Do strangers ask to tour the van?
We've had people come up to us in parking lots to ask questions about the van, but so far we've only had two people straight up ask for a tour. The first time was at a park and fortunately, the van was clean as someone was visiting us. The person who asked was a young woman who was interested in converting a van herself and had spied our solar panels on the roof. The second time was at UPS when I was picking up mail and unfortunately, the van was a huge mess. This time it was an older woman who was interested in getting a Sprinter for moving art between shows.
How did you find your van?
Craigslist. We looked for months before we found a Sprinter within our price range + desired mileage range. It was an ex FedEx van being sold by a small used car dealership. A lot of people buy new or almost new vans and that would be amazing, but new Sprinters are really spendy and we're not into debt and making payments on things. That's one of the reasons we moved into a van was to pay off Justin's med school loans quicker, so it just wouldn't have made sense to add on car payments. We have two friends who have also purchased Sprinter vans through Craigslist, so it's a good spot to look if you're on the hunt for a used one.
How much did it cost to convert your van?
We've gotten this question a number of times and we're going with $5,000. When we started the conversion, we intended to keep really good records so we could tell people an exact number when they asked, but that fell by the wayside so we can only tell you an approximate number. We think it's a pretty close approximate though based on receipts for the big-ticket items like the solar panels, heater, refrigerator, oven etc. Sounds like a lot of money? It is, but we just stumbled across a couple who converts Sprinter vans for people and they're charging $16,000, and we know companies that convert them charge even more. With that in mind, we think $5,000 isn't too bad. If that still sounds like too much, it can definitely be done cheaper. For example, we could have gotten a smaller fridge that cost less, gone with just a range and no oven, and nixed the cedar paneling.
What do you do when you have to pee in the middle of the night?
Everyone's worst fear about living in a van is not having a bathroom. It's everyone's first question and when we tell them we use public restrooms (think workplace, stores, parks, gym, library, gas stations etc), most of them are satisfied. However, a few persist and want to know what we do when we have to pee during the night. We pee in bottles. Most people don't want to hear that answer, which is why we don't usually lead with it, but I can guarantee you that most people living in vans pee in bottles at some point or another. Unless you've built some sort of toilet into your van, which comes with its own set of issues, bottles are the most practical option. For those of you scratching your heads wondering how a woman can pee in a bottle, look up the Freshette.
You camp out in the parking lot of the hospital you guys work at, correct? How do you keep other people from realizing you're living in your vehicle?
Correct. While we don't see any crime in living in a vehicle, we realize that not everyone will like the idea of a couple of hospital employees living in the parking lot. As such, use blackout curtains over the window and between the cab and the back to prevent light from shining out at night. The cover for the window snaps on at the bottom and fits snugly around the window with elastic, while the curtain between the cab and the back snaps into place. We try not to be noisy and keep our voices down when the window is open. We try not to exit the van when other people are nearby unless we're actually heading to work. We also move the van around on a regular basis. If I'm not at work I usually take the van somewhere else for the day, like a park or store parking lot, and we never spend more than two nights in the same parking lot. That being said, about two months after we started living in our van, hospital security came knocking one evening. Justin went to the door and when the guy realized we were both hospital employees, he said they (security) wouldn't bother us anymore and they haven't. However, anyone who is astute and knows anything about van conversions has to have realized by this point that someone is living in our van and either they don't care, or security ignores them when they make complaints.
Are your work schedules different? If so, how do you juggle that living in such a small space?
Our work schedules differ a lot. Most of the time, Justin works during the day, but I work nights, days and eves, which can be a little frustrating when we live in a single room. For example, when I get off work at 3:00 am, I have to try and enter the van super quietly (kind of impossible when you have to slam a door closed) and can't turn on any lights or I'll wake Justin up. Likewise, if Justin has to leave early in the morning (he currently has to leave at 5:30 am) and I'm working that night, it's important for me to sleep in as long as possible since I don't nap well, so he has to try and get ready in the dark and I still often wake up when he closes the door. We've gotten more and more used to it over time though, and I don't think we're as sensitive to noises as we used to be.
Do you hope to inspire other people to try van life?
Honestly, we didn't move into our van to prove anything or try to convince other people that living in a van will give them freedom. We moved into our van to save money towards school loans and because Justin had always been interested in the idea. However, as time has passed we've realized that we fall into a pretty small niche when it comes to van life, which is working medical professionals living in a van. A lot of people living in vans have jobs, but they tend to be things like web and graphic design, seasonal work, writing, and selling stuff online, which makes sense because it's all easy stuff to do on the road. We, on the other hand, live in a city where Justin is doing his family medicine residency, and I work as a pediatric ER nurse. Eventually, we'll hit the road in our van by doing travel contracts, but in the meantime, we hope we're inspiring other people working professional jobs that may be stationary to realize that van life is still an option. There is no one picture of what van life should look like. All those Instagram photos of people driving around the country doing glamorous looking things are awesome and all, but we live in a hospital parking lot and that's okay.