Greetings! I am eager to get started

Hi Everyone!

I am a total newbie, but I am super eager to make the lifestyle change to living in a van! I am still in the very early planning stages and I still have not purchased a vehicle yet, but I was wondering if any of you had suggestions regarding how I could go from 0 to living in a van in the fastest way possible (other than just straight up buying a converted van). I don’t own a lot of stuff, and I figured that I would build out something that was just livable enough and then improve it a lot over time. Currently I don’t live anywhere permanently (by choice). I am living the nomadic life and staying at air bnbs or with friends/family while I travel around the country. This has been going on for the past couple of years and I thought that I would eventually settle down in one place, but it seems I still have at least a few years of wanderlust left in me.

I have been trying to come up with a plan for the past month or so, and I have no idea at what point it is actually responsible to buy something. I have watched a bunch of videos and practiced sketching up a few builds that I would be happy with. I know that I am comfortable with the amount of space that a cargo van would provide. But I am not sure at what point I would have planned enough. How much do you actually have figured out before I should get started? My instincts tell me to jump the gun a little and buy a cargo van with a higher roof or something like that vaguely follow the plan I have so far so that I don’t get caught up in analysis paralysis… but maybe I am just being impatient (I know that a month isn’t a long amount of planning). I am a little bit in a rush to start doing this because I think that I will likely have other projects that will also take up my time later in the spring/summer. I also want something that is a little more sustainable compared to just paying for an air bnb as frequently as I do.

Here is some more info about my situation →

Things have going for me:

  • I am currently employed full-time as a software engineer and I can work remotely. so I have a steady income stream
  • I also have some cash saved up, so I won’t necessarily run into major money constraints any time soon
  • Pretty young still (mid twenties) and eager to learn how to do the plumbing and electric wiring for my new home, so there is a lot of room to make mistakes and learn from them
  • I feel like I am a quick study, so I don’t find these things too intimidating
  • I have two engineering degrees, so I have some minor experience in electrical work and working with plumbing.

Potential roadblocks:

  • I don’t currently live anywhere, so it might be hard to find a place to build and park the van
  • I will be working fulltime while performing the conversion
  • I am still testing the waters with this lifestyle, so I might not be overly eager to overinvest in more expensive solutions until I am thoroughly convinced this lifestyle is for me.

I think the minimum viable product for me would be something that would allow me to not have to pay for air bnbs anymore. So a place where I can sleep and work. It doesn’t have to be comfortable straight away. Just one day, eventually.

Thanks in advance for your responses!

Hi Unchivalrous,
I’m new here too and new to the van world. I bought a van just 1 month ago a 2015 Ford Transit with 16,000 miles for about $25k at a Ford dealer it had been traded in by a local restaurant joint that used it as a cargo van to transport food. So the interior is basic nothing done to it. I started the DIY process just 2 weeks ago, I bought the insulation and wood trims for the structure and just recently installed it, I’ll be moving on to building the walls this weekend. I got a cardboard box to do the rough sketch of the walls to know how to cut it out for when I get the plywood

My story is a bit different. I just turned 32, I sold my house just 4 months ago and wanted to move to Florida (still do) my house was in Massachusetts and after selling it I moved into my boyfriends apartment in New Hampshire, I’m here now.
But previously to having a house of my own I always moved around within the state and can say that without ever having a childhood home as a lot of other people, moving around has always been my norm. After selling my house I realized that I craved the excitement of travel, so much that I could not do anything else but dream of traveling and live vicariously through YouTube videos of ppl doing just what I wanted to do.

1 Like

When I want something so much I can’t concentrate on anything else but that which I want. My boyfriend suggested I buy a van to travel I started watching van conversions videos and 3 weeks into my streaming I began contacting dealerships to buy a Van, then test driving a bunch of Vans until I found this Ford transit that felt right and I just went ahead and bought it.
I know planning is wise but you know that saying “life passes us by as we make grand plans for it” — I know that my best decisions in life have been when I make impulsive but yet methodical decisions.
It’s a Van that can provide you with so much more access to travel then what you have now. I say buy it and plan as you go, if you don’t have a permanent home you are in an even better position to start working on your van now. I’ve been working on it outside the driveway of the apartment and at a parking lot of the dog park that I take my dog too. Even at a parking garage outside the mall. You can do it as you go, you can even sleep in it while you work on it.
If you decide the van life is not for you, then you can always sell it. But you don’t know until you try, and I say it’s probably a lot more economical then renting Airbnb’s…

Hi krtrpo! That is some really useful perspective. Thanks for telling me about your experiences. And I think you make a lot of good points… worst case scenario I can always sell it or pivot its purpose to something I would only use for road trips or soemthing. I do think that I got to this point in my life listening to my gut, so maybe this will also be one of those things. I’d love to hear more about your experiences while building your conversion, so good luck to you as well!

