One of the coolest things about vanlife is the ability to use solar power to power everything in your van. We upgraded our electrical system from our last van so that we could run our 2.5 gallon water heater without any issues. This system runs everything in our van great! We do turn off our inverter at night so that the hot water heater is not running when we don’t need it, so we highly recommend getting a switch for your inverter so it’s easy to switch off at night!
One of the first aspects of any van build or van conversion is to decide if you want a full time platform bed with storage underneath or if you want a convertible table bed area. Since our van is a live/work situation we wanted the flexibility to have a table/desk area to sit at during the day while we work. Let’s face it, if we had to sit in bed to get our work done, we wouldn’t be productive at all. That’s why we opted for a convertible table bed area instead of a full time bed.
If you’re looking for details on our Sprinter Van’s plumbing, look no further. We got ya covered! As you probably already know, we opted for a “wet” bathroom (meaning the toilet is in the shower area so it will get wet). We wanted to save on space, so we cantilevered the toilet over the shower pan using steel studs.
Today’s blog is all about Van Life Essentials!
There are 5 things we definitely couldn’t live without in our van:
Aeropress & Electric Kettle
If you’re a big coffee drinker, having an aeropress and electric kettle are game changing for making a quick, delicious coffee in the morning. The electric kettle we recommend boils water within 30-60 seconds and is great for making 2 cups of coffee. The aeropress is so easy to use, can’t break in the van and it’s super easy to clean.
12 volt Fan
This fan is a must-have for those warm summer nights! Let’s face it, in the summertime nighttime temps can be a little too warm for great sleep. So we plug this fan in and point it directly at us to keep us cool at night.
Having a small, portable vacuum is perfect for van life. We love this Black & Decker vacuum - has great suction and works great on small particles of sand or dog hair. We use this at least once a day to keep our floors clean.
Tek towels, also known as backpacking towels, are great for living in a van because they take up way less space than a regular towel. Regular towels are bulky and big. On the other hand, tek towels are lightweight, dry quick and are space saving. We love these sea-to-summit brand towels.
Last but not least is this Mercedes Sprinter Sun Shade. Not only is this sun shade great for keeping out heat due to the sun, it’s great for privacy! We put this sun shade up every night in our windshield to make sure no one can see in our van, and to make sure no one can tell when we have the lights on. During the day, this sunshade is great for blocking out the sun rays which heats the van up.
It's a pretty exciting time in #vanlife.
We hear from people everyday who are planning their own van conversion and we wanted to help ease some of the growing pains by offering 3 Tips For Planning Your Van Conversion Layout.
1. What is a Priority?
It can be easy to get carried away with all the "what-if's".
Would it be awesome if my van had a retractable 50" flatscreen tv?
But is that a Priority? Hell to the no.
Priorities are those features you will USE MOST and that are most important for what you will be doing with your van. When we designed our layout these were a few of our top priorities.
- Built-in Dog Crate
- Private Bathroom/Shower (Hot Showers)
- As close to King sized bed as possible
- Enough Power to work from anywhere
- Closet and Dresser for Clothing
These 5 priorities affected all of the layout options we came up with and ultimately we were able to build a super functional layout around the priorities.
2. See at least 5 vans in person
The van community is very collaborative. We all share layout ideas, components and cool design features with each other. Take advantage of that by seeing at least 5 different vans in person. Meetups are a great way to see other van builds and cool layout designs.
If you don’t have any meetups or vanlifers in your area then take a look at prefab models at your local RV dealerships. There are some beautiful designs that can inspire you or maybe show you what you don’t like. Try to get a feel for the space. Moving around in your van is important so see what it’s like walking through the van, entering the bathroom or even picture yourself taking a shower.
3. Consult with an expert
Even if you decide to build your van yourself, talk with someone who has built multiple vans or builds them professionally. This can save you from making painful mistakes or spending unnecessary money on components you may not need or a design that simply isn’t possible for reasons you have yet to consider.
