about

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

 I have a 300 watt solar setup on my roof and the kit i purchased comes with a PWM 30 amp charge controller. So far everything has worked out just fine, the panels even survived a pretty strong hailstorm. I have heard that it's MPPT controllers are more efficient than PWM but thats just what came with the kit and I have had any problems. Also I believe I got the mono crystalline panels although i could be wrong there.

I have a 300 watt solar setup on my roof and the kit i purchased comes with a PWM 30 amp charge controller. So far everything has worked out just fine, the panels even survived a pretty strong hailstorm. I have heard that it's MPPT controllers are more efficient than PWM but thats just what came with the kit and I have had any problems. Also I believe I got the mono crystalline panels although i could be wrong there.

Fan-Tastic Vent 1250

 I have a simple fan that just blows air in and out. I honestly don't feel like the fan blowing air into the van is very good but I've used it blowing air out when cooking which my propane camping stove and it works great for that as far as I can tell. It's also a bit loud so not something I'm gonna have going at 9 pm in a Walmart parking lot.

I have a simple fan that just blows air in and out. I honestly don't feel like the fan blowing air into the van is very good but I've used it blowing air out when cooking which my propane camping stove and it works great for that as far as I can tell. It's also a bit loud so not something I'm gonna have going at 9 pm in a Walmart parking lot.

6 Dream Lighting LED Lights

 These lights are super bright when it's night and I have all my window covers up but I really like the color they are... and don't have much else to say on them cuz they're just lights.

These lights are super bright when it's night and I have all my window covers up but I really like the color they are... and don't have much else to say on them cuz they're just lights.

Kingston Stainless Steel Sink

 One thing I remember a lot of van lifers saying before I started my build was that they regretted not getting a bigger sink so I got one that I though was pretty good size and it definitely is a perfect size for my kitchen area.

One thing I remember a lot of van lifers saying before I started my build was that they regretted not getting a bigger sink so I got one that I though was pretty good size and it definitely is a perfect size for my kitchen area.

6" Memory Foam Twin Mattress

 I actually find this mattress to be more comfortable than the one I previously slept on so I totally recommend this to anyone. It just barely fits in my van but it works!

I actually find this mattress to be more comfortable than the one I previously slept on so I totally recommend this to anyone. It just barely fits in my van but it works!

Unfinished Wood Crate

 I bought the largest size of this crate and use it to store my non-refrigerated food.

I bought the largest size of this crate and use it to store my non-refrigerated food.

5 gallon Solar Shower

 I haven't used this yet but I got it just in case. It's something where you can fill it up with water and put it up on your roof, wait for the sun to heat it up, then give your self a quick shower. It's probably the kind of thing I'd only use at a campground or beach. Will update when/if I do use it.

I haven't used this yet but I got it just in case. It's something where you can fill it up with water and put it up on your roof, wait for the sun to heat it up, then give your self a quick shower. It's probably the kind of thing I'd only use at a campground or beach. Will update when/if I do use it.

High Sierra Pathway 60L

 I got this backpack because I figured it'll be definitely big enough for doing some longer hikes but also in the future if I ever do backpacking, I might be able to use it for that too!

I got this backpack because I figured it'll be definitely big enough for doing some longer hikes but also in the future if I ever do backpacking, I might be able to use it for that too!

Ozeri 8" Stone Earth Frying Pan

 My mom told me I should get good pans + knives because they can last for a while so while they're kinda spendy, I think they're well worth it  The lid I got to go with it can be found  here .

My mom told me I should get good pans + knives because they can last for a while so while they're kinda spendy, I think they're well worth it

The lid I got to go with it can be found here.

Insignia Vehicle Phone Mount

 I got this cuz I figured its way safer to use google maps when the phone is more eye level- its nice that it comes with both a window suction mount and one for an air vent because in most states I'm going through, it's either illegal to have anything suctioned on your window or restricted.

I got this cuz I figured its way safer to use google maps when the phone is more eye level- its nice that it comes with both a window suction mount and one for an air vent because in most states I'm going through, it's either illegal to have anything suctioned on your window or restricted.

Renogy 500 Watt 12V Pure-Sine Wave Inverter

 The inverter I use is pretty small.. I often see people have 2000 watt inverters and i was worried at first that it wouldn't be enough but so far so good. The only thing I'm powering full time with it is my fridge, and then occasionally charging electronics and i plug in my carbon monoxide detector only when cooking in the van.

