Learnings from 6 weeks of #vanlife

In the final days on the road, I asked the SO what he learned. This list is our combined list. Some serious, some tongue-in-cheek.

  • I need a desk/lap desk for working in the van. I spent time sitting on floor, laying on bed, kneeling on my knees (ow!), and using the dash as a desk. None are ideal.
  • I brought too many tea varieties, and too much tea.
  • I didn’t bring a diverse enough wardrobe. I had to buy warm weather clothes along the way.
  • We didn’t cook as much as we thought we would.
  • Our eating habits changed. Shared entrees, two meals a day.
  • I need a data solution for long-term working without wifi. Covid = closed Starbucks = mobile hotspot only.
  • I didn’t physically write (pen to paper) as much as I thought I would, as much as at home or in the office.
  • I missed my bidet.
  • The emergency mobile, unisex urinal is fine. Risky, but fine.
  • 24/7 access to a restroom is much, much preferred.
  • Truck stop showers are wonderful!
  • I like not spending money.
  • Sleeping in the van is very comfy.
  • Florida smells.
  • Van worked as designed.
  • We still like each other!
  • Parking the van is easier than we were worried about. Okay, I was worried about.
  • Boondocking is easier and better than we expected–in most areas.
  • Some cities are boondocking haters. I’m looking at you all of South Florida, Charleston, and Denver.
  • The fridge lid might eventually attack you and give you a nasty blood blister.
  • Seatbelt strap against my neck for 6 weeks was the worst part of everything.
  • We need a light switch in the back of the van b/c when you get in bed and forget to turn off the lights, it is extra annoying to commando crawl back to the foot of the bed for the switch.
  • We need a ram mount on the dash. I LOVE the ram mount above the bed.
  • iPad mounted on a ram mount above the bed is a perfect TV!
  • USB plugging-in success ration is, somehow, less than 50%.
  • We’re already looking for time to go out again!

#vanlife – 5 weeks later, still going

I’m starting to reflect on the experience to date. Five weeks and two days since heading out, we were due back a week ago. We visited Mexico. We visited the southern most point in the continental USA. We have been places that we never dreamed of visiting on this road trip! It’s been wonderful.

It’s been annoying to juggle with my meeting schedule. Verizon signals are surprisingly strong in spots (Mexico and Organ Pipe Cactus NP) and surprisingly absent in others (Florida). We’ve only recently started having communication issues. The food is only recently started taking its toll on me. We have survived dozens on bug bites. I mean DOZENS…on just legs…at one time.

Tonight and tomorrow night, we are holed up in a hotel due to snow! We’ve stayed in hotels b/c it was convenient–both San Antonio and Key West are not van-friendly. We’ve stayed a friend of friend’s Air BNB (for just the cleaning fee!). Tonight, we stopped in Russellville, Arkansas, because we can’t drive through the snow storm and we can’t out run it. The next stop is just outside Kansas City and you can see below what lies between us and there.

Black Hole Van is done!

We finished the van on Saturday night about 10.30pm…with a departure of Sunday morning! Whew! Just in time! This was actually 2 weeks ago. We’ve been on the road, living it in since. It’s been such a whirlwind since that I’m finally sitting down to share.

The kanban board at home has a few cosmetic incompletes that will be undone. For example, we have 3 more Bad Ass Coffee bags at home that we started building couch skirts for the couch/bedframe. We wanted more of the artsy part and to hide the garage. What we’ve learned–and why it will probably go undone–our backpacks and camera gear bags will not sit flush under the frame. This would mean the skirts would be in a constant state of disarray. Now we know, while cosmetically appealing, the skirts will be practically impractical. I think I’ll make a pouf with them when we return home.

The van before we loaded it up.
Shelves on picture left, and our “nightstands” on the rear doors.
Our fridge and swivel seat.
The queen short bed with bungy cord on pic right. The bungies are our closet. Shelf visible with orange basket is our kitchen.

Van Life

We’ve been doing great in the van. Bed is super comfy. Showering at truck stops is actually really easy and nice. I wish we had a toilet. I wish we had 2 places to sit and use a laptop. For long workdays, to be semi-comfy, I’ve had to find off-van spots to hang out.

It’s been super easy to keep food for meals and cook. We have a table to setup for the camping stove. We have plenty of utensils and dishes for us. We have an electric kettle to make coffee and tea. We make toast the old fashioned way—in a skillet.

The lowest solar that we’ve had was about 58% after running the inverter all night along with the fan going and outlets on. Most days the power bank doesn’t drop below 85%. We’ve had great success with our power.

We are currently in Texas. We drove the van into Mexico for a couple of days. Through AZ, NM, and into Texas. We’ve slept at spots found in iOverlander and HipCamp–boondocking, staying in family’s driveway, staying in boatyards, and campsites. We are treating ourselves to a hotel for 2 nights in Austin. Then on to a friend’s backyard.

We’ve played with campsite doggies. We’ve had deer and sheep wander by. We’ve seen so many stars!

