Andy and Laur are in their early 30s and have started living in a van out of their former home in New York City. They live full-time in their Ram Promaster 3500 Extended in their van and have been doing so since October 2021.
Previously, they were both living and working in NYC. Andy worked (and is still working!) in the Ad/Tech space as a Technical Account Manager. And Laur was working as a recruiter for a start-up company. They both worked full-time jobs during the build, which helped to fund both the purchase of the van and the build itself.
Andy and Laur got started in van life when Andy had convinced his job to let him take 3 months to travel through South America! They had just started dating, but Laur was able to join because her job was also remote.
While meeting up in Peru, they talked about ways they could make permanent travel a reality. That’s when they found #vanlife on YouTube, through Trent & Allie and Eamon & Bec. They were hooked and started their plan from there!
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The Van Setup
Andy and Laur have a Ram Promaster 3500 Extended. They love their bed set up and the nook they created back there.
The Van At A Glance
|Ram Promaster 3500 Extended
|Van Build Cost
|Hidden laundry cabinet and indoor shower
|fixed bed with garage underneath
|natures head composting toilet
|Full shower w/hot water heater
|Full kitchen with three-burner propane stove & oven, butcher block counters, and porcelain sink
|Nova Kool DC fridge
|Maxx air fan
|Power & Solar Setup
|600 watts of solar, 3 X 100 amp-hour lithium batteries, 2000 watt inverter, and a 60 amp battery to battery charger as WELL as a shore power hook up
|Water & Plumbing Setup
|28-gallon fresh water tank and a 7-gallon hot water heater
Andy and Laur decided to spend a little more upfront and bought their Ram Promaster 3500 new. They looked around and found a great deal on one in Ohio for $37,000.
Since they bought it new, they didn’t have to worry about any kind of mechanical issues, rust or other issues that come with buying a used vehicle.
Andy and Laur chose the Promaster because they liked the boxy interior and felt it would be easiest to build out. It also has the biggest width which allowed them to lay a full-sized bed horizontally.
Additionally, they are big-city folks, so they wanted something smaller than a bus or RV that could be easily driven through inner-city streets. They also liked the stealth factor of a van!
After purchasing the van, Andy and Laur then put about $23,000 into building it out with help from family and friends. The only thing they paid for help was fixing their propane lines.
Read More: Check out our post on how to find the best van for camper conversion!
Originally, they built the system themselves. But their remote fill station rusted after one winter. So they needed to replace the whole thing. This time around they had professionals reinstall it to make sure there were no issues or future leaks that could have caused major issues.
When it comes to selecting the best van bed setup, Andy and Laur chose a fixed bed setup. They have a 6″ gel memory foam with a 3″ foam mattress topper. They didn’t see themselves converting the bed every day – and having the fixed bed allows them a LOT of trunk space. This was great for being able to fit not only the entire electric system and fresh water tank but also all of their camping gear!
In the bathroom, the van has a Natures Head composting toilet. They try to use public restrooms as often as possible. But the Nature’s Head toilet is the most convenient (and usually the most sanitary) option.
As for showering in the van, Andy and Laur have a full indoor shower and a 7-gallon hot water heater. They rarely use the shower, however, because the hot water heater is inconvenient to get to and the shower uses way too much freshwater. They only carry 28 gallons of fresh water – and water isn’t as easy to come by as groceries or gas, so they always focus on conserving it.
The campervan kitchen is loaded with everything you could ask for in a van. Andy and Laur have butcher block countertops with a permanently-mounted three-burner propane stove and an oven. The Suburban Elite series stove runs on propane.
But since their propane lines were leaking when they first got on the road, they spent their first few months cooking off a two-burner portable Coleman stove that they now carry in the trunk for when they camp!
They also have a 15″ square farmhouse-style porcelain sink that Laur REALLY wanted to install. But in retrospect, the sink isn’t super functional and they have to do dishes one at a time.
The kitchen also features a Nova Kool DC fridge with a little freezer section that they absolutely LOVE! It’s permanently installed under the sink/counter area for refrigeration.
For ventilation throughout the van, Andy and Laur installed a Maxx air fan and a bunk window back in the bed area that provides a really awesome cross breeze for warmer nights! And as for heating, they have a Propex heater that is permanently installed under the bench seat (with appropriate ventilation!).
For their campervan propane, the van is equipped with an under-mounted 40lb propane tank that holds 9.4 gallons of propane. Because they have a Promaster Extended model, there is an extra foot of space under the van that the tank fits very neatly in (in front of where the spare tire sits).
They use propane to fuel their stove and Propex heater. And they also hooked up a remote fill line so they can fill it easily on the side of the van without having to go all the way under each time.
For their water and plumbing system, they have a 28-gallon freshwater tank and a 7-gallon hot water heater. Those are hooked up and provide water to their full shower and sink, as well as their water filter for our drinking water!
When it comes to the van electrical system setup, the van is equipped with 3 x 100 amp-hour lithium batteries, a 2000 watt inverter and a 60 amp battery to battery charger as WELL as a shore power hook up. And they’ve installed 600 watts of solar panels on their roof to keep the batteries topped off.
