@vanished.adventures: Top 9 Strategies to Remember During Your Van Build

Naomi and Julian finished building out their 2005 Sprinter van just a couple of months ago, and have been full-timing it ever since. We asked them to share any of their recently acquired build knowledge, and they had TONS of awesome tips, strategies, and advice for the build itself, on-the-fly solutions to classic build problems, and even some insider knowledge on how to maintain your sanity while bringing your van dreams to life! Read on below, and be sure to check out their instagram, @vanished.adventures!

When you’re building your van, you should always be asking yourself these three questions:

1. Can this be lighter? Something that is constantly forgotten as more people join the van life community is that these vans are not invincible. Sprinters/Promasters are desired because they’re beasts on the road. They can keep up on the highways and they get good mileage…as soon as you are carrying a couple thousand pounds, throw that idea out the window. Even at a minimum, most vans are carrying batteries (let's be honest, these add anywhere from 100 - 300 pounds depending on the rig), cooler/fridge, propane, water tank…maybe solar panels? This is a lot of weight and doesn't even take into consideration building materials. There is a reason RV’s that are professionally made are made out of really light stuff. Don’t add any unnecessary weight you don’t need…be realistic about your batteries…DON’T do the granite counter top! You get the idea. Oh, and use as much aluminum instead of wood as you can manage. It's lighter, and just as strong.  

2. How is that going to stay there? Plan ahead for your latches and mechanisms that will hold your drawers, your clothes, your food…I could go on for days! A lot of ours were last minute and frustrating. When you don’t plan for them its harder and harder to find solutions for what you have already built. Again, you have to consider weight for these to work properly. Drawer slides that lock won’t work for a heavy drawers. They will just slide out when you turn a sharp corner. 

3. Am I hungry? This may make you laugh, but this is a huge factor! When you’re putting lots of hours into a build it is easy to forget on those long days to eat. Then come the mistakes, miscommunications, and frustration...something that you may have been able to avoid or solve after a meal. We all get grumpy on an empty stomach, so try to plan on meals. Set yourself up for success. 

When you’re building the van there are so many “ugh, how could I have planned for that!” moments! Here were some of ours, and how we solved them on the fly:

1. SUPER STRAWS! When you’re putting up your solar panels its super important that you put lap sealant on everything so your roof does not leak…but you may come to realize that your caulk gun definitely does not fit under the panels so its impossible to seal the inner mounts. Don’t worry, super straw is here! Buy the extra big straws from any dollar store, target, etc. and it will fit right over the nozzle of your caulk gun…I’m sure there is a better solution out there, but this is what was in the kitchen and it’s cheap, so there ya go! 

Super straws to the rescue! Photo by vanished.adventures.

2. LONG PIECES OF WOOD! You’re going to be putting your insulation on the ceiling with that good ol 3M adhesive and realize…wow…these are not going to adhere super fast…and I don’t want to hold this all day. Have some handy dandy long pieces of any type of wood to create tension to keep whatever insulation you have in. There is not an immediate bond as the 3M bottle may suggest. Also, note how our floor is covered with plywood, that is super important. Otherwise your floor is going to be left with lots of scrapes and glue adhesive that wont come off. 

Keepin' things in place! Photo by vanished.adventures.

3. TAPE! I’m not talking about that wimpy stuff. I am talking about that double-sided, sticky 3M adhesive tape. Every time you’re putting something up and you think, “Wow, I wish this would stay in place so I could test it and make sure its right,” you’re going to wish you had tape. The best part is you just screw through it if you put something up and you like it. It’s like double insurance. I realize what we used is expensive, but any substitute that works the same would work. It should be strong enough to hold something up, while easily removable so you can change a position if you need to. 

Tape galore! Photo by vanished.adventures

Tape galore! Photo by vanished.adventures

Lastly, here is some of my advice that I hope will help with your mental health through this process. 

1. If you’re a couple, each of you pick one thing that is SUPER important to you and one thing that is SUPER important to both of you. In total you should have three things. If you are traveling alone, pick two things that are SUPER important to you. For example, for Julian the height of the van was really important for him and our toilet was really important for me. Our object that was important for both of us was a permanent full time bed installed. These three things (or two if you are traveling alone) trump everything that may come up, and trust me, something will come up. Constantly in the van you’re going to be having conversations like, “well if we didn’t have this we could do this” or “if this was not this way this would not be a problem” or “ Do you really need this?”. These three things are going to be the corner stones of your design. It’s important to have a base, and it will save a lot of if, ands, and buts down the road. 

2. Keep your normal lives! Holy moly I can’t emphasize this enough. If the van takes over your whole life, you will be miserable. We worked full time and then worked on the van almost every moment. After a couple months of this, we went crazy. We didn’t see friends, our families didn’t feel like they were seeing us enough, we felt like we never got time to ourselves and when we did we felt guilty about it, and then at the same time we were not putting in enough hours on the van because we worked full time. Essentially, no one was happy. Don’t push the process until the end. Go with the flow, and work on the van when you’re energized. 

3. DON’T tell people a leave date! There is just no way to know what will come up with your van mechanically or in the construction. Other people will become extremely invested in your progress, and when you are maybe a month behind you will be getting a lot of questions that sort of hurt your morale overall. In general, van life has become so targeted to the public that they try to make it seem like building is super easy. There are blogs on “how to build a van in 3 weeks!” or “how to do your solar in one day!” Heads up: if you are approaching this process with no skills in electric, carpentry, or plumbing, I can say that all those things are basically impossible to achieve. We were convinced the build would take us three months because of all this advertising, and it took us around EIGHT months. We gave out three different end dates to people, and in the end, left a day later than our last guess! Keep your mind open, and leave on the right foot. 

Naomi & Julian! Photo by @vanished.adventures.

Naomi & Julian! Photo by @vanished.adventures.

All done! Photo by @vanished.adventures.

All done! Photo by @vanished.adventures.