Last Update: 1/23/2018

Starting Vanlife for About $100

inside of van with mattress, blankets, and curtains

Vanholio's rig is in the body shop. Meantime, he's livin' outta a rental Dodge Grand Caravan. Thought I'd show you how I took up and how easy it is.

Wait! What Happened to Your Van!?

Got stuck in gravel in New Year's Eve. When the tow boys winched me out sideways, they bent a frame reinforcer called a "torque box." Good news is it's covered by insurance. I'll get her back in about two weeks. Meantime, insurance is coverin' a rental vehicle.

Outfittin' the Dodge Grand Caravan Rental

Yeah, so I got two weeks or so ta kill in this thing. All I needed to do was throw up some curtains and put a mattress in. Pulled all my blankets, pillows, clothes, basic eatin' shit, and groomin' gear outta my own van before I dropped her off.

So what did I spend cashola on? A mattress (~$45), curtains (~$35), and 200W inverter (~$28). Coulda done it cheaper by scroungin' the thrift stores, too!

Makin' Curtains

looking through back window of van
Peekers can't see much through the back window
I went for curtains instead a Reflectix or whatever 'cause it's fuckin' cold at night. Like down into the high teens. Cost me about $35 ta get 8 yards (8 m) a polyfleece at Walmart, plus clothespins, binder clips, and cheap scissors ta cut it. (Already had some cordage on hand.)

You can see in the picture at top that I got a double line a cordage wrapped through hanger hooks, handles, and seat belt mounts. Since the roof is curved in, the lower line a cord pulls the curtains back in toward the sidewall.

Gettin' the Mattress Warm

The mattress is an inflatable twin mattress Walmart sells for $20. It ain't too bad, but it's kinda cold on the back in these winter nights. So I spent another $25 gettin' a quilt cover, an extra fleece blanket ta put under the quilt, and a fitted sheet to hold it all down. Sleeps warm now.

The mattress and that huge pile a blankets (plus Ms. Barkley) keeps me toasty down inta the teens. Foam mattress'd be better, though.

Keepin' Devices Charged

Got me a 200W Bestek inverter. It's the kind that fits in a cup holder and plugs inta a 12V plug. Has two USB ports, a 12V port, and two AC plugs.

Truth be told, I already had the inverter. But it were about $28 when I got her off Amazon months ago. Without my solar, I needed somethin' ta charge up the laptop, smartphone, and MiFi. This does the trick.

What I'd Add for Long-Term Vanlife

If this were a long-term gig, might get fold-out solar panels to charge up the gadgets at camp. Might also get a little cookstove and a pot or two. Definitely a memory foam mattress, too. That's about it. Those'd add about $200-300 to the bill, max.

Yeah, But What About the Cost of a Van?

Ya know what? Ya don't really *need* a van ta do vanlife. Any vehicle that you can stretch out in will work. I seen folks mod tiny hatchbacks and compact sedans to do that. So, yeah, if ya ain't gotta vehicle, you'll have to come up with some cash. Otherwise, I say start with what ya got. Then it'll only costa ya $100 or so ta get started.

But Your Setup Don't Look Like Instagram ...

Yeah, no shit. If ya wanna get a retro VW bus and line it with recovered barn wood and install a gourmet kitchen, it's gonna cost ya a shitload more ta get started. That's the price of kool. But if your goal is to hit the road, see the world, and live simple, ya don't need all that shit. You're basically just campin' long term in a Rolling Steel Tent. K.I.S.S.

Get mail on the road – Traveling Mailbox! (review)

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  1. I've thought about doing it this simply when the current van bites the dust. As long as I also have room to poop.

    1. There was a loooong weekend where it looked like I'd be buying a new vehicle. In that case, I woulda gone just this simple with a Suburau Outback.

  2. Thank you, I like this. Too much over priced, under performing BS on the topic of camper vans. Spent $800 for a van and $200 for the conversion, 5+ years ago. Beats my previous $30k+ van+conversion all to hell. Fancy ain't worth nothin if it ain't comfortable.

    1. I like some of the kool vanbuilds I see on Instagram and others. But poor newbies get confused between *want* and *need*. ... They'll probably ignore this post, though, for the exciting options they can purchase. I did!

  3. Nice, i love the feeling of security this life has taught me. I know I'll always be able to cobble something together cheap to live in :D

    1. If you're warm, outta the rain, and your belly is full, life is good.