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Van Conversion MIstakes

After living in our van full time since May of 2018, we’ve seen and experienced all kinds of van conversion mistakes.  We’ve met a lot of people on the road who have rebuilt their vans two or three times in order to get their build right.

We feel fortunate that we got most of our build right on the first try, but we also have a few changes that we would make to our van (and probably will at some point).

There are a lot of resources out there to help you build your van, RV or school bus, and we hope that our recommendations are some of the most succinct and helpful!

vanlife cost

The first step to avoiding van conversion mistakes and regrets…

…Is to understand how you live, your daily habits, and what you need in your van to be happy.  Many people assume that their van needs to be just like their house, but that assumption can be dangerous.  In fact, the whole point of being a nomad is to simplify.  So keep that in mind as you design and build your van and avoid several of these van conversion mistakes.  Understand what is good enough for YOU, and YOUR living style. 

Van COnversion Mistake #1: The Bathroom

There are a lot of opinions about this in the nomad community, as some people can’t live without a bathroom, and others would do anything not to deal with human waste in their van.  We didn’t want to sacrifice storage space for a bathroom, and prefer to do the deed outside or in a public bathroom.  Others would not move into a van until they have a place to go.  Which one are you?  Many people think they’re the second type and build an entire bathroom in their van, only to realize later that they don’t use it for anything other than another storage compartment

How Much Storage do You Need?

Speaking of storage, what are your hobbies and how much gear are you going to bring with you?  If you’re a couple of active adventurers, you’ll probably want to maximize your storage wherever you can.  Don’t just stop at making a big garage area though, make it accessible and organizable.  Many people build their van with a large, open space under the bed, and then realize it’s a mess on the road.  Build compartments or drawer slides to keep your gear organized and accessible.  Speaking from experience, if it’s hard to get to, you won’t ever pull it out, making it a total waste to carry it around with you, making it a huge van conversion mistake.

Static Bed vs. Conversion Table

Do you build a static bed, or one that tucks away into a table?  We’ve seen a ton of vans on the road and most people have a static bed.  Those who have a table are people who really enjoy socializing and having people over in their van.  Otherwise, the table stays in the bed-mode most of the time!  Having the option is nice, but keep in mind that you lose the ability to have a garage under the bed if you do build it with the ability to transition between them.  In the end, if you don’t use the table much, you’ll regret losing the storage space.

How Much Water is Enough?

How much you need is a common van conversion mistake because it can be hard to estimate.  Start by thinking about your daily habits.  Do your dishes need to be fastidiously clean, or is “camping clean” good enough for you?  Are you going to use a lot of water to wash your hair regularly, or are you ok with jumping in a river for a rinse instead?  Do you use a lot of water to cook pasta, tea, or soup?

Some people are better at conserving water than others, and we’re proud to say we hardly use any water.  We have an 8-gallon water tank that’s built in, and despite heavy water conservation efforts, we carry additional jerry can containers of water so that we can go longer between fill-ups.  Thankfully, our water supply of 28 gallons lasts a long time, but we’ve met others who go through 20 gallons in a week.  Doing dishes, cooking and showering can consume a lot of water very quickly if you’re not careful.

Lighting is Important!

We wish we would’ve put more lighting in our van.  We only have 3 lights down the center and it is incredibly dark in certain areas of the van.  A few more lights on the ceiling and some accent lights would be nice.  At the same time, we’ve been in some vans where there is simply way too much light and it is harsh.  If you like a lot of light, be sure to avoid overly bright fluorescent lights.  In such a small space, it can make your van feel like a dentist’s office.


We recommend 2 fans and a few operable windows, but no air conditioner.  Two fans gives you the ability to flush stuffy, hot air out of the van and bring outside air in quickly.  It also helps with air circulation.  We love that we can cool the van down very quickly at the end of a hot day, and it’s more energy efficient than an air conditioner.  One of the biggest regrets we hear from some vanlifers is that they put an air conditioner on their van for their dogs or for their kids.  While there may be some circumstances where that makes sense, we simply avoid really hot places.  Air conditioners require so much power to run that they drain a 5-battery bank in a matter of a couple of hours.

Don’t forget the Basics

New vanlifers quickly experience the realization that they didn’t plan anywhere for their trash or dirty laundry to go.  This stuff is a constant, and needs a place to live in your van.  This is  another really common van conversion mistake.  While you design your tiny home, make sure you have a plan for this stuff!  Other items that people forget to plan for are extra shoes, paper towels, toilet paper, and window covers.

Curious about our other Vanlife Adventures or tips & Tricks? Check out a few more blogs:

How to Decorate a Small Space

Vanlife Health Insurance