Our maiden voyage

We bought the van almost exactly one month ago, and since then we’ve spent almost every spare moment working on it. It’s been enjoyable, but we didn’t spend all that money just so we’d have one more DIY project to work on.

So with some minimum viable furniture fitted, today we set out on a short 4 day trip to spend some time in the van, figuring out how we’d like to use it, and what practical considerations we need to bear in mind when building it out.

This is what I mean by minimal furniture. We just installed a temporary dog bench, so he can see to while we’re driving, a side window, and a storage unit to approximate a kitchen area.

We were both pretty excited to set out, and relieved that Loki seems to be comfortable in the van, both when we’re driving, and when we’re just hanging out. We found a beautiful spot for our first night, had a little barbecue and ate our dinner on the back step with our feet dangling out. So that’s one design lesson learned already: especially with the 270°  doors open, the back of the van can be a great place to sit, and it’s convenient to have a continuous walkway through from the side door to the back. We wouldn’t have that with many of the fixed based layouts we’ve seen, so we’re thinking about other ways to lay out that space.

It was great weather while we were out, (so not a good test of the typical British/northern-European climate), which had a few other implications:

  • We did almost all our cooking outside the van on the barbecue, or the portable Trangia meths stove, so we couldn’t really test the idea of cooking in the kitchen area of the van.
  • We were bitten by lots of midges, which reinforced the need for some sort of mesh screens around the doors, which I’ve sen on some other conversions.
  • We needed a way to wash, because we were hot and sweaty (we used a stream – still not keen on having a shower in the van) but we weren’t able to get a sense of how we’d cope with loads of wet, muddy hiking gear.
The Serpent Trail. Look at this and imagine the hot, dry, pine smell…

Normally, when we’re out in an environment like this, we’re wild camping; so properly out in the elements. It was strange to have a van to come back to, to use as a base, and to be responsible for. It was useful, but also a liability. We found ourselves drinking cups of tea sitting by the van and wondering if we were falling into the same trap as the carpark picnick-ers, drinking from flasks of coffee in the comfort of their front seats.

And we talked about the worry of leaving the van – and our possessions – while out, and whether an alarm or other security would help us feel freer to leave it behind.

We both feel very strongly that a van is a tool to help us get out into the world, not retreat from it, so we’re hyper-conscious of this issue. We need to be intentional and reflective about our behaviour, and consider this issue in all our conversion design decisions – are we building an expedition vehicle or a fortress?

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