Meet Mike and Tanja in the White Whale Van

Mike and Tanja are a retired couple ages 63 and 58 that come from Orlando, Florida. They live in their Dodge Promaster van 10 months out of the year and have been doing so for the past 4 years.

Previously, Mike was an autoworker and a scenic carpenter for theaters. Tanja was an Elementary Montessori teacher. Now, they are both retired and are making the most of living in a van to see the country!

“Van Life is a minimalistic lifestyle best suited to people with a nomadic nature who enjoy freedom, adventure and new experiences.”

Mike and Tanja define #VanLife as a minimalistic lifestyle best suited to people with a nomadic nature who enjoy freedom, adventure and new experiences.

They got started in van life after owning a Dodge Promaster van for work. They used to travel weekends in a 13-foot fiberglass camper. One day one of their friends asked them if they going to be vandwellers when he saw the new van. Mike and Tanja then looked it up on YouTube and decided to retire and start vanlife.

Mike and Tanja Feature


The Van Setup

Mike and Tanja have a Dodge Promaster medium-length high top. They love all of the counter space and cabinets they were able to build inside the van.

Dodge promaster in front of red rock mountains

The Van At A Glance

VanDodge Promaster
Van Cost$35,000
Van Build Cost$7,000
Bed SetupQueen bed on a futon platform
Bathroom SetupCamping toilet
Shower SetupNo shower
Kitchen Setup 8’x18” counter down the driver’s side and 4’x18” counter down the passenger side. Large sink on the passenger side. Microwave on the driver’s side and an induction cooktop.
RefrigerationApicool car refrigerator
Cooling2 Maxxair fans
HeatingMr. Buddy heater
Power & Solar Setup600 Ah gel batteries. 500 watts of solar panels. An additional 100 watts of solar that is portable. 3000-watt inverter. No shore power.
Water & Plumbing Setup6-gallon grey tank. Two 6-gallon water tanks and also 6 individual gallons of water for drinking

Mike and Tanja purchased their (Dodge Promaster) for $35,000. They then put about $7,000 into their DIY van build with a queen-size bed, refrigerator, microwave, toilet, TV, laminate floor and 2 ceiling fans.

campervan bed

The van has a full-size queen-size bed sideways (they are not too tall) high up on a futon frame.

In the van bathroom, they have a camping toilet. But they do not have a shower or a hot water system in the van.

The van kitchen is located on both sides of the van. There is an 8’x18” counter down the driver’s side and a 4’x18” counter down the passenger side. The van has a large sink on the passenger side with a microwave and induction cooktop on the driver’s side.

The kitchen also features an Apicool car refrigerator for refrigeration and an induction stovetop that works on solar. Mike and Tanja also have a 2-burner Coleman stove with portable propane canisters for backup when cooking.

For ventilation throughout the van, Mike and Tanja installed 2 max air fans and have only a stand-alone Mr. Buddy Heater to keep warm. They only carry some 1 lb portable propane canisters for the Coleman stove and the buddy heater as a backup.

For their water and plumbing system, the van is equipped with two 6-gallon water tanks. Mike and Tanja also bring 6 individual gallons of water with them. All of the drinking water goes through a Brita filter before use.

Campervan water setup with portable water containers

With wastewater, the van has a 6-gallon portable grey tank they empty manually.

When it comes to electrical system setup, the van is equipped with 600 Ah gel batteries and 500 watts of solar panels on the roof. They also have an additional 100 watts of solar that is portable and a 3000-watt inverter. However, Mike and Tanja opted not to have a shore power connection for the van.

And for eating meals and/or working, they have a big foldable table and a little foldable table. They have camping chairs and like many van lifers, they mostly eat and live outside. 

As for any improvements or things they would change, they would like to upgrade to lithium batteries. And they might also need to invest in running boards as a permanent step into the van.

READ MORE: Check out this post on other great vans for camper conversion.

Living the Van Life Lifestyle

campervan camped in the forest

Previously, Mike was an autoworker and a scenic carpenter for theaters. Tanja was an Elementary Montessori teacher. 

Now, they are retired. To date, Mike and Tanja live on $2500 a month as they travel the country.

So far Mike and Tanja say that the best and most rewarding part of van life is The freedom and peace and quiet. But they’ve been surprised by the happy people we meet on the road who we can share the same lifestyle with.

They used to camp weekends and pay a reasonable $25 per night for a state park. Now they mainly go camping in the National Forest for free and gladly pay a couple of dollars for an outhouse opportunity. The BLM land and free camping are something Mike and Tanja never knew about before they started vanlife. 

Related: Be sure to read this post to learn how to find amazing overnight campervan parking options!

When it comes to hardships on the road, they have learned to be a minimalist about everything. They think the worst part about living in a van is sometimes they miss a hot shower or bath.

