You’re almost there! You’ve been working your butt off for MONTHS to get your van where you want it to be. Now you just have some finishing touches and you’ll be on the road in no time! But then you decide to tweak this. And add that. And oh – I didn’t even think about this! Let’s throw this in, too! Oh man, see what this guy did? We should add that! That’s such a great idea!
We have all fallen into this. Wanting to hit the road, but also wanting our van to be perfect before we do. Many people who build their own van struggle with hitting the road at first, because they want the experience to be so dead on as to their needs and wants. But the more you tweak – and the more you scroll through Instagram – the more you tend to stay at home and keep tweaking.
And the fact is, there’s so much about your van and how you’ll use it that you just won’t know until you’ve actually lived in it. That’s why we suggest doing some trial runs and short trips before hitting the road for good.
Take Your Van Out for a Spin
This doesn’t have to be anything too elaborate, but we do suggest spending some significant time living like you plan to do on the road. A weekend would be good, a week would be better. The important thing is to have enough time to get in the rhythm of living in your van, to understand what works for you, what doesn’t, and what stuff you really need.
We are so glad we did this, even though it was completely unintentional. We hit the road thinking it would be for good, then we had to turn around and head straight back two weeks later. This change of plans was completely unexpected, but that’s just how life works sometimes.
And we’re so grateful we had the opportunity to test out our van for a couple weeks. We learned a lot, and now that we’re on the road for good, we’re a lot leaner and more efficient and our van really functions how we need it to.
Find Out What Works and What Doesn’t
If you’re doing a custom van build, you’ve spent a lot of time planning and designing and building. But sometimes what works well on paper doesn’t work so well in real life. In our first stint on the road, we quickly figured out what didn’t work for us and made plans to modify everything when we returned home.
In our van, we built a slide-out queen-sized bed frame that converts into a couch. To build this, we cut a memory foam mattress into three pieces, and during the day two of the pieces become the couch cushions. Overall it works great, but the way we cut the mattress made it difficult to access the storage under the couch without a lot of hassle. It was a simple fix, but it would have been difficult to do on the road.
We also ran into some problems with how our sink drained. We originally had a two-gallon paint bucket with a hole cut in the lid for the drain pipe. We soon realized that we had to empty the bucket way too frequently, and it was tough to do without spilling everywhere. It was clear to us that this wasn’t going to work for the long term. So we found a 5-gallon container with just the right measurements online and shipped it back home to swap out when we returned.
When we installed our Fan-Tastic vent fan, we thought the fan’s rain sensor was a handy feature. But barely six hours after we left we got caught in a rainstorm, and we realized having a rain sensor causes a big problem: the fan won’t run when it’s raining. And this is often when you really need ventilation, especially if you want to cook inside. So we ordered a cover for the vent and installed it as soon as we got back. Now we have airflow no matter the weather.
And there were many other things that didn’t quite work, from where we kept the broom to how our closet was organized to how we plugged things into the inverter. Testing out our van gave us the opportunity to discover these things, and then take some time making them better before we hit the road for good.
Find Out What Stuff You Really Need
So you’re about to move into a van. What do you take with you? Do you need this, or that? Should you bring it just in case? Should you buy this other thing you might need?
Even though we had sold almost everything we owned, we still kept a bunch of stuff we thought we would use in vanlife. For instance, we had a LOT of kitchenware. We love food, and we love cooking, and the kitchen is definitely one of our favorite rooms in the house. And we thought, of course we need that cheese slicer and the potato masher and garlic press.
But we just didn’t end up using much beyond the basics, and all the extra stuff was just taking up space. So we purged everything we hadn’t touched and dropped it off at Goodwill. We still mash potatoes and dice garlic, but we do it with forks and knives. It might take a little longer, but we cleared up a ton of space in our kitchen storage. Also, taking the extra time to prepare our food helps us slow down, be present, and really appreciate what we’re doing.
We also brought a PUR water filter that we would fill up in the sink and keep in the fridge so we would have clean, cold water. But it took up a lot of space, and it was just a pain to get it out every time we wanted a drink of water. So, to Goodwill it went. And that barely scratches the surface of the stuff we’ve donated
Put Down the Tools and Get Out There!
There’s a lot of comforts knowing that if things totally go wrong inside your van, if nothing works and you forgot to buy a can opener, that you’ll be home in a few days. Then you can learn from your experience, reevaluate your plans, and make your van work better for you.
This will also help you focus your energies on what you know will work, instead of spending a lot of time on something before realizing a week in that it’s unbearable. And make sure to set a reasonable schedule to make any changes and get back out there! The whole point is to get moving and discover everything the open road has to offer, not spend forever building a van!