In search of… the van

The next adventure vehicle! A van!!! Why not right?! After I’d been in Minnesota for a couple of weeks, I started missing the boat life and the freedom that came along with it. I started thinking about buying another one and keeping it in a slip on Lake Superior. I did some shopping around but it was taking a good bit of time to sell mine and I didn’t want to have two boats so I decided that I’d just hold off and take care of a few other things first.

Being here and near friends and family, I started thinking that maybe a boat wasn’t going to be for me anyway, at least not at this point in my life. It’s just too far to commute from the town I’m in to deep waters of superior so I had almost giving up thinking that I’d live that way of life again. I’m sure I’ll revisit – but until then… behold, the quest for the van!

One day I was on YouTube looking up some music and building my ‘sailing tunes’ playlist to remind me of the fun I had on the water. I came across a video about someone converting a cargo van into a camper. At first I thought, man, that HAS to be cramped and just uncomfortable because…well, its… a van. 👀 LOL

The more I watched and learned about cargo van conversions I started to see that maybe it wasn’t as crazy of an idea as I’d originally thought. Well, for me, when that sort of stuff happens and the old creative brain starts kicking in, I go into power research mode and mentally ‘try on the lifestyle’. I’d convinced myself that buying and converting a cargo van was the right way to go. So did online research and looked up interior measurements of several types and models of vans, drew it out on my whiteboard, researched power needs and diagramed that on the whiteboard. I’d even drawn out a few floor plans!

The build itself isn’t actually that complex, and can be done in a fairly inexpensive way. There are several ways to do it obviously but in general, the insulation, building in sub-flooring, installing ventilation fans, lights, water, power (both shore power and solar), and creating a compact living space is all actually quite doable in a full size cargo van. They are purchased as an empty shell with a drivers seat and a passenger seat, sometimes a bulkhead separating this area from the cargo area…and that’s it. It’s a blank canvas to create whatever you want!

I zeroed in on a chevy express, 2500 extended cargo van. That seemed to be the ‘van of choice’ for dependability, price and configurability. It has plenty of floor space for a bed, a sink, a porta-potty and, if I did it properly, a shower! All of these things are important to me. One of the YouTube videos that I watched stressed the importance of not under estimating comfort. So I thought to myself, what are the minimal things that I need in order to feel comfy and tried to plan around that. One other thing I thought would be ‘better’ for me, would be the ability to stand up in the van. Now, I’m not a tall person, (5’7”) but I’m tall enough that I’d need to hunch over once inside of the van. So, after a bit of additional research, I decided that a high-top cargo van would be the way to go. Once I settled on the van and the build blueprint, I went to work searching for the next adventure vehicle!

I did some digging on available vans in the area, and was disappointed to learn that there wasn’t much available. First, there simply aren’t any high-top cargo vans that are even out there. At least on in the model that I’d chosen to go with. So, I dropped back a bit in my plans, and started looking for a standard height van, with the thought that I could add a high-top to the right vehicle. What I found as I searched is that any of the vans that I did find out there were either junk/rusted out/worn out boasting several hundred thousand miles and were just over priced for my taste. Being that this is would be new territory for me, I wanted a low entry fee as well as a plan that wouldn’t break the bank for the final build out.

Not accepting local defeat… I broadened my search across the nation, and changed my criteria (size/year/miles, etc…) to try to find a good balance of price and condition, and of course the elusive ‘good deal’. I was able to find a few vans that appeared to be pretty decent deals but not a ‘steal’ and definitely not a good enough deal for me to fly half way across the country and pull the trigger. Seemed like making, even a loosely put together, deal over the phone wasn’t a real great idea. Then, lets assume that the haggling resulted in a satisfactory gentlemen’s agreement (pending inspection of course). I’m no mechanic. I can spot a decent running, reliable car most of the time but there are so many things that I’m sure that I miss. With a deal like that, driving it back 1000+ miles with any kind of confidence, just didn’t sit too well with me.

I got a little discouraged, I think because there is a deep seated need for me to remain unbound, untethered and to make my own way. There are many options for van life, and if a person is handy enough, and diligent enough there are deals to be had out there. I haven’t completely given up on it but I thought maybe I should give it a rest and see if there are other options that may be a little easier and less expensive to get started with. I mean, I could buy a van for 2-5k, do the build inside and it would likely be pretty sweet – but, if the exterior condition and the mechanical condition are such that it just won’t last long, well…it seemed like a ‘not-so-good’ idea right now.

So when I didn’t see a boat as a feasible option, and now the van idea seemed to be more difficult than I felt like it should be, I went into sulk mode and decided van life may not be for me, at least not yet… 😕

Stay tuned for my next update. As Paul Harvey used to say “…the rest of the story”