Special Post: The Van and Life in It!

The long-awaited for and promised van post! We bought a 2006 Ford Transit with 260,000 km (161,550 miles) from a private owner who had converted it to a self-contained campervan for weekend trips. He was upgrading to a bigger motorhome after 4 years of use so the grandkids could go camping too.


When you look at the pictures and think to yourself “wow that’s tiny! How does Jonathan fit?!” Keep in mind that we actually purchased the largest vehicle available to us. We aren’t allowed to drive anything over 4,500kg with an international drivers license. Also, anything over 4,500 kg is classified as a “commercial” vehicle, requires a much stricter inspection, and can’t be called a “car” which makes ferry fare much more expensive. The Van is 4,490 kg, so we are squeaking by on that front. Also, no judging us for “ghetto” for gerry rigged fixes – we have to make do with the tools and materials we have on hand!

So without further ado, let’s introduce The Van!
The bedroom:
The van originally had a double bed with 4 inch foam pads that could be converted and folded in half to make a couch. Before we left Auckland, we changed the bed configuration to be a permanent platform and purchased a legitimate queen sized mattress. It may not be the “dual purpose” touted as a priority by most campervan but the benefit of a goodnight sleep wins hands down against any disadvantage. There’s no headroom to sit up on the bed, but not a lot of time is spent actually IN the van. If it’s a crappy day then we make our way to a cafe or library or sit in the front seats.
We both have memory foam pillows and one extra snuggle pillows each (Or two extra pillows for Amelia, depending on who’s doing the math). When it gets really cold the best way to stay warm is to cuddle, much to Jonathan’s delight. The platform plus extra thick mattress makes the bed just a tiny bit too high for Amelia to get into so she has to use a step stool to get into bed every night!
The basement:
Affectionately named “the basement”, the space under the bed holds a massive amount of stuff and storage. On the right hand side, we set up four 3-drawer totes to hold all of our food, clothes, and nicknacks. This is the extremely convenient alternative to just having giant tubs jumbled with stuff. Five of the drawers have food and drinks. One drawer for 5 days of clean clothes for Amelia, and same for Jonathan. One drawer holds all of our electronics, batteries, adapters, chargers, etc. One drawer for worn-but-still-semi-clean clothes. The other drawers have miscellaneous items like extra soap, cool pebbles, beach sand, tools, medicines, etc. We use the bungee cord system to keep everything closed and tidy while driving.
On the left hand side we keep our “chilly bin” with its 3 days supply of blue ice box things, a little side table and chair, extra Nalgenes, and our dirty clothes bag. After a few incidents of the cooler sliding around and tipping over Amelia pulled the anti-skid mats out of the cabinets and shoved them under the cooler. This solved that issue!
The basement was intentionally set up with the crawl space big enough for Jonathan and we don’t feel the need to cram it with more stuff.
The living room & attic:
The large open floor space was Amelia’s favorite feature when buying this van. Other vans had a tiny space or none at all which was a very unappealing prospect when considering wet or muddy clothes. There is enough space to us to both sit cross-legged on the floor or stand together while changing clothes before bed. This is the best feature when it’s pouring outside because we just jump in and worry about the mess later.
We also installed a cheap shoe organizer on the panel wall to organize the daily used items like shower kits, toothbrushes, glasses, flashlights, etc. Amelia loves these handy little pouches! Above the sliding door are some command hooks where we hang out wet clothes or jackets at night
Originally the van had a wooden sliding door that separated the cab from living room with an identical panel wall between the passenger seat and stove. However this door was more hassle than we liked so during our time in Hamilton, we knocked out the side panel, shoved the kitchenette and bed forward two inches and replaced the door with a custom-made curtain. (Two inches doesn’t sound like a lot but in a space this small it makes a big difference.)
Since we were already making a new curtain-door, Amelia went ahead and made matching curtains for the rest of the van too and sewed magnets into the hem.
Back to the van features! The “attic” is a little overhead compartment where we store all of our clothes. That was our very first lesson moving into the van – we have too many clothes. But Amelia manages to squish them all on there somehow! Bonus, you can see the orange power cord peeking out so we can charge stuff in the van when hooked up to campervan power.
The kitchenette:
The kitchen’s sink has a little hand pump that pulls from a 20 L tank of fresh water and discharges into a 10 L tank. It’s a little annoying to have to hand pump every time, but mostly we use nalgenes for cooking, or washing so it’s not a big deal. And it’s better than connecting an electric pump to our van battery!
