It's been a long time since we've written to you. It is a travel blog after all and well...you know. There was a little stretch there where we couldn't travel. Then we got so busy changing up our whole life that it wasn't a priority. But we haven't forgotten you guys! We actually started this post way back in March 2021, and never got around to finishing it. And we were on the fence for a while, too, because it's about our van build, not really travel related. But it has been an adventure. And it's a precursor to epic travel. So maybe you'll allow it. Most of this is written from that early perspective - "Here's what we plan to do". I'm going to try and weave in "...and here's how it ended up". Here goes.
It's going to be a big adjustment to get used to living in a van. It's not like our van is going to be just for occasional vacations or road trips. This will be our new home. We're downsizing from just under one thousand square feet in our Ipswich home to about 60 square feet in our van. Now we're truly out of Ipswich. So, we'd like to bring you guys through our layout plans and show you how we're going to make it all work. The first step to planning the layout is deciding what we think are necessary features; deciding between the "need to haves" and "nice to haves". We want to maximize the space without excluding the comforts of a home.
We love our teardrop trailer we built. But for full time living we definitely wanted a toilet. This was a non-negotiable item, and really one of the first things on our list. There are several different options for toilets. We really wanted to avoid dealing with a black water tank. A composting toilet seemed like a great option for us as it is environmentally friendly, uses no water, and does not need a black water tank. The downside is that composting toilets are expensive. But in our opinion, it is worth the money to choose the more sustainable option and avoid dealing with dumping any wastewater. Based on reading many reviews, we ordered a Nature's Head brand composting toilet. Orders are taking several weeks to ship so we are anxiously waiting for its arrival! Never been so excited for a toilet.
A shower is something that is a "nice to have" when camping. The trailer we built has an outdoor shower and it's great. We debated on doing something similar in the van so that we could save on space. But in the end we decided that as our long term residence we really wanted an indoor shower. We didn't want to have to rely on gyms and truck stops and the occasional opportunity to be in a place where we could use the outdoor shower. Most often, outdoor showering is not viable, because of other peoples' line of sight. We opted to include a 24x36" shower base that will be a wet bath. It will be small, but functional. We'll decided to use a self-cleaning retractable shower door like this one. It takes up a minimum of space and doesn't require a large clear path to swing open and shut. We weren't interested in a sliding glass door because it's likely to make a lot of noise over the road, and if it shattered, that would be pretty crummy.
Another necessity is a cooking surface. Induction cooktops are popular in the vanlife community, so we decided to explore this option. We've never used induction for cooking before but thought it would be great to utilize electricity rather than trying to include propane in the van. There will be no open flame inside the van, so it's a lot safer than propane. Since we have to install one or more batteries anyway, we are thinking it will be easier to make room for a little bit more battery, instead of an entire propane system that we'd need to use a propane cooktop. We found this Greystone dual burner cooktop that is designed for RVs.
While we technically could survive without a refrigerator, having one on board will make things a lot easier. We will be able to safely store food items for longer, which means won't have to visit a market every time we want to eat. So, of course we put that on our list. There are dozens of options for RV-friendly refrigerators, in all different sorts of designs and sizes. As we were shopping around, we happened to find an open-box, but still brand-new refrigerator at a West Marine location. It was pretty heavily discounted, as the store's associates were "sick of moving it around the store" as they told us, and just wanted it gone. We confirmed the dimensions would fit our space and snatched it up right away.
I'd like to add a few quick notes regarding the refrigerator installation. This is kind of a cornerstone piece of the whole layout of the van. There's a lot that went into placing it, and although pictures are exactly equivalent to one thousand words, I feel like a lot gets missed. We considered all different configurations, which I won't go over here because you don't care about all the things we didn't do. But we installed the refrigerator in the sliding door opening with the door forwards for a few reasons. The biggest reason, and one of our favorite features, is that when we come out of the grocery store, we can very easily load everything into the fridge from outside the van. Also, if someone is working at the cooktop (which is directly on top of the fridge), the other can access the fridge door without interfering. It just works.
In order to make it all work, we needed a refrigerator that had a 180 degree door hinge. Luckily for us, this fridge door is reversible; when we bought it, it was hinged on the opposite side. Easy fix. Then we had to locate the fridge just far enough back from the door jamb that the door could swing all the way through. This left plenty of room to walk through when the door is shut. Perfect! The mounting brackets had to be designed such that the refrigerator sits as close to the sliding door as possible, without actually touching it. This was not easy, but we ended up with only about 1/8" gap, which maximizes the width of the aisle in the middle of the kitchen. Nailed it! One other challenge we faced was widening the countertop, since the fridge is supposed to sit the other way, with the depth being similar to a regular base cabinet depth. Since the refrigerator is "sideways" relative to the counter, it ended up being slightly too wide once we installed panels on both sides of it to box it in. See if you can spot the seam on the counter. It's tough to find because it blended so well.
