Kitting out the van with suitable storage to keep all my possessions tidy and easily accessible from my stooped position in the Bongo took almost two months. I got very luck with storage in the end; I didn’t find storage boxes to build around before starting; instead I just built the van to my personal measurements; a bed to fit my body precisely, and a gap through the entire span of the van the same width as the length of my boot, meaning I can sit on my ‘sofa’, working at my ‘desk’ without having to squash my feet. It also happens to be enough space to put my bike whilst I save up for a bicycle rack.
I get asked a lot about storage in the van, and generally about everything used to make my home on wheels. Most is handmade; throughout the process I became a genius at sawing in straight lines, twiddling my thumbs whilst waiting for paint to dry and shopping online. I say that Kiwa is self-built, but the truth is that I help from friends and even one stranger. Whilst I do usually shop locally and avoid big brands and big shops, I also recognise the ease, efficiency and usability of Amazon. There are some links to Amazon products, and more, in the post below
Firstly, one of the most important parts of the van, and something you can not see much of now the van is complete is the insulation. I cannot stress how important this is, especially now as I sit bundled under multiple blankets-in a house! (more later), the outdoor temperature expecting to reach -6C tonight. Under the floor, in every nook and cranny and hidden in the ceiling are sheets of Reflectix. The only way to describe this product is bubble wrap sandwiched in foil. The idea, as far as I understand, is that the air bubbles prevent heat loss. I bought two rolls of Reflectix which was enough to cover the entire van and make the cut out window covers which I have decorated with patchwork. The patchwork pieces are also available from Amazon and I bought a total of 400 pieces which was enough to cover some windows and the curtains in my storage spaces although if you had the patience to cut your own from recycled fabric that'd be better! I used leftover felt, an old T-Shirt and what was left of the orange flat sheet after covering my foam bed to cover the rest of the Reflectix panels for the windows.
Like boats, old houses and caravans, campervans can suffer with a condensation problem. Mostly, I leave a window ajar, even in the cold as I sometimes heat the van with a Parabolic Heater which runs off the same gas as the Jetboil and I do not want to die yet. In some of my photos you'll see odd-looking plastic bags hanging from the ceiling; these are Dehumidifier Bags, intended for wardrobes but the perfect size for a campervan. They last about four weeks each in the van and are filled with water after a month which proves they work, I think. There are also nicer looking Bamboo Charcoal filled linen bags, which claim to naturally remove musty smells. I haven't had any complaints yet, but that could just be British politeness, but for now I will assume they work. There is a digital thermometer which can also measure the humidity and it reads between 35%-50%, about the same as the average home in the UK. I have not yet had any problems with condensation on the windows and have not any problems with mould (fingers crossed).
I get asked a lot whether living alone in a van is safe, and I usually answer these questions with a shrug. As a single woman, living in a van is perhaps just the same, if not safer than living in a house alone. I lock the doors when inside, and obviously when I leave and I never park in areas plagued with the dreaded teenage yob-luckily was never a teenager! I am slightly concerned about Carbon monoxide poisoning and fire so I have both a fire alarm and a Carbon Monoxide Alarm. For the latter, I paid slightly more for an alarm that shows a digital reading of the CO levels over a 24 hour period and it has helped me to make healthy changes-keeping a window ajar, and rolling the windows down fully when in the fresh air or driving in the countryside to get loads of new fresh oxygen. Generally I do not cook inside although I do occasionally heat the van with that Parabolic Heater, mentioned earlier. As I light it outside I generally leave it on the counter with the door open whilst I quickly get changed before shutting myself in and extinguishing the flame-it heats a small space so quickly that I only need it running for a few minutes and my CO alarm has never once rang or read a worryingly high number because I always ventilate. I also use candles, although never unattended and put them on really cheap non-slip heat proof mats as a slight imbalance in the road will cause a glass jar with a lit candle inside to slide off surfaces.
