What I’d Change If I Built Out a New Camper Van

Good times in Leavenworth! (Pic: Kristen @bearfoottheory)

It appears this van life trend is sticking around. We’re sucking up wifi bandwidth at your library and stealth camping in your neighborhood…watch out! At most trailheads these days, I count the number of vehicles that aren’t vans.

I’m certainly not innocent. In fact, since I think all humans (and some dogs) need a van, let’s talk about how to make them Super Awesome Sauce. I’ve talked about my initial build, but never said “this still works” or “I’d change this.”

While I currently don’t plan to buy a new van, reader feedback and many weeks of van travel this year prompted me to make a list of:

  • Things I still love about our van
  • Things I’d reconsider, modify or do differently if I endured…err, engaged in a new buildout project.

My aim is to help your quest to design the ultimate adventure mobile to retain the comforts of home while exploring places like this.

Sunrise on the Alvord Desert.

Sunrise on the Alvord Desert.

Why Should I Listen to You?

Hold on: why the heck does your opinion matter, Dakota? Do you even USE Snapchat? (Got me…)

Here’s all I’ve got: due to my writing about vans, I’m constantly awash in questions, comments, and thoughts about van life. Since 2013, my Adventure Mobile post has received hundreds of thousands of visitors and dozens of comments. (I’ve updated that article over 100 times with new info.)

I’m also lucky to have met many readers around the country during our travels. “Hey, I know your van…are you Dakota from Trapezing, Tripping, er Thrashing About?” (The name doesn’t matter, right? Next blog I’m using a word people know.) Trailheads, libraries, laundromats, grocery stores: Sprinter vans and their cool occupants are everywhere.

Desert Sprinter van views

Van lifers everywhere except this empty trailhead in Utah. There’s still solitude to be found!

Keep in mind that my goal for the van was a low-stress, relatively low-cost buildout that wouldn’t consume months of my life. I aimed for a practical, simple, cost-effective design doable with basic power tools and a bit of chutzpah (over-confidence). Five years into our relationship with the Sprinter, I still love the van travel experience.

First off, things I’d do again!

I’d Do This Again If I Built Out Another Van

Buy the 144” high-roof Sprinter: I’m sticking to my guns on this one. The longer vans I’ve seen often leave more (wasted) interior space and are tougher to maneuver on the bumpy fire roads that I frequent. Throw in easier driving around cities and I vote for going shorter if you’re a couple with the standard van life hobbies of ride, run, ski, climb. (Caveat: if you have kids or travel with gear – e.g. dirt bikes – that need a separate gear garage, then a longer van may make sense.)

Bike racks on sliders: No better way to maximize space for vans that are hauling bikes. It also makes managing other gear easier. I vote for 2-3 slide-out drawers/storage to handle the entire gear compartment!

Big side windows on both sides: we love having the light and visibility from the CR Lawrence windows. Extra bonus is that the crank-out small windows allow great airflow when the vent fan is turned on.

Lunch break with a view on the Oregon Coast.

Cabinet in sliding door space: I’ve heard the arguments here: space for yoga, you can sit on the stoop… Meh, sorry… The extra storage and counter space, plus the ability to have a sweet drop-down table for post-activity snacking with friends or easy food prep, beats the piss out of your downward dog pose. I vote for folding chairs and a mat outside the van for sitting and stretching. But that’s just me…

Large fridge: I’m sticking with a big, side-entry fridge (4.6 cubic feet). Having space for a ton of food is key for travel over a few days; for a weekender rig, maybe not so much.

Swivel seats: must-have for the passenger seat, but maybe not for driver. I traded my driver swivel to a friend for a bike rack, in fact, and haven’t missed it at all.

One swivel is fine! Mr. Money Mustache approves. (This shot’s for you, Jules.)

Alternator wired to charge house batteries while driving: a must-have! Solar often isn’t enough to keep things fully charged, and just an hour of driving will top off most battery systems.

Update April 2021: things work slightly differently now, so check out my post on upgrading to Ohmmu lithium iron phosphate batteries and a Renogy DC-DC charger.

