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non-descript white cargo van

I've been thinking about living in a van again.

BEGIN EXCERPT why are you considering living in a van again?

Arno K

Several reasons. The biggest is connection to nature. When I was living in the van, a third of my typical day was spent outside, often tailgating and lounging at a waterfront. After I put in the I2I, I got a ton of natural sun even enclosed in the van itself, on those occasions I had to close the doors because of weather or privacy. And it definitely had a good impact on my sleep cycle and circadian rhythms; in fact, the first few months I started sleeping inside buildings again, I was semi-claustrophobic. More and more, I find that I miss going to sleep under the stars.  It was like a perpetual camping trip, but with all the amenities of home right nearby.

The second is comfort, more specifically, my foam mattress. During my travels to different houses there are a variety of sleeping arrangements. In some cases, people like yourself have gone out of their way to accommodate my foam fetish. But most places I sleep at don't have a mattress comfortable enough for my Princess Pea back. I'm beginning to notice body aches from sleeping in a less than optimal situations, which is no doubt also due to my getting old. When I stay for an extended duration (say one week or more) I just bust out my own foam mattress. But I've had enough shorter duration stays (with aching mornings) to make me consider alternatives.

The third is excellence. The Turtle Shell was a decent living space that was highly functional: exactly what I was looking for at the time. I believe I can create a really good living space for my next pass. Just having had the positive experience of living in a van has made me think about ways to improve it, both large and small. This next time around, I want an interior garden, better sound and lighting, and a cohesive aesthetic. My construction acumen has increased considerably since then, too. I'd use sound-deadening and reflective sheeting for better environmental control, and I now know what units work and which don't in a van. Moreover, I've been inspired by recent trends and have even considered creating a slide-out:


  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIG9P0lB1iA

The fourth is stability. One of the projects that I've been yearning to do for years is run my role-playing campaign remotely. In order to do that, I need a stable setup where I can shoot video and audio. The van is the minimum footprint that I'd need in order to do that. So even though what I really want to do next is live on a houseboat for the sheer novelty, going back to the van meets more of my overall needs.

Btw, I am also keenly aware that a bedroom with panoramic windows also meets all these requirements.  So I have also considered (gasp) living in one place in a *building* for the next several years as well.  But I'm hoping I won't have to resort to such an extreme choice.  ;-P

END EXCERPT

After chatting with Arno I've clarified my thoughts on the matter a bit. Full time vehicular living depends on our modes of use and design goals. In my case, it's also governed by three major choices.  Here are the modes that I expect to be using the Vansion for:

I've been thinking about living in a van again.

BEGIN EXCERPT why are you considering living in a van again?

Arno K

Several reasons. The biggest is connection to nature. When I was living in the van, a third of my typical day was spent outside, often tailgating and lounging at a waterfront. After I put in the I2I, I got a ton of natural sun even enclosed in the van itself, on those occasions I had to close the doors because of weather or privacy. And it definitely had a good impact on my sleep cycle and circadian rhythms; in fact, the first few months I started sleeping inside buildings again, I was semi-claustrophobic. More and more, I find that I miss going to sleep under the stars.  It was like a perpetual camping trip, but with all the amenities of home right nearby.

The second is comfort, more specifically, my foam mattress. During my travels to different houses there are a variety of sleeping arrangements. In some cases, people like yourself have gone out of their way to accommodate my foam fetish. But most places I sleep at don't have a mattress comfortable enough for my Princess Pea back. I'm beginning to notice body aches from sleeping in a less than optimal situations, which is no doubt also due to my getting old. When I stay for an extended duration (say one week or more) I just bust out my own foam mattress. But I've had enough shorter duration stays (with aching mornings) to make me consider alternatives.

