VAN LIFE TOUR | Our First Time Budget Build in a Rental
Hi, I’m Rey, a nonbinary writer! Join my email list for more stories and resources for trans and nonbinary people and allies.
We’re traveling around California for eight weeks in a rental van. Well, some
people buy their vans and build it out everything. They spend months to do it. We
are in the van for eight weeks. We’ve already set it up. it’s very comfortable
and I’m excited to show you what we’ve done. We’re in a Ram 2500 ProMaster from Hertz.
We are traveling around California for eight weeks in a rental van. We didn’t know which van we were getting when we showed up. We flew across the country with all the gear we could think of and showed up and outfitted our rental van with a combination of Facebook Marketplace, the generosity of strangers and some regular purchases from stores. I am excited to show you the space we’ve set up and our ability to be comfortable while on the road on this adventure.
Here’s the cockpit of our van. We, pretty obviously use this for driving but we also use it for sitting inside if it’s raining. We watch TV here sometimes. We have all of our little amenities, like the sunscreen is right here for heading out on a hike and here we’ve actually brought some of our phone chargers from home. We have the wireless charger here that holds the phone while you’re driving. I have my n95 mask conveniently located for going into stores. We have some water here and we also have the bag with our toothbrushes. So this is, we’ve actually brought the rechargeable Sonicare toothbrushes. The charge lasts for quite a while and then we’re also able to recharge them if we plug into electricity. We also have, and we got this from one of the people that we got the mattress from actually, but a plant. So our plant’s been hanging out and like most spider plants it looks a little bit wobbly but it’s been doing just fine with us even in the van.
Here’s what makes our stay in the van super comfortable. on our first day here, right after we left the airport, we picked up a queen-sized real mattress. This is a serious mattress. It’s about as comfy as the one we have at home and we helped someone out by carrying it down three flights of stairs as they were moving out. This mattress is on top of a futon couch frame laid flat, I don’t know if you can see it under here but it’s holding the mattress up. It’s acting as a frame for the mattress and it’s also allowing us to put stuff underneath which is huge. On top of the mattress, we have a sheet, a comforter and a couple of blankets, and our pillows of course. So the whole setup is very comfortable. It’s sleeping on a real bed, the same bed every night and
that’s made a huge difference.
Underneath here we have a basket with toiletries, cosmetics, a medicine cabinet. We have these fragrance-free wipes which are great for keeping clean if there’s no lake around. We have a big-sized body lotion. This is very nice for the Desert Air. We also have a set of coolers. So these styrofoam coolers, we picked up also in the first couple of days and they’ve been very helpful for helping keep our food cool even though we’re in a hot vehicle. We have about, we
have two of this size and two even bigger so we’re able to keep a lot of food in here.
We also have the suitcases that we brought and there’s one suitcase in here it’s actually nested with another suitcase and then the biggest suitcase is placed right here. We have some of the stuff that we don’t use very often in these suitcases out of the way. Then we have some places to hang up my camp towel and some of our clothes on the top.
And then finally, we have in between the driver’s seats and the back of the van we have this sheet. It’s been really nice because when you look at the van from the street or if you’re just walking by this looks like a dark nondescript covering so you can’t really see what’s in the back of the vehicle. It offers a lot of privacy and also some shade in the morning.
I want to show you our under-bed cooler because it’s just so good. It’s a styrofoam box and we have it filled right now. A lot of lovely fresh vegetables. So we’ve been eating a salad every night even though we’re on the road. That’s been great. We have these great heads of lettuce. We just restocked at a grocery store so we have a cauliflower. That’ll be tonight’s dinner and we have some creamers for our coffee. We have a mint chip that was delicious and some mangoes which are not ripe yet but very excited for these. So even though we’re traveling on the road we’re definitely able to eat fresh foods every day and these styrofoam coolers that we picked up for free have been a great help in helping us do that.
From this angle, you can really see the futon frame that we put the queen-size mattress on. When we first got these two we tried several different arrangements within the van. So we found that this size mattress does not fit across sideways in the van. But we put it all the way in the front left corner so that we’d have maximum storage space outside of that. We first had it in the back, sort of in between these two wheel wells and that worked okay. But we didn’t have a good storage space behind it. We found that putting it all the way in the corner allows us to spread out our couple bags and our food and equipment and everything we need back here which is really nice. This is super comfy. I’ve gone camping before where I’ve slept on a camping mat for over a week and by the end of that time, my hips hurt, my back hurts, my shoulders hurt. It’s just uncomfortable. So this is a real mattress. This is as comfortable as my bed back home and this has made a huge difference. I feel like I could live here almost indefinitely. It’s really nice to get eight hours of sleep on a real mattress and then wake up and go hiking. It’s… the real mattress makes a huge difference for our ability to do van life for a relatively long time, eight Weeks.
The biggest uncertainty for us renting this van was wondering if there would be a van for us at the rental location when we showed up. We actually got a call from them asking if we really needed a van if we’re sure we don’t just want a passenger car and I said no we really want a van. So they were able to give us a van luckily. The other uncertainty was the type of Van. The contract said Ford Transit or similar. Now, this is not a Ford Transit. In many ways, it’s worked out as well or better though. If you’ll notice this is a high-top van. So I can stretch and put my hands on the ceiling. But this has a lot of clearance. I’m five foot three but even a taller person, I think a six-foot person would be able to stand up inside the back of this van which is incredible for the amount of space and just the air space, the ceiling height in here is really nice. It doesn’t feel claustrophobic at all which is great.
This is our cooking setup. Unlike some RVs or more built-out Vehicles, we don’t have anything installed in the van in terms of cooking or water or anything like that. So this is our setup. We have a single burner Coleman propane stove that just screws into one of these green propane cylinders. That’s been working pretty well for us. We go through about one propane cylinder per week. We use it to make coffee in the morning and then a big dinner at night and it’s been working well. We took pretty much everything in this pot. And we have our water in these gallon containers that we bought but we also refill them when we find a source of water. These camping chairs make the experience really comfortable. This is one of the few things we bought. We didn’t fly with them we got them at Target when we arrived and it’s really nice to be able to relax, cook your food and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Living in this rental van for eight weeks is an incredible opportunity to see some of California’s most beautiful natural places. We’ve seen Hot Springs, we’ve gone hiking in the mountains, we’ve watched beautiful sunsets and all of that is possible because we’re able to set up a comfortable space here. I’m very grateful to have this magical adventure and be able to make all these memories.
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