DIY Vanlife: Part 2

Location: Geelong, Victoria

So you’re thinking about hitting the road and the most cost effective way to do that is by living out of your car, but you don’t own a van that’s already fitted out. That’s okay because you don’t have to trade in your car if you can’t afford to upgrade. In my first post on DIY Vanlife, I went into detail about how I modified my 2001 Toyota Rav4 so that Siu On and I could live out of it for an extended period of time, and the idea is the same for any kind of car, and if you don’t believe me then check out the Traveling Toaster! And I can tell you from almost two months on the road that our set up is actually going well.

Making Your Car Your Home

The biggest downside of building a platform in the back of your car is that you will lose not only a lot of head room, but space in general. This has been the hardest part of the experience, and has made for some interesting gymnastics in the back of the car when we’re both trying to get dressed at the same time. After awhile though, you work out a system and it pays to be organised! However uncomfortable this may be, you still need to make your car as livable as you possibly can.

  1. Window coverings. You need privacy and you don’t want people looking into your car especially while you sleep, because that’s super creepy. Unfortunately for most sedans or SUV’s, the windows tend to be on the curvy side, which makes using curtains a bit hard. After much trial and error I settled on attaching two bamboo poles to the handles above the windows, using bulldog clips to attach the black felt to the poles. The bamboo poles came from the garden, the bulldog clips I stole from work, and the felt cost me about $40 for a couple of meters. To block the front and rear windscreens I bought two sunshades with suction caps that were $9 each. It’s not fancy, but it works.
  2. Bedding. We could have just used our sleeping bags for this, but since we were looking to settle over East we both though bringing our own bed sheets, pillows and doona would come in handy, so we bought a cheap sheet set ($30) from Kmart.
  3. Storage for important items. In the absence of bedside tables I’ve been using a winter hat of mine that I can clip to the bamboo poles and then keep my mobile, car keys, headlamp and lip balm in. It’s in an easy to reach place and keeps everything together.
  4. Getting rid of stink and dampness. We sleep with the window open a crack for fresh air, however it doesn’t completely get rid of condensation on the windows, and you want to avoid any dampness in the car as this can cause mould and make your new home stinky and unsanitary. For $5 you can get a box of de-damp from Kmart, and it works by sucking in moisture (refills are $3). Also, I’d advise airing the car our regularly to help remove odours, as well as have some sort of refresher in there (we use essential oils ‘cos they don’t make the car smell like a toilet).

View of the inside of Bea from the Rear Door.

How About Storage?

I’m glad you asked! Having the platform in the back cut our storage space in half, plus there were some things we didn’t want to store in the car at all so we invested in a set of roof racks ($300) with a basket that would hold large items like the esky, and the two jerry cans we’d be taking along.

Under the platform we fit 4 medium sized tubs, and on top of the platform we have our backpacks and other frequently used items. However, we always keep our valuables out of sight and never get complacent with leaving the car unlocked, or the windows down too much. Ensure you have a place in the car that you can store your valuables and keep that car locked AT ALL TIMES.

Is It Comfortable?

The answer to that question is actually ‘not really’. The lack of headroom is more the culprit in this case and even though Siu On and I aren’t tall people, we still hit our heads on the roof, knee each other accidentally whilst moving around, and get stiff from not being able to sleep at a full stretch. However, for a night or two we can both put up with it and still  sleep in a warm and pretty comfortable bed.

In light of all this, I do advise that you bring along a small tent so that you have the option of sleeping in something other than your car, and we have found that we’ve used the tent on stays of two days or more. We definitely appreciate having that choice and you will too!

Inside of Bea view of platform

You could also add personal touches to your car, but hey, who has money for that – you’re living out of your car you scrooge! And every cent counts to keep you on the road for longer.

Photography by Jelena Stipanicev.