It has been so long since our last blog post, the reason being that, for the past 6 months, Drew and I have been working full-time on our first ever van conversion! We found our new van, “Spirit,” short for “Spirit of The Howeller,” named in honor of our European honeymoon van, “The Howlin’ Yoweller” (you can learn more about that 2.5 year journey here), used on Craigslist just weeks after returning from Europe. If you’ve read our story in the Huffington Post, then you already know that, even though we weren’t 100% sure if we wanted to continue with life on the road, it was a deal we just couldn’t refuse… it was fate.
Upon returning to Florida to visit our families with our new van, we were offered an empty workshop in which to start our build – an absolute godsend. While Drew has been doing most of the heavy lifting with the conversion, I’ve been documenting the entire process via weekly episodes on our YouTube Channel – you can watch the entire series here, we promise, it’s worth it! We’ve been working so hard and learning so much, and now, we’re finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Vanlife is what you make it… especially when converting your own van. After living in 4 different vans over the past 4 years (you can learn more about each of them in this blog post), we knew that this time, in order to sustain our nomadic lifestyle, especially if we’re thinking about having kids in the future, there were a few upgrades we were going to need to build into our lives, literally. So, more than just our adventure mobile, Spirit is going to be our sanctuary, giving us the additional comfort and space that we need in order to grow into all that this next chapter of life has in store…
So, listed (roughly) in order of importance, here are 12 upgrades we decided to include in our 5th van and 1st ever conversion!:
I put this one first mostly just to make you smile, but truly, if we were basing our rating purely off of joy, then our van swing would definitely win. We met a German girl in Portugal last summer who had something similar and I absolutely fell in love with the idea. We hadn’t talked much about how to make the swing happen, but one day I walked into the workshop and there it was! My very own van swing. You can watch my initial reaction in our episode from week 2. Not only does our swing double over as a fun seat with a view, but it’s amazing for my yoga practice + we both can’t wait to park up next to the ocean or a lake, and launch ourselves in straight from the van! Catch us swinging off the California coast here + installation details here.
2.A Fixed Bed
Living in a 60 square foot space (at most) with your significant other for 4+ years can be an amazing (challenging) experience. We handle it pretty well most of the time, giving each other our figurative space when needed and talking things out that we don’t otherwise have “room” for in our tiny home. When it comes to routines, we’ve found our flow, but the one thing I haven’t succeeded in is turning Drew into a morning person, and that’s ok. But, in order for us both to have what we need in order to thrive, I need the option to go to bed and wake up early, while Drew needs the opposite. The Howeller had a futon-style bed located directly in front of the slider door (below), which meant that our bed/couch was in front of all the best views, and we loved this. What we didn’t love though, was the fact that it took up our nearly our entire home when extended, blocking access to certain cupboards and forcing us to always be on the same schedule. Another slight inconvenience was that we needed to make and unmake our bed every morning and night #vanlife.
So, when deciding on Spirit’s layout, we opted for the best of both worlds. A raised bed platform in the back + futon-style couch/guest bed in front of the slider door. This setup allows us the freedom to follow our own sleeping patterns + the comfort of a Queen-size mattress vs. the puzzle of cushions we were sleeping on before + now that our bed is always made in the back, going to sleep is purely a relaxing experience, with no prerequisite chores required. Our little mini futon also gifts us with increased storage space + the ability to lounge and enjoy all our meals while sitting in the best seat in the house. Watch our episode from week 2 to see how Drew repurposed two twin-sized bed frames for our new set up.
This is one thing we’ve never had, that we are STOKED about. We thought about upgrading The Howeller (our European van) with solar but we knew we wouldn’t be able to bring any of it back to the US with us, so we decided to just be happy with what we had. In our episode from week 4, you’ll see how Drew mounted our 3- 100 watt solar panels on Spirit’s roof. Convenient and sustainable, we love knowing that we don’t have to worry about losing power when staying in the same spot for an extended amount of time… well, as long as the sun is shining 🙂
We flew to England 5 days after our wedding. It was February 5th and we bought a van – The Howeller – that had no heating. None. We had to adapt. We learned about sleeping with hot water bottles, toasted our PJ’s in the oven and huddled around our teeny diesel camping heater that almost caught on fire once. I wore a literal snow suit nearly every day for the first 3 months of our honeymoon and, over time, I developed an awful circulation problem affecting my fingers and toes. After that experience, we decided to base our route nearly entirely off of weather. So right, a heater. This time around, there was no question. Watch all the excitement that is our heater installation episode from Week 14 + see us using it for the 1st time in the Saguaro Desert.