Greetings & Welcome @Unchivalrous!

I’m kind of in the opposite camp, I think the best first step into becoming a nomad is with a cheap older RV. Many RV’s, while older & cheap, are still in excellent condition and with low miles because they only got used a few weekends a year. You can find them cheaper than an empty cargo van, and they’re move in ready.

I’m sorry, but DIY for newbies is just plain stupid. The promoters want you to spend big bucks, when you don’t even have the experience to know what you really want or need. I’ve had many different types of vehicles, and have built or helped build many as well.

An RV is a great first step, to get you started, and there is a definite trend of people going from vans back into RV’s. DIY is just a poor choice for many, cargo vans really suck, and all vans are smaller than what many people will truly be comfortable in.

The time to experiment with a DIY conversion is only after you have lots of experience, and know exactly what you want and need. Look how many people are on their 2nd, 3rd, 4th or more build, that’s because they didn’t know what they wanted or needed to begin with, and it has cost them big time.

Get an old RV and use it as it was intended. Don’t remodel it, don’t add solar, don’t paint the interior, keep it original, and use it as it was intended. Save all those ideas for a later DIY project. I will say that floor plans mean everything. There’s lots of floor plans available, so pick one you’ll be comfortable with. Some of them are terribly claustrophobic to me, while others are open, bright, & cheery. Windows make a world of difference for how livable a place is.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller

Thanks for the wisdom @Van_Dweller !

I think that is also some really interesting perspective. I did a quick search online and there does seem to be some cheaper RVs for sake. Do you have any other advice related to buying an RV? Like maybe which models would be better than others. I think most RV’s are kind of large and I like the maneuverability of vans in comparison. You do make an interesting counterargument, so I will definitely keep it in mind.


For me, a smaller Class C doesn’t drive any harder than a normal van. They aren’t much longer, just wider, and that extra width can really make a world of difference in living space.

I just look for ones that are mechanically good, and structurally sound. Leaks don’t bother me too much as long as the visible damage inside is minimal, and the outside is easily fixable. Moldy smells don’t bother me at all, and that’s probably why they’re cheap. An ozone generator overnight will kill any mold, even in the walls, and either kill or drive out any insects or rodents. You can also get mold bombs/foggers at many big box stores.

Most of the RV’s have leaked at some point in time, if the damage isn’t damp/wet, there is a good chance that the leak was an old one. I still check the roofs, corners, & seams, for any obvious spots that need extra attention before doing a quick & dirty roof reseal. This should be done every year or two to prevent future leaks anyway. Short of obvious major damage, leaks are usually pretty easy to fix.

I don’t have any particular favorite brands, just favorite layouts. I like the more open floor plans, and want a bed that is always a bed, and comfortable places to sit while eating, working, or lounging. Typically any of the appliances, plumbing, etc. can be repaired fairly easily, and done over time if needed.

In the frozen North, it’s just like a solid walled tent. The plumbing is drained & inoperable to prevent freezing, the propane might not work etc. So we use an ice chest, a camp stove, a portable heater, jugs of water stored inside, and a portable toilet. Far less inconvenience than trying to keep every thing factory working below freezing.

It sounds much harder than it actually is, and many nomads chase good weather. I just have backup plans for nearly everything. If something essential breaks, I have a spare. Maybe not as good or convenient as the original, but will get me by. This gives me confidence & peace of mind. I like to be prepared.

Since the Class C’s are built on a van chassis, the running gear is nearly the same as a normal van, so most any mechanic can repair them. Maybe a bigger radiator, transmission cooler, or oil cooler, but nothing too unusual for a regular mechanic, or even doing the repairs yourself.

Hope this helps.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller

@Van_Dweller. Thanks for the further advice. I did see that a lot of class C rv’s will fit into standard 20ft parking spots. I will probably try to test drive some and see how that feels. I guess at the end of the day I will probably end up trusting my gut haha.

@Van_Dweller what about parking? I would like to spend a substantial amount of time in various cities, and I am wondering to what extent you are hindered when you use an RV vs a van. I know that a lot of rvs might fit into a parking spot, but it seems like it could be a nightmare to find parking while exploring cities. Do you have any interesting tips for for someone who wanted to spend maybe a month at a time inside of a relatively populated area? For example, do you just park and then not move the rv as much as possible? or do you just get really good at driving the vehicle to the various local attractions? I am wondering how nightmarish the logistics of it all can get.



