Sunday, December 19, 2010

What would you like to see on this blog?

I'd like to update this blog at least once or twice a week, but with how busy I am, it's a little hard to cover things not posted in the pages along the top. So what would you like to see? Articles and thoughts on vandwelling, recipes, etc? More products in the store?

Leave a comment below and let me know!


New batteries...

Something seems to be wrong with the batteries I purchased to replace the two that went dead after about a year and a half. I still saved the reciept from Autozone, so fortunately I'll be able to see in the morning about a replacement pair. Not sure why they ended up going dead, but they no longer hold a charge.

Fortunately, I'll be able to post pictures now that I have a digital camera, so I'll be sure to document the process!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Where to park

I get asked many questions about vandwelling. One of the most frequently asked is "Where do you park without being bothered?" While there's no absolute set of guidelines, I'm more than happy to share about some of the places I park and what I look for.

The largest factor that determines where you park is what your van looks like. If your van looks like a cargo van, like mine, you may be able to find commercial and industrial areas to park. If your van looks like a normal passenger van or an RV like a Coachman, you may be limited to shopping and residential areas.

The trick that I have found works best is to hide in plain sight. While this may make you feel vulnerable at first, I can assure you that parking in dark, out of the way places is even more dangerous. I've had people try to break into my van when parked in these places and have never had anyone do so when parked in the open.

First, there are two general rules about parking that I've learned. If you're going to park somewhere for the night, make sure it's never the same place you parked to cook. If you go to one supermarket and open your doors to cook something on the stove or do laundry people and employees will spot you. This itself isn't too much of a problem, but if the van is closed up and hanging out later, it's obvious somebody lives there and the police will likely be called. Eat in one location, clean up, and then drive to another to sleep for the night.

The second rule is simply to never park in the same place more than one night in a row. You can circulate where you wish to park, but if the van stays in one spot too long, it draws unwanted attention and you may have someone investigate it, get a parking ticket, or get your van towed as an abandoned vehicle.

It's hard to describe, but you end up with a sixth sense about what is safe and what isn't. There's no magical checklist; it's something that you learn with time. But here are a few safe places I've learned to park for an evening in relative safety.

Wal-Marts are by far the best places to park, depending on city ordinances. Many of them are open 24 hours which is good if you need to run in and use the bathroom. They have private security patrolling the lot all night. They also market themselves as a de-facto rest stop for traveling RVers. How many times have you seen RVs and fifth-wheels in the parking lot overnight? They appreciate the business it brings in as long as you don't break out the barbeque and have a tailgate party.

If you don't want to make it obvious that you're living in the van, then don't park off to the side. Park right in the middle of all the other cars. This makes your vehicle look like it belongs to another customer or even better, an overnight employee. This works with Wal-Marts that aren't open 24 hours a day; most have several dozen people on their overnight staff and your vehicle will just blend in with the other employees. This trick also works at any 24 hour business or business that has overnight stockers.

24 hour businesses
The biggest examples of these where I live would be Walgreens or CVS. You'll always find some smaller stores that are open 24 hours a day. The trick is to make the vehicle blend in with the rest of the employees or customers who work there. Try to find a place that has no less than a dozen cars parked in its lot. You want an assortment of cars big enough to make you look inconspicuous to people who drive by and the employees inside. For this reason, avoid all night convenience stores like 7-11 and fast food restaurants except in very special circumstances.

Shopping centers with supermarkets
This is a good one if you can't find a 24 hour business to safely park at. A big box supermarket such as Albertsons, Stater Brothers, or Vons will usually be inside a larger center that encompasses a dozen or more other stores. You'll find many cars scattered around the communal parking lot, so you can park pretty much anywhere you want to blend in. Some of these places will also have wifi as well.

I've only done this a few times but it's worth mentioning here. If there's a strip mall that contains a bar, you can park by it in relative safety. The owners, security, and police will probably assume that you left your vehicle there and took a cab home and will pick it up the next day.