The third is excellence. The Turtle Shell was a decent living space that was highly functional: exactly what I was looking for at the time. I believe I can create a really good living space for my next pass. Just having had the positive experience of living in a van has made me think about ways to improve it, both large and small. This next time around, I want an interior garden, better sound and lighting, and a cohesive aesthetic. My construction acumen has increased considerably since then, too. I'd use sound-deadening and reflective sheeting for better environmental control, and I now know what units work and which don't in a van. Moreover, I've been inspired by recent trends and have even considered creating a slide-out:


  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIG9P0lB1iA

The fourth is stability. One of the projects that I've been yearning to do for years is run my role-playing campaign remotely. In order to do that, I need a stable setup where I can shoot video and audio. The van is the minimum footprint that I'd need in order to do that. So even though what I really want to do next is live on a houseboat for the sheer novelty, going back to the van meets more of my overall needs.

Btw, I am also keenly aware that a bedroom with panoramic windows also meets all these requirements.  So I have also considered (gasp) living in one place in a *building* for the next several years as well.  But I'm hoping I won't have to resort to such an extreme choice.  ;-P

END EXCERPT

After chatting with Arno I've clarified my thoughts on the matter a bit. Full time vehicular living depends on our modes of use and design goals. In my case, it's also governed by three major choices.  Here are the modes that I expect to be using the Vansion for:

M-S) Stealth and the Interface to Infinity

Stealth van dwelling is sleeping in public places that you aren't allowed to, legally speaking. It carries the risk of getting rousted or arrested by the police. Back when I had the Portable Habitat (an RV) I was harassed around once every month or two, which was one of the reasons I moved to the Turtle Shell (a van). I still got rousted around once a year after that, but those were mainly my own fault. Note I was never arrested and only told to move elsewhere, usually in the middle of the night.

With the benefit of hindsight and experience, I'm pretty confident that I could stealth camp indefinitely anywhere at little to no cost. First, while travelling there are many locations like truck stops and rest areas that encourage overnight stays. Other places like Walmart, fitness centers, diners, etc. will turn a blind eye if you are discrete and don't stay in their lot too long. If you are willing to pay, you can get great amenities quite cheaply at campgrounds, RV resorts, etc. that solicit travelers as a business. And if you have the right van and years of experience like I do, you can camouflage yourself in commercial lots and low visibility spots even in dense urban centers.

What I discovered in the Turtle Shell was that side windows were a dead giveaway that you were stealth camping. If left un-curtained, you can see right in even with tinted windows; if blocked over, it was obvious there was something hidden inside. (Other giveaways are light, sound, or constant movement coming from the van). On the other hand, only thieves give a second glance at a windowless cargo van, and they avoid those with security systems or with someone inside. So for stealth reasons what I ended up doing was putting a clear 4x8 sheet of Lexan on the top as a sunroof / skylight.

That one change completely converted me to the van dwelling lifestyle. I would fall asleep under the stars and wake up to beautiful sunrises, and spend most days bathed in natural sunlight. I was also a Stormchaser for years, and it was glorious to watch rain falling, lightning storms, and other atmospheric oddities. Basically, it was like the best parts of a perpetual camping trip combined with all the safety and comfort of home. I ended up dubbing the skylight my Interface to Infinity (I2I).qqq Make a glossary and link terms to it

During that era I was living in my vehicle, so I used to stealth camp more than half the time. Nowadays, I mainly visit friends on their own property and the need to stealth camp has all but disappeared.  In recent years I've become a perpetual couch-surfer and *gasp* I could barely sleep in my station wagon, let alone live in it. However, the I2I was awesome and I want to reduplicate it just because it was a killer innovation. It's a rare configuration in this context, begging to be explored in more depth. I feel there is much more that can be done with it to exploit its uniqueness.