I have calls like this often with people interested in having us build their van and there are usually 1-2 ideas I have to tell them are just not realistic.
Looking for more help with your layout? Checkout our Van Layout Guide.
Looking for someone to build your custom van?
Complete the Van Build Inquiry Form by clicking the link below for a quote.
Want to avoid some of the Van Life mistakes we made on our first Van Conversion?
Check out the 10 Changes We Made to Our 2nd Sprinter Van Conversion:
Our first van conversion was a 2008 Dodge Sprinter 170” Passenger van, which meant it had windows all the way around. In fact, it had 6 different windows in the back as well as the windows on the back doors. This caused a few issues:
our bathroom had a window in it. Pretty awkward to shower in there. We ended up putting a shower curtain across the window, but then it would stick to you when we showered.
It wasn’t very stealth - because we had so many windows, it was nearly impossible to keep light out, and on the flip side, not let light out at night time when we had the lights on.
it got REALLY hot. Insulation is nearly worthless if you have windows all the way around your van.
On our second van conversion, we cut back on the number of windows to be more stealth, to have better insulation and to have a more functional van on the inside. This meant we didn’t have a window in our bathroom anymore - yay!!
A Smaller Kitchen
We opted for a smaller kitchen area in our second van build to give us the option of installing a seat at the sliding door for another passenger.
We don’t miss the extra space that we had in our first in our first van because it gives our new van a much more open feel.
A Smaller Sink
Since we made our kitchen smaller, we decided to opt for a smaller farmhouse sink as well. The sink is made by the same company - they make the sink in two sizes. One is 19.625” x 14.5” and the other is a 14.5” x 14.5”.
We opted for the square 14.5” x 14.5” sink on our second van to be able to save some countertop space. The sink is still more than big enough to accommodate washing large pots and pans.
Our first van we used a vinyl tile that is meant for flooring. Over time these vinyl tiles started to fall off of the walls in the bathroom.
On our second van we opted for REAL tile. I know, crazy right?! We used small white subway tiles and gray grout. We absolutely love the way it looks and it’s even more waterproof than our last van. So far, we have no issues with the grout cracking and everything is holding up great.
One of the reasons we went with real tile is because we used a foam backer board instead of heavy hardie board. This saved us over 100 pounds in weight, so adding in real tile wasn’t an issue.
The Lagun Table Base
Our first van conversion had a pedestal bolted into the floor for our convertible table/bed area. This did not allow for much room to get around the table since it was fixed and unable to move.
On our second build, we opted for the Lagun Table Base. This base is incredible because it’s not mounted into the floor so you can easily swivel the table from side to side or even completely remove the base so you have an open seating bench area.
A Full Electrical Panel
Our first van conversions electrical setup was hard to get to. We had our solar controller and monitor in an upper cabinet that we stored a lot of bedding in, so we often couldn’t see what was going on.
On our new van, we decided to create a full command center where we could access our battery monitor, switch our inverter on/off, see our water tank levels, turn our Espar heater on/off, etc. This is way more functional and really easy to access.
Added an Espar Diesel Heater
Our first van did not have a heater unless we were running the van. We definitely experienced too many chilly mornings and evenings, so the second time around we installed an Espar Diesel Heater.
This heater runs off of the Diesel from the fuel tank of the Sprinter van and it’s super efficient. We installed in under the passenger seat and it heats the van up in about 2-3 minutes.
We Made Our Countertops 3 inches Taller
Our first van’s countertops were lower than standard countertop height.
On our second van, we raised them up 3 inches to make them a standard counter height, which allowed us to add one more drawer to our dresser area for laptops and office stuff.
Went with 6 Inches of Memory Foam instead of Just 4 Inches
Our first van only had 4 inches of memory foam for our bed area. Over time, we both woke up with back pain because our hips were hitting the wood beneath us at night.
We increased our memory foam to a full 6 inches and now we sleep like babies! Another 2 inches made all the difference when it came to getting a good night’s sleep.