Diesel heater: unless you only travel in the summer at low elevation, this is a key component of any van build. I still stick by what I said in my install post: “With 20/20 hindsight and many sub-freezing nights logged, it is officially one of our favorite things in the van.” Given feedback from others, it seems worth it to get the high-altitude kit, though our heater has worked fine.

Door-stop for sliding door: years into having this on our van, we still love it! My brother-in-law Jesse continues to manufacture and ship these and has a ton of satisfied customers.

Drop-down side table: as I said in my favorite upgrades post, this is so handy for cooking or food prep, putting out snacks post-ride for friends, and general staging area for all activities.

Breakfast a la side table!

Solar: not mandatory if your batteries charge while driving, but still handy. Given how cheap they are now, putting solar panels on a van is practically a no-brainer these days!

WeBoost wifi extender: if you work while you travel, this handy device is destined to be your best buddy. It’s not a magic device that turns No Service into LTE bars, but often allows me to stay parked way out in nature and still get enough of a signal to check email without driving somewhere. We have the WeBoost Drive 4G-X, which ain’t cheap, but it’s worth it for us!

Propane hot water shower: I wish I’d done this earlier! For $100 and two hours of plumbing, a hot water shower off the back of the van is an easy upgrade totally worth doing. I bought an Eccotemp L5 heater as an open-box deal, but they’re on Amazon also if none are available.

Propane shower camper van

Hot water rinse after a long, awesome ride in Oakridge (full ATCA, no shuttle!).

Things I’d Do Differently

There’s all the stuff I’d keep. What would I change? With the benefit of many months traveling in the van, both for short and long trips, I’d make these modifications:

No rear windows: The way our design evolved, only the top section of our rear windows are usable. (Most designs with bikes or outdoor gear under the bed will end up like this.) If I did it again, I’d skip the rear windows and install a small port window above the bed.

More power: related to the next item, instead of ~200 amp-hours of battery power, I’d double it to 400 amp-hours via lithium-ion batteries. Update April 2021: 300 Ah is plenty of power given lithium’s ability to drain to 10%. Full upgrade post here. This provides a week of power with zero driving or solar, which is when a) I’ve eaten all the food and we need to restock or b) it’s time for new horizons (because we’re moving on, not due to police suggestion).

No shore (plug-in) power: In four years of ownership, we’ve only used the shore power a handful of times. I wouldn’t bother next time. With 400 amp-hours of power, you definitely won’t need it unless you’re planning to pay for electrical hookups and run A/C in a KOA campground…which is antithetical to van life, so you may need to just buy an RV or risk community shunning!

Campground Hell's Canyon.

No shore power in the free waterfront campgrounds in Hell’s Canyon. Rock climbing just steps away in those hills!

Easily washable floor: Due to time constraints before our trip, we kept the stock floor that came with our van. It’s served us well. Still, I wish we’d had the time to put in a swath of colorful Marmoleum to create a durable, fun, more easily washable floor.

Less sound deadening: The stock Sprinters, ProMasters and Transits suffer from vibration and sound transfer. Bare metal walls create an echo chamber worse than my nephew destroying his drum kit. (Ok, maybe that isn’t possible.)

I’m glad I used sound-absorbent material below the floor to limit road noise. I’m less sure about the vibration damping for the walls and ceiling – after insulation and interior paneling, half as much is probably fine. Thanks to the heavy damping in our sliding door, it is a shoulder-breaker on slight uphills. If I did it again, I’d put pieces of vibration damping in there, but not coat the entire door.

Going wayyy back on Route 66.

Modular storage tray: We don’t always carry four bikes, which means one tray isn’t used or is under-used, especially for shorter trips of 1-4 weeks. I’m planning to make a modular/removable rack for carrying climbing gear, skis, paddles, or whaaatever.

Design for fitting skis: We weren’t skiers in 2013, so the separation wall between the storage and the living area doesn’t allow for long skis. Some simple mods to cabinets would allow this.

