It doesn’t matter if you’re a weekend warrior who lives to discover new campsites or a true wanderlust enthusiast who wants to pull up stakes and travel for a living. You have a new-to-you vehicle that you want to convert into the ultimate travel van.
What do you need to know as you make your DIY shopping list? Spending time mindfully creating your interior will increase your ride’s utility and enjoyment of the lifestyle. Here’s how to design the ultimate travel van.
1. Choose Lightweight Materials
If recent months have taught people anything, it’s that gas prices can change rapidly, leaving you in a financial bind if your tank runs low at the wrong time. You want your ultimate travel van to guzzle as little of this precious fluid as possible, which means lightening your load.
Your fixtures and flooring add the most weight. Use as few cabinets as possible, and consider what appliances you can do without. Is a small oven essential, or can you make do with a cooktop and microwave?
Avoid tile and granite — they look lovely but add tons of weight. Lightweight vinyl laminate may be your best flooring choice for pulling toys like dirt bikes inside, as carpet can get filthy. Going with a darker shade like black or gray hides any skid marks. However, lighter tones make small spaces look roomier.
2. Evaluate Your Needs
Your most important step is to evaluate your needs, especially if you intend to live in your van. Trying to find an appropriate toilet when it’s 3 a.m. and snowing quickly grows old. Although it takes up space, installing a small bathroom can make a tremendous difference.
What else should you consider? Ask yourself the following questions when designing your ultimate travel van:
- How many people will share your space? You might need a bigger bed or separate sleeping areas.
- Do you plan to work in your van? A fold-away desk might be a valid option.
- What do you need to store and transport? Do you have any toys like an e-bike for short trips if living in your van?
- Do you have any special concerns? For example, those with disabilities may need mobility devices.
3. Get Creative With Space Savers
Even the ultimate travel vans have limited room. Quarters get even more cramped if you have multiple people. One space-saving idea is to use foldable furniture. For example, replace a small table with a hinged wooden platform that collapses against the wall while you cook.
Another idea is to design your table and benches to convert to a bed instead of using a fixed platform. Doing so lets you transition your van from a living area for day to sleeping at night, and you can build cubbies into the bench seats for storage.
Speaking of storage and sleep, don’t disregard your roof when designing your ultimate travel van. A rooftop tent lets you enjoy the freedom of fresh-air camping while keeping you elevated safely off the cold ground. You’ll be out of reach of all but the biggest bears — although it’s still wise to keep your food sealed and locked inside your ride. You’ll also save interior room for a bathroom, kitchenette or workspace.
4. Control Your Climate
Camping in a van is glorious when the weather cooperates. However, it’s rarely a balmy 70 degrees around the clock, and you can’t run your vehicle’s heater without it costing you a small fortune — not to mention the environmental price. What are your options?
You have three primary choices for heat:
- A diesel night heater: These burn clean, although they can emit fumes if not properly maintained.
- Woodstove: Cozy and romantic, these are affordable to maintain and fuel, but you must dispose of the ash and take safety precautions.
- LPG gas heater: This option is the priciest, and some people feel uncomfortable transporting the gas canisters in their van.
Your best choice ultimately comes down to your lifestyle and comfort level. For example, those who often park their ride on BLM land with ample lumber might gravitate toward woodstoves to take advantage of free fuel.
5. Prepare for Maintenance Emergencies
You’ll need to perform maintenance tasks to keep your travel van in working condition. It’s also wise to brush up on a few elementary mechanics courses unless you plan on sticking strictly to established campgrounds with services. There’s nothing worse than getting stranded with a flat tire miles from the nearest cell tower — reception can get spotty in the sticks.
What should you include in your ultimate travel van maintenance kit? Here’s a short list of tools you should keep on board your ride:
- Pliers: Needle-nosed and vice-grip
- Screwdriver set
- Wrench set: Include Allen wrenches
- Socket set
- Cordless drill and various bits
- Hammer and mallet
- Spare tire, lug wrench and jack
- Flares and triangles
- Caulk and caulk gun
- Jumpstart box and cables
- Various types of tape
- Nuts and bolts
- Zip ties and tow straps
Don’t forget human maintenance needs. Always carry plenty of water and have a first-aid kit on hand.
Designing the Ultimate Travel Van
Maybe you want the nomad lifestyle or you’re a weekend warrior upgrading from tent camping. Either way, the tips above will help you design the ultimate travel van. The open road awaits you and your refurbished ride.
Jack Shaw is a world traveler and a freelance writer. When he’s home, you can find him spending time with his dog and reading in a hammock.