You can see from photos that I use battery powered lights stuck onto any hard surface that use AAA batteries which I buy in bulk and for unbelievably low process at IKEA. I also keep torches lying around, my phone charged, and a power pack available and always let someone know where I am.
Update: I will probably be buying a personal alarm soon as stealthing in the city has been scary. 99% of the time its great, but I would probably feel safer that 1% of the time if I could make a high pitched noise. I used to think these were the most pathetic accessory but am slowly changing my feelings on this. Any thoughts?
Notice the Dehumidifier Bag above my head
Obviously, everyone seems fascinated by how I fulfil my daily evolutions as I live in a van. I've recently had someone proclaim 'but you don't look like you live in a van!'. Finding a shower has never been difficult; somedays I just don’t shower too. Shock! However, as I have a job, do care about other people’s noses, and enjoy hugs, I try to stay clean and smelling fresh! If I can’t get to a shower or am just too tired I sometimes wash with a load of wetwipes. I also use a she-pee to pee into a jar if I am desperate to spend a penny in the middle of the night and the thought of having to get dressed and leave the comfort of the van to squat and squirt in the frosty grass gives me nightmares. I sometimes use a she-pee outdoors too which has caused some men to shriek with laughter, or maybe fear, when we’ve met eyes behind the bushes! I will happily share more stories about the adventures with the she-pee soon. I brush my teeth like normal too and wash my hands in soap and water although perhaps use more hand-sanitizer than most house-dwellers.
My bed is a thing of luxury. It is made from two different types of foam- I knew that I wanted memory foam, ever since sleeping on a memory foam mattress, its hard to return to sleeping on anything else when not my inflatable camping mat (which, by the way, is the one of my best camping accessories). However, the odd size of the bed, and its extension meant that a shop-bought mattress wouldn’t work. Also, a huge chunk of memory foam thick enough to withstand nightly sleeping and daily sitting was too expensive. In the end I used a great online company called GB Foam Direct who cut the foam of my choice to size and delivered next day. I bought three separate pieces of 2 inch (5cm) medium foam, the stuff normally used to make cushions for sofas, and complimented with 5cm think memory foam mattress toper which I cut myself. To finish, I had a 10cm thick mattress which is 50% memory foam and 50% medium foam- comfy enough to sleep on too and in total cost of less than £100.
The large colourful boxes were bought from a budget shop in Bristol and cost £3.99 for two. They contain my clothes, which I roll instead of fold for maximum space usage. The smaller colourful boxes with lids were bought in a mad panic on Amazon using next day delivery. I needed to find something that would fit the remaining gaps in the side unit and under the bed as I didn’t want my belongings rolling around or uncovered. These boxes are marketed as CD boxes as they are the perfect width to fit CDs (does anyone use these anymore) and DVD boxes. I loved the bright colours and the sturdy-ness. The same brand, Leitz, make boxes in loads of sizes and colours. I bought one large one, lined it in leftover Reflectix and now use it to store some food. I spent over £60 on these wipe-clean storage boxes and, after the mattress, was my largest expense.
In total, making the van what it is today cost just over £300. I had all the tools and paint beforehand and a lot of the wood used to built the furniture was just sanded down pallets that were picked up for free from nearby Industrial estates and broken down over the summer. I did not once pay for labour, doing much of the work myself but obviously buying in the beers for the friends who travelled far to come help out. The most expensive part is the mattress, then the storage, followed the insulation, lino on the floor and then all the little van-life accessories. Living in a van is much cheaper than living in a brick house, unless you stay in campsites. I have not paid for parking once, yet, although this may change one day. Currently my own van-life related expenses are use of the Laundry and my gym membership, together, roughly £40 a month.
If I have not mentioned something you see which you like the look of, or are curious about anything else then get in touch to ask your question which I will happily answer. Most of the other accessories around I bought in Charity shops or bought second hand using Gumtree.
(I am a participant in the Amazon Affiliates scheme. For more information on this please see my homepage)