How a solo female customized her 4x4 van for comfort using minimal toolsThe essential living components of the Vanifest, such as the solar panel, battery and accessories are covered in this previous post: How I Set Up My Van for Off the Grid Living and Working.

Now I will show what I did to decorate the interior and make it comfortable and pretty. I started with a fairly blank canvas when I bought Vanifest. The previous owner was a man and he hadn’t decorated Vanifest except for putting cool bumper stickers on the interior. He installed a great sleeping platform made of wood which is still in the van and now has a plush memory foam mattress on it with many girly accessories. Otherwise Vanifest was empty and ready for customization. First, I insulated the roof and covered it with two polka-dotted twin-sized flat bed sheets.

P1430294 (Medium)P1430295 (Medium)The roof was bare metal, and as soon as the sun would shine on it the metal became hot and the entire van started to heat up like an oven. The solution? Sheets of pink foam glued to the ceiling with a generous coating of liquid nails. All the supplies were purchased at Home Depot and the project was pretty inexpensive. The pink foam insulation made a surprising difference in the amount of heat radiating into the van when the sun would shine on the metal roof. It also helped a little bit with insulating from the cold.

The next step was to cover the foam with something that looked nice. Once the foam was tightly adhered to the ceiling, I pinned two twin sized bed sheets over it. I used upholstery pins which are curly and can be twisted so they really bite into the foam and help the sheet stay put. No longer was the inside of the van a big, green, metal shell. Now it had a nice upholstered ceiling which was easy to change whenever I wanted to redecorate in the future.

P1390631 (Medium)I definitely wanted a nice bed. I got a memory foam mattress and the finest sheets I could find on Overstock.com. I also got a high end down comforter from Overstock.com, and it’s very fluffy and warm. I got a designer duvet cover and matching shams. I also got four pillows. All around the bed are windows where I can see the sun come up and light streaming in. The sleeping area is soft and girly. It makes the van feel like home. I even found a 12 volt heated mattress pad, which is really delightful and even allows me to comfortably sleep in temperatures below zero. One February I boondocked near Arches National Park in southern Utah, and the temperatures dipped to -20. I cranked up my heating pad, slept with warm pajamas and a hat, and was pretty comfortable.

IMGP2501 (Medium)The other customizations in the van have changed over the years. At first, I wanted to bring a lot of stuff and needed a lot of drawers for storage. At that time I had two towers of plastic drawers from Wal-Mart and a small ottoman for storage. The photo at right is the first setup of the van in 2010. Clearly I didn’t have a boyfriend back then, because all my interior van customizations were crudely installed with zip ties and i-bolts. I would drill a hole through the floor of the van, install an i-bolt, and then attach things to it with zip ties. I gooped silicone caulk all over the bottom of the van where the i-bolts protuberated. Crude, yes, but everything stayed in place and didn’t fly around when I drove 4×4 roads. It was also pretty satisfying to design and customize the interior myself with minimal tools.

P1390634 (Medium)Over the years Vanifest evolved into a more social space. I wanted to invite friends into the van on chilly evenings and after a couple years of van travel, I became comfortable with the idea of less stuff. Here is the current setup of the van with only one tower of drawers and a small couch. The “couch” is actually an underbed drawer from Ikea with a lid that flips up for storage. A nice Home Depot employee took an interest in the project and cut some 2x4s and pieces of melamine to the perfect dimensions so I could finish and install the couch with only a drill, i-bolts and zip ties. Girly carpentry was at work once again. To top off the couch, a friend helped me create a pretty cushion for it. Now the van has a nice social space as well as plenty of storage!

P1390667 (Medium)The kitchen in the van includes an extensive selection of spices which are affixed to the door of the van in small glass jars attached with strong magnets. The photo at right shows the spice jars, and the little “chasing the sun” graphic is something I came up with for my 2 month long solo journey north to Alaska during summer. The further north I drove, the more sun I would get.

For cooking in the van, I use an electric water kettle, which runs off the solar powered electrical system. Also, my propane camp stove comes out when more complex dishes are created. Cooking in the wilderness is a lot fun, especially when I have a lot of time on my hands at a remote location. Raw salads are very convenient, and I also love making spring rolls, quesadillas, polenta, stir fry, and other fancy meals.

P1410687 (Medium)After many refinements, the current set up seems perfect and the the van is my favorite home of my entire life. I’ve spent all the previous years of my life in big, comfortable houses but Vanifest is better. It’s simple, pretty, comfortable and I can choose my location every day. I can open up my doors to any view I want and enjoy it as my home for as long as I want. Oceans, rivers, trees, mountains, lakes: the choice is mine. This is the best lifestyle I can imagine. Having a comfortable living space which is aesthetically pleasing, pleasurable and economical makes this a viable lifestyle.

After three years of living in my van full and part time as a single lady, I finally have someone to share this wonderful lifestyle with! Here is the story of how we met.

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Lisa Hackett

About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, drive from Idaho to Alaska solo, live and work in a van in the wilderness and dodge encounters with wolves and bears. Seriously. More

5 Responses to How I Set Up the Interior of My Van for Comfort

  1. Great job .looks very comfee.I to live on the road.I’m 53 and live in a 21 foot class c motorhome and love it.Glade people are finaly starting to understanding that less is more.Keep up the good work .

  2. Very nice. Great job. Creative. sounds like fun!

  3. M.Fillerup says:

    I love that you have done this!! Your seriously an inspiration! I’m actually looking into moving into a van. How did you decide which van to go with? I’ve been doing a lot of research and can’t decide! Any suggestions would be muchly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Lisa Hackett Lisa Hackett says:

      Hi, sorry for the late reply! How did I decide on my van? When I bought my 2000 Dodge Ram Van in 2009 My priorities were budget and reliability. I also wanted a 4×4 vehicle to get access to remote areas. The ram van was a good price and had low miles. Now my husband and I live in a 2004 Dodge Sprinter which we recently purchased and customized. It also has low miles and has been very gently used. Go for low miles and reliability! Vehicle break downs are exceptionally inconvenient when you live in your vehicle.

  4. JR says:

    Wow I have never heard of anyone doing this I think it is awesome I would love to see your setup if you ever get to Alaska I live on the Kenai peninsula

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About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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