Wire/plumb initially: Not knowing exactly how we’d use our van, we didn’t plumb or wire before most of the interior was installed. I put in overhead lights halfway down the CA coast, and sink plumbing didn’t happen until 2.5 years of traveling in our van. (Chelsea is tough!)

If you have the time and confidence in how you’ll use your van, map out as much of this stuff as possible. Given the in-depth resources, floor plans, and designs now kicking around the ‘nets, this is way easier now.

Sprinter van Mojave Desert

Good to have extra water when you’re in the Mojave!

Backup camera: I can parallel park the van like a boss. However, the visibility is limited and stress levels are lower in crowded parking lots or kids playgrounds if you’ve got a backup camera. I’ve only bumped a stealth motorcycle behind us once (it didn’t tip over). Update fall 2019: I bought a cheap license plate surround backup camera and it’s been great!

Insulated blackout curtain: New desire: an insulated curtain that snaps up to seal off the cab from the main living compartment for insulation and easy light blocking. It’s also a good way to look innocent while stealth camping, if we ever did that…

Skip the awning: This one came as a surprise. I pictured sunny afternoons lounging under an awning, fizzy water from the Sodastream in one hand and a book in the other. It rarely worked out that way. Usually, there was a tree for shade, or gusting wind turned the awning into a large kite, or we weren’t in one place long enough to set it up. Plus it’s worse for gas mileage. Geez, I might go put it on Craigslist now!

No awning needed during a lunch break in Washington Pass.

Maybe I’d Add These

Here are a few items I’d consider if I was feeling flush with skrilla and planned on living in a van long term:

Flares: One downside to the Sprinter vs. other vans (ProMasters, Transits) is that they taper toward the roof. This results in a width that isn’t sufficient to sleep crosswise. Flares, while still expensive ($2k/each installed), free up space in the van and (maybe) are worth it.

Buy a 4×4: everyone wants a 4×4 these days. While I think this is at least 30-80% because they look bold and badass, there is certainly utility in owning a 4×4 if you spend a lot of time skiing. However, I know tons of folks that ski all over in 2WD rigs with no issues. All in all, I think vans are not meant for rallying and that 4x4s just get you stuck further out.

The rough roads on the way to the start of the Oregon Timber Trail were no problemo in my 2WD mobster van!

Cabinet over our sink: We have tons of storage space in the cabin, but an overhead cabinet would spread things out. The con is that it feels tighter/borderline claustrophobic and Chelsea is a big thumbs down on upper cabinets. Van lifers often comment how open our van feels. Trade-offs! For the shorter trips we’re doing now, upper cabinets don’t feel necessary. For four-season, full-time travel, probably worth it.

Hydronic hot water: I’d give this some serious consideration next time around. From what I’ve heard, the aftermarket hydronic systems are excellent. Still, it’s an expensive, fairly complicated system, and our hot water boiler and propane on-demand shower work great. Maybe someday…

Diesel or induction cooktop: The magic of flipping on a burner without having to setup the stove is not overrated. (Weird, it’s like amenities from home are nice to have in a van!) However, it’s great to have the flexibility to cook inside, on the slider door dropdown table, or on a picnic table.

What it’s all about! (Well, other than the outdoor adventures, exploring awesome places, meeting new people…)

No Matter What You Do, Vans Are Awesome

All that said, if there’s anything I’ve learned in five years involved in the world of van life, it’s this: a basic setup is all you need. Put a bed (or sleeping pad!, plastic lantern, cooler and outdoor gear in ANY vehicle and you’re equipped to experience all the stuff folks in $100k van builds do.

Case in point: Today an employee at a local bike shop told me she spent $72 on zipties and crates for her van build. Then she went dreamy-eyed and talked about a recent, amazing five-month trip. This past weekend at a van meetup, a dude named Andrew showed me his basic setup that allows him to roam the United States working as an artist.

Don’t feel like an expensive build is the only way to go; there are many ways to explore the world. Power in simplicity!

All you van owners out there – what would you add to this list? Every van and its use are different, so it’s always fun to hear what folks think. Drop a line in the comments!

Van life meetup last week in Bend with a big crew. Always fun hanging with blog readers!

