Congratulations on step two (step one is choosing the van) of the arduous yet fulfilling task of starting your very own van build out. I’m guessing that you have already decided what type of van you’re going to purchase (if you haven’t already purchased it) and are now trying to come up with a bunch of crazy ideas to save space. We’ve all done it, and I’ll be frank with you, this phase of the build out sucks. You’ll get more anxiety from planning and thinking than anything else (except maybe cutting giant holes) but in the end, it’s worth it so don’t lose sight of the end goal.

With just a little bit of internet research, you’ll find that everyone does things differently and that their ideas are the best. The main takeaway from this article is that they are wrong. Nobody is you, and therefore nobody has the same exact needs for their van as you do. Feel free to take ideas and influences from everyone, but don’t be scared to do your own thing. Be creative, and make your living space unique to you.

Start Poking Holes in Your Build Out

We all have some awesome ideas rattling around in our heads. You need to get them down on paper though. Draw out your plans from 2-3 different angles (or computer generate them for you fancy folk) are start trying to poke holes in them. There will be plenty of issues. Did you make sure you included your fuel source, water tank, batteries, account for door opening, solar panels, etc… I’m sure there is something you missed in your original plans. Don’t worry though, that’s what this is for.

The layout of a random van

After you think you have it all ready to go and you’re done poking holes in it. Give the plans to a friend and have them poke holes in it. Post them on Reddit and let them poke holes in it. (I warn you, Reddit can be full of savages.) After Reddit crushes your dreams and tells you how dumb you are, you can then rewrite the plans and start the process over again (or just tell them to shove it). It sounds horrible, but planning can make all the difference!

Living Space Vs. Storage Space

The largest and most important aspect of the van is your bed. You will spend more time in your bed than anywhere else in the van. One of the most common mistakes for a full-time van lifer is to try and make some kind of fancy retractable bed. I know what you’re thinking, I am wrong and you’re different. That’s fine. By all means, go for it. Take my bolded advice from the beginning of the article and make your van your own. However, hear me out on this topic first.

First off, storage space. The more living space you have, the less storage space there is. Simple as that. The majority of bulk storage in my van is under the bed. If you have any hobbies at all, you’ll probably want the space for bulk storage as well. Secondly, It’s a pain in the ass. I know how cute it looks and how great it seems to have a big cool (useless) table. But sooner or later you’ll stop converting it (because it sucks) and then you’ll just find yourself having less storage for no reason. A lot of what you see on social media is from people who live part-time in their vans. For part-timer’s, the conversion bed is great! They don’t have to store literally everything they own in the van.  

Storage under bed of sprinter van in Joshua tree
As you van see, I really utilize my storage space under the van. 

I’ve helped a handful of people build out vans and have always given this advice. I had one friend that decided to not heed it. I think it was less than 3 months into full-time living before he ripped his bed out and made a permanent one. (He went with a sliding bed idea)

Maximize ALL of Your Build Out

Minimizing dead space while still making everything accessible is the name of the game. I would try to keep your batteries out of the way, but still have your breaker panel easy to access. Make sure your water tank isn’t taking up precious room but is still not a hassle to fill or check the level on. Little things like this make all the difference. Try and think about everything! You won’t be able to think about it all unless you have experience living the lifestyle. But you can try, and that will still help.

Plan it, Test it, Live it

After you have decided how to build your van and have drawn up a couple sets of plans, its time to enter the testing phase! Testing your build can be extremely extensive or skipped altogether. Its up to you. Mainly, its weighing time to money. Do you want to ensure its done right the first time? Or do you need it built now?

Build out process of Sprinter Van
Just part of the build process. (this is the day I started living in the van)

For me, since I made a smaller bed, I recreated the size of my prospective bed and slept in it for a few days. Nothing too fancy. Just made a box on my existing bed and made sure that I could comfortably sleep in it in. As explained in my Top 5 Mistakes, I didn’t make sure it could comfortably sleep two. After all, I planned on being single forever at this point in my life.

Another good way to test your build is to recreate counters and cabinets with cardboard. This ensures that when you are using your sink you don’t hit your head on a shelf or that you can get out of bed without stubbing your toes on a cabinet. It’s not until you move around in the van a bid that you start to see some of the issues. I almost made more than one door that wouldn’t have been able to swing open. I’m also kind of dumb, so there is that.

Do What Makes Your Soul Smile

Planning and building a van home is a daunting task. Proper planning can really help though! Whether its a van home or a jeep home, take the time, do the research, be creative, and don’t be scared to step out of your comfort zone. If you follow those guidlines, you’ll be able to build an absolutely beautiful home, regardless of your skill level.

Home sweet home

Alas, I have years of experience living in a van and would be glad to help poke holes in your plans. If you have some zany ideas or even just want a set of eyes on something basic, don’t be scared to shoot me an email! I love this community and want everyone to enjoy their homes as much as possible.

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