We’re all going to make mistakes when it comes to our first van build. However, I would’ve loved to have someone tell me what *not* to do or what they regret so I didn’t make the same mistake they did. It would have saved me lots of time and money (which I’m trying to save you). After being on the road for over 2 years and being on my second van, I’ve learned what I love and what was frankly kind of stupid. These are my biggest van build mistakes (some of which I made twice, yay)!
If you would rather listen to the advice, check out my podcast where I have multiple episodes on van builds and mistakes I’ve made while living in my van.
My Podcast Episode All About Van Build Regrets…
FAN-TASTIC VENT FAN
There’s really only two vent fan options for van builds and I chose wrong. The Fan-tastic fan is significantly cheaper (about half of the Maxx Air) and it shows. The fan is extremely loud, is really hard to clean, makes the worst sound when it’s windy because the cover is so poorly made, and you can’t have it open when it’s raining.
The Maxx Air fan is MUCH better and well worth the money. So many friends of mine have switched to this fan after making the same mistake I did. It’s much quieter, has a remote for turning it on with different speeds, you can use it no matter the weather and is way easier to clean when it gets dirty. Save yourself the problems and just go with this one at the start.
BENCHES / DINETTE BED
I’ve done the benches in both vans and I don’t know why. You lose prime real estate in the middle which is just wasted space after the fact. I’m sure you’ve seen one of those videos saying “60 second bench to bed” transition. Somehow, that’s the worst 60 minutes of the day. It’s incredibly irritating and I never end up doing it. You are literally moving around pretty much everything in your home. Where does your bedding go? The extra pillows? The fitted sheet won’t come off? That takes a hundred years itself.
It takes longer than those pre-planned videos. It’s much less convenient than it looks. And it’s really just for the “option to have when I want to” which is never. Don’t waste space in a tiny home. Create a fixed bed where you can have a “garage” with no empty areas. If you need a work space, make a separate one! It’s possible. But don’t force yourself to rearrange your entire house twice a day because it won’t happen.
LISTEN TO MY PODCAST ALL ABOUT SOLO FEMALE VAN LIFE
AGM batteries will get the job done. If that is your objective, by all means, go for it. These are the cheaper option by a landslide. That’s the reason I have them. I saved hundreds of dollars by going with AGM instead of lithium…
BUT now I’m transitioning to lithium. So I would’ve saved money had I just gone with them in the first place. They are more expensive but they’re so worth it if you have the budget. You will never worry about a single electrical thing. Okay, that might be dramatic but you definitely will never worry about batteries! They are healthy, strong and run like a freakin’ champ. I highly recommend starting off with lithium instead of changing to them a year later.
I can already see the emails coming in about this one. I KNOW. I lead you down the wrong path before. I used to swear by the induction stove. I love the idea (and still do) of not having propane in the van. So I had an induction stove in both vans. It was the perfect solution. But what had happened was.. Those AGM batteries I just mentioned? Yeah they really do suck. If you have lithium, you’ll probably be alright long-term with induction.
It just seems silly now though because I have a butane stove which was $35 on Amazon and works like a charm. I can cook at midnight with no solar coming in at all. I can cook 25x a day if I want. That’s never happened, but I could. The induction stove doesn’t take up much counter space but it takes up.. some. The butane stove takes up nothing because I store it behind the driver seat when I’m not using it. It also doesn’t use any power. That’s the really valuable part. So the new verdict is in. Out with induction and in with butane. If you do go this route, I use about 1 canister per week for reference.
DO IT FROM THE BEGINNING! Please. Save yourself the hassle. Have a place for things. In like, an organized way. Two years on the road and I still do not have this figured out. I literally throw stuff in my upper cabinets as fast as possible so I can slam the front closed before it can fall back out. These storage bags will save you and make things feel much less chaotic when you need to get your clothes for the day. Come up with a system from day one. Make it part of your van build towards the end.
CHOOSING A SPRINTER
Traveling is my biggest passion. My second passion? FORD TRANSITS. I have made it a mission of mine to guide the lost people of the world away from Sprinters and to the Transit. I have had a Sprinter so I’m speaking from experience (my experience, yes. But it was so bad. I have the right to speak for all). Sprinters will get you roughly the same gas mileage. So you’ll be paying more for fuel (diesel) with little return. Getting your oil changed is about 5x the price of a gas engine. Your van broke down or is having mechanical issues? Hope there’s a dealership nearby. If not, you’ll be towing that mother across the state. Sprinter fans will tell you about “Sprinter certified mechanics” to avoid the dealerships but those are few and far between.
ANYONE can work on a Ford Transit. The parts are a fraction of the cost. The van is taller inside so if you are tall like myself, this is obviously better. It’s wider which means more counter space. It’s not known to have many issues “depending on the year and this or that; you just got a bad one”. No, they all run like a Ford. If you are these types of vans are out of budget, here is a detailed rundown of other options including some that are less expensive.