Added an Aluminess Rack & Ladder
On our first van, we had the solar mounted and screwed directly into the roof of the van.
This time, we opted for an Aluminess Rack and their solar mounts to be able to easily secure our solar to the van without drilling holes into the roof. Not only that, but the Aluminess rack makes it easy to store extra things on the roof like inflatable SUPs, a Thule box, etc.
GET THE VAN LAYOUT GUIDE
Wondering what it’s like to be a solo female traveller?
We were lucky enough to have Sydney from Divine on the Road stop by our van conversion shop in San Diego with her new van. She gave us a full tour of her 2017 148” wheelbase Transit Van.
Not only that, but she shared some great tips on solo female van life, and how she stays safe while traveling alone.
This is her second van conversion - her first van was a 144” Sprinter Van that she had converted by the same builders who built this transit van. She decided to go with a Transit van this time due to quite a few mechanical issues she had with her Mercedes Sprinter due to poor maintenance from the previous owner.
For her, the Transit van was a more affordable option the second time around, and she’s super happy with her decision. Not only that but her van conversion is gorgeous!
You can follow Sydney and her pup Ella on their Instagram @divineontheroad
Wondering what it's like to live in a van as a female? Well I'm answering your top questions about what van dwelling as a female is really like. We've been living in our van for the last year and a half so hopefully this helps answer some of the common questions about van life.
I asked you guys on our Van Life Instagram what questions you had about living in a van as a female...
So I sat down and answered the top questions I got!
And I #keepitreal, so if talking about periods and sex is too much for you, then don't watch this video! I want to always be transparent and honest with each one of you about the realities of van life, and what it's actually like.
Hopefully this helps you decide if van life and life on the road is for you.
Be sure to follow our Van Life Youtube channel for weekly updates. And hey, maybe we'll run into you on the road somewhere :)
The #1 question we get is "How do you make money living in a van?"
It's such a big topic if you're thinking about going full time in van life, so we wanted to break it down on how we afford to travel full time and work remotely on the road.
There are 3 main ways that we make money:
One of the coolest things about the YouTube platform is that you can apply to be "monetized." Basically, that means that they will run ads from some of their advertising partners on your videos.
YouTube requires you to have 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours before you can apply to be monetized.
From YouTube's monetization, we make about $1,000 a month from our YouTube channel.
2. AMAZON AFFILIATE PROGRAM
Amazon has an affiliate program that you can earn about 5% on any products that are purchased through your affiliate link.
Since we get asked all the time "where did you get that sink?" or "what batteries did you use in your van?" Amazon is a great way for us to get a little kick back for recommending products that we used in our van build.
Most of the products listed on our Van Life page are affiliate links from Amazon.
You can find out more about Amazon's affiliate program here: https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/
We average about $800 a month from our Amazon affiliate account.
3. OUR OWN PROGRAMS
90% of our income comes from offering our own digital programs for sale. We have 2 main products:
Van Layout Guide - the Van Layout Guide is a detailed floorplan of our second van build. If you love the look and finish of our van, this guide will give you the specs and 3D renderings you need to build a van with the same layout.
Creator Academy - we like to call this our passion project. It's what we both believe we were put on this planet to do! Creator Academy is a step-by-step program to teach you the skills you need to create an income through social media. You can find out more in our free webclass here.
It doesn't take long to realize what you can't live without in Vanlife.
So we've added a few items to our Vanlife Essentials list to help you fellow travelers live a better life on the road.
- Arctic Air: https://amzn.to/2NcL2Y0
This little "Air Conditioner" has made a huge difference for us on really hot days in the van. It's not by any means a full blown air conditioner but it will provide some relief and cool down your van.
- 12 volt 4 Gang switch: https://amzn.to/2C82bha
This has been a fixture in each of our builds. Part charging station and part functional switches for 12v components like water pumps or ball valves.
- Safety razor: https://amzn.to/2oA1BiO
We try to leave a small footprint and love these razors that keep us from constantly burning through disposable razors.