5.Water filtration system
Absolute luxury. Who doesn’t dream of having amazing, drinkable water straight out of the faucet! After refilling our collection of plastic jugs an innumerable amount of times over the past years, from various, often times sketchy, sources (Norwegian cemetery flashbacks), we are both so excited to know that we’ll be drinking the most amazing water around, no matter where we are + eliminating unnecessary plastic waste. Watch our episode from week 13 to learn more about how we installed our premium triple-filtration system from the RV Water Filter Store, an absolute dream!
6.Hot water heater
There is something so soothing and relieving about hot water, especially when living in a van where the comforts of everyday living can be quite limited. After living hot-water free for 2.5 years, bathing in the Norwegian Sea, praying for the sun to shine on our black-rubber solar-shower bag, it was time. For the sake of happily being able to sustain life on the road, we decided on a mini 2.5 gallon hot water heater which we turn on using a timer so we never overdraw our power system, and man oh man are we grateful. It’s surprisingly more than enough for the both of to enjoy a nice hot shower and the views definitely beat the inside of any gym. Watch this episode to see us use it after going for a very chilly swim in the Pacific!
This upgrade is made even more awesome by our hot water heater. If you saw our incredible shower in a drawer/futon that Drew invented in week 12’s episode, then you know why I’m so excited! We live for adventure, I love to run and Drew needs his morning wake up showers. Plus, if we ever have a little one, it’ll make the perfect bubble bath! YouTube follow-up video on how much we love using this coming soon!
We’ve only ever had a traditional, front-door style fridge in all our previous vans (except for the Iceland camper – we just had a little cooler in that one), but the more we travel, the more we keep hearing about how much people love their top loaders. Plus, because we decided to place our fridge on a sliding tray right near our slider door, it doubles over as a bench with a view! Watch the unveiling of our SnoMaster fridge in week 9’s episode + see how full we can make it here.
We never had an oven in our van before The Howeller, and honestly, we never even thought of it – didn’t know it was possible I guess! But after experiencing the magic of our first pizza and a movie night in the van (memories of being parked on the vineyards in France!), we were hooked. From baking birthday cakes to being able to grill delicious kabobs on rainy nights, having an oven has revolutionized vanlife meals for us and there is no going back. Watch this episode to share in the joy of our 1st pizza night in Spirit!
10.Sliding bike tray
I debated putting this one 2nd because storing our bikes under the bed is sort of what our entire layout is based around, but the fact is that all the other things are a bit more relevant to affecting the quality of our everyday lives, and a sliding bike tray, well now, that just eliminates unnecessary struggle from the beginning and end of an epic adventure! Check out our episode from week 4 to see how Drew built this beauty of a bike tray.
For reference, here’s how we hung our bikes in The Howeller. Drew had to tear out the bathroom in order to make storing our bikes inside possible, but don’t worry, we kept our toilet… in the kitchen:
11.Roof-top Deck + ladder
There’s something so nice about being able to enjoy the view from above. We’ve met a few other bus and van dwellers with roof-top decks and luckily our 170WB Sprinter had just enough space for it + our solar panels too. You can see how Drew installed our DIY rooftop deck in week 5‘s episode. Before, in The Howeller, we had to climb on top of our kitchen counter and fling ourselves up and around, through the backdoors to get up onto our roof… it wasn’t easy and so we didn’t do it often. Now, with our lucky find on Craigslist, we have a fun and easy way to access our elevated space to enjoy sunset, yoga and watch the stars. Watch our episode from week 1 of living in Spirit (our new van) to enjoy our first rooftop deck moments with us 🙂
And well, there you have it! Part of me is going to miss totally roughing it in our van. There’s a deeply humbling simplicity that comes along with “going without,” but something tells me that all these little upgrades are going to create a lot more space for gratitude in our vanlife, and that’s a beautiful thing.
You can shop all our van build/life supplies in our Amazon Store and join this unpredictable journey by Subscribing to our weekly #AdventureThursday episodes on YouTube + follow our daily updates on Instagram @mrandmrsadventure + sign up for our monthly-ish newsletter + like us on FaceBook! So blessed to be sharing this adventure called life with you ♡