Near similar/fleet vehicles
This one really only applies in certain situations. If a business has about half a dozen vans parked in front of it for either cargo or hauling passengers, you may be able to park near them if your van looks similar enough. Just make sure that you set your alarm and leave before the employees start arriving to work in the morning.

Automotive Shops
I personally haven't used this one, but others I know have parked outside automotive repair shops overnight looking like just another vehicle to be worked on in the morning. Make sure you move before employees get there in the morning!

That's all for now! I'll post some more about this subject later on.

Monday, November 29, 2010

New hood!

Went to the local pick-n-pull today and scored a new hood for the van for only $50. No dents, same color as mine, and has the Dodge emblem intact on the front! The only bad thing about it is that the passenger side hood hinge snapped clean off, so it takes a bit of finesse to open the hood now. Oh well, que sera sera!

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Apparently there's a problem with my Adsense account which is preventing the ads from being displayed. Hopefully this will be fixed in the next two weeks or so...when the blog started there were some beautiful links to conversion vans and companies that actually did bus/van conversions and were a huge plethora of information!

Welcome to the blog :D

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Spent some time the last week updating a few things in the store and on the Propane/Electrical pages. I'll have a few more pages up shortly!

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Did some more work on the store and am continually adding products to it!

The propane section is finished, detailing some information regarding my propane setup. The water section should be up shortly, and the electrical system page is getting a revamp as I now have products in the store and some inverters at FANTASTIC prices.

Watch this space!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Choosing a Van

There are many things to consider when choosing a van or a vehicle to convert. Budget, models, how much time you have, what fuel they use, stealth, and what condition they're in.

I lucked out with my van: A 1985 Dodge Ram B150 in nearly perfect mechanical condition, already stripped out and carpeted by the previous owner. But before more of that, a quick rundown of each of the different factors involved.

What is the budget you're trying to work with? Have you saved up for a while, putting aside a few grand for not just the van but whatever you think you'll need in it, or have you found yourself in an emergency situation where you need shelter right now? This is a big factor when it comes to Vandwelling and choosing your van. Sometimes you can buy a brand new cargo van or conversion van from a dealer, or you may have to scour craigslist to find a beat up clunker.

While ultimately people can (and do) convert every type of vehicle imaginable, certain vehicles tend to lend themselves to conversion better than others. In America, the most common vehicles are newer Ford E series vans, followed by some older Dodge Ram B-Series vans, Chevrolet G Series vans, and older Ford Econolines. On the shorter end of the scale, Chevrolet Astros, Ford Windstars, and Toyota Hi-aces seem to be popular as well.

Overseas, the two vehicles sought after the most tend to be Ford Transits and Mercedes Sprinters. Volkswagen Westfalias and buses also are popular choices but can be expensive due to their cult status.

How Much Time You Have
How much time will you have to convert the van? Will you be able to work on it leisurely or will you need to sleep or move into it that night?  Once again, certain vans are better than others. If you have the time and can find a good deal, it may be easier to get a good deal on a passenger van and strip it down to the metal interior before building up. You can purchase a cargo van that's already stripped to aid in this process, but it can still take a while to build up. If you need something immediately, many passenger vans will have a fold down rear seat that turns into a bed, and you can add other amenities later.

One might not think it, but vehicles that run on certain types of fuels may be better suited to your needs than others. There are four main types of fuel that vehicles today use to run, with advantages and disadvantages to most of them:
  • Gasoline - Easy to find, easy to fill up. Can be a little more temperamental than diesel and require a bit more maintenance to keep running well for longer. Every gas station has gasoline.
  • Diesel - Better fuel mileage, better reliability, easier to work on, and last forever. A properly maintained diesel engine will have the car it's sitting in rot out before it even thinks of giving up. Diesel engines also have the added bonus of being able to be converted to run on bio-diesel or straight vegetable oil. Not all gas stations have diesel, however.
  • Propane/Natural Gas: Unless you have knowledge of these vehicles or working on them, I would stay away from them
  • Electric - Very, very rare, can be host to a ton of other problems and the least ideal for a van conversion
Another incredibly important factor, depending on where you want to park. If you park in a city or suburbs, you'll want to make sure your vehicle doesn't stand out. Cargo and work vans that have been converted are much better for this, although any van that has a relatively clean look can park just about anywhere. You don't want a vehicle that draws attention to yourself, either from people who just don't get it, thugs looking to break in and steal whatever is inside or the vehicle itself, or from the police. There's alot of things you can do to remain stealthy which will be covered in this blog, but making sure your vehicle doesn't stick out like an eyesore is the biggest and the easiest.