Read Next: Learn the best principles for designing a solar panel system!
And for eating meals and/or working, Andy is working full time and has a desk set up with a lagun mount table! Laur is currently freelancing, so she mainly works from the bed area or in the front seats. But they are working on adding a second table that pulls out from under the bed area to their bench seat. They also love to get out of the van at times to work at local coffee shops!
As for any improvements or things they would change, they would add another table for working and eating and they would add a switch so they could turn their hot water heater on remotely. Now they have to go all the way back in our trunk area each time they want to turn it on or off.
They would also probably go with a converted or outdoor shower option, as the one they have doesn’t get used enough to justify the space it takes up inside the van. Although they do love having privacy when using the toilet!
Living the Van Life Lifestyle
Previously, Andy and Laur were both living and working in NYC. Andy worked (and is still working!) in the Ad/Tech space as a Technical Account Manager, and Laur was working as a recruiter for a start-up company.
Laur was unable to continue with her job on the road. But Andy’s company was incredibly supportive of them starting this lifestyle. Laur is now freelancing with social media work and looking to sites like Fiverr and UpWork for additional income.
This lifestyle is significantly cheaper than their lives back in NYC. But in order to really explore and take advantage of all that the places they visit have to offer, they still need to budget. Eating out becomes expensive, and gas prices are up (and depending on how often you move this adds up!).
Right now, they are operating off one full-time income and a freelance income which allows them to cover their basic expenses, go out to eat occasionally and pay for the occasional campsite if needed!
They’re still learning how to budget for life on the road because while it is cheaper, it’s definitely not free!
Read Next: Check out our post on how to make money living in a van!
Van life forces you to live with less, and you become appreciative of so much more.
To date, Andy and Laur have a budget under $1,500 a month for living and travel expenses. They spend approximately $300 per month on groceries, $200 per month on hotspots and cellular data and $300-$400 per month on fuel, depending on where they travel and how much they drive each month. They are also paying ~$400/month as they finish paying off their van (since they bought it new).
Read More: Check out a breakdown of typical van life costs.
So far Andy and Laur say that the best and most rewarding part of van life is being more grateful for the little things, like water, a hot shower, indoor plumbing, that before they took for granted. Van life forces you to live with less, and you become appreciative of so much more.
They have also loved getting to wake up in some insanely beautiful places all over the country, including waterfront / beachfront views better than any hotel could ever offer… for free!
But Andy and Laur have also been surprised by how uncomfortable life on the road can be. You really do trade comfort for freedom and flexibility (and those beautiful views!). They have to worry about things they never did before (like how much water they’re using to do the dishes), and have so many NEW chores (dumping the pee tank, cleaning the compost toilet, filling the water tank, etc.).
And they think the worst part about living in a van is having to dump the pee tank every 2-3 days. It smells awful and you have to be conspicuous with it.
Downsizing their lives into a van was not terribly difficult for Andy as he spent three months backpacking through South America. So he was ready to go when it came to van life. For Laur it was more difficult.
But coming from cramped, NYC apartment living, she didn’t have that much stuff. Even so, she found it difficult to part with things that she didn’t use on a daily basis (so couldn’t justify bringing into the van) but didn’t want to get rid of (things like memento t-shirts).
And now that they’re on the road, they can’t live without their Aeropress coffee maker for their morning coffee. Also, they can’t go without their window covers. They initially hit the road without them, and that was a big mistake because they offer much-needed privacy and added insulation.
Van Life is a huge lifestyle change, it isn’t always easy or as picturesque as instagram will have you believe. But it allows them to take full advantage of this one life they’re living. And so if you can push past your comfort zone, you will be given SO MUCH in return.
But they really miss indoor plumbing! Laur also really misses the indoor ice machine she had in their last rental house’s fridge.
In their spare time on the road, Andy and Laur LOVE to go out to local restaurants, breweries, and bars everywhere they go. They can’t afford to eat out ALL the time, so they try and research cities and pick a few places that look fun – mainly in bigger cities they pass through.
And they’ve learned to really enjoy cooking grilled cheese and tomato soup as their go-to meal on the road as it’s simple and delicious!
Andy and Laur want people to know that Van Life comes with its own unique challenges and about a dozen new chores that people interested in this lifestyle should be aware of. As incredible as it is to be living a life of travel, waking up in new places every day – it is near impossible to have a daily routine.
You are constantly aware of and managing resources (freshwater, food, toilet capacity). It pushes you beyond your comfort zone and you sacrifice a lot of comforts that those who live in houses are used to. If that sounds exciting to you or like it’s not a big deal then #VanLife is for you!
Van Life is a huge lifestyle change, it isn’t always easy or as picturesque as Instagram will have you believe. But it allows them to take full advantage of this one life they’re living. And so if you can push past your comfort zone, you will be given SO MUCH in return.
Van Life With A Dog
Laur and Andy travel with their dog Cookie, who was actually a huge inspiration for them wanting to do Van Life in the first place. She is a bully breed, so they have had difficulty getting her into hotels, on planes, etc.