Any old vehicle works as an adventure rig… Suspension is a bit rough on this beast, but it gets the job done.

27 replies
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      You just gotta get out west and flex those toughness muscles! (Sitting in NJ traffic and surviving on smog-laced air doesn’t count.) Outdoor showers will be second nature.

      Glad you appreciated the MMM shot. It was hard to find a pic of him in a van that looked just like ours and Photoshop me in, but I think it worked out!

  1. Nick Kirk
    Nick Kirk says:

    This post was a huge breath of fresh air! I spent the past 6 months building out my diesel promaster (short version) and your post confirmed my thinking (what felt like overthinking) and approach. I’ll tell you all about it when our paths cross out there in the nature.

    Thanks for all the inspiration! Keep on keepin on


    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Glad to hear it! SO easy to overthink the design and get uber-complicated. Many of the trick designs I’ve seen, with stuff like fancy ovens or so on, end up not even using those features. Keep it simple and get out there and have fun! See you at a trailhead sometime or maybe for a ride in Bend. Cheers, Nick!

  2. sarah heckles
    sarah heckles says:

    Thanks for sharing all this well organized info! Love this post and have it bookmarked for when we become proud van parents. For the time being we rent ’em which is a nice way to kick some tires until we’re back in the states.

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Renting is the way to go! Gives you a sense of what you use/don’t use and like/dislike in various configurations. Amazing how such a small space can create so many nuances.

  3. Jim
    Jim says:

    Great write up. After 7 months on the road i agree with 99% of your thoughts.Really would love to add a cell booster after long periods of limited cell service in remote areas but am hesitant to comit to another hole in the roof without checking it out. If I am hearing you correctly you’ve been simple running the antenna through a window to the roof?

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Howdy Jim! Sounds like you’re on a fun adventure. I scoped out your shots on FB – you do great work!

      RE: the booster, gotta have it. I just run the antenna wire out the slider door, threading it under the trim seal. Others have done the same and it works great! No drilling, easy to pull down or move, and you won’t even notice the wire. Hope that helps!

  4. Craig
    Craig says:

    Really appreciate the effort in contributing your experience and updates on the build. Yours was one of the first Sprinters I read about and learned from since you are aligned with taking nice bikes along for the adventure. Thanks for your thoughts. Now if they would just take my order for a 2019!

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Gotta have the bikes, and not junkers on a bike rack either! Glad my build/story helped out. Crazy how hard it is to get a new van delivered these days eh? Good luck with the order and the build.

  5. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    Hi Dakota,

    Very timely, as we’re in process modifying our cabinetry and raising our bed height to accommodate newer and longer mountain bikes. Looking over your list…

    High-roof, YES. I love being able to stand up inside. Short wheelbase, Yes. Maneuverability trumps the extra inside space.

    Slide-out bike racks. These are great for bike transport, and for trips not requiring 4 bikes we use ours to transport other stuff. Like backpacking kit or a suite of power tools for home projects at our daughter’s house. Besides, your build with the trays was what convinced my wife we should build a campervan, so I can never remove them from our rig.

    We did a CR Lawrence window in our sliding door, but have tall cabinetry on the other side and so made do with 2 smaller windows back by the sleeping platform. We do love the CR Lawrence window though..

    Large frig, Yes. Swivel seats, yes. We didn’t do the driver’s seat because it’s kind of behind the cabinets. I wish we’d found a used original Sprinter swivel seat; the added 2″ of the aftermarket swivel base is hard on my wife’s short legs.

    We liked your cabinet layout, and put our kitchen in the door space. We like it. Given the storage requirements I don’t think we could do it any other way. Our counter has a sink, 8 gallon water reservoir, and a foot pump. And a Wallas diesel-fueled stove/heater. We’ve found that we run the Wallas as a heater, and like it for that, but we seldom cook on it. In practice, we’d rather avoid cooking inside, and the Wallas isn’t that great for cooking. It takes minutes to warm up, the heat isn’t especially controllable, and then it takes minutes to cool down again. We cook outside on the propane 2-burner, or use our slow-cooker to make one-pot meals inside. In a pinch I think I’d rather cook using my backpacking one-burner instead of the Wallas. It’s an amazing piece of kit, but we’re thinking we’ll rip ours and build in an Espar heater instead.