Most of you know our dog, Loki. He's a pretty big boy, at around 90lbs. He might look intimidating to some, but he's really just a big lap dog. So most nights, he usually likes to sleep on our feet in our bed. As such, a queen bed is about the smallest we can all comfortably fit. And it still sometimes feels a bit too small. "You have all the blanket!" "Yeah, but you have more space! I only have like 2 inches!" We agreed that we would plan around a standard queen size bed. This was a pretty tricky must-have to incorporate. See, a queen mattress is 60" wide by 80" long, but the van interior is only around 75" wide. So the mattress must go "front to back" in order to fit. But in that configuration, we'd lose 80 inches of floor length that would only be used during sleeping hours, leaving very little room left for the rest of our time in the van. It also yielded an awkward 15" wide strip along the side of the mattress. Not ideal.
To our rescue: Flarespace flares. Most people call them "bumpouts". These flares make the interior width of the van several inches wider, allowing us to sleep laterally (read: across the van, or side-to-side). With flares installed, we can fit the mattress sideways, but we're still giving up a significant amount of floor space during the day. What if we were able to somehow utilize that space for more than just basic storage? Mandy suggested a bed that is split in three pieces; the sides in the flares are fixed, but the middle section goes up to the ceiling, allowing us to use the space underneath the mattress for sitting. Brilliant!
A sink was another must-have item. Ideally, a big sink. But it's a compromise to find the right balance. An infinitely large sink would leave no space left for anything else. A too-small sink would be difficult to wash dishes in. We ultimately settled on a pretty "regular-sized" residential sink from Ruvati. It includes a cutting board that fits perfectly on a ledge built into the sink, so we still have a large work surface when we want it. It's a really pretty stainless undermount sink, and it even came with a drying rack that fits perfectly in the bottom of the sink. It has been fantastic for washing and drying all our dishes!
We debated for a long time after this post was originally started, whether we wanted to include an oven or not. We obviously ultimately decided to work one into the design, otherwise I wouldn't have written that. It really boiled down to using that space for something else, or the oven. Which would it be? And that's really true for every cubic inch of the van; "What will go here?" Everything is strategized and then thoughtfully placed. We ended up choosing a Ninja Foodi 10-in-1 oven. It's marketed as a "toaster oven" but it does so much more than that and is plenty large enough to work as a full-on oven for two. Some of you have had the privilege of eating some bread handcrafted by Mandy. You guys will know how important it was that we confirmed the oven works wonderfully for baking bread. So we are all set really. What more could we need?!
But in the event we DO need more, it also functions as a dehydrator, roaster, air fryer, and a toaster. We've made some delicious jerky already, but we're still trying to work out the recipe for dried fruits to make trail mix.
We want to be able to pick up water from anywhere and be able to drink it. That's not always the case without processing the water to remove bacteria. You can drink it without removing dirt, but ew, gross. So we decided to install a filter that can handle all of that work. We are using a Waterdrop WD-G3-W reverse osmosis water filtration system. Whew, that's a lot of words for one device. This machine uses 3 different filters to remove almost everything that might be in our water. We also use a UV light to sterilize any drinking water afterwards, because some of the smallest bacteria can potentially get through all the filters. The filter includes its own tap which produces delicious clean drinking water. It works fantastic.
Finally, we wanted ample storage. For all sorts of stuff. Clothes consume the most volume. But we also need space for tools (just in case!), food, Rob's snow skis and boots, and other miscellaneous gear. We've gotten rid of a lot of our stuff this year, which has been amazing. But we can't get rid of it all, and still pull this off. So we designed in storage in several areas. First and foremost, we utilized an overhead storage shelf which goes above the front seats. This yields a ton of storage space and has been super helpful. We also designed in a storage drawer underneath the bed. It pulls out through the rear door opening, to reveal a drawer that's about 3ftx4ftx10in. Here's where we store our off-season gear, and stuff we need, but not regularly. There's also storage underneath the sink, of course. Those of you living in houses know what that's like. And there's a bunch of cubbies underneath the wings of the bed. And, finally, underneath the benches as well, is pretty cavernous storage.
So now that the van is complete, it's time for us to move in and begin our next adventure. We're still trying to figure out what that is for the immediate future. But next year we'll be taking it all the way to Patagonia. So stick around for that part if you want. And if there's any part of the van you want to know more about, ask us here. Or check out our YouTube channel. Or our Instagram account.
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"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
- Bilbo Baggins
We're just an adventure-loving couple with a puppy looking to share our stories with the world.