Modifying the van for living in.

What I’ve done to my van to make it livable is relatively simple. I have no running water, no “house battery” and nothing very complicated as far as furniture goes. My electricity is a $35 dollar adapter that converts the cigarette lighter into a regular plug. It won’t <i>run</i> my laptop, but it will recharge it over a couple hours. (Luckily one of my cigarette lighters will run even without the van being turned on so I can always have something recharging if I need to).

The van itself is smaller than what most van dwellers prefer. But I think that it’s therefore stealthier than most vans that people live in. Sometimes I would like some extra space, but for the most part I find it to be pretty cozy. And because I can keep most of my “stuff” at my parent’s house I’m able to visit them every couple months and rotate. The size of the van has done just fine for me.

So now on to the changes that I’ve made. Because this is technically my dad’s van, (we traded vehicles, and will eventually trade back), I haven’t done anything permanent. First, I started with taking out all the backseats. Unfortunately, I’m still stuck with a big block in the middle of the backseat, luckily this is at the perfect height to be a seat for the back.

The van emptied out

The white plastic is the outside part of a large drawer. This is where I keep most of my clothes. It actually does hold a lot, but I’d probably need something more if I didn’t keep extra stuff at my parent’s house. It’s just attached to the carpet below with screws and has those little wooden dowels at the front bottom to keep the drawer from flying open while I’m driving.

For the actual building of the bed, I’m going to direct you to the post I wrote at the time about it. It breaks down the process with pictures. I’ll just include here a picture of the final product (since taking this picture I’ve started sleeping with my head at the other end of the bed. I think not having my head next to the back window made a difference with the cold at night when I was in Idaho and Montana):

The bed all finished.

For some reason, I often have trouble convincing people that it’s comfortable. But that’s three inches of foam. Much better than many mattresses I’ve slept on. It’s a bit narrow, two feet, but I haven’t found that to be much of a problem.

In this picture the sleeping bag is actually zipped up like a sleeping bag, but unless it’s particularly cold I prefer to use it unzipped as a blanket. I have a second sleeping bag, (a mummy bag), in the storage space under the bed in the back for when it’s super cold. I can use that as a sleeping bag and then the blue one as a blanket on top of that. That mummy bag is kept along with biking stuff, (a tire pump, helmet, and bags for the bike), under the back of the bed, only reachable by opening up the back, something I don’t do very often, especially with the bike on the rack on the back.

Behind the clothing drawer is the perfect amount of empty space for a milk crate, so I keep one there that holds my camping gear, (which I rarely use), some of my recording equipment, (microphone stand, etc), and anything else I might want to get to without having to search around too much.

Most of the storage space is under the bed. Some accessible from the inside and some, (because of that large block in the way), only accessible from the door.

Under the bed are a couple drawers, some with food and some with other things I don’t need often like large shampoo, (I refill smaller containers that I keep in my gym bag), a paper bag full of books, (I’m only allowed one bag each trip since I know I won’t even read that many), supplies for tatting, (a form of making lace that I do).

2008 is being spent alternating between working in Los Angeles and traveling on the road. I switch every 6-10 weeks and when I do head back down to my parent’s in San Diego to empty out the van and repack with only the stuff I’ll want for the next couple months. I wrote a post about this a while back. It’s nice to go through everything this often and sort out what I really need/want with me. I find that every time I’m not only leaving stuff behind, but getting rid of stuff completely. Makes me feel like I’m getting a bit closer to zen.

I think the key to living in the back of the van comfortably is the curtain between the front and the back. I have a rod that runs the width and a piece of black fabric hung over it. Nothing very complicated, but it makes a world of difference. I used to keep a sunshade on the windshield, but this does a much better job of blocking out the light. If you stand in front of the van and look in you can’t see and thing. And more importantly, you can’t tell you can’t see the back. It just looks dark.

I’ve finally got a set of curtains for the back windows (though no pictures yet). The windows are strongly tinted, so it hasn’t been a big deal, but I do really like having curtains as well. Currently, I’m not really happy with how they’re working, but as soon as I get them up and running I’ll post pictures.

That’s basically the set up of the back of the van. On the floor of the passenger seat I have a cooler that plugs into the cigarette lighter. Doesn’ t keep anything super cold, (I only let it run while I’m driving because I’m worried about it draining the battery), but it gets the job done. I don’t bother taking it when I’m just up in LA working, but it’s nice to have while traveling.

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3 Responses to “Modifying the van for living in.”

[...] way to do this. I’ve outlined (with pictures!) the building process I went through in both my van and my car on my website. I spent $30 on a piece of plywood and $35 for a piece of three-inch foam [...]

Terrance Addison wrote a comment on April 12, 2012

Thats straight. thats very straight. I got some questions for you:
1: Is that a grand caravan?
2:can you like put certains that divides the front and rear seats like you see in one of those big rig trucks?
3: what size bed would be perfect for fitting in a minivan?

Jessica wrote a comment on April 18, 2012

Hi Terrance,

1) That was a Chrystler Pacifica, which is a crossover between a minivan and a SUV. It doesn’t have as much space as a Grand Caravan and has a couple different bumps along the floor which made it necessary to raise the bed.

2) Yup. And that’s exactly what I did, using a curtain rod.

3) You could probably get a twin sized mattress in a minivan if you were willing to use up that much space. I made my bed from scratch so I had something smaller.

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