Let's talk about more pros and cons of committing to the I2I relative to other layouts. The biggest con is overheating: direct sunlight into an enclosed space creates a solar oven. I was able to counter that before using two roof mounted fan / vent units and by careful choice of parking (shade, next to bodies of water, etc.) However, there were many days it was uncomfortable being in the van; more advanced thermal management is called for. The solutions I'll be favoring are:

Ceiling Garden
gives a quarter ton of thermal mass for radiation control, along with oxygenation, air purification, humidity control, natural feel, and being hella damn cool
Ceiling Water Tanks
another half ton of thermal mass, as well as gravity-fed pressure. [NOTE: Top-heavy weight MUST be evenly distributed!]
Portable Shading
use reflective and solar awnings strategically where natural shade is unavailable
Light Colors
both as the actual van color and interior decoration theme
Evaporative Cooler with Cross Ventilation
integrated with the shower and water wall. Only useful in dry climates
Air Conditioning
a last resort that I usually eschew, but needed in humid climates just for dehumidification

The solar oven effect worked very much to my advantage for heating, by the way. It completely overshadowed the lack of insulation, both in the walls and ceiling. Residual heat from my body, appliances, and electronics was more than sufficient to keep things warm during cool months. Even during dark winter snowstorms, brief use of a propane heater made things toasty. So much to my surprise, there was never an issue with heating. This time around I'm going to better tailor the insulation, using radiant barriers, filters, and envelopes more shrewdly.

Having a garden and water wall in the Vansion will be glorious, and there are further benefits to the I2I. Since there are no windows, the full height along the walls can be used without impacting visibility. Only a small amount of counter top space is needed, and I have ideas on how to situate that adjacent to the bed. So ultimately the I2I will allow *way* more features to be packed into a much smaller space.

If you need true urban stealth the last ingredient is to control light and sound coming from the van with a dedicated blackout curtain and extra sound baffling ducting on all exterior vents. Even though I'm not really stealthing any longer, I'll be installing these for a totally different reason (see below). I expect the interior awnings and sound insulation will mitigate light and noise pollution sufficiently to be courteous to camping neighbors.

M-B) Boondocking and Exterior Use

Another major use for conversion vans is the same as RVs: boondocking. Boondocking is dispersed camping in remote locations, usually for extended periods. Unlike most stealth camping, boondocking can be done completely legally up to 14 days in any one spot, as long as you stay in designated areas. There are vast tracts of land reserved by the United States Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) all over the US. So much so you could spend the rest of your life at different beautiful locales and never run out. Some boondocking locations are illegal but so remote they are never really patrolled or enforced.

The biggest constraint on extended boondocking is self-sufficiency. That often means low use of resources like clean water; off-grid power systems like solar, wind, or generators; and harnessing the environment. When I was Mr. Mobility before I never really boondocked; even though a third of the time I was in natural settings, mostly it was just short stays overnight / for a couple days and social events. The latter were quite successful, Outdoor Mobile Dinner Theatre (OMDT) in particular. I accumulated a bunch of outdoor equipment haphazardly as I found the need.

This time around I want to build in much more sophisticated exterior use directly into the design. While boondocking, I plan on spending most of my time outdoors and really only sleep inside. Moreover, I anticipate a new use case: social activity camping. So my designs will have to accommodate a minimum of 6 people, say me, my SO, and a family of four. Thus:

Mealspace
easy access to food, refrigeration, cooking, table, chairs, silverware, etc.
Entertainment
audio / visual multimedia capabilities to watch movies and listen to music outside the van
Pavilion tenting
ability to extend the solar awning into a fully enclosed bug-proof tent, as both porch and sleeping area
Off grid power
rollable solar panels to supplement the smaller on roof panel are also used to create tent shade
Water sources
ability to collect rainwater and pump natural water into the ceiling tanks, entailing extra filtration and conditioning
External plumbing
at least for showering and cleaning shoes, and possibly for doing dishes
Laundry
primarily for undergarments on very long stays
Composting Toilet
as a last resort use, depending on the scenario

In the social event case, I'm assuming that my friends are bringing whatever equipment is necessary for the activity in mind. If we'll be camping, they'll bring sleeping supplies, coolers with food, their own living amenities, etc. in their car. So I'm only carrying supporting infrastructure, which I'm going to need even if it's just me boondocking. I'm projecting that with the Vansion I'll be boondocking socially around a quarter of the time; in fact, I'll be encouraging my friends to take some vacation to test out the configuration.