Sheep grazing near Ft Lancaster Scenic Overlook boondocking site

DIY Spacer #VanLife

DIY Spacer in action

When building a sliding frame for a bed/couch combo, the dimensions, spacing, and math of building is extra critical. To align each slat along the 75″ long frame, Mark built this DIY spacer.

Aligning to the spacer means equal spacing between slats, and a 90 degree angle. We still spot-checked the angle with a square.

Mark built it out of scrap lumber. The spacer width was based on the math of 75″ long (standard cot length) divided by the number of slats.

Other building tips from for the frame:

  • The sliding ends of each 2×3 are chamfered to allow for an easier up on the solid boards.
  • Vinyl slips about 1×2″ are under the boards stationary ends of the sliding boards.
    • Recapping…chamfered end on sliding boards on the end that moves out, vinyl slips on the stationary end of the board.
  • Every other board slides.
  • For us, the frame leg on the passenger side of the van lands in the slider steps. Therefore, that leg is a removable, screw-in table leg. It will be out when in couch mode. It will be in during bed mode.

Power & Bed Gen 2 #VanLife

With very few days left in our van conversion project plan, the kanban board is moving right. The biggest recent accomplishments is POWER! Yes! We have POWER!

The solar is charging the Battle Born batteries. The shore power is working. The battery monitor is working. Lights are controlled by switches. The fan work. The control panel is all fancy.

The sliding bedframe/couch had to be rebuilt b/c Gen 1 somehow lost 4 inches. Size matters when you’re talking the difference between 56″ wide bed for two to a 60″ wide bed for two.

Also completed and not pictured…

  • The bed is mounted to the van.
  • The bed has under bed LED strips for “garage” and nightlight lighting.
  • Bins for the “garage” are packed.
Thats what she said! | BustedTees.com

#VanLife starting to look like a tiny home

It’s been a bunch of busy nights and weekends to get here. We missed our practice camp weekend–which was designed to test things before leaving on the road trip.

List of accomplishments:

  • Shore power works!
  • We have overhead lighting that runs off solar, house batteries, or shore power!
  • Wool insultation for temperature control and Reflectix for condensation control are 99% complete. There are a few spots to close up the Reflectix once the electric are complete.
  • Battery box/power bank is complete in the “garage.”
  • Control panel by slider door is WIP.
  • Bed/couch combo in 95% complete. It’s tested and works. Mark just wants to tweek it a bit.
  • I started painting the nails and overhead lighting trim for the bamboo walls.
  • Flooring and subfloor still complete.
  • Solar panels working well. Mark has an app with the Renology (I think) that monitors.

A reminder of what to do to build your brand as a woman or BIPOC

I attend an insightful, educated, and calm conversation around gender and race in my industry today. Hint: it’s a white man’s game. To view the recording, visit the Global Gaming Women website, view Conversations of Substance: Gender + Race in Gaming.

These are my takeaways.

Stats that demonstrate the lack of women and BIPOC in leadership roles are examples of Occupational Segregation.

I was blown away by the construct of occupational segregation. It makes sense. I get it. I had never thought of it like that. My areas of privilege are being white, educated, a executive, living in an area of middle class adjacent to upper class, and being of financial ease. Brought to light during the pandemic, I’d add: having a partner, being childless, and having means to make my home office comfortable. Therefore, I haven’t had to think about occupational segregation. I know the stats of 74/26 blend of male/female where I work. But I made it up the ladder. Eye opening.

This corresponds with the stats of for every 100 men that get the crucial first promotion to manager, only 85 women do, 71 Latinas, and 58 Black women. I have stats on my side.

The speakers discussed how everyone, no matter which majority or minority group you belong to, we all have our own unconscious biases that lead to our own set of microaggressions that we need to learn and control. I’ll add: especially if you are thinking, no I don’t. What’s the line? If you don’t think your neighborhood has a loud house, then you are the loud house. That.

They shared their tips for having a conversation with someone about a microaggression that you received or witnessed. Before speaking about it, ask yourself:

  • Are you surrounded by support?
  • Are you calm enough to speak in a manner that supports your personal brand?
  • Can you make it safe for both of you?

Likely, you’ll need to wait and circle back. When that moment comes, they recommended starting the conversation by identifying your own microaggressions or privilege, then lead into I saw/heard __X__ from you at ___X___ time. Make it safe and remember to have built a relationship with the person first. Meaning, cultivate a sense of trust and understanding in your work network. (This is assuming it is a person that you will continue to interact with.)

The conversation also included (started with) building a personal board of directors or hype team, and dealing with imposter syndrome. I found this to be an excellent demonstration of the way, listed above, to handle a chat about microaggressions. They opened with stats to get our attention and lead from a place of unbiased, third-party data. Then discussed items that pertain to all–even white men–which were the board of directors and imposter syndrome. Then they moved into the substance of biases and personal stories of lived experiences and wisdom (phenomenology).

Brilliant!