    Alternator charging, very helpful for early or late season, when sun angles can be challenging for solar. The door stop, brilliant. Diesel-fueled heating makes November in northern New Mexico bearable.

    Solar, YES. Why would you not do this? Weboost, yes sort of. Our experience with the same model as you have, mixed. I think I would rather have a wi-fi signal booster. Still, once or twice the Weboost has given us workable signal where otherwise nothing was happening..

    More power. We set up with 3 105 Ahr batteries, so we’re between where you are now and where you’re headed. Not convinced Li ion batteries are worth it for a camper, but using these would definitely save weight over traditional batteries.

    We’ve found some nice non-KOA campgrounds that have electric hookups. And our several weeks visit with our daughter’s family in south Texas pretty much requires air conditioning, even in April. So yes, shore power.

    Flooring. We added a rubbery floor stuff over the stock Sprinter floor. Definitely easier to clean up.

    Wiring, plumbing. With your rig as the example, we did extensive planning on what we wanted the rig to look like. Then, at my wife’s insistence, we mocked up the interior using cardboard from refrigerator boxes (thanks Lowes in Wauwatosa Wisconsin!), and made a few mods based on that. The build included all wiring for lights, charging, outlets, etc. We have limited plumbing, but pretty much knew how that would go. So far we’ve had few things we wished we’d done differently. So I’d agree that to the extent you can, it’s helpful and desirable to design in wiring and plumbing.

    The insulated blackout curtain sounds like a great idea. As we’ve done more camping in colder weather, isolating the cockpit from the living area is more desirable. Down side: you WILL find your windshield frost-covered in the morning. Living warmer trumps that.

    Backup camera. Our Sprinter came with a factory backup cam. When it got broken (long story) I found I missed it a lot. We had to install a wireless camera system.

    Awning. We’ve never had one, but have toted a couple different sun shelters on our trips. I think we’re kind of in the same place as you guys. Seems like a good idea, but in practice the shelters are a pain to deploy and take down, and we use them less than expected.

    Skis. It’s helpful to design for all loads you think you might want to carry. Like you, we wanted bikes and things in bins – backpacking or climbing gear. Other loads, like snowshoes and a pulk for winter camping, or our new longer mountain bikes, required a cabinetry mod. Would have been good if we’d thought about those possibilities in building the original cabinets.

    FWD. For winter roads it’s tempting. Otherwise I’m with you: having FWD will just get you in trouble further out in the backcountry. I know Mercedes make a big deal about the overloading capabilities of the FWD Sprinter, but I don’t know that my camper build is overland-capable. I’d rather leave those roads to my mountain bike.

    Now for the $100,000 question: would you consider doing a different van instead of a Sprinter? I like our Sprinter, and so far it’s treated us well. However, it’s expensive to maintain and repair. Worse, not many places work on them, and I’ve had friends who had to resort to expensive tows to get their ailing Sprinters to a shop that could work on them. One of those people sold his Sprinter and did a new build on a Ford Transit because, he said, he could get it repaired at any Ford dealership. I suspect that’s not quite true, but I also think the network of repair facilities is probably denser for the Transit than for a Sprinter. I’ve seen 3 different Transit-based campers, and they look good. I personally would miss diesel, but otherwise the case for a Transit instead of a Sprinter is reasonably good. What say you?

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Great feedback, Dennis! RE: the $100k question, I’d absolutely consider another van. The Sprinter was the only high-roof van in the game when we bought ours and so that’s what we chose. The Transit and ProMasters seem to be doing well so far for people and the decreased maintenance is absolutely a positive. If I make the move to a new van, those two will be in the running for sure!

      • japhymd
        japhymd says:

        Dakota – We are new to Bend and enjoying all that the outdoors offer. Quick question regarding service – where do you recommend in Central Oregon? Our local Mercedes dealer? Or do you head up to Eugene?