We really enjoy the propane double burner stove. We’ve gone a whole 2 months on a partially used tank and still aren’t out. Whenever we’re at holiday parks we use the parks kitchen for cooking, but having a stove means we can have hot meals and coffee when we’re freedom camping. The stove cover is lowered when not in use and doubles as extra counter space.
The cabinets truly need to be rebuilt from scratch but since we don’t have the tools or supplies, we make do. We keep dishes and food in the cupboards and hang our day packs on the outside. We’re ready to hike at a moment’s notice!
The Garage:
The vans double doors at the back function as the garage where we store everything that doesn’t get used on a regular basis. We have a “mud tub” that is exactly what it sounds like – it holds anything wet, muddy, or sandy. Our hiking boots, jandals, and rain ponchos all go in that tub while we’re traveling and under the van at night to air out. Underneath the mud tub is our tool tub and on top of the mud tub we store our chairs and “porch”, a little grassy square we put out the side door when it’s not too wet. To the right we store the 4 wheel chocks. We’ve never seen anyone else chock their wheels but to us it’s a safety precaution. Better to have them and never need them!
On the left hand side we have the “fun tub” which has yoga mat, books, hammocks, lounges, camping gear, frisbee, etc. And the last storage tub doesn’t have a name, and it’s just really used to store miscellaneous stuff. To the left you see a 20L water tank we use to refill the nalgenes if we get low. Next to it is a fold out 6 ft table. I think we’ll use it more in summer when the weather’s nicer.
The part you can’t see is the space BEHIND the drawers. Shoved between the wall and the drawers is where we store the rarely used items like our overnight backpacking backpacks, the required-to-be-considered-self-contained-but-never-actually-used portapotty, heavy snow jackets, tent, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, etc. In our two months on the road, we touched that stuff once and that was to unload it on Hamilton so we could vacuum.
The cab:
The three seater van is really only comfortable for two so we won’t be picking up any hitchhikers. We store big water bottles otherwise called “shower jugs” on the dashboard in case we’re in the boonies and want a shower, boom, solar heated water. Only used them once so far. We also keep the cowboy and baseball caps on the dash. Jonathan’s our primary driver. Amelia doesn’t like to drive and likes driving a manual even less, but she practiced driving a manual before leaving Houston just in case (thanks, Dave!). Now in NZ she keeps in practice every once in a while just in case something should ever happen to Jonathan, she can drive him to the hospital.
We keep a box in the front seat and it’s “the stuff box”. Don’t judge us, everyone has that spot or box or basket in your house where clutter goes before migrating back to its original home.
Bonus part:
The very best part was a later addition in Hamilton. Originally there were two little spotlights above the bed connected to the car battery. They weren’t well placed to do anything except read in bed, and we had to wear headlamps at night for reading, cooking, or eating. That got really annoying fast, so Jonathan installed twenty LED lights on the van ceiling, connecting them all to switches and the car battery!! One circuit, with its own switch at the side door lights up the whole interior as if it were daylight! It’s like a campervan showroom in here! Wow!! Another separate circuit is right above our pillows for reading or TV watching. The last circuit is in the basement. So now with the flick of a switch, Amelia can see anything she’s looking for, no matter what time it is – hooray!! That expensive Aggie Electrical Engineering degree is getting put to use right here. He was really careful to make sure we’d not exceed the battery limit, but we have a full charged backup battery just in case. So far we’ve been able to run all the lights for 6 hours without incident.
Last but not least, we named the van. It has the temporary name of “Kore Ingoa” (Ingoa for short) which is Maori for “Unnamed.” It seemed appropriate. The van will be renamed with the name of the location of the first time it breaks down. Hopefully Kore Ingoa will be its permanent name!

2 Replies to “Special Post: The Van and Life in It!

  1. This is a great post. Lol at your idea to rename the van should it ever need repairs. May that day never come.

    Love your names for all the rooms. Very creative. Your clever improvements are also delightful. Glad that EE degree is working out so well–the new lighting sounds terrific. Also all the pockets, containers, organizers sound like a life saver–God job Amelia! I can totally picture Michelle doing the same thing.

    1. Glad you like it! We’d love to never have to rename the van, but I think we’re past that point now!

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