The plan to live in a van sounds really interesting, adventurous and it sounds like a very good way of saving money. Well, it is true. However, it is not that simple as it sounds. If it was, then everyone would have gone for living in a van, instead of paying a bigger amount in house rent. But that does not mean that it is impossible. Sure, it is very possible if you are determined to do it, and can save you a good amount of money.
(*) What kind of vehicle should I get?
When planning to live in a van, this is a very crucial decision. Remember that this is a one-time investment. Getting a brand new vehicle might not be recommendable. If you can afford a new vehicle, making monthly payment, why not get a small room for rent. Getting an old vehicle, in good running condition will be a better choice since you will not be driving in much, but will have to move a bit around to stay away from trouble. However, do not try to compromise on size. Do not go for a car or a small van since you will have to spend a good amount of time for a long period in it. Go for an old, but big van. Try to choose a boxy shaped van like an early 1990 “Ford Econoline 150“. Though vans with aero-dynamic shape such as a 1998 Dodge Caravan may look stylish, it takes away space in the design. It will be perfect if you can get a boxy shaped van with such as an Econoline with high roof. Try your best to get a good looking van since you don’t want your vehicle to stand out in crowd drawing lots of attention.
(*) Am I a person who is comfortable living in a small space?
The overall length of a big cargo van such as a GMC, Savana Cargo, 2014, bumper to bumper, including the engine compartment (hood), driver seating section, etc., is about 18 foot long. So, if we take out the quite not usable area, and think about the living space, it is about 9 to 10 foot in length, and about 9 foot wide. Now this is not a small van like Chrysler Voyager, or a Dodge Caravan. So the space i smaller vans will be less. Now if we need to live in the van you will require few accessories and storage too that will take-up a bit more space.
(*) Should I get a cargo van, or a passenger van?
A cargo van is the one that comes by default with no passenger seats, and no rear windows. Though this model provides better space, getting proper ventilation at night can be an issue since it does not have rear windows to crack open. While sleeping at night it won’t be safe to open the windows completely, or leave the doors opened. Therefor you will need to crack open the windows leaving 2 inches of space for air to flow through. Getting the air flow from just two front windows might not be sufficient to keep the whole van ventilated. However, if you are getting a passenger van, you will have to remove the mid, and back seats to make space.
(*) How many people are going to stay in the van?
If you are planning to live alone in the van, then things can work out if carefully planned. But if you have a family, then you may want to lookout for an alternate solution. First of all, the mindset of other members may not be same as yours. The last thing you want to do is prepare a van to live, and let it go half way. It could be extremely challenging if you have children. They require space, and it will be bad making them live in a tiny space, which will not be their choice.
(*) What is the climate of the place where you are going to live?
If you are planning to live in a van in an area where the climate is pleasant or moderate, then you have a very big advantage. However your stay will be challenging if you plan to live in an area where the climate is very hot such as Texas, USA. It can become tougher if you are planning to lie in a van in a cold place. In these situations, if you are planning to keep the temperature inside the van moderate, it could become tough or expensive if you are planning to go for a solution based on electric power from a battery, or from the van’s engine.
If you are going to live in an area where there is lots of sunlight, going for a solution based on solar energy will be the best. Watch YouTube for ideas. You can place the solar panel close to the front windshield, and connect it to the fan. Do not go for tiny fans since it will be of no use. Portable rechargeable fans are available in the market. You can charge it from power, or If you have a good solar panel, you can use that too.
(*) Where do I park my van?
If you have a safe place where it is fine to park the van, and live in the van without any issues from the neighbors then you can go with a permanent spot to park your vehicle. However, if you do not find a good place to park and settle down, then you will require a slightly newer vehicle that runs well. Usually in cities it might be difficult to get a place to park your vehicle permanently. Parking for long in public parking lot, or remote corners may end up in security guards asking you to move. In this case you may want to talk to a house owner, or a business owner to see if they could allow you to park your vehicle at least at nights. Though you are not doing any illegal activities, neighbors and security guards might not want to invite any trouble. I have heard that WalMart allows people to camp overnight in their parking lots. You may want to check with them first before taking a chance. Moving around different places each night might be a good idea to avoid getting noticed.
(*) Maintain a clean and healthy environment
By living in a van does not mean you need to give-up on cleanliness. It is very necessary that you remain clean, and also make sure your new home is clean as well. Having a decent looking van will give a better impression to people who notices you, and will stop them from trying to chase a dirty neighbor. Moreover living in a clean place will help you to maintain your morale. Do not stuff your van with stuffs. Keep minimum things, and organize them well. Do not throw litter around the vehicle.
(*) Need a place to shower.
This is not going to be a challenge if you plan it well. One of the best options will be to join a small gym that has shower facility. You can do your work out, and use its facilities such as restrooms and shower. Places such as community or sports centers that have gyms and showers are a cheaper option than the big chains. I knew a man long time back who would clean our store’s restrooms daily, and in return the manager allowed him to have a quick shower, and a small breakfast. Similarly you can try to get a small job at some place that will allow you to have a shower. Other options are truck stops, RV parks, etc., that generally have access to showers at a low price.
(*) How do I cook my food?
It is not a wise idea to cook inside the van since there is no enough space. Your van may be already packed with cloths and other items, and might not have sufficient exhaust system. The chances of fire accidents are too high. The best will be to cook outside, might be in a park, or other designated area. Keeping a small stove used for camping might be a good idea to cook a small meal. Food such as peanut butter, canned tuna, crackers, etc. is great staples. Relying on fast food from restaurants can be expensive for many. Since there are no storage to keep food refrigerated, using dry cereal such as corn flakes, milk powder, instant noodles etc., is advisable.
(*) How do I plan the van’s interior?
Rule no one- remove all seats other than the front seats. It will be very difficult for you to live with all the seats. Remember one thing that the purpose of the van is not to drive around town with your friends, but to live in it.
The first thing you will want is a good night sleep. Getting a bed structure just enough for you to comfortably sleep is essential. Though you don’t want to get a small frame that cannot fit you, you don’t want a big one either that takes up the whole space in the van. Though you really do not need a bed frame, and can sleep on floor just using a mattress, having a frame providing a foot gap to store luggage underneath can be very useful to store items. In this way you will use the area not just to keep your bed, but to store stuff too.
To store your clean cloths, and other items, you can use rectangular plastic bins, stacked one over the other. There are few other storages too available if you can explore more. Since you will be moving the vehicle often ensure that the bins are securely fastened so that they won’t fall or move around. Keep dirty clothes in a separate bags so they don’t smell up your clean cloths.
Having a big strong cool-box will be handy to store water, food, and other eatables. Plus it can be used as a seat too.