The inverter I use is pretty small.. I often see people have 2000 watt inverters and i was worried at first that it wouldn't be enough but so far so good. The only thing I'm powering full time with it is my fridge, and then occasionally charging electronics and i plug in my carbon monoxide detector only when cooking in the van.

Elechomes Clip-on USB Fan

 This is something I'm really glad I bought because when its a bit hot at night, I can just have it blowing on my face for a bit then turn it off before I fall asleep. And i can just charge it while I drive by putting it into one of those USB cigarette outlet things.

This is something I'm really glad I bought because when its a bit hot at night, I can just have it blowing on my face for a bit then turn it off before I fall asleep. And i can just charge it while I drive by putting it into one of those USB cigarette outlet things.

Coleman Classic Propane Stove

 This is a really nice stove and it's a pretty good price too. I've only used it a few times as of writing this but it's been nice to cook on both in and out of the van and is a good size too for such a small area.

This is a really nice stove and it's a pretty good price too. I've only used it a few times as of writing this but it's been nice to cook on both in and out of the van and is a good size too for such a small area.

Houzer Sink Strainer

 I wasn't smart and didn't do any research on drains so I had to go to an RV store and purchase an extra part. Turns out RV/van drains need to be a bit different because the plumbing is different. This drain comes apart into 3 piece and I was able to use 2 of the pieces but I had to get  this part  for where it would connect to the tube into the grey water jug and just screw that onto the bottom of this drain.

I wasn't smart and didn't do any research on drains so I had to go to an RV store and purchase an extra part. Turns out RV/van drains need to be a bit different because the plumbing is different. This drain comes apart into 3 piece and I was able to use 2 of the pieces but I had to get this part for where it would connect to the tube into the grey water jug and just screw that onto the bottom of this drain.

BuLuTu Duvet Cover

 I really love the feel that this gives the van. Don't have much else to say about it.

I really love the feel that this gives the van. Don't have much else to say about it.

Utility Storage Bin

 I have 3 of these under my bed in the back which I store a bunch of random things in that I don't use as often- they're nice because they're wayy less expensive than the other crates I got haha.

I have 3 of these under my bed in the back which I store a bunch of random things in that I don't use as often- they're nice because they're wayy less expensive than the other crates I got haha.

Female Urinal

 This I have not used and hope not to use but I got it for emergencies. Luckily I am very skilled in holding my pee for a long time so I think I'll be good for the most part.

This I have not used and hope not to use but I got it for emergencies. Luckily I am very skilled in holding my pee for a long time so I think I'll be good for the most part.

Embark Lightweight Hammock

 I'm really glad I got a hammock because it's so nice to be able to just hang out in one and read or do whatever. It's also nice because the sides are long enough that you can fold yourself up into a little cocoon in it.

I'm really glad I got a hammock because it's so nice to be able to just hang out in one and read or do whatever. It's also nice because the sides are long enough that you can fold yourself up into a little cocoon in it.

Utopia 2 Quart Saucepan

 This is a saucepan. It makes good rice.

This is a saucepan. It makes good rice.

ROLA Hitch mount Bike rack

 This is the bike mount I have- it came a bit loose within the first 2 weeks and now wobbles back and worth a tiny bit but I think thats because I unintentionally went on a really bumpy gravel road and you're not suppose to do that. If you're gonna go on a bumpy gravel road it says you should do it intentionally.

This is the bike mount I have- it came a bit loose within the first 2 weeks and now wobbles back and worth a tiny bit but I think thats because I unintentionally went on a really bumpy gravel road and you're not suppose to do that. If you're gonna go on a bumpy gravel road it says you should do it intentionally.

AGM Deep Cycle 12V 125 AH Battery

 Like the panels and inverter, the battery has stored enough energy to last me some cloudy days so far. I chose this battery over others because of the fact that it doesn't have any free roaming fluids like lead acid batteries do, which can be dangerous. I think.

Like the panels and inverter, the battery has stored enough energy to last me some cloudy days so far. I chose this battery over others because of the fact that it doesn't have any free roaming fluids like lead acid batteries do, which can be dangerous. I think.

