We often get asked about the best features of our van.
When we narrow down the various pieces of our skoolie, a few key components come to mind.
Look, we like to eat and we like to cook. We believe that when you are traveling long-term and you are not eating well it may affect your moral and your global experience; let’s just put it that way. When we built the van I knew there was no way we would get a cooler or a small Dometic 12-volt fridge that opens from the top. We didn’t want a compartment that we had to empty in order to use. It might sound fancy but we knew we were going for a year or two trip, not just a couple weeks.
We decided to have a full-size RV fridge with a freezer on the top portion of it and it is the best decision we’ve made in our van conversion. We’re able to store ice, ice cream, frozen fruits for shakes, and can even freeze meat or fish. The fridge part is something I would consider in your build, since the smaller size fridge you get, the more often you will need to go into town to do groceries and stock up on food. If you plan on staying a couple of days or even a week in some remote areas, it will be hard with a smaller size fridge.
We would also suggest going with a propane fridge due to high temperatures during the day (at least for where we usually are). Also, if you plan to travel throughout Central America, we suggest using propane-powered systems and not 12-volt systems. In Central America, the compressor is running nearly all day due to the heat. Solar panels usually give out enough to run but not enough to charge your batteries. If you do decide to use a 12-volt system, definitely make sure that you have plenty of solar.
Stove & Oven
As previously mentioned, we love to eat so we needed the proper equipment to cook our own meals since eating out adds up to the budget. We have decided to go with an RV stove that has three burners and an oven. This turned out to be a great choice since we’ve been using it a lot. Homemade pizza, banana bread, brownies, lasagna, shepherd’s pie, and cookies. We’ve made it all and it was well worth the splurge.
When you travel for a long period of time this type of equipment makes the difference between being auto-sufficient and not wanting to go eat out since you have everything you need in your vehicle. Our stove and oven are also propane powered by a 12, 2-gallon or 45 liters tank. We end up filling it up once a month and it costs around $30. Our consumption ends up costing around $1/day of propane for the fridge, stove, oven, outdoor BBQ and water heater.
Stove and oven cooking is a luxury while traveling, but what about hamburgers, t-bones and fish? We have an outdoor BBQ (Weber) we absolutely love it. The outdoor BBQ was given to us before we left for our trip and we are so happy with it. One thing that is worth mentioning is that BBQs are not cheap and they do take up quite a bit of storage space. However, we believe it is totally worth it to have the BBQ with us and we would not leave it behind. As a side note, the outdoor BBQ is also propane powered with a quick connect hose directly to our main tank under the van.
If you are going on a trip (short or long) and your plan is to camp in remote areas, you may want to avoid paying for established campgrounds. You may also head down south for warm weather, maybe the USA, Mexico or even Central America. While I think this is an awesome idea and we strongly encourage you to do so, but we definitely want to encourage you to think about your hygiene.
Southern USA and below can be flaming hot and you might be sweating in your van or doing treks, hiking, beach bumming, surfing or more. What do you wish for before going to bed? We often hear the answer of, “a shower”. A van is small and while having an indoor shower may not be possible for most #vanlifers, we totally recommend having another option to keep yourself fresh and clean. We opted for an outdoor auxiliary shower with hot and cold water. For us, this was the best option since we don’t have space for an indoor shower but wanted to have a proper option. In order to have this option, we have two freshwater tanks of 21 gallons for a total of 42 gallons or 160 liters of fresh water reserve mounted under the vehicle.
Full-Size Permanent Bed
Many #vanlifers opt for the foldable bed that becomes a couch in order to save space in the vehicle. While I totally understand that, the idea of having to make my bed every time I want to use it turns me off. We ended up deciding to design our van with a permanent bed at the back of the vehicle, in order to not deal with the issue of folding back the bed twice a day. By building the platform bed high enough, it gave us plenty of storage underneath the bed where we can hide our tools and sports gear.
It’s important to note that I don’t regret this decision but I know not everyone can do the same. Most vehicles, such as sprinter vans, are more narrow than our skoolie so it is not possible for a tall person to sleep perpendicularly in the vehicle.
The double sink might sound like a big ask but I truly believe it makes a huge difference in our #vanlife household. We have a small double sink and it makes washing and drying dishes much easier. We don’t have to hand-dry them right away or messily let them dry on the countertops.
The double sink is personally a game changer that I already had in our previous house. We originally installed this because we thought it would help us gain comfort and make our van life more convenient. As it turned out, we were absolutely right! We also believe in using hot water when washing our dishes so this is another addition in our build!
As it usually goes, the first few weeks of being in the sun involve wanting to lay outside and tan as much as possible. But beyond that, we know that you’ll get sick of the beast pretty fast. Our awning is an incredible feature since it allows us to sit in the shade and avoid the heat, sunburns and sweating our asses off big time. The RV awning also helps us when we get rain as we did on the Canadian Pacific Coast and Washington/Oregon in September and October. It gives us the opportunity to keep the windows open on one side of the bus without being flooded and keeping a breeze in the van. We also use the awning as our wide screen TV with a projector for movie nights and let us tell you, that scores big times for making friends on the road.
Screens in all Windows
When building our van, someone told us we should make screens for all of our windows in order to avoid all mosquitos and other insects to get in the van. This was one of the best pieces of advice we got for our van conversion. It’s important to remember that we have a skoolie so we have 12 windows and a pop-up emergency exit on the rooftop. Our rig leaves many opportunities to get wind and/or insects inside our home. We did make screens for all the window openings and we are very grateful for them. They especially come in handy when we want the windows down for a breeze, especially overnight. We strongly suggest to custom create the screens or buy some online with magnets for the big rolling side panels.
Push & Pull Fan
In order to help out with the breeze and keep the van smelling fresh, we also installed three fans, including a push and pull fan and two small 12-volt fans in the bed. Fans are necessary in a van for both cold Canadian conditions and warm central American conditions. When you cook you want to pull out the air and when you are parked you want to bring air into the van. Those fans do an amazing job at keeping the van fresh and not like the dinner you just cooked. Lastly, the fans we have in our bed region help us stay cool at night and improve the quality of our sleep.