- Toilet Treatment: https://amzn.to/2Cbn4rZ
Life Changing! This fully biodegradable and non-toxic tank treatment has made a huge difference in our grey water holding tanks.
- Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboards: https://www.islesurfandsup.com
These are just FUN! Toys for the road make the adventure that much more fun.
We set out to build the ultimate tiny home on wheels for traveling and working on the road.
After traveling in our first van for almost 9 months we decided to build a new van with some minor modifications. Our latest van includes everything we need to live and work remotely full-time.
- Kitchen with Farmhouse sink
- Enclosed Shower with hot water heater
- Urine Diverting Toilet
- Convertible King Size Bed/Table
- Mini Fridge
- 300 Watts Solar
- 300 Amp Hours Lithium Batteries
- 3000 Watt Inverter/Charger
- Aluminess Rack/Ladder
- Espar Diesel Heater
- Built-in Dog Crate Area
We've now put over 10K miles on our latest van and are super happy with this build. We've traveled from California to Michigan and even across Canada to explore Banff & Jasper National Parks.
Overall we stuck to a very similar layout from our previous build. Most of the changes we made were pretty minor based on our experience living in the first build.
Curious what changes we made? Checkout the video below as we break it down for you.
Want to see the full list of specs from our latest build? Click here
Interested in building your own van with our layout? We've got you covered with our Van Layout Guide. This membership site includes material lists, electrical and plumbing diagrams as well as measurements for most aspects of our build.
Installing Renogy Solar Panels to our
Sprinter Van Conversion
Building out a van you have lots of different options when it comes to power. We decided to run our entire electrical system on Solar Power using the Renogy 100 Watt Solar Panels and Renogy Rover Solar Controller.
Using these components we are able to charge our 3, 100 AH LiFePO4 Battle Born Batteries.
If you are considering mounting solar for your van conversion you have many options for mounting systems. On our latest van we wanted to incorporate the Aluminess Roof Rack for additional storage space and they also make a great platform for having a drink, taking photos and mounting your solar panels. Aluminess even makes clamp on solar mounts for seamless integration of your solar panels.
In the video below I walk you through the process of installing our panels to the mounts, the mounts to rack as well as running the wires through the roof using waterproof cable clams.
- Renogy 400 Watt Starter Kit
- Aluminess Stock 170" High Roof Sprinter Rack
- Aluminess Clamp on Solar Mounts
- 1 Pair Renogy Connectors
- 14, 3/4 " #10 Stainless Steel Bolts, Washers, Lock Washers & Nuts
- Permatex 24200 Medium Strength Threadlocker Blue
- 2, Blue Sea Systems CableClam
- 20 Ft of 8 AWG Wire
Before you start on your van build you want to make sure you have a realistic budget in mind for the van you want to build.
To help with the learning curve we are sharing with you how much it cost to convert our 2014 Mercedes Sprinter Van into our permanent home on wheels.
2014 Mercedes Sprinter 170" Wheelbase, High Roof
Purchase Price: $31,000
Framing, Materials & Lumber:
Wood Materials for Cabinets, Walls & Ceiling = $4,250
Butcher bloc Countertops = $100
Flooring = $200
Insulation = $250
Hardware (knobs, latches, hinges, drawer slides etc) = $460
Misc (Screws, nails, adhesive, tools) = $1000
Primer, Paint & Caulk = $300
LED Lights, Switches, Fuses, Outlets & Wiring = $662
3, Battle Born LiFePO4 Batteries = $3,000
Victron Battery Monitor = $179
Victron 3000Watt Inverter/Charger = $1,600
Inverter Switch = $173
Renogy 400 Watt Solar Starter Kit (Panels & Solar Controller) = $800
Dometic Fridge = $572
Vent Fan & Windows:
5 Windows = $1621
Window Install = $750
Fantastic Vent Fan = $200
Bathroom, Shower & Plumbing:
2.5 Gallon Hot Water Heater = $250
Plumbing materials (pumps, tanks, hose, PEX etc) = $670
Shower Pan = $150
Urine Diverting Toilet = $200
Nautilus Self Cleaning Shower Door = $290
Foam Backerboard, Waterproofing paint, mortar, tile, grout & fixtures = $900
SensaTank Monitoring System = $150
Table, Bed, Seating:
Lagun Swivel Table Base = $180
Passenger Seat Swivel = $300
Cushion Materials & Sewing Cost = $1,150
Esbar Heater = $982
Materials Total = $25,564
Van + Materials = $56,564
For full details on our second build click here.