        Thanks! And hope to see you on the slopes or trails soon.

  6. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    A couple more thoughts on your list.

    The interior sound issue. Our Sprinter is surprisingly loud inside. We have sound deadening around the rear wheels wells, 2″ of blown foam as insulation, 1/2″ rigid foam insulation on the floor, and there’s still noise! Not sure what else to do about it. I will say that the foam has reduced the noise. Our test drives of stock Sprinter work vehicles were significantly louder.

    Awning. We balked at the price for the cool Fiamma awnings, and instead purchased a stand-alone sunshade/shelter. Our experience with this has been mixed. Useful at times, like a rainy (?!) 3 day stretch in Moab, but enough of a pain to set up that we often don’t use it. I think the shelter is more stable in wind than the awnings, but it requires more pegging and guy lines – and the risk of the beast turning into a huge kite is always there. And it takes up valuable storage in the “garage”. What I WOULD like is an easily-deployable “tunnel” out of the slider door to keep off the rain and wind (and snow last trip) when the weather is kind of ugly out. This would protect the door, serve as a place to hang up wet shell gear and other clothes,

    Cabinetry. Our build feels darker than photos of yours, and it’s mostly because of the large bank of floor-to-ceiling cabinets we built behind the driver’s seat. Chelsea would not like our space – not nearly light enough – but we couldn’t see a way to store all the stuff we wanted to take without having the cabinets. This circles back to your point about preplanning. We would have benefited from a van meet up before we started our build. As it was, we rented a Sprinter camper for a week, which hooked us on camper vans but was mostly an example of how we WOULDN’T build our own rig, and we pored over various blogs of people who’d done it. Our cardboard mockup helped us formalize our design ideas, but I think seeing other builds might have given us more ideas how to do things.

    • Rob A.
      Rob A. says:

      Dennis – have you soundproofed the front doors and step wells? I haven’t either but have read they’re a major source for travel noise. I’m surprised at your and Dakota’s thoughts on awnings. I just bought (but have not yet installed) a Fiamma F65S. I helped a friend install his a while ago. It takes him all of 30 seconds to deploy and seems like a must for the open west and SW desert where shade is a tight commodity. I am sun-phobic and want to be able to hide when parked. I should mention that I have a black van that is an oven – great in winter but requires special consideration in hot/sunny locations.

      Thoughts on the bike sliders: it seems like you don’t need them at all for bikes; roll the rear wheel in and attach the fork mount (I have L-track across the rear of the garage). I can see that they would be very useful for bins and other storage but they just seem like a gimmick for bikes. Am I wrong on this? My mind is made up so your answer may not matter. 🙂

      Dakota, your site has been a tremendous resource so thank you for all your documentation. On most issues I am in full agreement with you.

      • Dennis
        Dennis says:

        Hey Rob! We did not soundproof the front doors or the step well, so both of those could be contributing to the loudness. I want to replace the stock door speakers, so that might be a time to look at soundproofing the doors.

        Friends have a Fiamma awning on their somewhat larger motor home. It is pretty quick to deploy, and it does conveniently protect the entry from sun and rain. However, on a couple trips with them we’ve had to quickly take down the awning because of gusty winds. We have a detached sun shelter that we sometimes use on summer trips. Most of our recent trips have been spring or autumn, where the desire for shade is less.

        As for the sliders, yes you can roll a bike in on its rear wheel, clamp the fork, and be pretty secure. That’s how we did our first trip. However, the tray and sliders make the loading and unloading of bikes so much easier, enough that I’m really glad we did them. And you’re right: the slide-out trays are great for getting to bins of gear stored inside.

  7. John B.
    John B. says:

    Aw, man! You are such a distraction!
    Great read, my friend! We’ve got a few things to iron out before we give a van some serious thought, but this certainly gets the wheels spinning.
    I talked to an acquaintance about his van build out and one thing he stated is that he used a lot of heavy wood and would consider using more lightweight material, like aluminum, if he does it again. What are your thoughts on this?

    Cheers, buddy!

