Home, Vanlife Build

Vanlife Build: We’re gonna live in a van down by the river!!

No, no we’re not, lol. But we have decided to upfit a cargo van for short (less than a week) excursions. I’ll be detailing the build as I go along.

But first, what is “Vanlife”? For some, it’s just downsized RV’ing. A slightly smaller and more maneuverable vehicle for going on vacation. For others, the extremely high cost of renting/owning a residence in big cities has pushed them into this alternative. But for many, it is the idea of being nomadic and free that is the main appeal. It represents adventure, travel, minimalism. Many of them have figured out ways to make their income mobile. They really are living in a van. There are literally thousands of blogs detailing peoples lives on the road. To me, these people are certainly living the best version of their life.

We fall into the downsized RV category, at least for now. The idea of having a mobile place to eat, cook, sleep, and carry our bikes/kayaks/assorted outdoor stuff was incredibly appealing to us. We see them all over the place, especially in the Southwest: upfitted VW’s, Sprinters and cargo vans, ready to go to remote places to mountain bike, climb, or paddle.

So I started looking for our vehicle. We briefly considered the travel trailer/pickup truck option instead. The main appeal there was a real bathroom with shower and a fully outfitted kitchen. Plus, it would already be built and ready to go. The drawbacks were the much higher cost and where to park all this stuff. A decent used pickup is well over $20,000 these days, and the cool trailer we had our eye on was at least that. We could have gone cheaper, but you still need a spot to park the trailer. So we went back to the van idea.

Not that vans are cheap. A new high-roof Sprinter or Ford Transit can easily push past $50,000. And that’s BEFORE you start upfitting. Used ones are difficult to find, and still a little pricey. Standard low-roof cargo vans seemed to be more reasonable and plentiful. We were finding plenty of ten year old Fords and Chevys with around 150,000 miles in the $10-12,000 range. But a lot of them were used by tradesmen, and were pretty hammered and rusty. Plus, these old vans are notoriously thirsty for gas. My search was leading nowhere.

Until I came across an ad for a 2015 Chevy Express long wheelbase, advertised for $6000. Surely that had to be a typo, right?. The pictures presented a very clean, shiny, dent free van. The interior looked nice. I knew that this fairly young van had the more modern 6-speed auto transmission, which would bring the mpg to a more acceptable level. Scrolling down, I finally found the reason: it had an eye popping 390,000 miles on the odometer! How was that even possible?

I called the dealer selling it, and she explained that it had been used by a local courier service to run coast to coast. They were all highway miles, the gentlest kind. This dealer had also performed all the services on it since new. It had new tires, brakes, and a fresh transmission. I looked over all the service records and Carfax, and everything checked out. The test drive confirmed that this was our van. I negotiated down to $5700, and we are now the proud owners of a white creeper van!

Over the next several months, I’ll be detailing the upfit. Our plans include a bed that converts to a table, a small kitchen, and a very rudimentary bathroom. We’ll have a garage in back for the bikes. Up top will be our kayak racks and cargo box. We’re looking at putting some solar panels up there to feed an electrical system for lights and a fridge. I’d like to keep the total budget (including van purchase) under $12,000. Please feel free to ask any questions as we go!

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