It's important to keep your van nice and cool from the summer heat.
When we purchased our van it was a regular old passenger van that had been used as a shuttle. What we liked about the passenger version vs. the cargo van were all of the windows.
One challenge with the windows is covering them to provide privacy as well as to help keep out the heat.
Our solution... Custom Reflectix Window Coverings. We recently completed some upgrades which included sewing fabric to our current reflectix panels.
Watch the video below to see how we got crafty to make this custom solution.
"What do you do for work?"
"How do you make money on the road?"
These are the most common type of questions we get through social media and our website.
Maybe you are thinking of making a lifestyle change and going mobile. Maybe you just want to learn a way you can add a new revenue stream to your life... either way we want to provide value and insight that can help.
So we filmed a quick video explaining some of our experiences with online businesses and why we chose the affiliate marketing business we have now.
If you have questions after watching, please feel free to reach out with your questions!
"How do you go to the bathroom in your van?".
We hear that question quite a bit. When designing our van we really had to prioritize what was important for us to have in our tiny home on wheels.
First, we had to decide what was acceptable do to/not to do in the van.
We decided #1 was ok... but #2 was no go.
There are always plenty of public restrooms or a Starbucks you can find to go #2.
Why no #2? We did not want to have a Black Water system as we both felt there was a chemical odor that you just can't avoid. Compostable toilets are very popular right now but they also require some substantial maintenance to keep them operating correctly and in the end, you still have to remove the "humus like" substance from a container under your toilet. No thanks.
What toilet did we choose?
Inspired by @GratefulPursuits we installed a Urine Diverting Toilet by Separett. We ordered the, Privy 500, base model and did some modifications ourselves to add a regular toilet seat. The great thing about this model is that the pee goes down the tube and into our tank so we don't have to deal with anything until we are ready to empty our grey water tank.
Yes, we have a shower.
Another element to our bathroom that we knew was a must on our list was a shower. You can see a full list the equipment we used to build our shower including our water tanks, pumps and shower door by clicking here.
Are you thinking of starting your own van conversion project?
If so you are doing exactly what you should be doing... RESEARCH!
Before we built our van we tried to look at as many different conversions as we could to see what elements we wanted to incorporate into our very own van.
Watch the video below for the full Sprinter Van Tour...
After doing as much research as humanly possible we came up with a list of priorities for our lifestyle:
Bathroom with closing door
No going #2 in the Van
A big farmhouse sink
A big table we could use to work, play games, eat and drink
A big bed - we ended up with almost a king sized bed
Space to store a dog crate for our pups
Fitting so many big items in our van was a challenge but we love the way it turned out!
People ask us all the time what we would change, and to be honest there isn't much. We love that we have a full bathroom in our Sprinter van, and wouldn't change it if we did it again even though it takes up quite a bit of space.
More Details About Our Van...
We have a 2008 Dodge Sprinter Van that we bought for $25k with only 55,000 miles on it. We put about $12k into the conversion, which took 3 months working on it full time.
We had Sara's dad, Tom, who was a custom home builder for over 40 years helping us with the build. He was instrumental to the whole process - we definitely wouldn't have such a nice van without his help!
So if you're going at your van build alone, then definitely find some experts for help! Having an expert on hand helped ease a lot of the struggle of building in a van that isn't level or square.
If you're looking for specifics on what products we used, check out the #VanLife page.
Let us know what questions you have, and what video topics you'd like to see next on our YouTube channel.