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Happy to distract! My perspective on wood vs. aluminum (8020 or whatever) is that wood is SO easy and approachable to work with. No learning curve, just start cutting. For people with the tools, tons of free time (that they want to spend building a van), sweet garage and skills, 8020 is a great option.

      I can’t speak to the incremental improvements in handling or mileage with metal vs. wood, but my GUESS is that it’s not a big difference given the gross weight of the van, occupants, gear, food, water, dogs, anchors, anvils and other heavy, must-have stuff for van life!

      • John B.
        John B. says:

        Oh, sir! You just had to poke me by including “…dogs…” in that list 😉

        Sounds reasonable. And I bet a build can be accomplished with less material than 20 sheets of 3/4″ plywood!

    • Dennis
      Dennis says:

      We built our cabinetry from 3/4″ and 1/2″ birch plywood, and sheathed the interior with luan plywood. Partly for easy of build (my wife is good building wood stuff, but neither of us knew aluminum), partly to give the rig a “boat” feel, which appealed to my wife because of a family history in sailboats. We certainly could have saved weight by using lighter interior covering or by framing cabinets with metal. However, our total ready-to-drive weight is less that 7500 lb, so I don’t think the choice of interior made that much difference. I do like the look of wood.

  8. melissa
    melissa says:

    due to covid we just shut down our beautiful 2000 ft. salon and just bought a 2019 sprinter 170 extended and are just about to start our new buildout to go “on location” with our business. we are also trying to design in so that we can use it as a family ( husband, myself and our basset hound and coonhound ). very excited to get our there and travel and explore. it’s been a challenge in keeping both uses in mind when coming up with the functionality and comfort of the van and i almost just want to live in it now instead! hahaha! maybe someday soon but for now i would like to thank you for this input as it’s super valuable for people like us who are BRAND new to the van world. Any advice on what order to start the build in? so confusing! electric first? ceiling then floors? water pumps and tanks? my head is spinning!

    thank you again!
    melissa 🙂
    palm springs, cali.

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Hey Melissa! Welcome to van life, though I’m sorry to hear it happened because you had to shut down your business. Damn you, covid…

      My primary recommendation is to look at building with modularity in mind, aka design the van with systems that can be easily added and removed (cabinets, hot water showers, lights, beds, bike trays, etc).

      Secondly, the simpler you can go, the better. Cheaper, less to break… People buy RVs for 100% at-home comfort, but they are expensive and it’s easy to break stuff. Do you actually need an inverter to run AC power, or can you use 12V power for everything? USB powers the world, after all, and laptops can run off 12V power. For water, do you need hot water, or is cold ok? If you need hot water, can it be on-demand with a portable shower like the Eccotemp L5 propane shower (that’s what I use) and not piped into a sink?

      When it comes down to it, van builds aren’t that complicated and the various systems come together quickly. Put in wire, then insulation, maybe a heater, then the paneling and lights, then a bed and cabinets and water…done! Presto.

      Check out Faroutride.com. I think they’ve built the best compendium of how-to van stuff on the internets.

      Hope that helps. Good luck!

  9. melissa
    melissa says:

    wow! i just realized i never replied to this! Thank you so much Dakota. We are still working on the build out and I appreciate any information we can get. My apologies for the delay and I hope you are enjoying the end of your summer !

    melissa 🙂

  10. Emily
    Emily says:

    You are one of the few that pop up in a google search relating to a sodastream in a van – do you actually carry one? If so, any special things you consider for storage (i.e. temperature). I have not seen many do this but certainly a comfort of home that we would love to carry into our van!

    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Ha, yep, we do! If you’ve got the space, why not? Maybe not on quick overnights – just one more thing to load – but otherwise, you bet. All I do is keep the unfizzed water in the fridge so it’s cold beforehand, but otherwise, I treat it just like I do at home. Nothing like fizzy water with lime after a bike ride while my friends are drinking tepid, boring water! It’s the small things 🙂

      • Maud
        Maud says:

        We searched the exact same thing as Emily, thanks for the reply! Living in the van for a year now and really missing our soda water 🙂 Did you fix the machine for driving or do you store it in a cupboard?


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