Downsizing their lives into a van was challenging. At first, Sonja wanted to keep more things. Now, they say, it is easy to be a minimalist. They keep about 20 boxes at their Orlando house but got rid of most of the furniture and other larger items.

And now that they’re on the road, Mike and Tanja can’t live without a good mattress. They have a 3-fold bamboo mattress with a cooling gel 4-inch top that makes sleeping in the van wonderful.

couple hiking with dog by lake

In their spare time on the road, Mike and Tanja Tanja walk about 8 miles a day with Ginger. Mike is the cook and is learning to make meals with a Dutch pot on an open fire. Sonja is always the one cleaning up and organizing.

They have an inflatable kayak and 2 bikes. And they also enjoy playing games and interacting with others in person and on social media. They have met and made so many vanlife friends on the road.

And they’ve learned to really enjoy cooking Hobo meals. Chop any vegetable like bell peppers, zucchini, squash, onion, carrots, garlic, and mushrooms. Then add ground turkey, taco seasoning and hot sauce. Wrap in foil and cook on the open fire!

Mike’s specialty is baking apple walnut dump cake or chocolate walnut cherry dump cake in the Dutch Pot on the open fire.

Mike and Tanja want people to know that some people are absolutely jealous of their van life lifestyle. They are very young to retire. Others don’t understand it at all.

Because they have a self-converted van and not a big trailer or RV some people call them crazy, especially without an AC, heater or shower. But they have no interest in luxury and love living this lifestyle.

Van Life With A Dog

woman on campervan bed with view of ocean

Mike and Sonja got Ginger about 2 years ago. She travels in a crate so she takes up a lot of the floor space. But the happiness, security and walking buddy is amazing. She has the best doggie van life!

Top Mobile Apps

Mike and Sonja’s top mobile app recommendations for van life are:

READ MORE: Learn more about 20+ mobile apps to make life on the road better HERE.

Most useful items

When it comes to things that Mike and Sonja can’t do without, these are their go-to items in the van:

  • Camp chairs
  • Folding Table
  • Atlas

Sonja wants to see on the map where they are heading and mark it in the atlas. They also buy detailed atlas maps from states if they know that they are spending more time in that state. They avoid cities and highways when on the road.

READ MORE: Read this post to learn more about other great van life essentials.

The Van Build

Mike and Tanja live in a Ram Promaster that they converted themselves. They chose this van because it was the widest and had the lowest load floor. Other than their neighbor making the faucet, everything else they did themselves.

They purchased the van for $35,000 and put $7,000 into building it out. Mike designed the van with a wide walkway because they love to be able to pass each other if needed. The ceiling is covered in stickers that they have accumulated on their journeys and is a unique feature of their van.

For insulation, they have only insulated the floor with 1” XPS foam covered by ¾” plywood covered by water-resistant laminate planks.

And they have not done anything to the ceiling other than the fact that they place stickers on it from time to time. These stickers are the only things they buy as a souvenir when traveling.

“Don’t rush. Travel first and find out what is important for you to have to live in the van.”

For cabinets, Mike and Sonja bought one $5 cabinet at the Habitat Restore and based the design of all the other cabinets on that. Other than this first cabinet, they built all of the other cabinets themselves.

And with lighting, Mike and Sonja needed bright lights. So they used two of the big 12-volt RV rectangle lights. They have a battery string light and battery moonlight for the night.

When it comes to storage, the big garage is under the bed. That’s why the bed is high. They also use clear plastic boxes so it is easy to see what’s in each box.

Related: Check out our post on our top storage ideas for van life.

Mike and Tanja are most proud of the fact that Mike designed it himself and all is perfect. They love the wider hallway so that they can pass each other. And they enjoy being reminded of the places they have visited when they see the stickers on the ceiling.

Mike and Tanja’s least favorite part of building out the van was doing it in the heat in Florida. And they think that the design process was the hardest part. They advise that you should travel first without a build-out and figure out your needs for vanlife.

When it comes to giving advice to anyone considering building out their own van, Mike and Tanja advise you not to rush. Travel first and find out what is important for you to have to live in the van.

The best resources Mike and Tanja used are a design program. They watched lots of videos to decide not to do insulation and to get other ideas for how to build their van the way they wanted it. 

If you’d like to find more information about the van’s look and feel be sure to connect with Tanja and Mike on Instagram and their blog

Related: Start your van build planning with our ultimate DIY van conversion guide!

This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase a product we recommend using the links in this article, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. We promise to use this pocket money to buy lots of coffee and fuel for the campervan to keep us enjoying #VanLife for just a little longer. We appreciate your support, and only recommend products we know and trust. Thank you friends!

About the Author - Alesha and Jarryd - Van Life Theory

Hi! We're Alesha and Jarryd, the founders of Van Life Theory! We're currently travelling around Australia in our 2008 Mercedes Sprinter campervan and sharing our best experiences, stories, reviews and adventures as we go along. Make sure you follow along on our Instagram and YouTube!

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