But living in a van has allowed them to have her by their side and take her on incredible hikes and adventures. She also makes a great foot warmer on colder nights!
There are definitely challenges that come along with having a pet on the road. They can’t just leave the van and go wander for the day. They have to do things that are either dog friendly or be careful with timing. A lot of the national parks are not dog friendly, so for those, they’ll have to get a sitter (which is an additional expense).
They also are planning their trip around the seasons, so that we’re never in extremely hot or extremely cold temperatures.
Top Mobile Apps
- iOverlander (for finding virtually everything camping related)
- Sekr (for finding free or cheap camping)
- Get Upside (for van life logistics such as groceries and gas)
- Swarm (for tracking travel and staying connected with friends)
READ MORE: Read this post to learn more about 20+ mobile apps to make life on the road better.
Most useful items
- Aeropress Coffee Maker & Electric Kettle – It is the fastest, way to make coffee with minimal cleanup
- Hand-held broom/dust pan & vacuum – Dirt and sand build up very quickly in such a space, so you have to clean it very often and these things just make it much easier
- Collapsable bamboo dish drying rack
READ MORE: Read this post to learn more about other great van life must-haves.
The Van Build
Andy and Laur built out their van themselves and had help from family and friends. They purchased the van for $37,000 and put around $23,000 into building it out.
The build was one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to do. Not only did it push them to learn entirely new skills (neither of them had any building experience of any kind whatsoever), but it also took them so much longer than they thought (18 months).
They were also both working full time so it was 9-5 at work, then 5-10 on the build. And then on their weekends, they had to be in build mode from the time they woke up to the time they went to bed. They hit burnout during month 9, but had to push through and remember the end goal: living a life of freedom.
Andy and Laur found that one of the more unique features of their van is that they have a hidden laundry cabinet! They drilled a hole on the bottom of their half closet and a little hamper lid that leads to where they hang their laundry bag on hooks underneath. Then when it’s time to do laundry, they simply open a door at the bottom and pull the laundry bag out!
Read More: Check out these great storage and organization ideas for your van.
For insulation, Andy and Laur used Thinsulate insulation. They did a TON of research and it seemed like the best option that retained the least amount of moisture. It works great and installation was easy enough. But wool seemed easier to work with and is all-natural. They did, however, have to use a LOT of 3M 90 high-strength adhesive to keep it attached to the walls.
As for the flooring, Andy and Laur used luxury plank vinyl flooring (LPV) from Lowe’s. They wanted to do a floating floor and LPV was the best option for that and the most durable (with a dog, this was very important to them.)
And the ceiling is complete with tongue and groove shiplap. Andy and Laur really liked the way it looked and the tongue and groove made it super easy to install!
Take it one small project at a time. If you think about everything that needs to be done all at once you’ll get overwhelmed, and more likely to quit.
Andy and Laur built their cabinets from scratch! Once they got the hang of it, this was one of the easier things to do for the build. But they owe it all to their Kraig Pocket Jig!
And with lighting, they have LED puck lights. They were pretty affordable, easy to install, and very energy efficient. For additional lighting, Andy and Laur installed their own windows. They went with Motion Windows and they were THE BEST and they highly recommend. They only added two – one by the bed to increase airflow and one on the side by their stove.
When it comes to storage, one of the perks of having a fixed bed was getting a HUGE garage! Andy and Laur also built a half closet, gave themselves 6 drawers, plus one for their utensils, and lots of cabinet space in the kitchen and under their bench space. As they remind us, you have to make every inch of your space count when living in a van!
Related: Start your van conversion planning with our ultimate DIY van build guide!
Outside, the van has a roof rack but it just holds their solar panels with no option for storage.
Andy and Laur are most proud of all of the build! It was a huge undertaking and they had 0 prior experience. But the fact that they now live in this home that they built with their own two hands every day reminds them that they really can do anything they set their minds to!
And if they could change anything, they would definitely have gone with a converted or outdoor shower instead of a full indoor shower.
Andy and Laur’s least favorite part of building out the van was their lack of counter space. Laur blames the shower for taking up all of that space. And they think plumbing was the hardest part.
There are WAY more resources on installing the electrical system. But for plumbing, there are just tiny individual pieces and each one is unique. So it took a long time to really figure it out.
Andy and Laur hit the road with some things unfinished. For their first trip in the van, they didn’t have any of the drawers built or under-cabinets done. It was a disaster for them and they had to take a month just to get all of that fixed before trying to live in it full-time again. Even now, they have an extra table that they’d like to install that would give them two desks instead of one.
When it comes to giving advice to anyone considering building out their own van, they would say take it one small project at a time. If you think about everything that needs to be done all at once you’ll get overwhelmed and be more likely to quit.
If they could do the van build over, Andy and Laur would probably have gone a little bit simpler, especially for their first build. You need less than you think you do! The van is a vehicle, a vessel, to get you from one adventure to the next. It’s about living and experiencing more of the great outdoors, not the van indoors.
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