As mostly a city dweller myself, I can appreciate your concerns…

Most cities have a 72 hour rule for vehicles parked on the street. So you need to drive somewhere, at least once every 3 days. I usually return to the same, or nearly the same spot. For the last few years, Ive been staying in the same place for ~6 months at a time. I like to get to know my neighbors, and be a good neighbor. This has worked really well for me. I’ll usually park in front of a vacant lot or vacant house.

In unknown areas, depending on the city and their rules, sometimes I’ll park on the street at a city park, or on the street by a church, or large apartment complex. Somewhere where people are used to seeing people coming & going regularly, so they no longer pay much attention.

Sometimes, I’ll just take my rig whenever I want to go somewhere, other times I’ve had a bike or scooter, and if the weather was nice, I might take that or even walk. Just whatever is handiest at the moment. If I get bored, or just want a little different scenery for the day, I might drive to a park, waterfront, or somewhere else of interest. Sometimes I’ll go for a ride in the countryside, just because I can. :wink:

I do put in extra effort to make sure that I’m not blocking the view of people coming from side streets, or backing out of their driveways. I try to minimize anything somebody might have a legitimate complaint about. Being a good & thoughtful neighbor can go a long ways in being accepted.

If I find myself in a predicament where street parking isn’t allowed, I’ve had great luck getting written permission to stay in church parking lots. Anywhere semi’s park is usually good too.

On most old highways that go through towns, there are small, old motels that are privately owned, and still in operation, that offer cheap rooms & off street parking. Most charge $50-$75 a night, but a little known secret is that you can often stay for a whole week for the same price as a single night if you ask and they’re not busy. I don’t normally stay in the rooms unless they’re especially nice, but the off street parking is worth the weekly price for me, if on street parking isn’t allowed. When I worked construction, many of the traveling construction workers stayed in these type places. It can be a cheap alternative if you need it.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller

@Van_Dweller thanks for the wisdom. Do you usually call ahead to ask if it is ok to park in whichever neighborhood? How do you go about choosing which neighborhood you want to park in if it is a place you haven’t been to before?

@Van_Dweller. Also, when you buy a new RV, how diligent are you about getting someone to inspect the RV?


Re: Do I call ahead?

No, not unless I’m visiting someone intentionally.

Re: Places to park…

I usually start with google maps, then use the satellite view. Sometimes, I’ll tell it to find parks, if they’re not obvious. Then I’ll go into street view to check out parking signs. I do the same for apartment complexes, churchs, or wherever else I might be interested in. The catch is that info might not be current, so you want to double check in person when you get there.

Other times, if I know the neighborhood I want, I’ll just scope it out in person.

Re: Purchase inspections:

I try to stick to older rigs, pre-computerized, and with carburetors. Unlike with newer stuff, if it runs good today, it will probably run good for a long time. I do of course check all the fluids for red flags, listen closely to the engine, and while taking it for a vigorous test drive. I always check all the lights, blinkers, brake lights, etc. too.

Next, I’ll give the interior a once over, looking for current or previous leaks, and to make sure it is all stock and not owner modified. It’s often not possible to try out the appliances etc. due to lack of power or propane, but all of that is usually easily fixable.

Finally I’ll check the outside & roof to assess whether or not it needs work, and whether I want to tackle it.

Since I’m looking at stuff from the 60’s-80’s, 99% of the time, they’re in great shape provided they haven’t been owner modified. If it’s an older seller, it’s not unusual that it just got out of the shop for a once over, and they might have a list of anything it needs, or repair work done. Almost all of mine have been 1-2 owner rigs. Too many owners could mean it’s a problem child.

The seller can also give you clues like: “I had it completely gone through a couple years ago, to make sure everything was ship shape, but now sadly, it looks like my camping days are done.” or “It was great for my wife & I, but now we need something bigger since we have kids.”. If they say “I can’t afford to fix it.”, that’s a clue too.

Anything newer and with a lot of electronics, I steer clear of. Too many electrical problems. Every 90’s or newer rigs I help fix are nightmares. Then when you get to computerized, that only compounds all the problems, not to mention that every year the greed factor just keeps getting worse, in the older rigs quality was still important.

Now all that being said, if you’re not qualified to do a self inspection, an inspection could be money well spent.


"Be the reason someone smiles today!" ~ Van_Dweller

I’m new so please forgive the newby question, but what do you do for power to your RV? Do you have solar?

Hi! Also a newbie here, but from what I have seen a lot of RVs have a generator. I supposed you could DIY solar panels if you really wanted to

Thanks for the advice!