Hi, we are Spencer and Petra and just joined project van life to learn about building your own van. Our Sprinter van is on a ship near Cuba at the moment, and hopefully, it arrives here in Canada over the next 4 weeks or so. We are looking forward to getting started with the build and learning everything we need to know to make it the perfect tiny home for us to travel the world with. Chees
Greetings & Welcome!
Is your van new? If not, get it inspected, road worthy, & reliable before anything else. Be sure to check on recalls too. If it’s new, can you eliminate any known weak spots or problems? An ounce of prevention can save a ton of money and headaches in the future. Breaking down in the middle of nowhere is never fun, and especially if could have been prevented.
Do you have the income angle figured out? If not, you can never get started on it too soon.
At the minimum you’ll want a bed, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a lounging/dining/work area. Sometimes a sofa/bed with tables is a good way to get more functionality into a smaller space.
Start with the biggest pieces, and work your way towards the smallest for the best designs.
Floorplans mean EVERYTHING! Yet, modular builds can easily be repositioned, without actually rebuilding. I prefer to keep everything portable, yet secured. This allows for maximum flexibility in our game of tetris trying to get everything to fit without it being claustrophobic.
If it’s a passenger van, you’re already ahead of the curve, if not, you might want to consider adding some opening windows as your first move. Many people find that adding opening windows is a cheaper and better choice than adding expensive & often leaky roof vents. Having a view makes everything more pleasant and less claustrophobic too.
Power & climate control are essential systems for most of us. They can range from cheap, simple, reliable, & easily replaceable, to expensive, complicated, & quite possibly regrettable. Most of us wind up with simple & reliable, but only after wasting a ton of time, money, & frustrations on expensive & more complicated systems. Complicated and/or expensive solutions to cheap and easy problems rarely ends well.
Safety also often comes in the form of simplicity. Faulty wiring & propane have caused many fires.
Before starting your build, make sure you’ll be able to insure it legitimately. Many self builds seem to be limited to liability only. If that’s the case, you may want to lower your expenses on your build. Since you want to travel the world, make sure your insurance will cover you in foreign countries as well. The devil is often in the details, and the fine print.
Thank you so much for the information. There’s so much to learn over the next months/years. I have travelled around the world on a bicycle before so have a bit of an idea of what to expect, but a van brings more comfort but also a lot more complications like insurance and breakdown. We bought a new Sprinter 170 cargo van, it’s on a ship near Panama at the moment. Windows are on the way from Quebec and other parts are slowly arriving. We haven’t decided on the electrical system yet and will most likely hire an electrician to come up with a safe and sustainable plan. We planning to leave full time in 5 years so we have some time to figure out the layout and changes that will come up for sure. We don’t plan on working once on the road as we both be able to live of savings and retirement at that time. I most likely will have lots of questions coming up once the van arrives
Make sure you get an RV electrician because RV’s are a totally different ballgame than what normal electricians are qualified for.
Done right, you’re in for a marvelous time, and not having to work makes things a lot easier. I work for myself these days, and other than voluntary obligations to friends the last few years, my schedule is whatever I choose as well, since I work online.
Officially I’m retired, but since I’m alone, working and volunteering keeps me from getting bored.