Hi, Im Kayden, 21, and about to hit the road to start my van life with my wife, Skyler. We are planning on leaving in about 6 months or whenever we are ready to go. We have an 1984 Dodge Ram B250 Cargo Van that we plan to convert. Looking for mostly tips, tricks, and advice for the conversion/the road, but also kind of looking for some help with a sort of floor plan blueprint.
How many miles are in the van and what is its condition?
You need a solid and reliable foundation on which to build.
After that, where do you plan to be driving? Road conditions and weather can dictate modifications you may want to do.
Greetings & Welcome!
I love these old 70’s & 80’s Dodge vans! They’re the most comfortable driving and reliable rigs I’ve ever owned. I bought my current 1973 Dodge high top Travco camper van gutted, 11 years ago with a little over 200k miles on it. I have since put another 250k+ trouble freee miles on it.
If you keep up on the maintenance, they’ll run forever. A couple times a year I add a bottle of carb cleaner in the gas tank, and add a quart of Slick 50 when I change the oil. Still runs good as new.
Draw floor plan options out, start with your biggest components like the bed, and work your way down the list. I prefer to keep things modular & not actually built in, but rather moved in then secured. This will allow you to change your floor plan later without having to tear everything out & start over.
In good weather, when camping, I like to move my kitchen outside. For this reason, I don’t have a built in kitchen. My kitchen cabinet & counter top has no built in appliances, an empty counter top, with drawers & a cupboard underneath. For inside cooking, I can put my campstove on top, and I use dollar store plastic dish pans for sinks, and trigger spray bottles for the water delivery. Everything is easy to use either indoors or outdoors without duplication, and none of it requires any power. I purposely don’t have any plumbing, so it can’t freeze.
My toilet & shower are also indoor/outdoor and require no power. For a pressurized shower I use a weed sprayer which I replaced the original nozzle with a kitchen sink sprayer nozzle. I painted the tank blank, and it can be heated by simply sitting it in the sun. Of course you add hot water heated on the stove if necessary too. My toilet/shower enclosure is mostly from the dollar store as well. A hula hoop for the shower curtain rod, with regular shower curtains & hooks. With rope, it attaches to the ceiling inside the van, or to a tree outside. I use a storage tote or an empty ice chest to catch the shower water. Cheap, but really convenient & effective.
Get some rain visors for your front windows so you can keep them cracked even in the rain. Constant ventilation is important. Get a cheap 12v or USB fan or two. If you don’t have opening windows in your back doors, swap them out for some at a wrecking yard, then you put a fan aimed out in your back window, and draw a breeze all the way from the front to the back without the need or expense of leaky roof vents.
Bad weather happens and you’ll want to be able to hunker down inside your van. For this reason, you want comfortable seating for everyone. Some people like swivel front seats, others prefer a bed that turns into a sofa or a dinette. The choice is yours… I just use a normal metal framed futon sofa/bed in mine. I just extended the legs using metal pipe that I also rigged up to act like adjustable tent poles so it is high enough to clear the wheel well. On uneven ground, that allows me to level my bed, rather than the whole van. Just be sure to secure it.
I recommend CHEAP heating, cooling, and power options, and I can expand on those if you like.
Good luck, & keep us posted. Glad you’re here!
Last December my I traveled to New Mexico with my then 12-year-old daughter. While we were in Santa Fe I got a radiator leak. Which meant at Christmas time, on the mountain, when most car repair shops were closed, we were also without any kind of heater. I had a plug in one but I hadn’t gotten my extra power supplies at that point. So we couldn’t even use the car heater.
Struggling to find something, when it got down to 20° at night. I bought some rubber bladders, like heating pads, and that’s honestly saved our lives until the repair shops opened.
Most convenience stores have hot water on tap with their coffee machines and if they charge anything for it it’s only a dollar. Or I can use my propane stove and boil water. Thrown at the bottom of a sleeping bag it kept us warm all night. Now every time I find them on the cheap cuz the one I bought in Santa Fe was 20 bucks I stock up.
Planning on a Thanksgiving camping trip with a friend and her kids and I have enough bladders that everyone can have their own!
Hot water bottles are great, and for anyone reading this, plastic soda & water bottles can work too, as well as water tight nalgene type bottles. Many people will wrap them in a towel so they’re not too hot against their skin, and it also helps them retain their heat longer.
This is a great example of how backup plans can save your bacon. As nomads we’re vulnerable to many more challenges that most people.