My Van Life Begins

The last time you heard from me I had a beaten up and broke down van that I had finally got running again. Exciting right! The dream had felt so close. It seemed like the hard part was over and that all I had to do was start building. I had so many great ideas and plans of what I wanted. It was going to have a beautiful hard wood floor, cabin like walls, and rustic detail. I wanted things like solar power, an extended roof, a sink and oven, a wood stove and roof top fan to stay cool. Lot's of unique features and craftsman utility. Easy, I remember thinking. 

Here I am three months later. College is underway and yes I am living in my van (at least on week days). Is it what I hoped it would be? No, not exctly. As the summer passed I had one obstacle after another with the van. Until the van was road worthy all the work had to be done at my moms which is where we trailered it to originally. Now that is over three hours away from where I was living and working. So the only time I could work on it was on weekends. The price of that voyage was pretty high. Luckily I was driving a toyota camry with pretty great gas mileage. Until one weekend that is. Driving home from a weekend working on the van I fell asleep at the wheel...

I came to when I hit the rumble strips in the other lane. Jolted awake I then swerved to miss hitting a mail box head on. It impacted my windshield and shattered the glass so I couldnt see. I came to a stop in the ditch. I was pretty lucky all things considered. I wasnt injured at all and nobody else was around. However, my insurance had elapsed on the car. I had planned on being in the van much sooner so I had planned on insuring the van and not my car. Needleless to say the whole thing was a very expensive and huge set back. The judge was very unforgiving and didnt care about anything I said. I was fined and had my drivers license suspended for 30days all because I fell asleep for just a moment. Thats all it takes to hit rock bottom..

At this point I didnt have alot of money left, no car, and no drivers license. Most of the build hinged on finishing the extended roof but I needed help and access to the tools and equipment to do it. Time passed and it still wasnt done. At this point time was running out and I had to start making choices. I wasn't going to have time to build the microhome I had envisioned. That was clear. So I decided to make utilitarian choices. I had to complete what I really needed to live and then use whatever time I had left to build comfort features. 

Starting with the roof and with my dads help we built the topper in one weekend using leftover lumber he had from various house additions and remodels he had done over the years. That was incredibly helpful because the extended roof was pretty much free. It was much more involved than I would've guessed but it was done. 

Next was the floor which I did by myself. The wood was sourced from pallets I had collected from various places which was great for cost. However, what I didn't pay for in dollars I paid for in work. Lots of work.. I had to take the pallets apart without breaking the planks which wasn't easy. Once apart, all the nails had to be removed. Now I had a bunch of rough-cut lumber but the boards were all different sizes and thicknesses. They weren't straight and a lot of them were cracked from being taken apart despite my best efforts to prevent that. All I had to correct this was a belt sander, guessing, and a good eye for what I thought appeared straight. In the end there were still gaps in the floor so I had to use wood filler but it turned out really good. I used a dark walnut stain which gave it a rustic look. The uneveness actually made it feel more authentic and cabin-like. It took almost three days of work but it came out well and was mostly free.

After the floor I needed more lumber and I certainly couldnt afford expensive 10' long boards or car siding. For this I turned to Craiglist and Facebook Marketplace to find any kind of salvage wood. Luckily, I managed to find and contact a farm out of town where an old barn had collapsed. They were giving away the wood to anyone who would come pick it up. My girlfriend and I loaded up the van with about as much as I thought it would take to do the ceiling and walls. Again there was alot of work involved. At this point I had only one week left before the semester began. I worked all day and all night to finish as much as possible. Sometimes I got four hours of sleep and some nights I didnt sleep at all and worked for two days straight. I actually finished the bed frame and curtains the night before my first day of class began. 


Now it's not as glamorous as I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be more. In part so that my young peers would be less judgemental when they found out how I chose to live. I actually don't need much to be comfortable. My time in the military has erroded my need for it. In truth I just ran out of time and money. I really wasn't even prepared or ready for school to begin. I debated on whether I would even attend this year. However, here I am. Most likely the only person on campus that has chosen to live a simpler, cheaper, and more minimalistic lifestyle. The truth is that I really have as much as a typical dorm would have if not more. As it is right now the van has a bed, stove, lights, a place to store clothes, food, water, etc. The difference is that I'm not paying $400 a month for it. My only real living expense is food and gas. I have no rent or room and board expense and I have the freedom to "live" wherever I choose. Anything I don't have the campus provides. That being bathrooms, shower, and electicity to charge my phone and laptop. 

I'm still getting used to it and my van will improve as I continue to invest in it. Am I living the #vanlife or digital nomad dream? Maybe not yet, but at least I'm not afraid to take the leap. The dream and reason behind all of this is still some time away. I built this to travel the country and see all the beauty the wilderness has to offer. To experience different cultures, and meet people like me. Until then, work-study-eat-lift-repeat. As always, thank you for reading this far! More to come. 

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