If you are wanting to purchase a van—or build one out—knowing what layout is going to work best for your situation is imperative. While traditional homes can have minor adjustments made to accommodate your needs, there just isn’t that kind of forgiveness in a van built out. Let’s take a look at some popular options.
Most of those amazing social media photos involve people showing off their luxurious van, and the star of the show is typically a big comfy bed. When it comes to beds, there are two popular setup options.
1) Rear Dinette Conversion
This layout is incredibly popular and has some great advantages over others. But even with this there will be some things to decide. Let’s start with the pros and cons of this layout.
Easy access to electrical and water storage
It provides a great work station by day and bed by night
Allows for transporting of valuable outdoor equipment inside like bikes, kayaks, etc.
It feels very spacious—especially when the back doors are open
You lose permanent storage space under a fixed bed
Transitioning between a bed and dinette everyday can get taxing for some
You don’t have the luxury of a real mattress
You could use a Happijac bed lift. This bed lift would help you avoid the need to transition everyday of your life. But you would lose some headspace and valuable storage. Plus, they aren’t the cheapest option out there.
2) Fixed Rear Bed
This layout is easier for a lot of people because there is a large amount of storage beneath the bed. Obviously, the higher the bed, the more storage you have. But then you might lose the ability to sit up in bed. If you are worried about storage, you might consider this option. Let’s look at the pros and cons of this layout.
Easy to do yourself
Requires fewer moving parts in your van
Allows a lot of freedom in locating your electrical and water systems
You get to purchase a real mattress
Lots of storage
You lose a large workspace by day—which is important for a lot of van dwellers
Can feel more closed off
You could use swivel front seats to create a workstation to make up for what you lost with this bed option.
These can be super simple or designed with a chef in mind. Let’s get down to it with these two main options.
1) Driver’s Side
If you put a kitchen on the driver’s side of the van, you could be gaining quite a bit of space because you don’t need to worry about the sliding door. If having a large kitchen in a tiny space is what you want, this might be right for you. Let’s look at a quick pros and cons list.
No interference in your layout because of a van door or window
It looks good when you are standing outside looking in
Loads of storage possibilities
Monopolizes the side of the van where a shower might go
Loses the ability to have the faucet reach to outside
Forgo the indoor shower and you’ll be fine with this option.
2) Passenger’s Side
If you put a kitchen on the passenger’s side of the van, you would be joining the vast majority of van owners. Your kitchen prep space will probably be smaller, but you might have a window to look out while prepping! Let’s look at a quick pros and cons list.
Kitchen faucet could reach outside—great for rinsing off or even showering
Easier access—via a rear cabinet door—for a gray water tank
Leaves the driver’s side open for a shower or other creature comforts
A window near your prep or clean up space is always a bonus
Smaller prep space
Tricky to build into the door opening—but worth it
Building into the door opening gives you an opportunity to extend your kitchen outside, create access to your gray tank, or even add a shelf for shampoos and soaps when you choose to use it as a shower.
Having an indoor shower—and private toilet—is often a deal breaker for new van dwellers. The more you want to do urban boondocking, the more this makes sense. For many couples, they couldn’t imagine not having these. For others, they manage to make it work. Here are some thoughts on a shower location.
1) Inside Shower
It’s crazy to think you could have absolutely everything inside a van, but it is possible. Checking out unique van designs will give you a lot of inspiration for where to put your shower. But right behind the driver's seat tends to be one of the most popular locations.
Shower whenever, wherever you want
No limits or restrictions on where you can go
Allows for city boondocking
Takes up valuable real estate
Can create a closed-off feeling inside
You can avoid having a closed-off feeling if you are willing to have a transitional space. Some van dwellers have created a box that lifts up with a shower curtain surround to help get the best of both worlds. When not in use, this box typically serves as a bench seat.
2) Outdoor Shower
If you plan on boondocking where there aren’t a lot of people, an outdoor shower is a great idea. Another option is to wear a bathing suit while showering—but it is still pretty awkward. There are definitely some pros to an outdoor shower like saving space indoors and showering in the middle of the mountains.
Showering in the middle of the mountains
Save space inside your van
No need to add more to your gray water tank
Cheaper, less expensive, more affordable
Easier to build out
Less moving parts
No private toilet space
Should limit you to organic soaps and shampoos
You’ll need to drive somewhere secluded to find a showering spot
Additional OptionsThere are a few locations to put an outdoor shower. The most popular is to open the rear doors of the van, put a shower curtain between them, and take a shower off the back of the van. Another option is to open the side door and use the sink faucet. Finally, you could choose to bring along a portable shower enclosure, and you could include a portable hot water heater.
More To Consider
There are always more things to think about, but these are all of the big ones you’ll need to consider when choosing a van to use for boondocking, or while planning your own van build out.