Written by Katie Larsen, in collaboration with Vanessa and Adam Hickey, Mary Ashley Krogh, Owen Chikazawa, and Brittany and Drew Neumann. Sponsored by 76®. Don’t forget to check out their First 30 Day series, all about diving into vanlife and life on the road!
What transforms a van into a home is all the details.
Building a functional van with all the necessary components is the challenging part. However, once the main portions of a build are complete, it’s all about the final touches. The last week before hitting the road is often filled with last-minute additions. This includes hooks for drying wet towels, fruit hammocks to save counter space, or a bottle opener on the wall for convenience. While these are small details, they are often what change a van from just a camper, into a home. Over time, it is inevitable that more trinkets and tiny additions will make their way into a home on wheels. Our best advice? Embrace those small additions. They are collections of your travels and adventures on the road. There’s nothing that warms our hearts more than a van that looks “lived in.”
While there really isn’t much room in a van for accruing large items, it’s great to have small memorabilia that remind you of all the wonderful places your van has carried you. For some, this means collecting maps, possibly creating some sort of a scrapbook that documents your travels. For others, it means collecting patches or stickers from national and state parks. You can have a dedicated sticker wall in your van or cover the external surface of your van windows. For patches, you can cut up small strips of velcro and stick them to the back of a patch, so you’re able to attach patches to the headliner of your van. These patch or sticker walls are an absolute favorite and allow you to reminisce on the amazing places you’ve visited so far.
“We like to add personal touches to our vehicles because they really make them ours! We velcro our patch collection to the headliner of the cab. Because our space is so limited we can’t really collect any big souvenirs from our travels. That’s why we have started to collect patches. They’re a fun way to document our travels and decorate an otherwise boring surface in our rigs. I frequently catch myself staring at them.” – MAK and Owen
A beautiful addition found in many vans is the use of repurposed or reclaimed wood for various sections of a build. By using more unique materials, you’re allowing your van the space to hold uniqueness in its build. Something even more special is repurposing wood that holds sentimental value. For example, wood repurposed from childhood homes, wedding decorations, and many other memorable situations.
Call it what you’d like and set it up as you prefer: a charging station, USB ports, an outlet, etc. Having a place to properly charge your devices, especially if you’re a digital nomad, is of the utmost importance. Without a proper electronics charging station, daily life can be frustrating. Working on the road requires properly charging (most) of the following: phone, laptop, hot spot, camera, and sometimes more. You’ll quickly find that relying on cafes or public libraries every time you want to charge up a device can be exhausting. Have a proper place that ensures effective and efficient charging of any and all electronics you will want to use on a regular basis throughout your time in a van.
Small Memorabilia from Travels
Whether from adventures in your van or from previous international travels, most of us have some sort of small souvenirs we have collected from various experiences. We often pick up trinkets that hold sentimental value, that we admire the look of, or simply enjoy. Here are some of our favorite examples of travel memorabilia or souvenirs that we’ve seen throughout the vans of the community:
- Arabian Coca Cola bottle as a flower vase
- Brass lion hook from the Netherlands for hanging keys
- Hand-carved wolf slingshot hanging from the rearview mirror
- Kitchen lantern from Morocco
- Bottle opener from an antique store in Texas
Curtain to Separate Cab from Rear
Since most van walls and ceilings are made of single-color materials, oftentimes of wood, we would highly recommend adding splashes of color throughout your build using decorative accessories. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by installing a fun curtain to separate the cab of your van from the rear of your van. This can be done by installing some sort of rod, string, or pole horizontally near the top of the cab, or around a headliner shelf if you have one. From there, basic shower curtain hooks do the job and will slide back and forth easily on a curtain rod. Now, the fun part: picking out a curtain! Whether you buy a pre-made curtain or hand-make your own, this accessory will surely add personality to your build.
“I thought that the curtains would be a fun way to add in a splash of color to our space. After cutting the curtains to size I hand-painted the curtains using liquid dyes to give them a watercolored look. After the curtains were dyed and rinsed I did all of the finishing work to be sure they had cleanly sewn edges.” – Brittany and Drew
Since a van is such a small living space, it is important to find ways to maximize your space. Finding a place for all the loose items in your van is a must. Otherwise, you will find yourself constantly moving things around and picking things up that have fallen while driving. Consider adding hooks throughout your van, which can be used for hats, jackets, wet gear, and more. You can find metal hooks that screw in at nearly any hardware store. Alternatively, heavy-duty 3M hooks work for less permanent installation.
“In our case, we travel with a baby. Adding in a hanging toy hammock and a blanket sack was essential to minimizing clutter.” – Vanessa and Adam
Another common hanging storage option is using hanging shoe racks on back doors or over the back of the cabin seats. These racks allow room for shoes, cleaning supplies, toiletries, and anything miscellaneous you need to store. Lastly, an item you may notice in nearly every van is the famous fruit hammock installed under upper cabinets. This simple white-weaved hammock hanging from a wooden rod is extremely common and can be used to hold produce and keep it safe while bouncing around on dirt roads.
One of the best ways to have instant memories captured is polaroid. They are even becoming more affordable, with new models being released all the time. While the film can be semi-expensive, polaroids are such a fun way to decorate your van. They capture memories from the adventures you will embark on, the friends you will make, and the places you will call home for a night or more. Consider using small magnets to decorate exposed metal throughout your van with polaroids, or just simply tape on non-magnetic surfaces. Plus, they are a fun parting gift for the wonderful people you will meet throughout your time on the road!