Planning your build for a new family member…
We’re so excited to be extending our family! Addison, my husband, always dreamed of building his own camper van. He’s a pretty badass cyclist and has been traveling to races all around North America for the past 10 years. We always dreamed of having a van of our own. So we worked toward that goal by saving money and finally acquired our first van. The awesome part of it is that we learned we were pregnant just before we bought the van so we were able to « plan » for the fact that it needed to be baby/child-friendly!
1. You’ll need more seating!
Here is the number one thing that will mess up all your plans. You look at all the awesome van pictures on Instagram and you start idealizing about what you want yours to look like. Counter space, nice seating bench, etc. Then you’re like … damn! We need a seat for the kid! Adding a third seat in your van means less space and more functionality. When researching such builds, we didn’t really like the look of the vans that used the seats for the kitchen table area. But when you have to put one or even two additional seats in your van to allow more passengers, you quickly realize that this is one of the best options out there. We currently acquired a used seat that can be folded against the wall and are planning how we will find additional purpose for this area. Space is limited and functionality is a must. Whenever things can have more than one purpose, it’s a win!
2. Where will the baby sleep?
A lot of people we’ve talked to simply sleep with the baby in their own bed. We would personally like to avoid this, as we also have two dogs! We feel that on shorter weekend trips it’s probably a good and easy solution but we are planning for some longer (several weeks) trips. At the moment we are planning to build a small bed just on top of ours. This bed will fold down when not in use, to act as a backrest while sitting in our bed and utilizing it as a couch or seating areas. Again with the theme, everything needs to be multipurpose …. if only winter could release its grip so we build on a more consistent timeline!
3. Mom is a princess …
Yep, that’s me! Since we are planning to do those long-form trips, on top of lots of weekend adventures, it was mandatory for me that the van had a toilet and a shower. Not only do I think this will be simpler for the baby and myself, but I also like the comfort of being able to do everything I need in the van while on the road. Additionally, my husband, Addison, rides bikes through mud, snow, and everything in between, which requires basic hygiene needs more frequently.
Obviously, there is a downside to layout. It’s the amount of space this is taking in the van. You have to balance the up and downs of each of your wants when you draft the plan of your van build layout. The bathroom is my one and only requirement. We made about eight different designs before deciding on a final layout. Addison had two additional requirements: a regular bed so that he could fully extend his legs. Keep in mind he is a cycling athlete taking part in hard endurance races. Since we will travel to races with the van, he needs maximum recuperation. His second requirement was a bike garage that can hold up to four bikes!
4. Electricity vs. Propane
This was a tough conversation. In an ideal world, we would have preferred to make our van 100% solar powered, but we quickly had to face reality. This idea, although fitting with our life goals, was a lot more expensive than what our ‘’soon to be a family budget’’ could absorb. If you rely 100% on solar, you are also taking the risk to drain your batteries and then be stuck without energy if there are a few cloudy days. With a newborn, risks like these have much higher consequences.
So, we finally decided to split the difference between solar and propane. Our water heater for the shower and our Propex furnace are both running on propane. We acquired 400 watts of solar panels on the roof, which should give us plenty of power to use our induction cooktop and interior lights. Worst case scenario, we’ll stop and cook some BBQ!
5. We love bikes!
This topic required a bit of back and forth. We wanted the ability for storage. As bike enthusiasts, we figured we needed space for 4 bikes: our mountain bikes, Addison’s gravel race bike and either my commuter or a second race bike for Addison. Since they are all of higher value, we wanted them in the van. Due to this, we decided to go for an elevated bed with a garage below.
Another tough part of the bike necessities is that we also need space on top of our bed for our child’s bed. So Addison had to do a lot of math and bike fitting, which required building and rebuilding this section of the van numerous times. We settled for all bikes to be on one side with some free space on the other to fit the baby stroller and some utilities (water tank, electrical, etc.).
This is kind of where we are for now. Living in Morin-Heights, Quebec, it’s definitely a long process for us to build the van in the winter so we are making small steps each week. We are looking forward to the temperature rising and are hoping to update you with everything we’ve learned by June!
Follow our adventures online at @The_Camper_kids!