For the longest time, building my own DIY campervan and joining the ranks of van life was a wild dream. I knew it would happen when it was meant to, and it did. In 2017, I self-converted my Ford Econoline 150 (E-150) and set off to fulfill my dream of living the van life. As someone who didn’t have previous woodworking experience and is constantly going on road trips, there are tons of van life lessons I learned that I feel obligated to pass down. My hopes are that these lessons can make your van life experience more enjoyable.
1. Your Van Is an Expression of Yourself
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with what type of build to do when you purchase your first van. I get it, there are a ton of videos, Instagram feeds, and photos pulling you in all sorts of directions. While it may be enticing to just copy what someone else has done, it doesn’t make the van life journey all that exciting. So, get creative, build what you want to build (not what you see online), and treat your empty van as a blank canvas to express yourself. Treating the van as an empty canvas for you to create whatever you want to create is going to make you fall more in love with your DIY campervan.
2. Life on the Road Can Get Messy
Plain and simple: Van life is not always pretty. Sure you get to visit some of the most amazing places in the country and see sights some people will never see with their naked eye, but it can get dirty and messy often. Depending on your campervan build, you may or may not have easy access to a running shower, meaning it might be hard to get your daily warm morning shower in after rolling out of bed. So, you can either get used to being a little less clean or you can fork up the extra cash and materials to build a shower system in your rig.
3. You Can’t Park & Sleep Anywhere You Want
The sense of adventure runs wild in the van life community. However, this doesn’t mean you’re able to park your campervan wherever you want after a long day and hit the hay. Unfortunately, there are some regulations you need to follow when it comes to sleeping legally out on the road. First, you can book a campsite at a state or national park, which usually runs anywhere between $25 and $45. Or, if you’re running on a budget and don’t mind sleeping off the grid, you can find nearby Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and legally sleep for free. To find BLM land, download the app iOverlander.
4. Always Carry a Camera
It’s not common for people to live in a van or travel in a campervan. If you’re one of the lucky few people that has the opportunity to jump into this lifestyle, please buy a camera or use your phone for photos. These moments may not feel special right now, but when you get home from a trip or you’re telling a story five years from now, you’re going to wish you had a visual to share along with that story. The photos I’ve taken along my van life adventures are some of my favorite pictures I have in my archives.
5. Don’t Try and Push Your Gas Tank to Empty
If you’re on a long road trip and running low on gas, fill up. Don’t be the person that runs their gas tank to empty. The last thing you want is to be on a long, deserted road in the middle of nowhere when your campervan comes to a slow halt because it ran out of gas. Yeah, sure, it might be expensive to fill up your tank, but it’s sure as hell better than sitting on the side of the road trying to wave someone down to help with a little gas. Just fill up.
6. Minimalism Is Your Best Friend
Are you someone with a ton of belongings? Well, I hate to break it to you, but van life doesn’t support having lots of things. Van life is a minimalist’s dream. If you plan on moving into your campervan, you’ll need to size down what you own significantly if you haven’t done so already. There’s not a lot of space in a campervan, so you’ll need to embrace minimalism and only bring along the belongings you can’t live without.
7. Don’t Rush Your Conversion
If you’ve just purchased your first van to convert, it’s likely you’re excited to get it finished and hit the road. But slow your roll. I get it, I’ve been there too. Once I purchased my van, I wanted to finish it as fast as possible; however, I encourage you to slow down and enjoy the process. There’s no going back once you’ve converted your van, so it’s crucial to take time with your conversion to build exactly what you’ve always dreamed of owning.
8. Be Careful With Your Flooring Choice
When you’re planning out your build, be careful when you choose the material for your floors. Most people choose to use laminate, but others, like me, choose to install the carpet. The right flooring for you likely depends on the weather you plan on traveling in. For example, if you live in a notoriously wet and rainy region, carpet is probably not the best way to go. But honestly, if I had to do it again, I’d probably choose laminate over carpet because it’s easier to clean.
9. Getting Stir Crazy? Go On a Road Trip
Alright, let’s be honest, when you convert a campervan, you give yourself the keys to exploring whenever you want. If you don’t live in your van full time and find yourself feeling stir crazy at home, plan a road trip. Hit the road, get out in nature, and experience the wonders your DIY campervan gives you access to.
Van life lessons are never-ending. While I’ve owned my DIY camper rig for more than three years, I’m learning new lessons every time I take my van out for a trip. However, these nine van life lessons are some of the most important ones you deserve to know. Whether you plan on living in your van full time or just using it for road trips, use my experiences to your advantage.