My Ford Transit Connect Build Details & Must Haves
Below I have compiled a list of what I believe to be must-haves to comfortably do van life and be happy:
Keep in mind that the products listed below I have in my Ford Transit Connect (the smallest cargo van by Ford) build, so if you are in something bigger you may need to adjust.
Insulation - This is a must if you are going to be in hot or cold climates – which I believe would relate to anywhere in the US. The insulation holds in the heat in cold temperatures and keeps the van cool in hot temperatures. I have a spray insulation in my build but heard the wool option is great option as well.
Overhead lighting – I have four recessed dimmable puck lights that can be found on Amazon. The ability to dim them is so nice because sometimes you want more ambient lighting (especially at night).
Fan – I use the four-speed maxx air fan, which is standard for a lot of conversions. I would say this is required because you are going to want to have ventilation while you sleep or hangout. There is also an option of a 10-speed fan which may be better for a bigger van build.
Fridge – this is a luxury but so worth it to have instead of just a cooler since you do not have to be buying ice all the time. The only thing I really would like to add to this would be a freezer but that is something that I can live without. Unfortunately, smoothies are not super cold at the moment!
Here is a link to the Dometic drawer fridge that I used in my build although there are many other options and brands depending on the space you have. I am sort of obsessed with the loud click it makes when you close it though, ha.
Solar panels – this gives energy/power to my fan, outlets, fridge, and overhead lighting. This will allow you to be completely self-sufficient which is a major plus. You will be using renewable energy from the sun (so cool!), without having to worry about plugging your van in. In addition, during my travels I met a friend who hooked the solar up to my car battery, so the solar panels charge when I drive (which I highly recommend) so I am always near 100%! I have a 200-watt solar system for my Transit Connect which works for smaller vehicles. If you get something larger like a Sprinter, Ram Promaster, or Ford Transit you may want to use two or three. There are also other brands other than Renogy.
Stove/sink – I have a propane stove and sink combo (links below). The propane tank I use is a 11-gallon tank that sits in the back of my van. You could make do with a portable camping stove but I prefer something I do not have to take in and out when I want to cook. The sink is hooked up to four gallons of water with an empty four-gallon water container for the gray water.
Battery & Inverter – I have a 200 amp hour battery and a 1,000 watt inverter from Renogy.
Windows – I have two custom windows that were installed by my friend on either side of my van – a porthole on one side near the rear and a square one on the other side with a slider that has a screen. The porthole is cute and is to see out as well as for aesthetics. The square window is for ventilation as it allows air to come in when the fan is on. I also highly recommend having window in the rear of your van for light to come in as well as visibility while driving.
Square slider window:
Bed – this is obvious – you will need somewhere to sleep! I have a custom couch to bed conversion. It is 3-inch high-density blue foam with custom fabric. I would not go any thinner than 3” for comfortability. During the day I keep it in couch mode and then I slide out the wood paneling underneath and put the cushions on for sleeping.
Gym or as I like to call it, a shower membership – I refused to get a gym membership to shower until about three months into my travels. I liked the challenge of not knowing where my next shower would be but after having a few stints of uncleanliness for 8+ days, I bit the bullet, ha. Planet Fitness has a membership for around $24/month which includes using any facilities across the US with the ability to bring a friend each time which is nice. That is what I opted for. Although I am not a fan of chains it is very convenient and consistent. Be sure to check and make sure the showers are open! I found out the hard way in New Mexico that they were closed due to COVID. Another option is truck stops like Love’s and Pilot (which are surprisingly nice). Showers are usually $13-$14 but you can get a monthly membership. Campsites and National Parks only sometimes have showers so I would not count too much on them but if you are in a pinch it is always an option!
Other essentials: flashlights, lighters, warm blankets, camping cookware (I like the stackable version to save space), packing cubes for clothes, curtains for privacy, camping chair(s), camping table, a hammock, bear canister, pepper spray and a knife for protection.