Friday , September 22 2017
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Road Warrior photo

My Life In A Van

My first two post talked about jiu jitsu and what it does for me. This one will cover my life in a van.

Let’s get started:

When I was in high school, I had a crummy job at a laundromat that didn’t pay very much and it forced me to learn how to budget. I got used to going without restaurant food and higher end booze. I bought my weed in bulk and made it lat as long as possible. I even coasted a lot when I drove.

Thriftiness became a life long skill and it carried over when I began to travel overseas. When I decided to try to see the world, I didn’t want to be one of those people who went to a country for ten days and called it good.

“Long stay, short money” became my motto.

I taught myself how to get by on as little money as possible while I stashed paychecks. When I had amassed $5,000, I took my first trip to Europe and Thailand that lasted over five months.

I went right back to saving when I got home and became scheming about a tour of America. I knew I’d need a vehicle I could live in since hotels were out of the question. I considered a minivan, but the gas mileage was poor, and the cops could search the whole thing if they pulled me over. I thought about a service van but again, poor mpg.

I eventually settled on a small Japanese pickup with a topper. It was divided between cab and storage and got around 20 miles to the gallon.

I’d done some research about people living in vehicles and seen some pretty ingenious setups. I copied one I’d seen for my truck and installed a deck in the back that I could sleep on while my stuff remained locked up underneath it.
road warrior photo

I took this truck on two major trips, one from Washington as far as Chicago, where I had to turn around and go to MT for a friend’s funeral.

The second was a few years later, when I went from Montana down to Arizona, then across the country to Orlando, where I headed north and west back home.

I had a lot of fun and was comfortable for the most part, but I saw room for improvement. My valuables were fairly safe under the deck which padlocked to the tailgate. But I was completely exposed when I slept. I wasn’t worried about burglars as much I was about police. Car camping is illegal in most places; it’s ridiculous, but it’s the law.

Time passed and I did 6 weeks in Japan and a couple smaller road trips to the southwest. I moved to Arizona, then back home.

But I still wanted another big American road trip.

By this time I was back in my element. I was living rent free in a bjj school I was running in Missoula and making good money working at a bar.

I saved and saved and began to plot my trip. I’d decided it was time to forsake fuel economy for security. It was time for a van. I’d always loved Dodge Sprinters, but those things were really expensive and nobody worked on them when they broke down.

I shopped for three months online, scouring Washington, Montana, Arizona, and Utah for a good used American work van without a ton of miles. I had almost given up, when I saw a 2000 Chevy Express sitting on a lot in Missoula. I gave it the most thorough inspection I could, then decided it was perfect. I got it with 190k miles on a strong motor for $3,000. It had a partition and good paint and newer tires.

Over May and June, I spent a lot of time gutting the back, tearing out the flooring and work shelves, and patching screw holes in the floor. I cleaned it up and painted the interior.

I did more internet research on van conversions. I saw several sweet layouts with sinks and stoves and showers and even toilets. The looked nice, but I was limited in my handyman skills and my budget. I adopted the the idea that I would build as I traveled, that way I’d only invest in what I really needed.

I spent $44 at Home Depot and built myself a crude bed frame with room for storage underneath. I rounded up some plastic crates to put gear in and donated anything I wasn’t taking along to Goodwill. I took only my four best gi’s and gave the rest to the bjj school.

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After some experimentation with different arrangements, I settled on everything against the left wall with a walking lane and a bike space on the right.

Here’s the setup:
road warrior photo

road warrior photo
These four tubs sit in this order under the bed. Dirty clothes, shoes, electronics & tools, food.

road warrior photo
Clothes are divided up- shirts, pants, gi’s, etc. Warm clothes under the frame down there- haven’t broke them out yet.

road warrior photo
I stack them up like so. I have the yellow one as a seat or spare. The thermometer tells me how miserably hot it is inside.

road warrior photo
Hats behind the seat. Toiletries are under the seat.
road warrior photo
Overflow bin, solve box, water jug, and garbage bag.

So there you have it.

The van is far more convenient than the truck. I can park almost anywhere avoid street light and prying eyes. I can pee in a jug in the middle of the night instead of getting out of the van. I have everything I need, plus extra space to lounge in or toss stuff I’ll be using again shortly.

Most of the conversion projects I seen online included insulation on the floor and walls. It’s expensive and time consuming and I opted to see how bad it would be without it.
It gets hot. I’m usually awake by ten or eleven every morning because the temperature is getting into the high eighties. But people all over the world live in temperatures like this with no AC so I figure I can too.

The bike is bungeed in place. A guitar is bungeed to the wall. I haven’t taken it out once.

I often park on streets and level my bed frame with wood blocks inserted under the legs.

I have extra sheets, pillows, blankets, and hang occasionally hang dry my gi’s inside the van or off the ladder rack.

Sometimes I hand wash a few small articles of clothing when I shower at a Planet Fitness.

I have a little speaker for my phone when I’m not listening to the radio.

I lock my partition door with a steel cable. I bought a door handle for it, but haven’t installed it.

The van gets 15-16mpg on the highway when I cruise at 60mph.

It’s a little tricky to park, but I get respect in traffic.

So that’s how it is in the van. I find it completely comfortable and feel like I could drive around the country for a year if I wanted to.

I’m off to train at gym #20 of the trip, gonna strangle some Canadians.

Follow Scott on his blog: http://bjjrally.wordpress.com
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