Dometic CFX-35us Fridge

 Although it was expensive for a such a small little fridge, I've found it's just the right size for what I need and since it's very energy efficient, it can run 24 hours a day just fine. The only problem I've had is that a little bit of water sits in the bottom after a few days which I have to wipe out but other than that I love it.

Although it was expensive for a such a small little fridge, I've found it's just the right size for what I need and since it's very energy efficient, it can run 24 hours a day just fine. The only problem I've had is that a little bit of water sits in the bottom after a few days which I have to wipe out but other than that I love it.

5 Gallon Hedpack Water Jugs

 I have 2 of these water jugs, one for fresh, one for grey water and they're cool.

I have 2 of these water jugs, one for fresh, one for grey water and they're cool.

Valterra Hand Pump Faucet

 I would not recommend this faucet due to the fact that less than 2 weeks after installing it, it started leaking out of where the hand pump meets the main part of the faucet and it leaks a lot- so much so that I now am leaving it completely unscrewed from the counter and have to tip it upside down into the sink to get the water out of the faucet (not the tube, but the actual faucet part) so that it doesn't leak all over or saturate an entire wash cloth that I put where it leaks. While I'm sure this doesn't happen for everyone, I have seen multiple other people saying the same thing happened with theirs so I would go with a different, probably more expensive one with less bad reviews if I were to do it again.

I would not recommend this faucet due to the fact that less than 2 weeks after installing it, it started leaking out of where the hand pump meets the main part of the faucet and it leaks a lot- so much so that I now am leaving it completely unscrewed from the counter and have to tip it upside down into the sink to get the water out of the faucet (not the tube, but the actual faucet part) so that it doesn't leak all over or saturate an entire wash cloth that I put where it leaks. While I'm sure this doesn't happen for everyone, I have seen multiple other people saying the same thing happened with theirs so I would go with a different, probably more expensive one with less bad reviews if I were to do it again.

Travelwise Packing Cubes

 I have found packing cubes to be a life saver when it comes to storing clothes and other stuff in the van. It's way easier than shuffling though lose clothes in a crate.

I have found packing cubes to be a life saver when it comes to storing clothes and other stuff in the van. It's way easier than shuffling though lose clothes in a crate.

Wood Storage Crate

 I have 2 of the small size (i think) which I got because they were the perfect size for the small door I have in the front of my bed and I just store mainly clothes in them.

I have 2 of the small size (i think) which I got because they were the perfect size for the small door I have in the front of my bed and I just store mainly clothes in them.

First Aid Kit

 A neighbor got this for me as a gift- you always wanna make sure you've got some first aid supplies around!

A neighbor got this for me as a gift- you always wanna make sure you've got some first aid supplies around!

Rainleaf Microfiber Towel

 I have 2 of these microfiber towels that I take with me when showering a Planet Fitness and also use when giving myself a little bath in the van. They're great because they're really small and they dry really quickly.

I have 2 of these microfiber towels that I take with me when showering a Planet Fitness and also use when giving myself a little bath in the van. They're great because they're really small and they dry really quickly.

Cangshan 3-Piece Knife Set

 These knives were spendy but they're good quality so hopefully I'll be able to use them for a long time.. unless I have to use them to stab someone who's trying to break in and murder me ya know.

These knives were spendy but they're good quality so hopefully I'll be able to use them for a long time.. unless I have to use them to stab someone who's trying to break in and murder me ya know.

Carbon Monoxide Detector

 A carbon monoxide detector is important if you're cooking in the van with propane- I only plug it in when cooking cuz otherwise I don't see the point.

A carbon monoxide detector is important if you're cooking in the van with propane- I only plug it in when cooking cuz otherwise I don't see the point.

 

faq

Here are some short answers to questions I get often, I also have a Q&A video you can check out.

HOW Did YOU AFFORD VAN LIFE?

I had a part time job as a cashier for 2 years, and made money a few other ways, which you can learn about in this video.

HOW MUCH did YOU SPEND A MONTH?

 Months 1-3 are full months (15-14th of each month) but month 4 is just the 15th-23rd of Nov.. the reason it’s so high is mostly because I drove 2500 miles in that time!

Months 1-3 are full months (15-14th of each month) but month 4 is just the 15th-23rd of Nov.. the reason it’s so high is mostly because I drove 2500 miles in that time!

 

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?

Public restrooms.

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?

Laundry mats.

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 :)

 

my route