Now that I’ve gone through the process of buying a van, I need to get started on the process of building it out. I’ve grown accustomed to taking on challenges outside my comfort zone or beyond my abilities but building out a van with zero experience may be the most daunting objective thus far.
Sure, there’s the option to pay what can easily amount to the purchase price of a new van (or more) for a company to build out a van for you. But unless you have the cash to burn, this isn’t the most attractive option. That said, the more I look into doing things myself, the more sympathetic I become to those deciding to go this route.
Those building out vans and documenting their builds online can be largely separated into three categories:
- Those who do everything in their power to save as much money as possible
- Those who have built out so many vans they’re basically (or in some cases, are actually) professional van builders
- Those with a heavy background in one or more areas related to a van build (e.g. engineering or woodworking)
I fall into none of these categories. My van build philosophy (thus far) sounds something like “do everything perfectly, pay for quality products, and don’t you dare fuck it up.” Good plan, right?
Initially, my idea was to have the entire van build envisioned and prepped before I started to do any work. Whether this is a stalling tactic or not, I’m unsure, but I’ve already made my first mistake. My initial idea should have been “have the entire van build envisioned and prepped before I start to do any work or start buying anything.” I’ve already made mistakes (i.e. purchased things I cannot return that I will not be using).
There’s so much to figure out for a van build: insulation, sound deadening, water, electrical, bed, cabinetry, floors, walls, lighting, fridge, stove, and solar – and that’s not even everything. Looking at and thinking about the big picture gets me overwhelmed. But then I think to myself if I was starting a long-distance trip spanning weeks or months, would I be thinking about the destination while I’m standing at the start? Absolutely not, that’s terrible advice.
I would say to focus on the next town, the next resupply, the next trailhead, the next checkpoint – and that’s what I need to learn to do with the van. That said, to be able to focus on the next checkpoint is, I need to know what the next checkpoint is. And to figure out the next checkpoint, I need to know what the roadmap looks like for getting to the end. So back to square one – have everything figured out before I start doing anything (and I’m sure things will still go wrong).
A lot of the projects, namely anything that requires me to cut holes in the exterior of the van or anything that has to do with designing and setting up the van’s electrical system, are particularly daunting.
Fortunately, the more research I do, the better I feel about taking on each of the challenges associated with building out a van. Unfortunately, the more research I do, the more time and money I realize I’m going to have to spend to bring my (still half-baked) van vision to reality.
Some of the biggest questions – do I want an air conditioner, do I want a fixed bed, how much battery power do I need, and what kind of insulation should I use – now race through my head every night as I struggle to fall asleep. All these questions inspire a huge amount of debate online. Sooner or later, I will need to pick a side for each.
The Path Forward
Once I manage to figure out my final vision for the van build, hopefully, I’ll be able to focus on the steps one at a time. Figuring out the order in which to take these steps will be a bit of a challenge in itself, but I’m nothing if not stubborn. I’ll figure it out.
I’ve made a few of the big decisions, but I’m still unsure whether I want to have flares installed (and whether this would be too big a project for me to tackle alone), what I want to do as far as having a water heater (this is something I haven’t figured out yet), and whether I want to invest in a roof rack for my solar panels (these things are insanely expensive).
Basically, a lot to figure out.
Have you built out a van? Are you in need of one of the extra windows I now have? Want to tell me I’m never going to make it? Leave a comment and let me know!