How I Ended Up Building My Own Van

There are options when going tiny or mobile.

For me, I was less interested in living tiny, though having always lived in fairly large, expensive cities, my spaces were always pretty small. I never saw the point of paying for more space, even if I could, it still felt like a waste. I knew I didn’t want to be place-base. I‘ve always loved to travel, and being mobile helps to expand my client base. I didn’t want to build my own mobile home, but I also wasn’t finding any options that could function for full-time living and be manageable to drive. I knew I didn’t want to tow something- I didn’t own a car, hadn’t in a long time, and I didn’t want to invest in one that would have the capacity necessary to tow a mobile home. So I looked into hiring a shop to build a custom van, but in early 2018, I just wasn’t finding much. In the end, it just came down to building my own.

Thing is, the van ended up being a bit of a Frankenstein.

I looked for anyone who worked on RV’s, Vans, or boats trying to find expertise. Anything that required cutting through the van I wanted to be done professionally since I had neither the tools nor experience. Eventually, I found various shops to install the water, propane, solar, and heat, but it was an ordeal, because of which things were not installed in a good order or well tested, causing the entire first year in the van to be a continuous work in progress.

I was also shocked that in early 2018 scheduling was so difficult. I know in my own business that clients rely on me to make good estimates and stick to timelines. I’d never installed any of those components in a van before, so I was relying on the expertise of others to scope the work. Each shop took weeks longer than they estimated, which put me in a really tight spot. I’d built my own timelines off of their estimates, and while I’d included a buffer those quickly vanished.

It was an extremely difficult time as I was wrapping up a big client project, moving out of the apartment I’d rented while on that project (which was yet another reason the van was such a good idea! No more temporary dwelling situations and access to more cities) and it was still on me to plan and build out the rest of the van.

Locking up the last apartment. So glad to be done!

It was awful.

The van was held up in the shop while I needed it to move out, build up and move into.

Time just ran out.

In the end it was a mad dash to throw everything into storage because the apartment lease was up. Then the situation became more difficult because there was no place to work on the van and no place to live while doing it. All of my friends and family, even those with houses didn’t have the space to house us and the van while I finished it.

I’d looked into renting shop space and was open to getting a hotel or B&B for the duration, but I just wasn’t finding a good (or any) combo. The only thing I could think of was to ask my dad, who I knew was living in the middle of nowhere Nebraska at the time, on a work project. Knowing my dad though, I knew he’d still have a decent array of tools with him, and even though he was working full-time, that he’d help me out every night, and he did.

So then it was a mad dash from Oregon to Nebraska, where’d I’d have less than two weeks to finish the build before embarking on the three trips I’d had planned, even before the van was a plan.

It was only getting crazier.

When we finally arrived, my dad was away on his own pre-planned trip. I rushed to finish insulating and start framing before he returned. This was the middle of nowhere Nebraska though, and even though I tried to arrive with what I’d need (taking advantage of the no sales tax in Oregon), there were of course things I’d overlooked in my haste, but now the hardware store was an hour away, one way.

Needless to sayit was a rush job, but it was together enough, so we jumped back in and headed back to the west coast where the barely finished van was parked while we both went different directions for the next month, only to return to a van that was a still very much a project, but that we now had to live in full-time.

The interior was not the least of my worries though. Figuring out how to live full-time mobile was shaping up to be quite a challenge as well!

If you are thinking about going mobile and want to skip some trial and error, I can help.