Van Life: The Basics of Setting Up Your Tiny Mobile Home

Take life on the road with a home on wheels.

The van life might have chosen you, but you still gotta choose your van and build it. For somebody who has no experience with woodworking, home building, or automotive maintenance, that big of project can be a bit daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. With some planning, a bit of our help, and a lot of vision, you’ll have your new four-wheeled tiny house on the road in short order. 

Below, we’ve outlined the core basics of what you’ll need to think about and get started when beginning your van life project home. From these tips, create a mockup of your ride and get to building. Leeggoooo. 

Vehicle Options

Any and all of these vehicles can be outfitted into excellent livan’ situations. Some even from the factory. Like any vehicle purchase, you’ll want to test drive a few options and decide what type of van fits your goals and lifestyle parameters.

  • Mercedes-Benz Sprinter
  • Ford Transit
  • Ram ProMaster
  • Nissan NV
  • Chevrolet Express
  • GMC Conversion Van
  • Used School Bus
  • Used VW Bus

Strip It Down

The best way to piece together a camper van to fit your needs is to strip it down and build it back up. Here are a few things to consider when you’ve got your van down to the skeleton.

  • Corrosion

If you’re buying a used vehicle, the first priority is making sure it’s safe and secure. That means addressing any corrosion issues that could be hiding around the wheel wells, floor boards, or other known water spots.

  • Sound Deadening

Some people prefer ambient noise for snoozing, but others need relative silence to sleep or work inside the van. To add to your van’s sanctuary feel, be sure to use sound deadening to create a true barrier between the inside and the outside. 

  • Insulation

Within that same vein, you also want to keep the van’s cabin protected from the elements. Insulation can keep it warm in the cold temperatures and cool in the hot temperatures.

  • Wiring

Depending on how involved you’re getting, you’ll likely have a fridge, some sort of power storage, lights, as well as other accessories that will all need sources of power. Plan that out and route your wires before you start adding beds, cabinets, and kitchen frames.

  • Windows

Some vans don’t have windows. If you want windows, now’s the time to cut them out.

Van Life: The Basics of Setting Up Your Tiny Mobile Home

Interior Design Considerations

Your tiny home needs the same essential basics your regular-sized home had. Don’t forget these crucial items when sketching your layout.

  • Bed Space

Figure out which way you’d like to lie, how big your mattress will be, and how it interacts with your storage.

  • Storage

Your van will need storage space for clothes, food, cleaning supplies, hygiene supplies, vehicle supplies, and tech supplies. 

  • Water Storage

It will also need space to keep water on deck. 

  • Fridge or Cooler

If you live in your van, you’re probably going to need to store food at some point. Unless you’re a squirrel and can survive on nuts or live in the arctic, that means you’ll need a place for cold storage.

  • Cooking Space

Improvisational cooking will be key to living the van life. Trust us, you’ll want at least a small sink and a small block of counter space for making your meals. 

  • Mobile Work Area

If you’re living the van life, there’s a good chance you’ll also be working from that van. You’re clearly an adaptable person, but it helps to have a dedicated place to sit down, concentrate, and work.

Things To Bring

Everybody has personal preferences as to what items they’d deem essential for van living, but these basics should keep your behind covered in most situations.

  • Tool Box

Some insurance companies offer plans for living out of a vehicle, but the best insurance for van life is a tool box full of the proper tools. Overprepare, in this case.

  • First Aid Kit

Just as your vehicle will eventually need a fix, so too will you.

  • Mobile Toilet

When you’re on the road all the time and are venturing to the outer limits of the wilderness, you’re not always going to have nearby access to a toilet. If your space can afford it, a mobile toilet can be a lifesaver.

  • Power Solutions

Whether that’s a solar power setup, a small portable gas generator, power inverters, or all of the above, you’re going to need a way to power all of the things inside your new tiny home. Figure that out before you build it.

  • Wifi Equipment

Although your phone does the bare minimum, you’ll want a legit internet connection with a mobile hotspot.

Lotus Caravans Tremor

FAQs About Van Life

We’ve heard all of your burning questions, let’s find the answers!

Q: Is It Illegal To Live In a Van In the US? 

A: Some towns and cities have restrictions on sleeping in your vehicle. Always be sure to check with the local laws for where you’re staying.

Q: How Hard Is It To Live In a Van? Is Van Life a Good Idea?

A: Don’t expect some frilly vacation time that’s all Instagram moments and stress relief. There will be plenty of times when it actually adds stress to your life. It will be a test of your patience, your reliance on convenience and comfort, as well as a test of how dedicated you are to cooking.

People who love the van lifestyle, however, will tell you there are rewarding aspects to match every negative. There’s an amazing sense of freedom in living in something with wheels, and you’ll be able to create all the memories you plan out. Just know some of the time will be spent in empty parking lots.

Q: Is Van Life Cheaper Than Renting?

A: This depends entirely on where you live, how you live, how much you’ll be driving, and how bare-bones you’re willing to live in your van. Set up a spreadsheet and compare your costs between the two lifestyles.

Q: Where Do You Shower When You Live In a Van?

A: There are a variety of places you can shower when you live in a van. You could use a 24-hour gym membership, truck stops with showers, rest stops with showers

Tony Markovich

Tony MarkovichTony has a thing for pop-up headlights. His first car was a $3,000 1996 Saturn SC2 Coupe, and his current project is a 1970 Opel GT junker. When he's not daydreaming about the Cadillac Sixteen, he's watching the Chicago Bulls go undefeated on TNT. Contact the author here.