Mechanical Condition
This is the most important factor by far. Bodies can be painted/patched up, interiors can be redone/reupholstered, tires can be changed, but if the vehicle you're buying doesn't have a strong powerplant and drivetrain, every bit of work you do could go to waste in a heartbeat when the engine dies. This van may end up being your home, so make sure you get a vehicle that you know runs well and strong.

Craigslist and public auctions can be hit or miss, as anyone who has bought a vehicle from them knows. Stay away from impound/tow yards, as whoever the original owner of the vehicle was didn't see it worth enough to get it out of impound. If searching craigslist, try to find vehicles that are part of estate sales, people who are moving out of state, or fleet vehicles.

Fleet vehicles are usually good bets. Companies like Fedex, DHL, anything government owned, and a few others usually retire their vehicles at a certain mileage and put them up for sale. Most of these will still be in fantastic condition having received maintenance throughout their service lives. Most of these vehicles will be purchased by contractors and private parties when they go to market for small businesses or individual ones.

Ultimately, you have to feel comfortable with a vehicle you chose, and make sure it's strong and reliable.

Why Vandwelling?

One of the greatest questions I get asked most frequently is...

 "WHY!?!? I mean, couldn't you get an apartment with friends, move back in with your parents, do something else, anything else, besides living in a van?"

People live in their vans for a variety of reasons. Some are forced into it because of bad circumstances, like I was. Some pick it up as a lifestyle for a few months to a few years in order to travel the country. I never understood the stigma with this, as many people do this only in an RV or trailer. Some people do it to save money or get away from the grind of working to live and living to work to afford the mortgage payment. There are many different reasons for it, but one thing all Vandwellers have in common is an incredibly positive attitude and outlook on life, which is a key element to making it work.

As for my own situation, I had ended up finding out the house myself and a few friends were living in was about to be foreclosed on, something very common in this economy. Two roommates decided to get a condo, one roommate decided to move back with his folks. I didn't have either option, so I ended up with this crazy idea to create a rolling home out of a van.

I did alot of research online and found a ton of information, but alot of it was scattered. Vandwelling seems to be a niche. The closest communities that seem to have more popularity are people who convert school and transit buses into RVs, and those that live fulltime in their RVs. This combines the two, just on a smaller scale. This site hopes to rectify that a bit!

Whatever the reasons for vandwelling, it IS a viable lifestyle that you CAN make work. I've done it for over a year now and my attitude towards it went from being cautiously optimistic to loving the freedom its given me. I've met dozens of other people either online or in real life who feel the same way. The most liberating aspect, I believe, is learning to just let go of a ton of stress and having a simpler, but no less successful, lifestyle.


Welcome to my blog!

Hey everyone!

After many people pressuring me to do it, I finally set up a blog about my Vandwelling. For those not in the know, Vandwelling is the act of living in your van, either for short terms at a time or using it as your permanent residence. Vandwelling has come a long ways from the days of a beanbag chair and a futon mattress in the back, and can actually be a fairly rewarding lifestyle, if not a unique one.

I want to welcome the folks from Facebook, /o/, CS, Skoolie, and the yahoo Vandwellers group.

I hope to use this blog to not only catalog my travels, but also to give details about Vandwelling in general, from picking a van, to deciding what you need, how to construct it, etc. I'll also post links to some incredibly helpful websites that have been a gold mine!

Until then, watch this space!