M-V) Visit and Modularity

By far my biggest planned use right now is to visit friends. The Turtle Shell was awesome for social occasions: I could stay out as late as I wanted and never have to worry about the drive home. Even though a sixth of my time before was spent doing that, it was like the boondocking: almost always just one night. (OMG. In some sense, I've had hundreds of one night stands where I booked the next day! :-)

At that time I was following contracting jobs; reducing moving hassle was the main motivation behind Mr. Mobility to begin with. Nowadays I don't really work much, so the pattern has completely shifted. Most habitation in recent years has been long-term stays at friends' houses, ranging from a week to months depending on the friends. But as I described to Arno, I'd really prefer a more stable and comfortable sleeping arrangement.

To keep hassle to a minimum I want to make some things in highly portable modules. I've been favoring clear plastic boxes for awhile now; they protect against spills and mishaps and are easy to visually scan. Those and my expedition satchels are separated by function. For example, my beach bag contains everything I'd typically use to go to the beach. Here's some stuff I expect to use quite a lot at friend's houses:

Clothing and Toiletries
since I'll be using their bathroom, shower, and laundry facilities it makes sense to bring these inside
Tools and Equipment
I do lots of home improvement and my tool(ahem)box is often in high demand
Expedition Satchels
for day activities I'll probably carpool in my friend's car so I'll still need these
Signal Booster
both to get mobile and repeat wireless inside the van from farther away

A big question is whether I'll continue using a laptop. After dying eight times, Rasputin (my ancient Dell Vostro 1700) has made a will and is getting near its end of life. If I have the Vansion, I could probably make the move to a full on computer, since I already plan on having a mobile office inside. That has the added benefit that I could finally play XCOM 2, which I've been dying to do but poor Rasputin can't handle. ;-)

M-O) Other Modes

By the way, there are many other use cases for people living in vehicles. Some people are full-time dwellers, off-grid survivalists, nature-activity adventurers, retired/recreation travelers, and/or remote-work professionals. Each case requires its own unique features. In my case, I would be running a role-playing game remotely every week from the Vansion. So the other stuff I would need is:

Recording Space
tighter control over ambient sound and light for longer videos; shorter videos can use natural lighting
Sound booth
for high quality audio recordings
Office Equipment
I've found this to be generally useful for both professional and craft purposes
Vehicular Supplies
prudent stuff like a spare tire, jack, chocks, fluids, jumper cables, ice picks, windshield shade, flares, etc.
Security Features
remote shutoff and locator, a siren or loud horn, sturdy metal flashlights, various sprays, hazard lighting, etc. And a front door that locks!
Emergency Supplies
despite never being a boy scout, I believe in being prepared, especially when you are in the middle of nowhere

Last and certainly not least, we also want to consider what the typical climate and environs the Vansion will be used in. This is an important part of the use case that heavily impacts design (even though _technically_ it's not a functional mode). Two big considerations are: freezing vs. non-freezing and urban vs. rural. I'm a snowbird, so while I often encounter cold weather overnight, I prefer to move if it's going to freeze. I'll primarily inhabit suburbia, which means I'll usually have access to urban infrastructure. The design goals will differ in each of the four cases. Other expected uses affect your choices, for example, whether you'll be mostly stationary for long periods, and whether you'll travelling heavily. The former means we can accept more transformation in our configuration, while the latter means you want a high mpg. My pattern is to travel a long way, then stay there for weeks, so I'll be looking for both.

We now have a pretty good sense what the Vansion will be used for.  Next up, we'll describe the primary design goals and major choices that guide and constrain what we can do.qqq link to other pagesqqq next article

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