Joe and I were so excited to hit the open road that we skipped the most important steps in choosing the right van for nomadic living. Not only were we unprepared for all the legal hoops we had to jump through simply to purchase the van, but we went into it with all the wrong expectations. We figured we could just toss a mattress in the back and set sail, but oh how wrong we were.
We ended up buying an entire Ikea bed frame and mattress in order to allow for storage space under the bed. It would have been much more practical and cost efficient had we just taken the time to properly arrange and build our own space back there. We spent nearly an hour putting this twin bed together in the dimly lit parking lot and just as we were lifting the bed into the back, we realized the bed frame was exactly half an inch too long. The back door would not shut, no matter how hard we pushed. We stared at each other in utter disbelief, stunned by our own stupidity. Joe told me to wait by the van and he ran back into the shopping center. I was pacing back and forth, convinced that this was the first sign telling us to give up and go home when Joe came running out with a hand saw. He sawed the headboard off and to our utmost relief, the bed slid in with only a few centimeters of clearance. We collapsed into our new home and broke into hysterics.
It wasn’t until our trip was well underway that we realized just how much we had underestimated the process of turning this cargo van into a properly livable space. Our biggest miscalculation was of how much storage space we actually needed. The bed took up the entire length and nearly all the width of our living space and left only a foot-high clearance beneath it. Just imagine trying to fit your entire life under your bed, kitchen and all. It was definitely tight, but at the end of the day, it was our home and we loved it.
I’ve found that the most important life lessons can only be learned by pushing through the hard times. You may suffer some disasters but you’ll never see the same ones again. We’ve comprised a list of the top five necessities for our next self-converted campervan; all things we wouldn’t have noticed had we not made the mistakes we did.
- Temperature Control: We spent half our nights sleeping with both doors wide open in nothing but our skivvies, and the other half huddled together beneath four layers of blankets. Proper insulation and a ventilation system will be much safer and much more comfortable.
- Water Tank: We had a collection of plastic water bottles stored beside the bed for cooking, cleaning, and drinking. Obviously, this was not ideal. We were also surprised by how difficult it was to find free water taps in certain countries.
- Solar Panels/Generator: No electricity meant no nighttime lighting, and a flashlight was less than sufficient. It wouldn’t have hurt to be able to charge our phones either; we must have spent hours freeloading at McDonald’s.
- Four-Wheel Drive: There were a handful of times we had to turn back because our van wouldn’t allow for the terrain. We would have loved to park on a deserted beach for the night but our poor van wouldn’t make it through the sand. Who doesn’t love the sound of the ocean lulling you to sleep?
- Storage Space: Our next van will have built in drawers beneath the bed and shelves running along both walls for easy access and organization. It was always a hassle trying to dig through everything under the bed just to find a roll of toilet paper.
All in all, the trip was unforgettable and we cannot wait to do it again, but this time, we’ll be doing it right. For those of you dreaming of setting out on a similar adventure, I hope that you take my advice. I speak from experience when I say – don’t underestimate the amount of work required to make your van into a home. Stay tuned for a new article every Thursday!