be fun fun fun 100% of the time and life is just gonna be me sitting in my bed on the beach with my back doors open watching the sunset every night like #vanlife pictures on IG.
I promise I was well aware of how difficult and uncomfortable and unfamiliar a lot of the experiences would be. While I was excited, I was probably a lot less excited that you might think honestly. There's a lot of things that I knew weren’t gonna be super fun but I wanted to learn how to accept the less desirable aspects of living in a van and knew they’d give me a much greater appreciation for many of the things I've previously taken for granted in life.
And that’s exactly what happened. I spent a little over 3 months in the van, making it back home on Black Friday (about 2 weeks before I originally planned on coming home) after driving almost 2,500 miles in that week! There were many times when I was stressed and anxious and scared and exhausted but I am so glad that I was able to have all those experiences. I learned and grew as a person more than I could have imagined and gained some clarity on what I want to do in life (not whole lot but a bit haha). I also did about 10 days of work exchange in November on a farm in California and am so grateful for that experience as well. Overall I’m very glad I did this and experienced all the good and bad aspects of it that I did!
things i used
These are some of the things that were part of the build or are just things I had in the van. I do not recommend all of them though so hover over each picture to read what I have wrote about each item before looking into purchasing it yourself if you're interested!
Renogy 300 Watt 12V Solar Starter Kit + Charge controller
Fan-Tastic Vent 1250
6 Dream Lighting LED Lights
Kingston Stainless Steel Sink
6" Memory Foam Twin Mattress
Unfinished Wood Crate
5 gallon Solar Shower
High Sierra Pathway 60L
Ozeri 8" Stone Earth Frying Pan
Insignia Vehicle Phone Mount
Renogy 500 Watt 12V Pure-Sine Wave Inverter
Elechomes Clip-on USB Fan
Coleman Classic Propane Stove
Houzer Sink Strainer
BuLuTu Duvet Cover
Utility Storage Bin
Embark Lightweight Hammock
Utopia 2 Quart Saucepan
ROLA Hitch mount Bike rack
AGM Deep Cycle 12V 125 AH Battery
Dometic CFX-35us Fridge
5 Gallon Hedpack Water Jugs
Valterra Hand Pump Faucet
Travelwise Packing Cubes
Wood Storage Crate
First Aid Kit
Rainleaf Microfiber Towel
Cangshan 3-Piece Knife Set
Carbon Monoxide Detector
HOW did YOU MAKE MONEY ON THE ROAD?
I made money through YouTube AdSense and Amazon Affiliate links I have here on my website. That’s about it.
WHERE Did YOU GO TO THE BATHROOM?
WHERE Did YOU SHOWER?
Planet Fitness. I also had washed my hair and body in the van when there isn’t a PF in the area.
WHERE Did YOU SLEEP?
Walmart, campgrounds, parks, trailhead parking lots, climbing area parking lots and a few others. I used the app iOverlander most of the time, also freecampsites.net and walmartlocator.com.
WHERE Did YOU DO LAUNDRY?
WHERE Did YOU GET AND DUMP WATER?
I had two 1 gallon jugs that I took into places like Safeway or any store that had places to refill jugs, and then I had 2 five gallon jugs to store the water in. I’d also gotten water from campgrounds and rest stations. I had a five gallon grey water tank which I’ve dumped at rest stations, campgrounds, Cabela’s, port-a-potties and gas stations. I used the app iOverlander to find dump stations.
HOW Did YOU KEEP COOL/WARM?
I had a Fan-tastic Fan and a small USB fan to keep cool, and kept warm by layering up in clothes and blankets and those worked well enough for me because I wasn’t interested in buying a heater.
HOW Did YOU GET ELECTRICITY + WIFI?
I had 3 solar panels up top that powered my fridge and charging electronics. I often went to libraries for wifi, especially when uploading videos, but also had an Ellipsis Jetpack Hotspot from Verizon which gave me 15 GB of wifi a month for the first two months then sucked after that.
WHAT waS THE BEST THING ABOUT VAN LIFE?
Being able to travel pretty inexpensively (even though I definitely spent more than I wanted to).
WHAT WaS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT VAN LIFE?
Finding the motivation to do simple thinking like cooking. I think just the small space and not being able to stand up made it too easy to want to not do much at certain times and it was harder to feel inspired in the space because it can feel very cramped.
HOW Did YOU STAY SAFE?
By using common sense, and I had pepper spray, bear spray, a stun gun, 3 kitchen knives, a softball bat, and maybe even a flamethrower or two.
Did YOU EVER FEEL SCARED?
Only slightly during a few animal encounters, once a bit when my bike got stolen in the middle of the night at a Walmart (but I’d say I was more annoyed than scared hahah), and one situation where this guy asked me to help him jump his car and when I said no did some sketchy stuff (long story).
Did YOU EVER FEEL LONELY?
No, I am content with myself and am also very introverted and enjoy being alone, but I was also interacting with people on social media a lot and met up with 9 people along my trip.
HOW Did YOU COOK AND STORE FOOD IN THE VAN?
I had a Coleman Propane Camping Stove, Dometic CFX-35 Fridge, and stored my food + kitchen stuff under the bed, in the kitchen cabinets, and in a little ottoman cube between the two front seats.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING now that your ROAD TRIP is over?
That’s a secret until my plans are finalized :)