Midway through my final semester at Pitt, I finalized my plans to live in a van and travel with Zoe, my girlfriend and adventure partner, after graduation. I filled my parents into the plan and they were more than happy to enable our adventure. They gifted me their 2010 Honda Odyssey as a graduation present. With 170,000 miles, this mini-van was a literal soccer mom van for it?s whole life. After I was schlepped from countless baseball and soccer games in my childhood, picked up from Junior and Senior High school prom, this trusty Honda would become my home for three months.
First on the agenda was to get everything in working order. I took it in for inspection where they also changed the spark plugs and the oil. I replaced the roller on the passenger side door because the rolling mechanism was broken and couldn?t open. To my surprise, after a lot of wrangling with the door, it rolled properly again. Finally, I removed all the rear seats to take advantage of the rear well they fold into.
I found myself looking at a very blank canvas trying to envision how this could be converted into a home for me and Zoe.
Clips of van conversion videos I?ve watched played through my head as I tried to piece everything together.
One of my favorite space saving designs I?ve seen is a bench with storage underneath it, that also converts to a bed. I spent some time drawing up dimensions of the van trying to get creative with where everything could fit into place. Bin sizes were meticulously traced onto scale graph paper models, and after many iterations, I got antsy and finalized plans where they were. I needed to get to Home Depot so I could start figuring it out by prototyping hands-on.
My dad and I got the bench put together, running between the basement and the van finalizing measurements.
The main frame has slats that are secured onto two by fours on each side. Another two by four has legs on each end and slats that are only attached to one side, allowing that part to slide out. This creates a platform for the bed that utilizes the entire space in the van. With this system, we have a bench covering our storage during the day, and a full sized air mattress for the night.
Here, in an early version of bed-mode, we were testing everything out at Dewey Beach. You can see Reflectix in the windows. Blocking out the windows was imperative for privacy and security, so people wouldn?t see there was anything inside to steal. My thought was that if I spray painted the inside black, we could reflect heat away from the car without reflecting our body heat back at us. They wound up being a hassle to remove and have to put in every time we stopped somewhere. We ditched them when we were back in Philly and hastily installed curtains I sewed the morning we were leaving.
You can also see the bug netting I installed around the door. I used a screen that closes magnetically and is used for keeping bugs out of a doorway. I cut it to size and screwed it into the frame of the door. With the leftover material, I screened in the window of the other sliding door so we could get some bug-free cross breeze. 1/4? screws drilled into the ceiling hasn?t proved to be very functional, and we?re now investigating ways to improve it. We?re having the same problem with how we installed the curtains.
With preliminary adjustments made, we were fully moved in and things felt official. Now for the tour?
I guess this is our front door. We used a blanket Zoe had as the floor, which has made sweeping out debris easy.
Under the bench, we each have a bin for our clothes. All of our backpacking gear fits in another bin under the bench. Towards the back, an old Nike gym bag houses 200? of Feather Pro webbing and the rest of our slackline set up.
On the other side of the bench, our shoes fit above a smaller bin. This bin is where we put miscellaneous personal affects that didn?t have a clear home.
My dad turned me onto these seat back organizers and I liked the idea of being able to keep frequently used items within arms reach. For phones, wallets, headlamps, and more, these organizers have been helpful in keeping track of our stuff that would otherwise be easy to lose.
We got a Goal Zero Yeti generator for $200 from REI. This electric generator can be charged off of the car while we drive and affords us power on the go. We can charge our phones and Zoe?s laptop from it, as well as power our lights at night without needing to worry about draining the car battery.
The car has this awkward under-floor storage that seemed useful and I wanted to keep available. I designed the bench with this storage in mind. The carpet pulls back to reveal space where we can keep things out of sight.
Overall, the front space feels open and comfortable when everything is organized. As soon as things start to get displaced, it gets real tight real fast.
The trunk is where we do all of our cooking. On the left I installed a piece of oriented strand board to extend the bench into a kitchen counter.
My dad had the piece of wood in the basement as scrap, which saved me from having to buy a whole sheet. Beneath that, I installed a drawer I custom fit for the space. I deconstructed a dresser I found on the side of the road and reworked a drawer so that it would fit under the counter. Our Coleman stove is stored under the drawer along with a hard to access bin which contains our climbing gear, a tarp, and my running gear. To the right, our cooler fits nicely in the space where the seats fold into. Finally, we have two six gallon water containers all the way on the right. Not pictured, we also keep a bin with canned/dry food on top of the cooler.
When it?s time for bed we slide the bench into bed-mode and inflate our air mattress which fills the van.
As long as this is the last thing we do for the day, we can go straight to bed without needing to keep the space clear. Other than the air mattress being too wide in the back where the van narrows, we haven?t had any trouble with our bedding system.
The beauty of the van isn?t that we can live in it, but that we can live out of it. I heard a quote from another tiny houser:
I may live in a tiny house but my windows look onto a large world.
I think this quote embodies the experience we are searching for. Although we forfeit some day-to-day comforts, we have the freedom of waking up somewhere new each day.
As we continue to travel we are keeping an eye on what is working and what could be improved. This design was made possible by everyone who shared their thoughts and inspiration with me along the way. If you have done something like this, or plan on doing it in the future, please don?t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected] to share your plans with me. I?d love to hear from you about any feedback you have related to my design and/or consult with you about your project.