To end, they shared lessons to live by:

  1. Perception is co-pilot to your brand. (I may have this wrong. It is attributed to Carla Harris.)
  2. Make sure you know what people think or say when you are not in the room. (More Carla Harris–she’s amazing, look her up!)
  3. Be your authentic self.
  4. Take risks. Be comfortable with change. This enables you to better see opportunities.
  5. Principles over politics.
  6. Fail forward and fast.
  7. Cultivate your network.
  8. Pay it forward.

#vanlife: oodles of projects

It's beginning to look a lot like roadtrip!

The past two weeks of projects has started looking like major accomplishments. The foundation is built. Framing starts this week.

What have we accomplished?

  • Solar panels installed, wiring run to appropriate part of the van interior.
  • Both Battle Born batteries tested and ready to connect.
  • Solar panels tested to confirm they are producing electricity.
  • MaxxFan installed and water-tested. Cross ventilation fan installed and test.
  • Shore power aka mooch-docking outlet installed.
  • Kilmat installed on all sheet metal surfaces.
  • Slider door lock fixed.
  • Slider door lined with Kilmat, wool, and Reflectix.
  • Dometic fridge setup in garage for testing. It cools very fast!
  • Sleeping in the lounge on the floor on van mattress from IKEA. Night 1, I am not a fan. Final verdict TBD.
  • Passenger door window bug screen done.
  • Made a kanban board in our kitchen cabinets.

We have to replace the cab headliner, the panel back on the slider door, and line the passenger barn door tomorrow.

Aiming for a glamping-style camp weekend somewhere regionally in October!

Kanban in the kitchen.

Reuse: Gelato to Orchid Pot

Why buy $20+ orchid pots when you can reuse a pint container?

As we approach life in a smaller space where size and weight of items matter immensely and glass is an accident waiting to happen, I’ve been looking for alternative orchid pots. In a recent sailing webcast, a sailor held up a repurposed Talenti gelato pint container. She said they make wonderful storage containers.

That made me think…couldn’t they be orchid pots?

YES!

  • The lid becomes the base.
  • For terrestrial orchids, drill drain holes in bottom.
  • For epiphyte orchids, my Phals, drill holes in sides. The Talenti bar that wraps around the pint makes for an excellent hole drilling template.
  • I painted with white Plasti-Dip. You can use other plastic-approved paint. I laid it on thick with a brush to give a textured look.
  • Make sure to drill holes, then paint, then use an awl or similar pick to clear the holes. I drilled one after painting with Plasti-Dip…well, the drill grabbed the dip and ripped it off.
  • Enjoy gelato in the Vegas heat!
left, terrestrial orchid. middle, epiphyte orchid. right, aloe that hasn’t been repotted yet.

I kept meaning to leave the bottom third unpainted so I could fill with shells or colorful rocks. Each painting time, I just painted the whole thing. So that’s a future decorative option.

#VanLife update: the floor is complete!

Project time: Aug 9-30. Three weeks of almost daily progress during record-breaking heat.
Spend: ~$1052

Floor – vinyl and adhesive $     122.00
Subfloor – plywood $     428.00
Insulation – wool for all sides + reflectix $     506.19
Items purchased for floor, plywood is not only for floors.

This was three sweaty weeks of building the sub-floor. It’s an interesting process b/c Mark had to build out the sub, complete with cutting weird angles only to pull it up in order to really build it.

Weird angles

What??

Yes, he framed it out with loose screws to ensure it all fit and was level. Then he pulled it all up, in order to reattached “permanently” with glue and screws. Before the plywood went down for the final time, we also laid the wool between the slats for insulation.

Key learnings:

  1. Finding 1x2s and 2x4s without knots is difficult. An early morning trip to Home Depot helps.
  2. When working with so many screws, a magnetic wristband to hold them is priceless.
  3. Good templates are also priceless yet even stellar ones require trimming and shaping. Somehow the cardboard template and wood aren’t quite the same.
  4. August is very hot. Touching the inside metal of a black van will burn you.
  5. Cutting vinyl tiles straight is super easy. Cutting vinyl tiles around weird shapes require whittling and potato peeling skills.
  6. Everything takes 3x longer than you think it will.
  7. Center line devices are fun!

Once the formaldehyde-free plywood, wool, and pine boards were down for the sub-floor, I got to work helping with the cutting and laying of the vinyl tiles. We started over once. We thought there was logic to the vinyl’s wood pattern. After pulling some up and trying again, we learned that the pattern is eclectic, bohemian. We just embraced the non-matching wood slats. Used 2.5 boxes of tiles due to weird sizes and poor cutting.

During the floor build, we made the decision to ditch the crew bench seat. We had originally really wanted a second row of legal seating. We planned to incorporate into the floor. One morning, we realized that the sub-floor was inadvertently covering key access points for securing the bench seating. The choice was pull up the floor and cut access points, or decision to cut the seating altogether. We cut it. Thus, freeing up space for the pantry/closet area.

Mark spend days cutting and staining the trim pieces. Between sub-floor complete and laying the vinyl, he was out sanding and leveling the sub-floor.

Building the floor was a lot of work. I love how it turned out.

Next up: installing MaxxAir fan, laying the solar panels.